FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | February 26, 2001
(San Francisco, CA, February 26, 2001) — When we first read of the story, it was horrific. A woman in San Francisco attacked, mauled and killed by a dog while standing in her apartment hallway. But in the days that followed we learned this was not simply an unusual tragedy. On February 7 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the woman whose life came to such a violent end was survived by her partner of seven years, Sharon Smith. At that moment the tragedy became personal.
Diane Alexis Whipple was a world-class athlete, a celebrated and admired lacrosse coach, a loving daughter, a trusted friend and a lesbian in a committed long-term relationship. Since February 7, the National Center for Lesbian Rights has been focused on assuring that Sharon Smith's voice is heard and that her place in Diane's life is respected and acknowledged.
NCLR has recently become co-counsel with Sharon's attorneys in exploring the possibility of pursuing a wrongful death action on Sharon's behalf. If Sharon were a man the legal questions would be easily answered. Under California law only spouses or legal heirs are entitled the right to bring wrongful death actions. If Sharon were a man married to Diane he would have the right to see justice done. But if Sharon were a man married to Diane he wouldn't need NCLR.
This case illustrates, with heart-breaking poignancy, the reality of our lives: we are legal strangers. Regardless of the commitment, irrespective of the love, blind to the length of time together, to the law we are strangers. Enough is enough.
In our 24 years, the National Center for Lesbian Rights has witnessed a mountain of injustice and has had a hand in seeing some of that injustice erased. We wish to do the same for Sharon. Along with co-counsel Michael Cardoza and Robert Lazo we will insist that Sharon's claims are fully presented and that her pain and loss are legally acknowledged. Involvement in a case of this magnitude is only possible because of the commitment NCLR supporters have made to our strength and success.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.