USA Network will air an hour-long documentary, hosted by Tom Brokaw, titled Bridging the Divide tonight -highlighting individuals the network calls "Champions of Change." From the press release:
The one-hour special, hosted by Brokaw and produced by Peacock Productions, looks beyond recent inflammatory headlines, sensational stories and politicized rhetoric to where our increasingly diverse country really stands on a range of civil rights issues. Speaking to a wide array of renowned experts, Brokaw explores the status of racism, gay rights, access for people with disabilities, bullying among kids and discrimination towards immigrants.
One of the six stories prominently featured in the special is that of Charlene Strong, a dear friend of GLAAD. Many of you may be familiar with Charlene's story, which would eventually be told in the award-winning documentary film For My Wife.
On December 14th, 2006, a flash flood struck the Seattle home that Strong shared with longtime partner, renowned audio book narrator Kate Fleming. Fleming became trapped in her home recording studio by the rising water and became unconscious, but was eventually rescued and taken to a local hospital. Strong was then forced to stand in the waiting area of the emergency room, where a social worker told her she was not allowed by her loved one’s side as Fleming struggled for her life. Despite the fact that they shared a home and a life for more than a decade, Strong was not considered Fleming’s next of kin under Washington state law. Not only was Strong denied access, she was not allowed to make any decisions regarding her partner’s care — until a frantic call to Fleming’s sister in Virginia cleared the way.
As later described in a Newsweek article that GLAAD pitched to the magazine’s editors and reporters, the nightmare didn’t end there.
The next day, the man handling the funeral arrangements insisted on dealing only with Fleming’s mother, telling Strong she had “no rights in the state of Washington.” Strong left the room crying. “Kate was my wife, and that’s the way we always thought of each other,” she told Newsweek. Her loss was devastating, unimaginable, and now made much worse. As the days passed, Strong’s grief turned to anger. “I just felt so shocked that I had to deal with that after almost drowning trying to save her and hearing her die. It was just beyond comprehension that anyone should go through that. And I was outraged.”
She became determined to do something about it.
Knowing that a bill had been introduced in the Washington state legislature that would extend to committed gay and lesbian couples some of the legal protections they need to take care of each other, Strong called Joe McDermott, an openly gay legislator. She offered any help she could give to advance the legislation. Eventually, Strong shared her moving story before both houses of the legislature, and her testimony played a crucial role in the passage of the landmark bill.
As Strong’s story drew the attention of local media, GLAAD contacted her to help reach a broader audience. GLAAD’s media training sessions prepared Strong to be an effective spokesperson and advocate for the rights of lesbian and gay couples in national news outlets. Strong's story went on to make national headlines and shaped conversations about LGBT hospital visitation protections. Due in part to the great media attention her story gained, President Barack Obama later invited Charlene to the White House where he signed an executive order that requires state-funded hospitals to respect LGBT families.
Charlene Strong has since been appointed human rights commissioner for Washington State and travels the country advocating for equality. We are very pleased that USA Network is now sharing her story alongside those of five other heroes.
Candid profiles include a couple who have dedicated their lives to teaching kids to accept one another’s differences; a woman who uses her disability to change the way people think about beauty and possibility; a coach who draws on the game of soccer to unite kids from war-torn countries and their new American community; an advocate for the right to comfort a dying partner, no matter his/her sexual orientation; and a combat war veteran and business leader dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty and violence in which he could have easily been trapped. The stories point to new directions and ways everyone can help to reach across barriers, overcome odds and foster a more united USA.
Also profiled will be Sirdeaner Walker, mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover - an 11-year-old boy who died by suicide in April of last year. Walker became a tireless advocate for strenghtening the nation's anti-bullying measures and protecting all children from bullying. She is now a board member of GLSEN and is doing extraordinary work.
These stories will uplift and inspire, and we thank USA Network and the producers of Bridging the Divide for including two powerful examples of the movement for equality.