LGBTQIA+ STEM

Edie Windsor

Edith “Edie” Windsor was an LGBT rights activist and technology manager at IBM. She became an gay rights icon in 2013 when she sued the federal government to recognise her same-sex marriage which successfully overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, giving same-sex married couples federal recognition for the first time.

Windsor was born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, who lost both their home and business during the great depression. Windsor never grew up thinking she’d deviate from the norm and do anything rather than settle down with a man and keep house. After graduating from college, she married Saul Windsor but after realising that she’d much rather be with women, they divorced after less than a year of marriage.

In 1957, Windsor achieved a masters degree in mathematics from New York University. She then began working for IBM in senior technical and management positions relating to systems architecture and implementation of operating systems and natural language processors.

After a decade, she became a Senior Systems Programmer, the highest level technical position at IBM and became the first person in New York City to receive an IBM PC. During this time, Windsor had met her future wife, Thea Spyer. Initially, they kept their relationship a secret and pretended that Windsor was initially in a relationship with Spyer’s fictional brother.

In 1967, Spyer proposed to Windsor although at the time, their marriage would not have been legal. The two moved in together, but IBM refused to recognise their relationship and denied Windsor from naming Spyer as her beneficiary on her insurance.

Windsor and Spyer became involved in LGBT rights marches and events following the Stonewall Riots in 1969. In 1975, Windsor left IBM after the company moved out of the area and devoted herself to LGBT organisations, volunteering for the  Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the East End Gay Organization, the LGBT Community Center, 1994 Gay Games New York, and helped found Old Queers Acting Up, an improv group utilizing skits to address social justice issues. She served on the board of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) from 1986 to 1988 and again from 2005 to 2007.

In 2009, after the death of Spyer, Windsor was ordered to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance of her wife’s estate as federal law did not recognise their marriage, despite the fact that they had married two years earlier in Toronto. If it had, she would not have been liable for any federal estate taxes at all. When trying to claim federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, Windsor found she was unable to do so due to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In 2010, Windsor sued the federal government in the  U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for a refund as DOMA had meant that legally married same-sex couples for “differential treatment compared to other similarly situated couples without justification.” In 2013, Section 3 of DOMA was ruled unconstitutional and same-sex marriages were finally given federal recognition.

In 2016, Windsor married her second wife, Judith Kasen, a vice president at Wells Fargo Advisors.

In September 2017, it was announced that Windsor had died at the age of 88. During her lifetime, she was the recipient of many honours including the Joyce Warshaw Lifetime Achievement Award by the SAGE, the New York City Council Award, the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty, the Presidential medal and the Women’s Rights Award. In 2016, Lesbians in Tech created the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship Fund.

Sources here, here and here

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