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Why People Flocked To This Bar To Celebrate Marriage Equality

Stonewall Inn CREDIT: ESTHER YU HSI LEE
Stonewall Inn CREDIT: ESTHER YU HSI LEE

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all 50 states, LGBT advocates and curious onlookers flocked to a well-known gay bar, decked out with rainbow flags, located on the corner of Christopher Street and Grove Street in Manhattan’s West Village. That bar, the Stonewall Inn, was recently declared a landmark for its significance in LGBT history.

In the 1960s, police frequently raided bars like the Stonewall Inn to arrest gay people. The raids culminated in a riot that began during the early hours of June 28, 1969. By the end of the rioting that morning, “13 people had been arrested. Some in the crowd were hospitalized, and four police officers were injured. Almost everything in the Stonewall Inn was broken. Pay phones, toilets, mirrors, jukeboxes, and cigarette machines were all smashed, possibly in the riot and possibly by the police,” the Stonewall Inn says on its website. Another day of rioting took place, which resulted in the arrests of five people.

Since then, the LGBT community has commemorated that day with celebrations of gay pride “to recognize how far we have come, to remember those less fortunate who came before us and to remind those who may have grown complacent, how far we still must go to achieve true equality.”

On Friday, the police department once again shut down the street, but this time to allow the jubilant crowd to celebrate. Many hugged and high-fived one another. Some took pictures and selfies in front of the bar. Others cried. I spoke to some of the people gathered at the Stonewall Inn to get their reactions about what the federal court ruling means for them:

‘I Just Came Out’

Houcine Harrabi (left), Jerry Pelayo (center), Gary de Leaumont (right) CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee
Houcine Harrabi (left), Jerry Pelayo (center), Gary de Leaumont (right) CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee

Jerry Pelayo, Gary de Leaumont, and Houcine Harrabi live in New Orleans, Louisiana. They were visiting New York this weekend for the Gay Pride parade on Sunday and were specifically drawn to the Stonewall Inn because “it’s where it all started,” Pelayo explained. “It makes you feel something inside. It makes you want to dance, you can’t even explain it.”

Without a recognition of our relationships, you don’t recognize us.

Pelayo continued, “We’re all surprised that we arrived here, especially in the South where it was going to be fought to the bitter end. It’s wonderful for us to have this. We all knew that this decision was going to come. […] We’re just over the top, I can’t even express the emotion that we’ve waited so long for. Without a recognition of our relationships, you don’t recognize us.”

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“There are people who were taught from childhood that there’s something wrong or psychologically off about this, and it will take time,” Pelayo said, stating that the federal ruling would help change mindsets of people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily consider the rights of gay people. “But once they will be invited to weddings, to unions, and they start recognizing relationships, it will change. We’re already seeing a major shift within a few years. I think now that it’s here, it’ll be even swifter. You can’t convince anyone of a rational argument. It has to be emotional. […] The younger generation is already acclimiated to it and accepting.”

Pelayo is right. At least 75 percent of the Millennial generation support same-sex marriage, a 2015 Pew Research report found.

“In Louisiana, it’s so conservative. Because of people like Bobby Jindal and his aspirations to be a very conservative president, it really has pushed things back a little in Louisiana,” de Leaumont said. “This push to jump ahead to be like other states that have approved this through their legislatures, would have been a long time coming in Louisiana.”

The wait may be even longer, however, for residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Mere hours after the landmark decision Friday, all three states’ attorney generals held off on allowing same-sex marriages to proceed in their states. Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell called the federal ruling “yet another example of the federal government intrusion into what should be a state issue,” in a press release.

Harrabi, a Tunisian native who came to the United States 27 years ago, currently works as a chef for Food for Friends, a New Orleans-based organization that delivers food to HIV-positive people. Harrabi came out for the first time to his family on Friday after he heard the ruling.

It’s so beautiful, finally not to lie anymore.

“I’ve never been out to my family,” Harrabi said. “I’ve been closeted and when the announcement happened, I thought, my gosh, enough is enough. It’s time to come out. I put it on Facebook and I got a lot of good response and a lot of negative response, like my niece. It’s been a dream come true. I always wanted to be who I am and when I saw this this morning, I just came out. It felt so beautiful. It just happened while I was having coffee and breakfast. Marriage equality!”

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Harrabi continued, “I’m sick and tired of not living as who I am. I’m so grateful that this country has allowed me to be who I am. I grew up in a Muslim conservative country. I had this back-and-forth with my niece and nephews, as long as you don’t talk about it, it’s okay. If you are out and you say it, it’s a big deal. They asked me to delete the post on my Facebook. I told my nephew, ‘I’m not going to delete it. If you’re not going to accept me, I’m sorry, it’s your problem.’” My nephew said that over there, they care about what other people say. I’m sorry. I feel like I’m going to cry. It’s so beautiful, finally not to lie anymore.”

‘It’s The Only Place To Be Right Now’

John Caminiti CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee
John Caminiti CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee

Donning a white hat and a bridal veil that he wore after his marriage ceremony in and carrying a stemmed flower, John Caminiti, a New Yorker, said that he had anticipated the ruling, but that he was “disappointed in our Chief Justice. I thought he would’ve been a little more cognizant of his court’s legacy, but I knew we were going to win.”

Caminiti was married to his partner in Canada, but again married in New Jersey so that they could have an American certificate. He arrived at the bar because “it’s the only place to be right now. I was here the night the New York State of Appeals ruled against us. I was here the night Edie Windsor won her case two years ago. This is the place to be.” “The people in my office ran over because they thought I was having a stroke,” Caminiti said, recalling his reaction to Friday’s ruling. “I was laughing and crying at the same time. […] Living in NY and NJ, we have it already and we’re recognized by the federal government, so I’m just thrilled for the people in the states that didn’t have it. They can finally be treated equally. I’m so ecstatic for them.”

‘There Are No Limits’

Finn Keenan, 9 CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee
Finn Keenan, 9 CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee

“I was shocked as much as I was excited,” Finn Douglass Keenan, a nine year old kid donning a rainbow flag as a cape, said. A young member of the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, Finn was very insistent about making sure that people know that “love is love.”

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“I think that in this nation, there are no limits,” Finn said. “It’s what makes the U.S. the U.S. We’re very lucky to be living here today.”

His father, Kevin Keenan, added, “it’s wonderful to hear him say this stuff. In some ways, we did this last year and I find myself overwhelmed with emotion. […] This decision is a testament to all the brave warriors who fought decades for this and were strategic and disciplined. People laid down their lives. It’s amazing and it’s nuts. There is a lot more work to be done. Today is also the funeral for the minister in South Carolina who was killed. There’s so much more to be done on racial justice and immigrants rights. We need to stay working together to fight as allies for everyone’s rights.”