In 1970, Kate Millett became the face of the women’s liberation movement with the publication of her book “Sexual Politics.” Time magazine put her on the cover and declared she was the Karl Marx and Mao Tse/Tung of the women’s movement. She spent 47 years writing books, teaching, speaking, and being a political activist.
Yet not many remember her as one of the major founding theorists of the modern Women’s Liberation Movement. In “Sexual Politics” she rocked convention and went after DH Lawrence and Henry Miller, the great “champions” of sexual liberation. “Sexual domination,” she wrote, is “perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power.” Kate exposed their contempt and outright hatred of women.
America was shocked! Kate’s radical explanation of male privilege and superiority from birth to death in our sexist society, (developed and defended by law, medicine, science and schools) was finally being talked about, debated, argued—but never again, ignored.
“Sexual Politics” was a volcanic eruption and millions of women who did not previously realize they were discriminated against because they were conditioned to accept it, were startled into waking up.
Kate, an intellectual from Oxford and artist, came out as a lesbian in 1970, while still married to Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura; they divorced in 1985. Lesbian feminists attacked her for not coming out earlier. And of course, the book was so radical, there was a backlash among feminists. But she went on to write “Flying” in 1974, and several other books about fame, sexuality, mental illness, cruelty, and her relationship with her mother.
In the early 1980s, I invited Kate to speak at both of the festivals I produced (Southern & West Coast Women’s Music & Comedy Festivals.) Her hour workshop was brilliant and mesmerizing as she took on the Ayatollah Khomeini and his suppression of women. In 1979, after the overthrow of the Shah, she had marched in Tehran, side by side with 100,000 Iranian women for Iran’s first International Women’s Day and gave a solidarity speech.
Kate was a genius, fun, shy, warm, funny, talented, radical, loyal, at times disturbed, a woman warrior, our amazon leader. When she passed on Sept. 6 at 82, she was in Paris to attend a Simone de Bouvier conference with her loving spouse, Sophie Keir. They had been together for decades and married a few years ago.
Edie Windsor was born Edith Schlain to Jewish immigrants from Russia. She went to Temple University and although she fell in love with a female classmate, she did not want to live in a “lesbian lifestyle” so she married Saul Winsor in 1950. They divorced one year later.
In 1963, Edie met Thea Spyer, a clinical psychologist, at a Greenwich Village Restaurant. They began dating two years later. In 1967, two years before the Stonewall riots, Spyer proposed to Windsor and they had a four-decades long engagement.
And then tragedy. In 1977, Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Edie cared for her around the clock. They married in 2007 in a ceremony in Toronto by Canada’s first openly gay judge. When Thea died in 2009, Edie was hit with a $350,000 penalty in federal estate taxes because their marriage was not recognized.
That was simply unfair. Edie went to several LGBT legal organizations but none of them accepted her case. They felt that suing for an issue like taxes would not be popular or winnable.
But there was one brilliant attorney who felt differently—Robbie Kaplan. And though Robbie, also a Jewish lesbian, was not supported by the LGBT legal community when she first filed suit, (pro bono) nevertheless, she persisted.
My wife Diane and I were in the Supreme Court when Robbie presented Edie’s case in 2013. Earlier that morning, we met Edie in the Court’s cafeteria where she was sitting alone. We bent over to introduce ourselves and she said, “I know who you are, the Los Angeles couple.”
I kissed her hand and she kissed mine, and we all had tears in our eyes.
And the rest is history. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had to recognize existing same sex marriages. That meant we could now have all the rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage.
Although this movement has had hundreds, thousands of activists and heroes who stood up, married, marched, picketed, sued and fought for decades, Edie Windsor, that fabulous, energetic, high-spirited, newly radicalized Jewish lesbian activist forever became the “Mother of Marriage Equality.”
Edie remarried in September 2016. She died at 88 on Sept. 12 in New York City. She is survived by her wife, LGBT activist Judith Kasen, and millions who will always be grateful for her tenacity and courage.
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