My first face-to-face with iconic LGBTQ rights activist Edie Windsor was actually an encounter with only the two-dimensional images of her that appeared on signs and homemade masks carried by marchers in the 2013 New York City Pride Parade. Her face was everywhere that day. Edie was a grand marshal of the march that year, but just days earlier the U.S. Supreme Court had delivered a landmark decision in her United States v. Windsor case, ruling that couples in same-sex marriages were equally entitled to all federal spousal benefits. And just like that, 84-year-old Edie Windsor became a national hero.
Her victory led the way for our country’s highest court to declare marriage equality the law of the land in June 2015. And still, the courageous light that was Edie Windsor (June 20, 1929 – September 12, 2017) continued her passionate fight for freedom, equality and justice among LGBTQ communities, especially young people.
Of all the stories I’ve read since her passing this week, the one that triggered instant tears was an account by HuffPost’s Mollie Reilly of Edie’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling in her favor. She had been thinking about the future of LGBTQ kids.
“I cried, I cried,” Windsor said of when the ruling came down. “Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA,” she said. “And those same children who happen to be gay will be free to love and get married – as Thea and I did – but with the same federal benefits, protection and dignity as everyone else.”
When I met Edie Windsor face-to-face, I knew we were both thinking about LGBTQ+ youth — about their future to freely be themselves, to love and be loved, and their protections under the law. It was the same night the Republican Administration announced its withdrawal of federal guidance that protected transgender and gender-nonconforming students in public schools from being discriminated against based on their gender identity.
I watched the firecracker that was Edie Windsor jump to her feet applauding, and I felt her energy ignite the room.
We both attended a February preview of the first episode of the ABC-TV miniseries, “When We Rise,” a docudrama that follows the lives of three young people in the early ’70s who became trailblazers of the LGBTQ rights movement.
I was there as a board member for It Gets Better Project and was set to introduce the moderator for a panel discussion following the screening. Edie Windsor was there because, well, she was Edie Windsor, a pioneer for gay and trans rights herself since the sixties. I had no idea she was in the audience until Dustin Lance Black, the show’s writer and director, called her out during his welcoming remarks. The full house whooped and cheered in a standing ovation.
As for being a freedom fighter, she was the real deal, with a spirit that exuded love and positivity.
As the lights came up after the screening, I watched the firecracker that was Edie Windsor jump to her feet applauding, and I felt her energy ignite the room. After the panel discussion I had a chance to meet her. Wearing an impeccably tailored black pantsuit and her signature long strand of pearls, she took my hand and greeted me with the smile and warmth of a close friend. As for being a freedom fighter, she was the real deal, with a spirit that exuded love and positivity.
Her dedication and commitment to equal rights has enriched my life, spurred me on to my own brand of advocacy and activism, and inspired me to follow her lead in the fight for the youth of today and tomorrow. And for today at least, I’ll be wearing my longest pearls.
“Don’t postpone joy.” –Edie Windsor
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