Edie Windsor captivates at St. Petersburg’s Equality Florida Gala

Edie Windsor captivates at St. Petersburg’s Equality Florida Gala

St. Petersburg – When the petite 85-year old Edith Windsor slowly descended the stairs at the Mahaffey Theater to step to the microphone, hundreds of people rose to their feet and applauded wildly.

Windsor spoke for a mere five minutes, but she spoke of the history of the gay rights movement from the 1960s in New York when she met Thea, through the AIDS epidemic and Mary Bonuato’s work with the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in the 1990s. This culminated with the decision in her own case, where Windsor proudly said the word “respect” was mentioned 13 times.

“Half the people in this room are probably out now who never were before,” Windsor said. “You guys thank me. I thank you for a community that’s full of love and joy and I know Thea would be thrilled. I honor every person in this room.”

After her brief remarks, fans descended upon her like a swarm of bees hugging her, shaking her hands and fawning over her. She is, after all, the queen bee of the equality movement.

Windsor, affectionately known as “Edie,” was the guest of honor May 3 at the Equality Florida Greater St. Petersburg Gala, the biggest fundraiser of the year in the area. You could tell by the dozens of sponsors listed on screens throughout the venue that it was an exciting coup for the Pinellas County Chapter and the LGBT community.

The event smashed previous attendance records with 600 people in attendance, and raised more than $237,000.

Windsor, a lesbian, was the winning plaintiff in last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court case that toppled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a heterosexual coupling. She has arguably done more for gay rights in the last decade than almost anyone.

Nadine Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Equality Florida, told the audience she was nervous and emotional introducing Windsor. Smith watched the award-winning documentary, Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, on the day of the gala.

The 2009 film chronicles the 44-year love affair between Windsor and her longtime partner Thea Spyer, who met in New York in 1962 and became engaged. After Spyer became terminally ill, the couple finally legally married in Toronto on May 22, 2007.

When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes because the IRS said under DOMA, their marriage was not recognized. Windsor filed suit, claiming the law was unconstitutional.

The case wound its way through the courts and in a landmark decision, on June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

In February 2014, the Obama Administration expanded federal same-sex marriages in legal matters, including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits.

Photos by Laurie Ross

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