Each week throughout the month of October, we will be profiling two people from the Equality Forum LGBT History Month icons list who have made a positive impact in their chosen professions. To see Equality Forum’s 2015 icons list, visit lgbthistorymonth.com.
(born June 20, 1929)
Edith “Edie” Windsor (née Schlain) was born and raised in Philadephia, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. While attending Temple University, she met Saul Windsor, who would become her husband. After realizing that she couldn’t be married to a man, they divorced after just one year of marriage. She went on to New York City, where she earned a master’s degree in mathematics at New York University. Windsor worked as a technology manager at IBM from 1958 until she retired in 1975.
In 1963, she met psychologist Thea Spyer. They fell in love after another chance meeting two years later, and in 1967 they were engaged to be married (despite gay marriage being illegal). They moved in to an apartment together in New York’s Greenwich Village shortly afterward. In 1969, after returning from a vacation in Europe, they learned of the Stonewall Riots, which occurred in their absence, and they decided to participate in LGBT activism. Edie’s activism would increase after her early retirement from IBM in 1975; she would volunteer with the LGBT Community Center, the 1994 Gay Games in New York, and founded the improv group “Old Queers Acting Up.”
Thea was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977 and as its effects took hold, Edie would become her caregiver. They applied for, and received, a domestic partnership when they first became available in 1993. In 2007, realizing that Thea would not have much longer to live, Edie took her to Canada, where gay marriage was legal, and they were married.
In 2009, Thea died, and Edie became the executor of her estate. Since gay marriage was not legally recognized by the federal government or the state of New York at that time, Edie was required to pay over $350,000 in estate taxes. She filed a lawsuit in 2010, alleging “differential treatment” when compared to straight married couples. This lawsuit eventually became United States v. Windsor, challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Many portions were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013. As a result, she was celebrated nationwide: she was runner-up to Pope Francis in the public vote for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013.
(April 16, 1939 – March 2, 1999)
Dusty Springfield was born in West Hampstead, London, England, as Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien. She grew up in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire; and in Ealing, London. A tomboy, she was given the name “Dusty” as a girl because she loved playing soccer with the other boys in her neighborhood.
In her early 20s, she sang in local folk clubs with her brother, Tom. They started the folk group The Springfields, and both of them adopted the stage surname “Springfield” at this time. When they visited Nashville to record a folk album in 1962, Dusty realized she wanted to move in a more pop and R&B-related direction. Her brother did not agree, and she left the group for a solo career. Her first single, “I Only Want to Be With You,” was released in late 1963 and became her first Transatlantic hit.
Her first album in the U.S., Stay Awhile/I Only Want to Be with You, was released in 1964 and included the top ten hit “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” Her 1966 album You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me yielded one of her biggest U.S. hits in the title track, which peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the more modestly successful single “Little by Little.” Her 1967 song “The Look of Love” was featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. The 1969 album Dusty in Memphis was highly influential, earning her a Grammy nomination for the single “Son of a Preacher Man,” which reached the pop top ten.
Openly bisexual to her friends and family but not to the press, she slowed down her music career in the 1970s to avoid media scrutiny. She was romantically linked to a number of singers, such as Norma Tanega and Carole Pope. Dusty rose to prominence once more when she sang with the Pet Shop Boys on their 1987 single “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” It became one of the biggest hits of her entire career, peaking at #2 on the pop charts.
In the 1990s, Dusty would record two more solo albums; while recording the last one, A Very Fine Love (1995), she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatments, and while it went into remission in 1996, it returned, and she died in 1999, just one month before her 60th birthday. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two weeks after her death.