Freeheld is about New Jersey police officer Laurel Hester and her partner Stacie. Laurel is dying of lung cancer and wants to transfer her benefits to Stacie. Counties can extend pension benefits to domestic partners and Laurel’s county has done so for men and their wives previously. Although New Jersey allows for gay and lesbian individuals to pass their benefits to their partners, counties get to decide case by case. All of her fellow officers support her and have made speeches to the court as well as during interviews. The freeholder director said he could not do anything because of the legislation. Another freeholder John Kelly believed that giving benefits to domestic partners “violated the sanctity of marriage.” Pressure continues to be put on the freeholder committee with trial hearings and other counties also changed their legislation to allow for giving benefits to partners that are not married.
The documentary is a mixture of scenes from the trials, old photos of Laurel, and personal interviews. Wade’s depiction of the heartbreaking progression of Laurel’s illness is devoid of any background music, and instead focuses on the faces, emotions and the relationship between Laurel and Stacie. Wade’s depiction of their relationship is beautifully done as a lot of it belongs in the quiet moments between them, or their “ordinary” conversations. Along with depicting the relationship, Wade shows clips of several people either protesting or speaking about how Laurel should be allowed to transfer her benefits to Stacie. The documentary is both inspirational as well as somber, showing that there is yet much work to be done to achieve a society that is inclusive to all.
Marshall, Peter D. “A Conversation with Cynthia Wade.” The Director’s Chair, Issue 85, April 25, 2008, http://actioncutprint.com/ezine-85/