Gay Marriage Ruling for Philly's LGBT: “It Was An Incredible Moment”

Alan Chelak, a native of Ireland who moved to Pennsylvania as a child, didn't think he'd live to see the day gay marriage would be legalized by the United States Supreme Court.

Then, on Friday morning as he walked to his job as the manager of Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni's Room, his phone rang and his life changed.

"My boss called me. I was walking through the rainbow crosswalk," Chelak, 30, said with a wide grin as he sat at his desk in the upstairs room at Giovanni's Room, a longtime stalwart in Center City Philadelphia's Gayborhood. "I actually started laughing with joy. It was an incredible moment."

Chelak, who sports a goatee and ear-length curly dark blonde hair, said that as an Irish immigrant and a gay man, he's spent much of his life feeling like an outsider.

"When I was younger and coming to terms with my identity, I never thought I'd see this," the soft-spoken store manager said. "It changes everything. It's a new level of acceptance. It makes me proud to be an American. It makes me glad to be a citizen."

Chelak said he plans to call Ed Hermance, a co-founder and longtime owner of Giovanni's Room who passed the shop on to Philly AIDS Thrift last year. The bookstore is now part thrift store, and Chelak said 100 percent of the proceeds -- about $20,000 a month -- are donated to the AIDS Fund.

Hermance is well-known as a longtime advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

"Many people worked hard for this, and he's one," Chelak said.

Chelak said the Supreme Court decision means so much despite the fact that Pennsylvania, New Jersey and many other states already legalized gay marriage at the state level because it grants the full constitutional right to marry to people in same-sex relationships.

He added that he expected many conversations would be had Friday at Giovanni's Room and over the next few days about the landmark ruling.

Outside Giovanni's, as he browsed a rack of clothing, Robert Touchton, 26, was eager to start one of those conversations.

"It's fantastic. It should've been done a long time ago," said the dark-haired Touchton, who moved from Florida to Philadelphia about four years ago, smiling. "It's really a beautiful thing to finally happen."

Touchton said the phone at his office has been ringing off the hook since the news of the Supreme Court decision broke. He works for Philly Gay Lawyer, an LGBT-focused law firm based near Giovanni's Room in the heart of Center City's Gayborhood.

The young legal assistant laughed through his thick beard when he pondered how the ruling will impact his life.

"I can definitely consider marriage in the future," he said. "I definitely look forward to getting married a little later down the road."

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