RIP Edie Windsor
by Ian Carlos Crawford
“That’s…that’s Edie Windsor, right?” I asked one of the owners of The Stonewall Inn.
“Sure is,” she said back.
“Am I allowed to ask her for a selfie?”
“Of course. She’s super sweet, she’ll probably say yes.”
I’d been photographing drag shows and parties at The Stonewall Inn for a most of my time in NYC. But this, this was one of, if not the, biggest photo job I’d ever had — the Stonewall National Monument induction ceremony. It was being held at the bar where the fight for LGBTQ rights was started and inside of that bar, I was looking at the woman who sued the god damned government and would eventually lead us down the road to marriage equality.
I walked through a sea of senators (oh hey Kirsten Gillibrand) and Secret Service members to say hi to the tiny Edith Windsor. She was seated on a stool by the front door, with the iconic neon Stonewall sign right behind her.
“Hi, I’m sorry, I’m the photographer for Stonewall and…I wanted to come over and say hi and — you are such a god damned badass,” I said, scrunching my hands to my chest. She laughed and put her hands in the air.
“You’re so cute! What’s your name?” Edith asked me, while grabbing my hand. She brought me in close so she could hear me and gave me a light hug. I asked for a selfie. She told me to take down her email so I could send her our picture together.
I almost cried.
Edith Windsor will go down in history alongside Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and other queer icons as having changed the course of history for the LGBTQ community. She sued the government over a tax refund. Which, of course, makes it sound way less serious than it was.
When Windsor’s long-time partner Thea Spyer died, she was required to pay an insane amount of money just because Spyer was a woman. DOMA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, was an archaic law that banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex married couples. Even though they were married in Canada, their marriage was not recognized here. So, Windsor had to pay tax for the estate her spouse had left her. It didn’t matter to the government that Spyer and Windsor had been together for 40 years. Windsor told the New York Times, of her first night meeting Spyer in Greenwich Village, “By the end of the evening, I had danced a hole through the bottom of one of my stockings.”
And, as The New York Times said of Windsor’s case, “But for thousands struggling for gender equality, the stakes went far beyond tax advantages available to married heterosexuals, including Social Security, health care and veterans’ benefits; protection in immigration and bankruptcy cases; and keeping a home after a spouse had died, as well as food stamps, green cards and federal aid to the poor, the elderly and children.” I can remember myself watching the case closely even if I wasn’t quite sure the exact details of the tax refund, I knew the case was a big step forward for marriage equality.
I’ve only cried at handful of celebrity deaths. But most of them have been at queer icons like Prince and David Bowie. Edith Windsor’s death hit me in the same way. I read the news and started tearing up — she was the same age as my late grandmother whom had passed away a few months earlier. I remember telling everyone, “Edie Windsor reminded me of Grandma Panchy, only a lesbian and not Puerto Rican.” I was meeting Queer Royalty and the most eloquent word that came to my mind was “badass.” I was a hungover, sweaty mess that day on June 24th but Windsor was nothing but warm and welcoming to me. On the day of her death, I learned that in our selfie together, she was wearing the pin her late partner Spyer had proposed to her with — a circle pin with diamonds covering the circle. It was a pin she had worn every day. And yes, I did gay gasp and then immediately ugly cry after finding that out.
Windsor opened the induction ceremony with the pledge of allegiance, her head barely making it above the podium. She had to lower the mic so she could reach it. It was the most charming Pledge of Allegiance I think I will ever witness in my lifetime. And I know I was lucky to witness it and meet an absolutely iconic LGBTQ activist.
About the Author:
Ian Carlos Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey and, like most people from NJ, he graduated from Rutgers University. He then graduated from New School with an MFA in nonfiction writing. His writing has appeared on sites like Geeks Out, BuzzFeed, NewNowNext, and other random corners of the internet. He currently co-hosts a podcast about his favorite thing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, called Slayerfest 98 and is shopping around his fiction manuscript (you can view the book trailer here). Follow him on Twitter @ianxcarlos