October 15, 2019
In the late 1960s, decades before pride flags were as ubiquitous as pigeons in Greenwich Village, Edie Windsor (CIMS ’57) and her long-time partner, Thea Spyer, were two openly “out” lesbians in a relationship. When Thea fell ill with multiple sclerosis, Edie and Thea became painfully aware of the limitations of a partnership that didn’t have the full legal privileges of a marriage. Edie fought to correct this legal injustice until 2013, when her court case, United States vs Windsor, made it to the Supreme Court and overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, paving the way for same-sex couples across the country to marry.
Edie Windsor’s memoir, A Wild and Precious Life, published posthumously on October 8, 2019, explores the highly personal details of a very public figure. To honor Edie Windsor and celebrate the launch of her memoir, the NYU Alumni Association hosted a Speakers on the Square panel on Thursday, October 10. The speakers, David Mixner, an activist and longtime friend of Edie’s; Judith Kasen-Windsor, Edie’s surviving spouse; and Joshua Lyon, the memoir’s co-author unpacked the internal conflicts of being a public figure who was also an individual.
“The problem with being an icon is that it’s hard to be human,” said David Mixner, who moderated the panel.
Despite the fact that in 2013, Edie Windsor was one of the most famous living LGBTQ+ people in the country, she would have brief instances of trepidation when she expressed her sexual orientation in public, Judith Kasen-Windsor explained. Though millions of people would come to Edie as a proud lesbian, Edie never fully came out to her own mother. These conflicting facts made more sense once the speakers explained Edie’s background. Growing up in the 1940s and 50s when admitting an attraction to the same gender could lead to forced lobotomies and other draconian mental illness treatments, Edie Windsor had to be courageous to live openly as a lesbian, but that confidence came with a struggle.
Being a pioneer was not new to Edie, of course. Edie Windsor was an undergraduate math student at NYU in the 1950s and learned the theory that would later take her to IBM to develop some of the first personal computers. At a time when very few women had their own checking accounts, Edie bought a house in her name. Her love for probability and entrepreneurial spirit led her to be a master card counter, and she cleaned up at casinos in Vegas when she got the chance.
“No one could tell Edie what to do with her life,” Judith Kasen-Windsor said with a grin.