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Jul 4, 2017 2:17 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hamptons Tea Dance Marks Silver Anniversary

Jul 13, 2017 7:56 AM

For Edie Windsor—the sole plaintiff in a 2013 Supreme Court case that served as a landmark legal victory paving the way for same-sex marriage equality—the unexpected 2015 dissolution of the Empire Pride Agenda, on which she served as marriage ambassador, was bittersweet.On one hand, it signified broad success: The organization, once a leading activist group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in New York, felt that its 25-year cause—equality for gay and transsexual New Yorkers—had been fulfilled. In 2011, same-sex marriage was legalized in New York, and, in October 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed executive action to extend protections against transsexual discrimination, which, at the time, was at the top of the Empire Pride Agenda’s docket.

But it also meant that the status of Ms. Windsor’s cherished event—the annual Hamptons Tea Dance, an LGBTQ celebration originally produced by the Empire Pride Agenda—was now in limbo.

“This is a huge love affair,” said Ms. Windsor, 88, noting that she met her second wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, at one of the dances, which typically draw more than 1,000 people each summer. “That’s the only way I now how to say it.”

Noting that she was “almost crying” at the prospect of the dance’s possible demise, Ms. Windsor called the event’s board, stating that she would pull out all the stops to continue the popular tradition. “I will see what we can do and see if we can raise enough money to do this [our]selves,” she recalls telling board members.

To her great relief, Ms. Windsor’s “three favorite” activist organizations—The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (The Center), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center (Callen-Lorde), and Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)—agreed to join forces to co-produce what has become an annual Hamptons tradition since 1992.

The 25th annual Hamptons Tea Dance will take place on Saturday, July 15, at Nova’s Art Project in Water Mill. The party runs from 4 to 8 p.m., and tickets start at $150 a person, while sponsorships start at $300. Tickets can be purchased online at hamptonsteadance.org.

Ms. Windsor, who lives in The Town of Southampton with Ms. Kasen-Windsor, a vice president at Wells Fargo Advisors, will once again serve as honorary chair.

“We’re all living the same life, and the same difficulties, and the same joys,” Ms. Windsor said. “And maybe we only have the chance to see each other once a year, and it’s here.”

Proceeds from the event will benefit the three event cosponsors, officially dubbed “The Partnership,” in order to bolster their pursuit of data collection that better details the needs of the communities they serve.

“It’s almost essential that we all meet as often as we can meet,” said Ms. Windsor, a dance attendee for the past 15 years and a former member of the now-dissolved East End Gay Organization. “It’s important to be related this year more than ever before. And to bring in as many more people as we can.

“The dance is wonderful for that,” she continued. “We’re celebrating 25 years of our community coming together.”

DJ Lady Bunny, a drag queen and fixture of Atlanta’s gay music scene, will return as the event’s main performer.

A 50-foot segment of the mile-long rainbow flag created by artist Gilbert Baker, the American artist and gay rights activist credited with designing the rainbow flag to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1994, will be featured at this year’s dance. Also known as the Stonewall Uprising, the riots were a series of spontaneous, and sometimes violent, demonstrations led by members of the gay community following an early morning raid of the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969.

Ms. Windsor has deep ties to Long Island and, specifically, the East End. She began dating her first wife, Thea Spyer, in 1965, when they were living in Greenwich Village and often vacationed on the South Fork. They bought the house in the Town of Southampton, where Ms. Windsor still resides, in 1968.

In 2007, Ms. Windsor, then 77, and Ms. Spyer, then 75, were residing in The Town of Southampton when they married in Toronto, where same-sex marriage was legal.

Ms. Spyer was suffering from multiple sclerosis at the time and died two years later. Ms. Windsor inherited her late spouse’s estate, but was required to pay $363,000 in taxes—an amount that she would have been exempt from if she were married to a man.

Ms. Windsor challenged the law and went on to sue the Internal Revenue Service. After navigating the New York court system for years, her case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, culminating in a 5-4 decision declaring that the federal Defense of Marriage Act—the legislation blocking Ms. Windsor’s tax claim—was unconstitutional.

“‘United States vs. Windsor’ is a tremendously important case in the American Civil Rights landscape,” said Suzanne Goldberg, a professor at Columbia Law School and former senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal, the country’s first legal organization focused on achieving full equality for lesbian and gay people. “When the Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, it opened the door to nationwide marriage equality for same-sex couples.

“Edie Windsor’s willingness to stand up and challenge the government’s discrimination against her has forever changed the path of LGBT rights in the United States,” she added.

That federal case set precedent for the 2015 decision that established same-sex marriage as national law—a fact that brings great pride to Ms. Windsor.

“People stopped me on the street, people stopped me on the subway to say, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done—you’ve changed my life,’” she said. “That’s why I think all this stuff is important and why I think I have a role in it.”

It is also why she thinks it is so important to continue what has become a highly anticipated Hamptons event.

“To continue to support each other, to act for each other,” Ms. Windsor said, explaining the importance of the Hamptons Tea Dance. “We have meetings in every city in the country where we just talk about how we live, how we want to live, how we should live.”

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