Edith Windsor, Gay Rights Activist And Plaintiff In Landmark Supreme Court Case, Dies

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Windsor, known as Edie, celebrated her win with her lawyers at a press conference at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York, where her lead lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, told reporters:

“It is important to recognize that today’s court victory never would have happened without the tenacity and courage of a five-foot-tall, 100-pound lady by the name of Edie Windsor.”

She said Windsor “is now a hero to millions of Americans because she personifies the meaning of fundamentally American concepts like courage, devotion, citizenship, equality and justice.”

Windsor told the assembled reporters that the case marked “the beginning of the end of stigma, of lying about who we are. It’s a different level of dignity than we’ve had.”

Edith Schlain was born on June 20, 1929, in Philadelphia, the youngest of three children of Russian-born Jews, James and Celia Schlain. Her father lost his candy and ice cream store, then his house, in the Great Depression, she said, according to a 2012 article in the New York Times.

After graduating in 1950 from Temple University in Philadelphia, she married Saul Windsor, a friend of her brother. She said she knew the relationship was not right for her within a year, and they divorced.

She moved to New York City, “to let myself be gay,” she recalled in an interview with the New York Times. She also began graduate studies in mathematics, receiving a master’s degree from New York University in 1957.

She began a 16-year career at Armonk, New York-based International Business Machines Corp. in systems architecture and operations. On a company fellowship, she spent two semesters studying applied mathematics at Harvard University. In 1968, she was promoted to senior systems programmer, the highest technical position at IBM.

In 1963, at a lesbian-friendly restaurant in Greenwich Village called Portofino, Windsor met Spyer, a clinical psychologist, and they “danced together all night,” she recalled. Their attraction was rekindled two years later at a party in the Hamptons on Long island. In 1967 they became engaged, with Spyer giving Windsor a diamond pin.

Spyer was diagnosed in 1977 with multiple sclerosis and had to use a cane, then crutches, then a wheelchair, as her paralysis worsened.

With Spyer’s health continuing to deteriorate, the two women traveled to Toronto with friends in May 2007 to marry under Canada’s more-permissive laws. Justice Harvey Brownstone of the North Toronto Family Court officiated at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel, according to their wedding announcement in the Times.

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