Mo Kalman, known to some still as Marilyn — died on January 23rd after a long health battle. She was a tenants’ rights lawyer, fat & dyke activist, political organizer, and an amazing partner to Susan Goldberg. She was my mentor and my friend. Here are my remarks from her memorial service.
I knew Mo from working on the Dyke March with her — one of her many wonderful achievements that I think will last lifetimes. I think that’s Mo’s legacy — teaching and maturing young activists like myself. Part of that work was to teach several generations of youths, or as Mo would say, ‘utes’ like myself how to run the best version of the March. If too many white women were talking at meetings, she would have us invite more women of color to the committee. If we complained about paying musicians for the stage, Mo would remind us how often our community was asked to work for free. Every decision needed to be Mo approved. It was a bit scary, to be held to such high standards. In that way, she was constantly pushing us to make the event better and more inclusive, rather than just managing to pull it off at all.
Mo lived this too. For example, as one of the few people with a car, she gave us curse-filled, New York style rides, often going far out of her way to make sure everyone got home safely. We were never in any danger, but Mo made sure to let us know which other drivers were putzes and dopes and she deftly swerved around them.
Even though Mo had a few decades on most of us, she always treated us a equals. I never knew I was learning a lesson until months or years later, when I realized how wrong I’d been before Mo helped me have the correct idea. We were always treated as friends, with Mo frequently inviting us to Judy Grayboyes’ concerts, Happy Hyder’s exhibitions, or her favorite sport — the polar bear plunge. She even welcomed us to her home and gave us beautiful home-cooked meals to boot.
One such planning meeting, I had to bring my dog Quinn to her house. She was still a young dog, wild at times, and I was nervous that she would misbehave. I rang the doorbell, unsure how Mo would react. She opened the door and visibly lit up, her arms extending to embrace Quinn. Quinn eagerly accepted, licking her face while I tried to restrain her. Mo stepped back, welcoming us into her home and started asking me question after question about Quinn, scarcely giving me time to answer before she asked another. Quinn reminded her of a favorite, departed dog, so she was quick to forgive her over-excitement. Actually, to my surprise, Mo loved Quinn.
In that moment, I saw a version of Mo I hadn’t understood before. Mo was willing to believe in the best version of Quinn. That same trust Mo offered so freely to Quinn was what she gave to all us. She knew we could do more and be better. As activists, as comrades, as sisters. In that way, she was a mentor to to everyone who worked on the Dyke March. Or as Mo preferred to be thought of, an Unkie to us all.