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On Monday, we reported that Kitty Lambert and her fiancé Cheryle Rudd will be the first same-sex couple to wed in New York State. The grandmothers of 12 will tie the knot before a crowd of thousands, in front of the specially rainbow lit Niagara Falls.
Kitty is also the President of OUTspoken for Equality, an organization that takes credit for pulling Buffallo area Republican State Senator Mark Gristanti into the marriage equality camp. She took a few minutes out of her bridal duties last night to chat with the Voice about wedding prep, being raised a Mormon, fighting for civil rights, and being “nobody special.” (We disagreed with her on the last point.)
Here’s our (edited) conversation.
How is the wedding prep going?
Good, but stressful. I’m panicking a little. There are so many details. But it’s wonderful, too.
So in other words, you’re like any other bride.
Yes, except we’ve only had two and a half weeks to prepare. We didn’t get to say, “Let’s get married in the fall!”
When did you initially decide to get married?
Oh, back in about the year 2000! Cheryle and I had our first date, and we absolutely were fascinated by each other. We ended up together because our partners were having an affair with each other. So we went out to laugh about it and have a drink and commiserate. And we found out it was the most wonderful thing that they cheated with each other, because we were so better suited to each other. It was a God kind of thing.
So we started dating, and instantly we knew this is who we were supposed to be with. Of course, marriage wasn’t an option back then, even in California.
When did you come out?
We were late bloomers. You have to remember we are in our fifties. It was not acceptable when we were young to be gay. The courts would take your children away from you. You had to keep that all secret. We had to wait until our children were old enough. And then, as my kids say, when I did I come out, I cam out popping a drum. By then I thought, no one should have to be fearful of losing their children, or their home, or their job. This is what God made them.
Were you ever married to a man?
Yes. That was one of the obligations of our generation. If you didn’t, you were suspect. I was raised Mormon, and I married a returned missionary when I was 17, and I did all the good things that Mormon moms are supposed to do. And I have to tell you, a lot of it was a blessing. Learning how to speak publicly, how to study scripture, the organizational skills the church taught me (and might now regret teaching me!), all of these things have been blessings.
For me, having my children was everything to me. And the church would have supported taking them away from me [if I came out] when I left their father. So it was extremely critical for me to keep this secret.
When did you know you were lesbian?
I knew at 7. I’ve often joked that I remember turning the screws on the closet door and sealing myself in for a long, long time. If you’re afraid of losing your family and you come out then you can start with nothing. Fortunately my parents were supportive, and I’m grateful. But I have no contact with my siblings – and that’s OK. We are blessed in how we have developed loving, compassionate, positive and powerful families of our own. Cheryle and I want to be good examples to our children and our 12 grandchildren. It was really important to us [in fighting for marriage] that none of our grandchildren ever be considered less than an equal human being. [Marriage equality] means that every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender family has the right to equal protection under the law.
Over time, this will become federal law. We know we will someday be long gone, and no one will remember who were are or what we did. But this law will be on the books. And someday, someone will fall in love, and want to get married, and they’ll go to City Hall, and no one will be standing there with ugly, venomous signs with so called “religious” messages of hate. No one will care. They’ll just be another loving couple, who want to love and care for each other for the rest of their natural lives.
How did you end up being the couple everyone will be looking at under a microscope come Saturday night?
We started a grassroots organization at our kitchen table. OUTspoken for Equality grew to be 1,800 western New Yorkers, with a spectrum of individuals. We were not just LGBT folks, but our family members and our friends. We were able to win over Senator Grisanti, who is a wonderful man, even when HRC [the Human Rights Campaign] and ESPA [the Empire State Pride Agenda] thought western New York was a lost cause.
When we were approached about being the first couple to legally wed –
Who approached you?
I promised I wouldn’t say. But this person thought it would be good for western New York. And I told them, I am nobody special! I’m really not. I’m about five feet tall and damn near five feet wide. I’m a short, little, chubby Irish grandma with grey hair a big mouth. But if you print anything, print this: if there is someone out there in some little town in the USA, they can do this, too. They don’t have to have a political science degree. They don’t have to have a lot of money, or incredible skills. All they have to have is a desire to make change. And that change comes right where you are. And if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong. At OUTspoken, we knew that this is joyous work.
Still, over the last eight years, I have been threatened. I’ve had death threats left on my door and on my car windshield. I’ve had things thrown at me. A woman ran up and shoved me in front of my grandkid. And you know what? It didn’t not affect me. It affected me, deeply. It hurt me, it hurt my heart.
But in October last year, in less than three weeks, 12 kids took their lives. They ended their own lives because they couldn’t bear this. And there has to has to be somebody to stand up and say, “Not anymore. It’s wrong.”
Are you religious or spiritual still, after these experiences?
Oh yes, very much so. It’s like, when I was a child, I spoke as a child. And when I became a man, I spoke like a man and learned to put away foolish things. That’s how I think of my spiritual growth.
The most cherished scripture I carry in my heart, and I have to paraphrase, is: I come now and I bring you to a higher law, doing away with all of the old things that went before. This is my new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. By this they shall know that you are my disciple.
That’s what I say to myself every time I have to deal with the Maggie Gallaghers of the universe.