Sunday, February 19, 2012

IBM Alumna Edie Windsor's Remarks Upon Winning NOW NYC's Susan B. Anthony Award & Some Bonus, Personal Reflections

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Re-posted from the LGBT IBMers and Friends Community behind IBM's firewall:

Last week, NOW NYC honored Edie Windsor, an IBM alumna and co-star of the poignant documentary, "Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement." Pat & I first met Edie and Thea 10 years ago at the LGBT Center in New York City, at an event co-sponsored by IBM and the United Nations' GLOBE (LGBT employee group). The topic was same-sex marriage laws around the world. Edie and Thea attended, as they wanted to know the latest trends; they were preparing to marry one way or another. They did wed, in Toronto, but sadly, Thea passed away prior to New York legalizing same-sex marriage. And because same-sex marriage is not yet recognized federally, Edie is required to pay a tax on her wife's estate, which would not be required if their marriage were recognized.

Learn more from Edie's remarks, which Edie gave me permission to post:

Thank you so much, NOW NY City, for honoring me with this award. It has particular meaning because of our somewhat parallel histories:

I began dating Thea in 1965, and NOW was founded in 1966. NOW, at that time argued fiercely for the legal equality of women but not for Lesbian women. As late as 2000, Betty Friedan who had founded NOW was finally acknowledging Lesbian sex “Enjoy” but did not want “them” politicized. And at that time Thea and I lived much of our working lives in the closet.

Retired from IBM in 1975 and active in the Personal Computer user groups, I found a new career as a grass-roots gay activist, engaged with almost every gay organization that existed already or as they were being born, meeting new friends of every age and ilk and making them part of my life with Thea. Developing an ever-increasing and life-changing love of the gay community, I came out as a Lesbian in all areas of my life. And received a Lifetime Achievement Award from SAGE in October 2010, one month before I filed my law suit.

I want to tell you why I am suing the United States of America, but first some necessary background.

My late spouse, Thea Spyer, and I lived together and loved each other for more than four decades – in sickness and in health – truly in love until death did us part.

We began dating in 1965, became engaged with a circular diamond broach in 1967, and stayed engaged for 40 years.

We lived through good times – each with jobs that we loved, great friends and dancing – oh we danced.

And we lived through the vicissitudes of aging and illness.

In 1977 Thea was diagnosed with Progress Multiple Sclerosis, in 1996 I had emergency Coronary Bypass surgery. Then in 2002, Thea’s aortic stenosis. And we still lived and enjoyed our life together – and still we danced.

We became Domestic Partners the first day it was offered in New York and we waited to be legally married in New York. But Thea had a lousy prognosis – max one year to live – so we decided to get married immediately – and we did in Toronto in May, 2007. Our wedding announcement in the New York Times completed this couple’s coming OUT.

(The history of Thea’s and my over 4-decades love affair and the LGBT times in which we lived are meticulously and lovingly documented in the film, “Edie and Thea – A Very Long Engagement,” produced and directed by Greta Olafsdottir and Susan Muska.)

When my beautiful, sparkling, brilliant Thea died in February 2009, I was overcome with grief. Within a month I was hospitalized with a heart attack, characterized as “broken heart syndrome”. Grieving and ill, I had to content with the immediate effects of the cruelly misnamed Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA.

Although New York State recognized our marriage, the federal government did not. So the government taxed what I inherited from Thea as though we were strangers rather than spouses. I paid over #350,000 in Federal Estate Tax. I’m 82 years old and live on a fixed income. Paying that tax was not easy.

Overwhelmed by my sense of injustice and unfairness, I decided to enter a lawsuit against the government to challenge that unjust law, DOMA, as unconstitutional and to get the federal government to treat married same-sex couples the same way that it treats all other married couples.

I lucked out when I found Roberta Kaplan, a Litigation Partner of Paul Weiss et al who stepped up to support my case. She then introduced me to James Essecks of ACLU who joined us. These two, Robbie and James, lead a legal dream team.

As many of you may know, President Obama and the Justice Department agreed with me that DOMA is unconstitutional and informed the court that they would no longer defend DOMA. But that privilege devolved on the House of Representatives which is defending DOMA.

Our status is that we are “fully briefed” and are awaiting the judge’s decision.

Along with society, NOW and I have come a long way.

I feel so proud and grateful that NOW gives the Susan B. Anthony Award to this out Lesbian for her fight for equality for all of us.
I try imagining Edie, who is to this day a magnetically-appealing woman, at work at IBM among mostly guys in slightly post-"Mad Men" and pre-early-Disco era. When we met in 2002, she said that she was out selectively at IBM, even back then. Wow. No wonder she spent the rest of her life as an activist. She was braver than most, to be out to any degree in any corporate environment back then.

