Edith Windsor at DC Pride in 2017. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Hundreds of people entered the Temple Emanu-El on yesterday to honor the life and legacy of Edith “Edie” Windsor, a gay icon whose battle for marriage equality led to the legalization of gay marriage.
Mourners held their heads down, sniffled back tears, held hands or embraced loved ones as they entered the funeral service.
“She was just one person, but was able to have this sort of huge ripple effect on the lives of so many Americans, and so many LGBTQ Americans,” said Nick Morrow, who came up from Washington, D.C., to attend the service. Morrow now works with the Human Rights Campaign, but helped with the press team for Windsor’s Supreme Court trial.
Windsor’s quest for equality started in 2009 after her spouse, Dr. Thea Spyer, died of complications from multiple sclerosis. The couple was wed in Canada, but the marriage was not recognized in the United States because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Windsor had to pay estate taxes, about $600,000, and knew that was wrong. Her case climbed all the way to the Supreme Court and her victory opened the door to all gay couples being allowed to wed.
“Her legacy is one of love, and the right that we now have to marry the people we love,” said Rabbi Amy B. Ehrilch at the start of the service. “To have love as your legacy in life, and in law, is an everlasting blessing, which will continue to encourage and shelter generations to come with the freedom inherent in justice and equality.”
Some time after Windsor won her landmark case, Hillary Rodham Clinton came out in support of same-sex marriage. Support of LGBTQ rights was prominent in her failed presidential campaign.
“She helped changed hearts and minds,” said Clinton to the hundreds gathered at the Upper East Side synagogue, “including mine.”
In 2016, Windsor met her “next love,” her widow, Judith Kasen-Windsor.
“How does someone find the words to describe someone as unique and special as Edie?” Kasen-Windsor said to the mourners. “We all know she was a remarkable woman, a leader, a technology pioneer and a civil rights trailblazer who without end gave to those tirelessly around her.”
The couple’s love story was featured in The New York Times.
“To me she was simply my love,” she said. “When I met Edie, I knew the moment I set eyes on her years ago that she was the woman for me.”
Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan, Windsor’s Attorney in her civil rights case, said that for the last eight years Windsor was worried that she did not have long to live.
“After her spouse, Thea Spyer, passed away, Edie had suffered from a series of heart attacks which were diagnosed by doctors as broken heart syndrome — which is a real thing,” said Kaplan. “Indeed, Edie asked me and some of the other lawyers on her team to carry her nitroglycerine tablets with us when we attended events — just in case. Because of her heart condition, I think it’s fair to say, I became completely neurotic about making sure that Edie’s case got decided as quickly as possible.”
Windsor was not only celebrated for being a gay rights pioneer at the service, but for her accomplishments in her profession. Windsor earned a master’s degree in mathematics at New York University and went on to work at IBM. She eventually rose to the highest technical position at IBM as a computer programmer, which was incredibly rare for a woman at the time. After she retired, Windsor was responsible for putting many gay organizations online in the early days of the Internet.
“Always quick to volunteer, not only information but also her time and her energy, and she felt very, very strongly about the issue of ageism in the LGBT community as well as the mainstream community,” said Sandy Warshaw, a close friend.
At the end of the service, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of LGBT friendly Congregation Beit Simchat Torah asked the mourners to stand for the “gay national anthem.” People laughed, and everyone exited to a live rendition of Over the Rainbow.
September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance prepare food packages for needy at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum yesterday. For the volunteers it is a way of honoring the victims of 9/11. Photo By Lisa John Rogers.
In the wake of two major hurricanes and ongoing forest fires stretching from Los Angeles to Montana and parts of Canada, survivors of a different sort of terror have a message: Don’t lose hope. On the 16th anniversary of 9/11 today, volunteers gathered in the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance — a project that promotes unity after tragedy.
Nearly 3,000 volunteers were put into groups of 10, where they assisted in the speedy packaging of meals that can be made just by adding water. The goal was that 80,000 of the 550,000 meals would be sent to help places affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The event, also called 9/11 Day, was put on by MyGoodDeed, which was started by two friends, David Paine and Jay Winuk. Paine lost friends to the 9/11 terrorist attack and Winuk lost his brother, a volunteer firefighter who ran into the south tower.
The friends came together because they wanted to change this into a day of service instead of just sadness. Aside from six moments of silence throughout the day to remember the times of the attacks, the atmosphere was lively, with upbeat music and performances by cast members of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Come From Away.”
“I think the biggest lesson for me is that tragedy is awful, and there is suffering and there is loss, but it does so often bring out the absolute best in people,” said Jennifer Burke, the National Program Director for 9/11 Day. “You know, we’ve seen that through Harvey and through Irma, such incredible acts of kindness and selflessness.”
According to Burke, who has been working with the organization for 12 years, last year they decided to do something bigger by partnering with U.S. Hunger and New York Cares. These companies help train volunteers and efficiently deal with packaging and distribution.
“Those initial service events, they were small,” she said. “In the early days our mission was more about spreading the message about the need to rekindle the spirit of unity, and to get others on board with that. It was a different time. It’s an incredible thing to see, 12 years later, to see people recognizing today in this way. We hope it will continue forever.”
Many of the volunteers have unforgettable memories of 9/11 that have shaped their desire to give back.
Alain LaFontant, a volunteer, said he remembers when the towers crashed. He had just walked into his midtown office and some coworkers told him what happened. He immediately called his fiance. He spent the rest of the day wandering around the city with his fiance and his friend trying to get home.
“People, with all their differences, and native New Yorkers — no matter how rude or short we can be with each other —but at that time people were very willing to lend a helping hand,” said LaFontant. “I remember finally when we got home, people on the train giving up their seats. Just being a better human being and at the end of the day, that we’re all in this together.”
Another volunteer, Christine Cohen, was working in sales on 41st Street and Broadway when the towers were struck. She remembered how the desk phones started ringing off the hook and her frantic cousin on the line telling her that her uncle worked near the towers. She recalled her coworkers turning on AM radio just as her sister came into the office and said, “you gotta leave.” Cohen and her sister walked down to her Murray Hill apartment to meet their mother. She said the people walking past them, walking northbound from the Financial District, were covered in soot.
“The street lights were out,” she said. “The traffic was so congested, but no one blew their horn. Nobody was talking. It was shellshock on everyone’s faces. Paper flying everywhere, dust particles.”
Cohen said she learned a lot about life after that day, and had a message of assurance to those who have recently experienced trauma.
“Come together, stay calm, and have some hope,” she said. “Then when all is said and done, pay it forward.”