Former Bay Area man whose partner was killed in 9/11 reflects on 20-year quest for legal recognition

NOVATO, Calif. (KGO) -- As the country pauses to remember the attacks of 9/11, a former Bay Area man is remembering his partner who died in the terrorist attack.

In the years since, Keith Bradkowski has had a long quest to win survivor benefits from the state and Federal Government.

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Bradkowski is still reading the same letter his partner Jeff Collman wrote back in 2000, a year before the flight attendant lost his life aboard American Airlines Flight 11, when terrorists flew it into the World Trade Center.

"The one thing I have to say about Jeff, he was fearless and he wasn't afraid of anything. I think he put up a fight being the only male flight attendant," said Bradkowski.

At the time Keith and Jeff were domestic partners living in Novato. But when Keith applied for survivor benefits, he was denied.

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"The airlines at the time didn't recognize domestic partners, so they took his last paycheck and split it between Jeff's divorced parents," he said.

Keith was devastated and set out to change laws and policy for the LGBTQ community by lobbying for a California Assembly Bill giving domestic partners inheritance rights, which became law in 2002.

"It got me out of bed, it gave me passion. I said, 'we gotta get this done,'" Bradkowski added.

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Recently, he won another legal victory from the Federal Government, winning Jeff's death benefits from Social Security.

"The court found we didn't have the opportunity to be married, so they are recognizing me for that," Bradkowski added.

Jenny Pizer is Keith's attorney.

"What Keith did helped a lot of people understand one of the many bricks that took us from no recognition to domestic partner recognition, ultimately to marriage equality," Pizer said.

Keith says he plans to spend the anniversary of 9/11 alone with memories of his long journey, and the beloved letters from Jeff. Keith Bradkowski now lives on the California's central coast.

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