Sunday, February 19, 2012

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

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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.


Sandy C. said...

My partner of 22 years and I just watched Edie and Thea: A Very long Engagement. What a moving love story and ever so typical of the many gay and lesbian couples I know. I am in awe of what Edie continues to do on behalf of gay and lesbian people and wish that the world could just accept people as they are. What will it take to just see a loving couple as a loving couple? Thanks for being such a great mentor for all of us.

Sarah Siegel said...

Sandy, with today's Supreme Court news, we're getting closer to your vision!

Vicki Flaherty said...

Thanks for sharing, Sarah.