Social Security Administration urged to grant benefits to 92-year-old transgender widow

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Robina Asti. — Screenshot: Lambda Legal

A 92-year-old transgender woman denied survivor benefits by the Social Security Administration after her husband’s death is asking the agency to reverse the decision.

SSA denied Robina Asti benefits after it determined that she was “legally male” at the time of their marriage despite all the legal documents to the contrary, according to Lamba Legal, the LGBT civil rights group representing Asti in the complaint.

"Robina’s husband passed away over a year-and-a-half ago, and at 92 years old, she should not have to wait another day for the benefits to which she is entitled," said Dru Levasseur, director of Lambda's Transgender Rights Project. "The government has recognized Robina as a woman for over thirty years, including on her passport, FAA pilot’s license and her driver’s license. For the federal government to deny her survivor benefits now is inexplicable. This remarkable woman should not have had the grief of losing the love of her life compounded by the insult of having her gender and marriage disrespected.”

In a 2004 ceremony in an airplane hangar in Orange County, N.Y., Robina, a World War II veteran and pilot, married her longtime sweetheart, Norwood Patton.

In June 2012, Patton died at the age of 97.

On July 27, 2012, Asti applied in person for survivor benefits through the SSA. Though she already receives Social Security benefits, being able to claim survivor benefits would increase her monthly check by about $500.

On April 24, 2013, the SSA notified Asti that her survivor benefits under Norwood’s Social Security record were denied because “her marriage does not meet the requirements under Federal law for payment of Social Security widow’s benefits,” stating that her marriage was not valid because she was “legally male” at the time of their wedding.

In June 2013, Lambda Legal filed a request for reconsideration on the woman's behalf. After more than six months, there is still no word from the Social Security Administration, according to Lambda.

"I am so insulted that the Social Security Administration refused to recognize me as a woman and treated my marriage to Norwood in such a disrespectful way," said Asti, in a news release.  "I have lived a very private life, but the SSA is forcing me to speak out. I don’t want other people to have to experience this."

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