The Legacy of Laurel Hester

By Laurie Dutton 

Women’s History Month, which runs March 1- 31, 2023, is dedicated to celebrating the achievements and contributions of often overlooked women in society, like Stockton alumna Laurel Hester.

Hester graduated from Stockton State College in 1978 and began a long and productive criminal justice career as a police detective in Ocean County. While a Stockton student, Hester co-founded the Gay People’s Union, which was the predecessor to our current student club, Pride Alliance.

She also regularly wrote on queer issues for The Argo student newspaper, as seen below.  

Hester paid the price of coming out as gay, because she subsequently lost a coveted internship in her field when she was a student.

In the early 2000s, before marriage equality was the law of the land, Hester was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Her dying wish was to allow her partner, Stacie Andree, to receive her pension benefits from her time as a police detective—to have the same rights bestowed upon her union as would be a heterosexual couple.

However, the Board of Ocean County Freeholders denied her request and Hester spent her remaining days publicly fighting the system that denied her equal rights. Three weeks before her death in 2006, the county granted her pension benefits to her partner, and, to this day, Hester is considered a pioneer in the fight for marriage equality.


“Good afternoon freeholders, my name is Laurel Hester. Hopefully, you remember me from previous freeholder memories – previous freeholder meetings. Well, unfortunately, my disease has progressed to the point where I can’t go to your meetings. So, I wanted to send you this message and live video update, in order for you to understand where I’m at and what it is I’m asking for.

I’ve been diagnosed with several brain tumors, hence the radiation and hence the loss of hair. In addition, it has spread elsewhere throughout my body and my current prognosis is about six months. So, I just wanted to let you know that time is of the essence.

It is important to me and my domestic partner, who is registered with me at the state level, to get whatever benefits are rightfully due to her. The reason being that if she doesn't receive these benefits, there is a real strong possibility of her losing the house. There's a huge difference in one income versus two, and if Stacee could receive my pension benefits, it would make all the difference in the world.

All I'm asking for is that you sign the resolution and that you… make a change – a change for good. A change for righteousness. And a change in the lives of so many people who have dedicated themselves to county government. And I hope the same is true for other municipalities and counties."

The Oscar-winning documentary Freeheld documented Hester’s struggle and fight for equality. In 2015, nine years after Hester’s death, Elliot Page produced a movie of the same name, which starred Julianne Moore as Hester and Page as her partner, Andree.

To see the original Gay People’s Union Charter and some of Hester’s Argo articles, stop by the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Center in F-103, where they are proudly on display.

Laurie Dutton is director of the Women's, Gender & Sexuality Center.