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Closing thoughts: tonight’s rally on the steps of the Stonewall Inn

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By Jacob Combs

It was a sticky summer kind of New York evening as the throngs packed into the narrow intersection of Waverly Place and Christopher Street outside the steps of the Stonewall Inn. The event was equal parts rally, celebration, law lecture and thanksgiving. Edie Windsor, the newly-turned 84-year-old who today won a huge LGBT rights victory in her suit against the U.S. government, was the star–a heroic figure in the eyes of the crowd, albeit one for whom the mic had to be lowered when she stepped up to speak.

“We won all the way,” she said simply. She thanked Roberta Kaplan for taking her case when the legal advocacy organizations said it was the wrong time; she talked about the children who will grow without ever knowing the stigma of the Defense of Marriage Act, whether enforced against themselves, their parents or their families. And she spoke of her beloved Thea, the wife she lost after almost half a century together. “If I had to survive Thea,” Edie said, “what a glorious way to do it.”

For her part, Roberta Kaplan showered praise on Edie, likening her to Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk. The U.S. Constitution, she said, binds us together as a people and as a nation, and she swore there was no better case to demonstrate what equal protection under the law really means than U.S. v. Windsor. New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would mop up the last vestiges of marriage discrimination in federal law after the demise of DOMA, spoke of today’s rulings as part of an ongoing struggle to expand the meaning and the scope and the inclusivity of the words ‘all men’ in the Declaration of Independence’s affirmation that “all men are created equal.”

Christine Quinn, the out Speaker of the New York City Council, got a big kiss (and an endorsement) from Edie Windsor, telling the crowd that the federal government “picked the wrong New Yorker to mess with.” She bragged that DOMA had been brought down thanks to two New York City lesbians; Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum one-upped her, saying she was kvelling that it had been two Jewish New York City lesbians that had defeated the statute.

It was also a call to arms. “We have work to do,” Empire State Pride Agenda Nathan Schaefer told the crowd, acknowledging the ignominious defeat of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act in the New York state senate just days earlier. Glennda Testone of the New York City LGBT Center said that “Edie Windsor fought the law, and Edie Windsor won,” listing off the myriad remaining priorities for the LGBT movement: transgender equality, immigration reform, bullying prevention, protections for LGBT seniors, an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, protection from housing discrimination and advocacy for people living with HIV and AIDS. Several speakers mourned the implicit loss of the Voting Rights Act, an exemplar of American civil rights litigation, in the same Supreme Court’s ruling of just the day before.

It was a day to be remembered, but also one on which to remember: ten years to the day after the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that affirmed gay people’s constitutional right to the very act which made them different, 44 years after the night when the Stonewall Riots introduced LGBT rights as an issue in American life, just steps away from where Edie Windsor stood. In a small way, we returned to our roots as a community as we reflected on where we are taking this country, together, as a community. We won. We will keep fighting. We will lose, at times. But, even more importantly, we will keep on winning.

Edie Windsor got the last word–of course–and those who had started to drift away through the streets rushed back to hear what else she would say. The LGBT community, she said, was formed out of the injustice of HIV and AIDS, and in the last three years, out of the injustice of marriage discrimination, that community had come together more than she could ever have imagined. The crowd began to cheer her name–“Edie, Edie!”–while the 5-foot-tall woman stood there, looking radiant, and beamed. And this young California boy, homesick for that beautiful state and its people who had had their rights ripped away from them and now restored, far from the celebrations of Los Angeles and San Francisco and the many tiny towns in between–beamed back.

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