“How many statues or dedications or memorials are named after women?” Judith Kasen-Windsor, widow of the LGBTQ+ pioneer Edie Windsor, asks me. In a country stacked with monuments to white, cisgender men, where the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 is met with hostility, when women don’t often get public commemoration, Kasen-Windsor believes representation “saves lives.”
Memorials are likely on Kasen-Windsor’s mind lately; she’s in the process of planning one herself: The Windsor Heart, a memorial that commemorates Edie Windsor’s 2013 victory in the Supreme Court case that struck the first blow in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Windsor had gone to court in order to get her first marriage — to wife Thea Spyer, who died in 2009 — recognized legally so that she wouldn’t have to pay an over $300,000 tax which opposite-sex married persons were already exempt from. Her win was the first step toward marriage equality, which was legalized nationwide in the landmark Obergefell case two years later.
The memorial will consist of a heart-shaped stone platform made up of interlocking hearts on the lawn outside the Southampton Town Hall, a popular spot for civic marriages in Edie’s beloved Long Island town. The heart will be flanked by benches and fronted by a small altar engraved with the words “Love Wins,” in recognition of Windsor’s historic Supreme Court victory. For a romantic flourish, the benches will be engraved with inspirational quotations, while the interlocking hearts will be engraved with the names of couples, along with their wedding dates.
The concept behind the design was the brainchild of Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, whom Kasen-Windsor had reached out to once she decided to create a memorial to Edie. After a brainstorming session, Schneiderman called her back, saying, “‘I have an idea.’” Since the Town Hall is a popular site for civic weddings, it would be the ideal place to commemorate the woman who paved the way for LGBTQ+ marriage legalization — and, more broadly, the concept of love itself. He drew up some pictures and sent them to her. “And I was like ‘Oh my god, this is amazing. Absolutely amazing. This is going to be fantastic.”
The Southampton town board recently passed a resolution approving the project, with construction to begin in early summer — ideally, on June 26th, the anniversary of both Windsor’s Supreme Court Victory and the Obergefell decision. The project will be funded through private donations, for which a fundraising committee that includes CNN anchor Don Lemon and “The View” co-host Joy Behar has been assembled. Proceeds from the purchase of engravings on the interlocking hearts will benefit the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center at Southampton’s Stony Brook Hospital.
The Healthcare Center, which was renamed to honor Windsor in 2018, currently provides comprehensive treatment to those living with HIV and AIDS. It is currently in the process of expanding to include other services for mental health, trans health, the homeless, LGBTQ+ youth and seniors. Kasen-Windsor had envisioned the expansion as part of the package that came with renaming the center after Edie. “I wanted it to be a real community center,” she says, noting that Edie had been passionate about all LGBTQ+ causes, especially the plight of homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
Although Edie is probably best known for her role in the fight for marriage equality, her outreach in the LGBTQ+ community went far beyond that cause. She was an avid volunteer with numerous organizations, a board member of Services and Advocacy for LGBT Seniors (SAGE), and host of Edie’s Backyard Barbeque, an annual benefit for Long Island’s LGBT Network.
“Edie was known as being one of the best pamphlet hander-outers in Union Square Park,” Kasen-Windsor recalls fondly. No job was too small for her. She recalls a time when Edie had offered to volunteer at a SAGE event and was asked to work the registration table. “She didn’t just do the registration table: she ran the registration table. If somebody came to her with a question and she didn’t know how to answer it, she got up, she took this person around to every SAGE person until she got the answer. She was grassroots.”
But marriage equality, Kasen-Windsor says, had always been central to Edie’s vision for broader LGBTQ+ rights. “She knew we had to have marriage before we could have adoption, or gender laws. It’s an institution, it’s a foundation, and we had to have that foundation to [revoke] ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ or gender laws or ‘Walking While Trans.’”
It’s therefore fitting that Kasen-Windsor’s tribute to her wife should also commemorate the foundational right that Edie helped make possible for the LGBTQ+. “I want to turn this space into LGBTQ sacred ground,” she says although her vision is that the space will be inclusive for persons of all sexual orientations and identities. The project has so far received a warm welcome from the Southampton community, and Kasen-Windsor also tells me that she’s received requests from around the country from couples looking to purchase one of the interlocking hearts that will comprise the memorial. “Where else can you have your name and your marriage engraved in perpetuity?”
She’s made certain that Edie’s name lives on in perpetuity, too, along with that of Edie’s first wife, Thea Spyer. The Edie Windsor Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting a network of LGBTQ+ causes, includes the Healthcare Center at Stony Brook; the Edie Windsor SAGE Center; the Edie Windsor Visitor Center at Hetrick-Martin Institute; the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship with Lesbians Who Tech; and the Thea Spyer Center at Callen-Lorde. Ideally, Kasen-Windsor would also like to see the streets outside of the Manhattan home she and Windsor shared named for Edie and Thea, keeping their names visible — and Googleable — for generations to come. She’s even named her new dog, Billie — a caramel puff of a pup who makes a brief Zoom appearance before toddling off for her nap — after Edie’s original middle name (which she’d had legally changed).
She does tell me that she’s concerned that young people who grow up during a time when marriage equality is accepted as a guarantee might not fully understand “how fragile and how new our rights are. I’ve spoken to some of them and I’ve said, ‘You know, we’ve only had marriage equality for seven years,’ and they’re like, ‘Seven years?’”
That’s perhaps why it’s important now to preserve Windsor’s, both legacy publicly and visibly, to memorialize her contribution to the rights we now enjoy — to render in perpetuity how much we owe to her.
To learn more about or to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Edie Windsor Foundation, please visit https://ediewindsor.com/. For additional information on the Windsor Heart Project, contact the Southampton Town Supervisor’s Office at 631-283-6055 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.