During World War II Robert Asti flew combat missions for the U.S. Navy. After the war he married and raised three children. He flew commercial aircraft, was a flight instructor, and became vice president of a mutual fund.
Inside the male pilot and businessman was a woman increasingly uncomfortable as a man. She knew her transition to a woman would be anathema in the business world so she ended up leaving her position. In 1976, at the age of 55, she became legally female and took the name Robina.
In 1980 she met Norwood Patton. Early in their dating she told him of her transition. He was startled, but a week later he assured her he had fallen in love with her as a woman and saw her that way. He was keen to marry her, but she put him off until 2004, when they formalized their relationship.
Patton died in 2012, and Asti applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) survivor benefits. Although she had lived as a woman for nearly forty years, the SSA turned down her application. Their basis? She did not “meet the marriage requirement” because, according to them, she was not legally a woman.
Asti was devastated. With the help of Lambda Legal, a firm that has worked since 1973 to help lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people achieve their civil rights, she challenged the SSA and won.
Robina Asti is a quiet, unassuming woman. She has endured a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding in her life. She knows the thorny path young transgender people walk in their efforts to be recognized as the people they know themselves to be. Her fight for justice was not only about the money to which she was entitled. It was also about social change. Thanks to her and to the work of Lambda Legal, transgender individuals are now entitled to survivor benefits through their spouses. Asti tells her story in themoving documentary below.