Everyone needs role models and that night in 2002, whether or not they -- or we -- knew it, Edie & Thea became role models for Pat & me. While I had always been out at IBM, having joined 12 years after sexual orientation was included in the non-discrimination policy, Pat & I had not yet had any sort of marriage ceremony, though by 2002, we had already been together for a decade. Edie & Thea's desire to marry, along with the example of our friends David Chase & Gerard Cortinez in 2003, and our friends Stacy Brodsky & Felice Londa in 2011, we saw that it could -- and should -- be done. Finally, this past summer, after nearly two decades together, Pat & I tied the knot legally in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, and like Edie & Thea, our wedding announcement was also in "The New York Times,' and at the newspaper's suggestion, we even made a little video about how we got together.

We continue to need heroes in our community. And it's always nice when IBM is their current employer or part of their history.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It Was a Shame...

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

...but Needn't Be Any Longer

Recently, pre-sleep, I couldn't put down the "New Yorker" article on Tyler Clementi. Even as I felt voyeuristic, reading his various tweets and status updates, and those of his college-roommate Dharun Ravi, included in the piece, I still read on, hoping to confirm the complete rationale for Tyler's suicide. I have to believe it was shame and maybe just a bit too much fragility that caused Tyler to throw himself to his death, off the George Washington Bridge, after Dharun filmed Tyler via his webcam, making out with a man. The article didn't theorize, just reported sad interchanges and facts leading up to it.

To my knowledge, no one ever has ever filmed me, making out with anyone. Still, I have film-clips in my head from my pre-teens to age 20, of fantasies of such scenes, and in one case, of a fizzled kiss. To this day, a number of these scenes cause me shame about my shame, recalling how they wrecked a series of dear friendships due to my embarrassment about them. Fortunately, neither sort of shame has caused me to succeed at, or even attempt, suicide, but they still have the power to bring me to tears as a middle-aged adult, when I think of my vulnerable young self and compare her to the grown-up self who nonetheless still feels a bit vulnerable at the memories. Probably, I've detailed a number of the scenes in previous posts over the years --

Let Me Start Over

Freshman year of high school, 7 months prior...

Do you remember your first experience of unrequited desire? I'm not asking if you remember your first experience of desire. Unrequited is the key word here.

Mine was with a best friend when we were 15. We lay in bathing suits on beach-towels on the wooden deck attached to the back of her family's home. We were nurturing our tans and sucking on ice to keep the heat at bay.

My friend asked me to get some more ice from the kitchen behind us. I sat up and looked over at her, lying on her back, eyes shut against the sun. She had a ballerina's body, full of grace, even while prone, and long chestnut hair tucked over behind one shoulder, calling attention to her swan-length neck. I leaned over, causing a shadow, and kissed her lips quickly. She opened her light-green eyes and looked at me questioningly -- not meanly, and also not encouragingly. I jumped up and bounded for the kitchen, bringing back more ice. We pretended it never happened. I wanted to die, but simply lay back down next to her and closed my eyes for more sun-bathing.

When sophomore year began, we saw less of each other and by the time my dad died during my senior year, we had all but drifted apart. At my father's funeral, my tears were paralyzed. I couldn't grieve visibly. My friend and her mother came over for the shivah and we sat side-by-side on the dark-plum rug in my room, leaning against my bed, trying to act natural, because my father was dead, and also, I was convinced, because she felt nervous around me because of the sun-bathing incident.

I didn't get up to walk her out and simply watched her leave my room. As the door shut, I flopped onto the rug and lay there soaking it with my tears. Finally, I could grieve the loss of my dad, and especially at that moment, the loss of my friend's and my innocent friendship.

Fast forward to yesterday, after lots of grown-up experiences: Five of her kids later, and after residences in Chicago, London, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bangalore and Montclair between us with our male and female spouses respectively, and in the midst of successful careers, we were together again for the first time in a decade, which is when she last visited the United States.

"I never thought we drifted because of that [-- the kiss]," she said. "I didn't think about that."

"You didn't think about it?" After it happened, it's practically all I thought about, mostly from shame.

"No. I thought that most of all, college was when we had a hard time keeping the friendship going, since we were far away from each other."

All the wasted shame! If I had committed suicide from the shame I felt at the time from my experience with this friend and a couple of others who I fantasized about, I'd never have had the poignant reunions as adults, not to mention, my lovely wife and life. What wouldn't have happened had I not stuck around? I wouldn't have helped other lesbian, gay, bi and transpeople among my community, clients and global company. I wouldn't have found Pat with whom I've had a rich time, including our adopting two feline daughters. I wouldn't have helped our company's leaders to be more effective. I wouldn't have been a comfort to my mom in her old age and who knows what else?

Last summer, reading while tanning my shoulders in prep for my wedding

Makes me want to say the "Shehecheyanu" - the prayer that thanks God for enabling us to reach this occasion:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ
Blessed are You, L-rd

אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם
our G-d, Ruler of the Universe,

שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ
who has granted us life, sustained us

וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה׃
and enabled us to reach this occasion.