Robina Asti, Who Made History on the Ground and in the Air, Dies at 99

From The New York Times:

As a transgender veteran in her 90s, she challenged government bureaucracy. She then set out to be recognized as the oldest working flight instructor.

By Clay Risen
March 21, 2021

Robina Asti, a World War II veteran and mutual-fund executive who inspired a generation of transgender people in the 2010s with her successful fight for her husband’s Social Security benefits, and who just last year became the world’s oldest active flight instructor, died on March 12 in San Diego. She was 99.

Her death, at the home of her daughter Coca Astey, was confirmed by Ms. Astey.

Ms. Asti transitioned in the 1970s and had been living quietly as a woman for nearly 40 years when she applied for survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration in 2012, a few months after her husband died. It took a year for the agency to deny her application, on the grounds that she was not legally a woman at the time of her marriage.

Though most of her government-issued documents, including her pilot’s license and even her Social Security card, recognized her as a woman, the agency’s determination of survivor benefits was based on her birth certificate, which identified her as a man.

Ms. Asti was livid. She searched online for help and found Lambda Legal, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

“It was an amazing day when she walked into our offices,” M. Dru Levasseur, who ran Lambda’s transgender rights practice at the time and now works for the National LGBT Bar Association and Foundation, said in a phone interview. “We could feel her energy, her anger at the system.”

Lambda took the government to court in June 2013. Eight months later, on Valentine’s Day 2014, Ms. Asti checked her bank account and found a large deposit: nearly two years of back pay from the Social Security Administration.

Not only did Ms. Asti win her case; the administration changed its rule regarding transgender survivors — and the documentation requirements for proving one’s gender in the first place.

Ms. Asti’s fight made her a celebrity in the L.G.B.T.Q. community, at a time when transgender rights were just beginning to be a national issue. She embraced her newfound role — giving speeches, marching in pride parades and simply living a full life as an older transgender woman. In November 2020, Out magazine named her to its annual “Out 100” list.

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