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.
Bruce Jenner smashed headlines with his revelation on ABC’s 20/20 that he would soon be transitioning into a woman. Seventeen million people watched as he, soon to be a she, discussed his history of taking hormone therapy, his failed marriages and hopes for his future. His expressed desire to help the transgender community is welcomed news to some transgender women in New York City who feel that the transgendered are targets for violence and discrimination.
Imagine being an LGBT student on an American college campus in 1969, in fear to come out because of gay bashing, police brutality, and even murder.
“This is a liberation, a really different moment in lesbian and gay political possibilities,” said Ann Pellegrini, the author of “Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance”. “It went from ‘don’t arrest us for wearing women’s clothing’ or ‘don’t arrest us for having sex with a person of the same sex’ to ‘we want the law to regulate us in our intimate relationships’.”
Pellegrini said she is confident that LGBT students are in a more tolerant environment than they would have been years ago. She attests this tolerance to the legalization of same sex marriage.
“It’s really different to have marriage be the thing,” said Pellegrini. “This was not what the people were rioting about at Stonewall, they just wanted the police off their backs.”
The Stonewall riots, which were demonstrations by the gay community against a police raid in 1969 in Greenwich Village, are far from what LGBT students face today in New York City.
Since 2004, when Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same sex marriage, there have been 71,165 same sex marriages according to the Pew Research Center. In correlation, the Human Rights Campaign reported that 75 percent of LGBT youth say that most of their peers do not have a problem with their identity as LGBT.
This percentage is illustrative of how far the LGBT community has come since the 1960’s.
But according to a New York University graduate of 2009 from Deal, NJ, who would not give his name because of fear of discrimination, there is still a lot of work that has to be done. He said gay students were mocked.
“I thought that out of anywhere in the world to go to school, NYU would be the easiest to come out because there was a culture of acceptance in the village and New York City as a whole,” he said. “There were gay closeted people at NYU because they were afraid to come out and I know this because I was one of them.”
One of the ways that New York University tackles the difficulties that LGBT students are confronted with is by creating a safe environment at the LGBTQ center.
“We talk a lot about microaggressions and we have a lot of programming that takes on these kinds of conversations,” said Leah Miller, a first-year student at NYU and volunteer for Ally Week, a national youth-led effort that empowers students to stand up against anti-LGBT bullying.
She defined microaggression as comments or jokes that don’t necessarily have a mean or malicious intent at all, but the impact that they have perpetuates sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
“For example with LGBTQ, if someone were to say ‘oh do you have a boyfriend’ if you were a woman or ‘when are you going to get married and have kids’ assuming things about peoples lives based on norms,” she said.
Another way that New York University works to stop intolerance against LGBT students is through Bystander Intervention which teaches non – LGBT students who are present during emergency situations how to successfully intervene and stop any acts of violent discrimination.
“Our training notes hate speech and discrimination among a number of other examples of scenarios where there may be opportunities to intervene to help others,” said Caroline Wallace, Director of Health Promotion at NYU. “The purpose of the training is to let NYU community members know they can play a role in mitigating or avoiding negative outcomes around a number of topics.”
But New York University doesn’t only want to train their students to fight against anti-LGBT bullying. They also want to educate them and find out where these negative and positive messages are coming from.
Claire Mahany and Piper McCain, outspoken peer educators for the LGBT Center and volunteers for Ally Week, asked their students during a Safe Zone class, a training program a the LGBTQ center, how they internalize the messages they see in their daily lives while on campus.
“I would say that something that stood out for me was meeting someone that was out and proud and not apologetic for who they were,” said Tom, a participant in Safe Zone that would only go by his first name in fear of intolerant backlash. “I think having that type of role model makes a difference.”
For Debbie Parker getting her hair cut always led to arguments with her barbers. They always tried to talk her out of cutting her hair short, but Parker, who is a lesbian, prefers her hair short.
“I had a lot of male barbers that would cut my hair and they would not be into cutting it down really low [short],” said Parker, 55, a landscape photographer and resident of Sunset Park, Queens. “They tried to talk me into keeping it a little longer.”
But Khane Kutzwell, 43, came to the rescue with her barbershop, Camera Ready Kutz that caters to the grooming needs of the LGBT community. On her website, she includes queer, asexual and intersex people to her barbershop in the comfort and privacy of one of her apartment’s bedrooms at Eastern Parkway in Crown Height, Brooklyn.
Parker’s colleague told her about Camera Ready Kutz three years ago and she has been a customer ever since. She even brought her 14-year-old son there after a hair clipper was pressed to tight to his scalp and cut him in a traditional barbershop.
“A lot of barbers tend to put a lot of pressure on the scalp when they were cutting his hair and he didn’t like the experience,” Parker said. “It’s like a dentist, you have to feel comfortable to go on a regular basis.”
They travel 30 minutes to get to Kutzwell’s two bedroom apartment, where one of the bedrooms serves as a barbershop.
Kutzwell started her barbershop in 2007 when her friends in the LGBTQ community complained about the service they received at neighborhood barbershops. For the community, getting a haircut is an irksome experience because they could never get what they wanted.
Kutzwell’s family emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago when she was really young and she grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens. Her upbringing shaped who she is today.
“I didn’t grow up male or female,” she said. “My family just treated me as whatever I presented at the moment.”
Now she identifies herself as a trans-entity, an entity who’s always transitioning through gender. But in the male dominated business, Kutzwell identifies herself as a female.
“I wake up sometimes and I feel more male than female, sometime more female than male,” she said, “So, I don’t identify as anything in particular, I just let myself be.”
Kutzwell said that she is not the barber for the LGBT community.
“If you look it up on the internet, there are tons of other LGBT friendly barbershops, so I’m not claiming that I’m the only one here,” she said. “But I always try to step up the game through the internet.”
Apart from promoting the business through website and Facebook, she has built a mobile app to make reservation easier for her prospective customers.
Although Kutzwell’s barbershop caters to the LGBT community, her customers include people from all backgrounds, races, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, such as the Orthodox Hasidic Jewish Community in Brooklyn and Muslim women. Her vast range of clientele gives her a boarder sense of different cultures in the world.
“Every culture has their own way of conducting haircut, like the Hasidic Jewish, they don’t want their side to be touched, or Muslim women who would only remove their headscarf in front of the people they trust,” she said. “Those cultural variations always amazed me.”
Apart from offering tolerant service, Kutzwell has many promotional discounts such as her famous “Get A, Get 50 percent off” program for students who get good grades.
“In the end, it’s about supporting your community,” she said.
Kutzwell’s next project will be her own mortar and brick storefront LGBT friendly barbershop in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She hopes the barbershop will be a place where people can hang out and get their hair and nails done in a nonjudgmental space. Her dream is to have barbers and beauticians, who share her belief of unprejudiced service to the LGBT community, housed in one spot.
“I’m planning on taking a beautician class, so I can take a better care of my clients,” she said. “After all, I’ve always wanted to go back to school and sharpen up my skill.”