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FREEHELD is a dramatic short documentary about Laurel Hester, a homosexual police officer. Hester protected the citizens of Ocean County, New Jersey for 25 years but is forced to stop working after she is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She wants to give her pension to her life-partner Stacie, but is denied this right by her elected officials - the Ocean County Freeholders. The documentary follows Hester until the very end as she battles with both cancer and justice as she fights to leave her pension with Stacie.


Learn more about FREEHELD: 

See the Film

The Filmmakers

Cynthia Wade Director

Cynthia Wade directed and shot the five-time award-winning HBO documentary SHELTER DOGS, which was broadcast in seven countries. She directed and edited the award-winning 1999 Cinemax documentary GRIST FOR THE MILL, which was called “a jewel... extremely comical" (Variety) and "excellent... a delight" (The Hollywood Reporter). Wade was co-producer/cinematographer for the 1998 PBS documentary TAKEN IN: THE LIVES OF AMERICA'S FOSTER CHILDREN, which won a prestigious duPont Columbia Award for Excellence in Journalism. Wade has been Director of Photography for PBS, HBO/Cinemax, A&E, Discovery, The History Channel, MTV, AMC, Oxygen, and TNT. She has made dozens of films for corporate and nonprofit clients, including Intel, the National Guard, and Job Corps. She teaches advanced cinematography at the New School. She holds a BA cum laude from Smith College and an MA in Documentary Film Production from Stanford University.

Vanessa Roth Producer

Vanessa Roth produced and directed the 2007 award-winning documentary THE THIRD MONDAY IN OCTOBER, and co-produced and co-directed the award-winning 2004 PBS documentary AGING OUT, which is the center of a multi- million-dollar national foster care outreach campaign sponsored by the Annie Casey Foundation. Roth produced and directed the 2002 award-winning film CLOSE TO HOME, which premiered at Sundance and aired as a prime-time special on the Discovery Health Channel. Her 1998 PBS film TAKEN IN: THE LIVES OF AMERICA'S FOSTER CHILDREN won the coveted duPont Columbia award. Ms. Roth recently produced and directed the A&E special 9/11'S TOXIC DUST and is now working with Dave Eggers on a feature documentary about teachers.

Matthew Syrett Producer

Matthew Syrett has co-produced and marketed three of Wade's films. He is a known strategist and producer specializing in interactive and video media. He has worked as Vice President Grey Interactive and the LinkShare corporation helping some the largest companies in the world market their products. He is a well-regarded author on media strategy, having written articles published by, CRM Today, and Syrett holds a BA from the University of Michigan and an MA in Anthropology from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Festivals & Awards

Academy Awards


Winner - Best Documentary Short

Sundance Film Festival


Winner - Special Jury Prize


Freeheld is simply an amazing documentary, a true piece of unscripted reality, with all its blemishes and beauty intact. It is a documentary that pays fitting tribute to a true hero, a woman who refused to compromise and who ultimately helped to secure for all of us a little bit more of the equality we all richly deserve. A+”

-Edge Boston

OUTSTANDING...An absolutely amazing film, it demonstrates again what we learned here in Washington this past legislative session - showing the injustice of discrimination faced by same sex couples by personalizing it with real human faces and stories is the most effective tool for changing public opinion.”

-Seattle Gay News

If ever there was a rallying cry for the full rights of marriage, it's this excellent and truly heart-breaking film.”

-Washington Blade

Hester's story needs to be told because she's an American hero. But it also needs to be told because most Americans, gay and straight, need to understand that what happened to Hester isn't an aberration: it's the norm and it's legal." ”

-Q Salt Lake


In addition to winning an Academy Award in 2007 and broadcasting on HBO in 2008, FREEHELD has had a robust three-year outreach campaign – making the film a true model for social impact documentaries. The film has played at 100 festivals, been part of 93 community outreach screenings (in partnership with many organizations) and broadcast in five countries. The film has screened in 35 states and 30 countries. The film (and filmmaker Cynthia Wade) received wide press attention and made a significant contribution to the continuing national dialogue about civil unions and marriage equality. The filmed screened on Capital Hill, and played a pivotal role in the campaign called One Iowa in March 2008, where FREEHELD screened at a series of Town Hall events, leading up to what turned out to be a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality. The FREEHELD website continues to offer a step-by-step guide so individuals and institutions can organize screenings in their communities. The guide lays out everything from logistical planning to harnessing reactions to the film into concrete actions.

“FREEHELD was a valuable part of One Iowa’s educational efforts leading up to the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in favor of marriage equality. The film packs an emotional punch that resonates with audiences and beautifully demonstrates the significance of marriage.”
– Carolyn Jenison, Executive Director of One Iowa

“In our work for ‘a fair & just Utah,’ we are constantly looking for common ground to unite us with those who oppose our efforts.  Nothing is more common than our humanity and our desire to find and to share love.  As we peek into Laurel and Stacie’s life and love, FREEHELD reminds us that what binds us together is stronger than what divides us.”
– Mike Thompson, Executive Director of Equality Utah

“FREEHELD dramatizes the stakes of the debate on domestic partnership benefits through the intimate story of Detective Laurel Hester's fight to leave her earned pension to her partner Stacie. The remarkable thing about Freeheld is its depiction of unlikely allies--straight male cops--who rise to the passionate defense of their colleague with a simple and irrefutable argument about fairness and justice for all.”
– Dr. Beverly Seckinger, University of Arizona

Outreach Resources

National LGBTQ Task Force


Lambda Legal


The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center



Since 1978, GLAD has achieved scores of legal victories to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.