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EDGE 10.0: The Decade in Women

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Apr 10, 2014

In celebration of our tenth anniversary, EDGE is proud to launch "EDGE 10.0: The Decade in," a retrospective series of features looking back on the past ten years of headlines, politics, personalities, trends, music, film, parties, etc... written by Editor in Chief Emeritus Steve Weinstein.

When the EDGE Media Network launched 10 years ago, it was our mission as a comprehensive LGBT news site to cover the full spectrum of the community, including lesbians, bisexual and transgender women. In 2013, it formalized its women's coverage when Winnie McCroy became the editor of a newly established portal dedicated to women's issues.

Lesbians have made tremendous gains in politics and the military, but these gains have not come without a fight. From Edie Windsor's DOMA win to the tragic double homicide of a lesbian couple on their way to Mardi Gras in Galveston, Texas, we take a look at some of the battles waged and won this decade, in the LGBT struggle toward full equality.

For now, let's look at woman-specific issues.

Everyone knows the hoary joke about what a lesbian brings to a second date. Answer: a U-Haul. The corollary joke asks, What do gay men bring to a second date? Answer: What second date?

Of course, this is nonsense. Plenty of lesbians play the field. And these days, more and more gay men are settling down, especially now that they can tie the knot legally. But it is true that women have been in the forefront of legal battles involving marriage and child-custody cases that have been setting legal precedent all over the country.

Female couples have been in the forefront of challenges to institutional denial of legal recognition in many states. The most prominent of them was the couple that brought about the first marriage-equality decision in Massachusetts, which predated EDGE's founding by a few years. But there were others like Leah Vader and Lynne Huskinson who would fall off the radar but for articles on EDGE and other involved LGBT news sites.

Vader and Huskinson, who married in Canada, got themselves in hot water with their local church in 2007 after they sent an open letter to their Wyoming state legislator decrying a bill that would deny recognition of out-of-state unions like their own. Soon after, the women got a letter from their parish church informing them that they were barred from receiving Holy Communion.

It’s probably no coincidence that one of the two couples that were the plaintiffs in the fight against California’s Proposition 8 was a lesbian couple, Sandy Stier and Kris Perry. EDGE published an interview with the women after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state constitutional amendment. Many of the attorneys fighting Prop 8 were lesbians, including Theane Evangelis of Gibson Dunn. The group that was in the forefront of the fight from the beginning was the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The lead attorneys who fought the Defense of Marriage Act all the way up to the other historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down DOMA also included several lesbians, such as Pamela Karlan, a law professor at Stanford University’s law school; Roberta "Robbie" Kaplan of Paul Weiss; and Jennifer Chrisler, former executive director of the Family Equality Council.

The most visible couple to advocate for marriage and the embodiment of the marriage-equality movement was Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, both longtime LGBT activists. As EDGE contributor Roger Brigham noted in his Aug. 27, 2008, obituary of Martin, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (who instigated Prop 8 when he performed marriages and is now lieutenant governor) ordered the flags at City Hall to fly at half-mast.

"For over half a century, Del Martin, along with her loving spouse, Phyllis Lyon, served as an activist for women’s rights and the LGBT community," Newsom said. "The marriage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon on June 16, 2008, marked an historic milestone on our country’s road to true freedom and equality. Del laid the groundwork for all those who want a life of dignity, and we are forever in her debt."

The one woman who was single-handedly responsible for the repeal of DOMA was a feisty octogenarian named Edie Windsor. She was the sole plaintiff in the case and will be forever cited in legal texts for United States v Windsor.

"When Edith Windsor got engaged in the 1960s to the woman who eventually became her wife," McCroy wrote , "she asked for a pin instead of a ring. A ring would have meant awkward questions, she said: Who is he? Where is he? And when do we meet him?"

Windsor became a national heroine for the gay rights movement. Among other honors, she was the grand marshal in several major Pride celebrations, including New York City’s, and received a raft of well-deserved awards. She also received the money denied her when she had to pay estate taxes not levied on a straight married couple.

Lesbians Wage Custody Battles

On the family front, a female couple figured in a bizarre custody battle that raged for years and enthralled - and outraged - EDGE readers.

Nicole Jasinski has been fighting for custody of the son she had while in a legally recognized relationship with Amber Carpenter. After Jasinski took full custody when the couple split, Carpenter filed for joint custody. Jasinski, who publicly renounced the relationship, went to the Mennonites, an Anabaptist sect that predates the Reformation. They shielded her and eventually transported her and the child in secret to a location believed to be in Nicaragua.

As reported here, the Mennonite pastor who aided Jasinski in the abduction of the mother and child to Nicaragua is appealing his conviction in federal court.

EDGE has been steadily reporting on similar cases, such as the one in which the Florida Supreme Court eventually ruled that a woman who donated an egg to her lesbian partner had full parental rights to the child. Even though Carpenter has said that she is making the case as a mother, and not attempting to set a legal precedent in such cases, it is inevitably being considered as important to establishing co-parental rights in same-sex marriages and civil unions.

Anti-Gay Harassment Continues

Much of the news EDGE has reported over the years has concerned lesbians being harassed in various situations. In New York, for example, a lesbian customer in a popular Greenwich Village restaurant claimed in 2007 that she was forcibly ejected after a bouncer stormed into the women’s restroom, claiming that a patron had complained a man was in there.

As EDGE reported , the woman said she felt "embarrassed and humiliated. I’m just hurt that even my wanting to prove that I’m female wasn’t enough."

In another incident, a lesbian couple dining in a North Carolina café got more than the bill: The owner left them a note condemning them with a raft of Biblical quotes. It was small comfort that the restaurant owner mentioned that he condemned his own gay daughter.

State regulators in Oregon ruled in favor of two lesbians who said they were thrown out of a Portland taxi and onto the shoulder of the interstate after the driver yelled at them for their sexual orientation. The cab driver was subsequently fired and his company fined.

Meanwhile, across the pond, a French bus driver was fired after spraying water on a teen lesbian couple that was kissing. The local transport service for the city of Nancy (the ironies abound) fired the driver after he admitted to the incident, EDGE reported.

In Galveston, Texas, the father of an adult lesbian was arrested after he allegedly murdered her and her partner. That such incidents still occur in 2014 is distressing; that such incidents are now being reported nationally by news sites like EDGE at least means that they will no longer be swept under the rug or tolerated in an open and free society.

One case that made national headlines was a popular high school cheerleader, 18 at the time, who was arrested after the parents of a girl, 14, with whom she was having a relationship complained to authorities. As reported here , Kaitlyn Hunt’s parents not only stood behind their daughter, but also launched a "Free Kate" campaign that quickly caught fire and became a cause célèbre among LGBT youth advocates.

Unfortunately, the arrest of four women in the African nation of Cameroon simply for being who they are pointed up the long road for women in a broad swath of countries across Africa and Muslim states stretching as far as Indonesia. The fact that EDGE is alerting the wider world to such an outrage brings international attention to nations that still manage to oppress their LGBT citizens.

At least the leaders of such retrograde nations are attempting to be equal-opportunity oppressors: a lawmaker in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan is urging that the country outlaw "lesbianism." Sex between men is already legally banned.

Even in South Africa, where equality for LGBT citizens is enshrined in the Constitution, it was reported that the abhorrent practice of "corrective rape" against lesbians - an issue EDGE has consistently reported on throughout its existence - is on the rise.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that this article should end with a mention of the first lesbian-only cemetery , which was inaugurated at the end of March in Berlin. A German association of elderly lesbians said in a release, "where life and death connect, distinctive forms of cemetery culture can develop and where the lesbian community can live together in the afterlife."

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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