What would I say to the ones who were brave enough to divert the raging river of injustice? Our world today is indebted to the fearless rejectionists who so eagerly stood, loud and proud. Also to those who sat down in quiet defiance, hellbent on changing our society’s corruption, despotism, and prejudices.
Life can be so hectic, sometimes it takes some pretty heavy subjects to slow us down to evaluate where we are, what we’re doing and where we’ve been. While my husband and I have been in a committed relationship since 2006, we weren't legally married until the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015. Little did we know on our wedding day that only a few short months later we would be adopting our first daughter. A year and a half later our second daughter came into our lives.
One thing that I'm coming to learn is that life speeds by in the blink of an eye. Busy days fade into hectic evening routines. Some nights are easy, while others involve temper-tantrums and meltdowns. Sometimes, it can be so intense that I just want to kiss them goodnight and close the door. Just as I start to envision myself relaxing on the sofa with a wine glass in my hand I hear, "Papa, please tell me about Disney World." A quick aside--our bedtime routine consists of two books, then prayers, then we tuck her in, then she asks us to tell her about Disney World. Anyway, as much as I want her to go to sleep I know that one day she will stop asking to hear stories about Disney World. So just like all the nights before, I tell her all things I love about Disney World. Her eyes brighten up, and she smiles as I rub my fingers through her hair.
This life we lead is so beautiful. Stressful at times? Yes. But as a gay family, we are doing something we have always dreamed of doing. We are living the American Dream. For so long, that dream was reserved for the stereotypical straight family. Then, someone came along and helped reshape history.
I am 37 years old. As such, I wasn’t around when the Stonewall Riots took place in New York City. I have heard about them and I’ve seen documentaries, but I will never know what it was like to be a gay person in those times. All I can do is imagine. I visualize what it must have felt like as a woman to be arrested and taken to jail just for wearing blue jeans (aka "men's clothing"). Or for two men to be arrested for walking down the street holding hands. Imagine the horror these people must have felt when their names and addresses were published in the newspaper for all the hateful bigots to see, simply for being "caught" being who they truly were and loving who they truly loved. Day after day of humiliation, fading into night after night of persecution. Being fired from their jobs and shunned by their peers.
The oppression and abuse from the forces of law had to end. Something had to give, and one day it finally did. Like a brittle branch on a malnourished tree, a strong gust from a changing wind blew by and it snapped and crashed down to the pavement. These people were victims of a highly unjust legal system, but they did not lay down and submit to it. Rather, they came together and summoned all their courage and took on an audacious effort that would end up changing the course of time. With linked arms, they marched forward against all odds. It took persistence, perseverance and determination. When one rose up, they all did. And then came pride.
That was New York’s story. I live in New Orleans. Being from the South, I am able to see firsthand that it often takes a little longer for things to change here. 1969 faded into the summer of 1973. While the gay community here is very much familiar with what happened next, unfortunately, much of society outside
New Orleans is not.
Paying our respects
Photo credit: bsaphotography.com
There was a gay bar called The UpStairs Lounge on the second floor of a three story building on Chartres Street in the French Quarter near downtown New Orleans. On June 24th, 1973, the first-floor entrance was intentionally set on fire, trapping the patrons inside on the second floor. As the fire spread, metal security bars on the windows prevented patrons from escaping while flames from the fire blocked the exits. 32 people lost their lives. Until 2016, this event was the largest mass murder of gay people in U.S. history.
However, not one statement was made by the Mayor of New Orleans, the Archbishop of New Orleans or the Governor of Louisiana. It was like this heinous act didn’t exist. The crowds below spewed hateful slurs as the firefighters removed the bodies, and some of the families didn’t even claim their dead. In New York City, law enforcement tried to stop the homosexual lifestyle. In New Orleans, the city and state officials were embarrassed and pretended we didn’t exist.
Some say The UpStairs Lounge fire was the day that New Orleans’ gay pride movement started, then came to fruition 4 years later in 1977. Anita Bryant, a former beauty queen turned pop singer and outspoken opponent of the gay rights movement, came to New Orleans for a concert performance. This sparked outrage among the local gay community. A protest was organized in Jackson Square in the French Quater. Over 2,000 people spilled out of Jackson Square that day--an unheard of size for a gay rights protest in New Orleans at that time. The speakers motivated the crowd and encouraged them to rise up and to not be ignored anymore. There are reports of a particularly boisterous lesbian woman from New York City taking the microphone. With her thick Brooklyn accent she began to say...”for years, gays have been teachers, marriage counselors, social workers, policemen, firemen, military members, cooks, janitors, and business people. And that gays were aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, and, most of all, we are their children! And the closet is no place to keep your kid!" Her speech ignited everyone's emotions and the crowd went wild, marching through the French Quarter to the site of her concert. That was the day New Orleans had its Stonewall. It is such a shame that such tragedy and bigotry had to spark the outrage. But, something had to, right?
Our wedding in Jackson Square
Photo credit: bsaphtography.com
Jackson Square has long been a popular wedding venue. As it would happen, 38 years after the protest my husband and I became the first gay couple to be legally married in Jackson Square--the very same place where this insurgent protest happened. Stonewall started the revolution and that rainbow wave finally reached the south 8 years later.
So, at the end of a long, hard day, you can bet your ass I am going to tell my baby about Disney World. In spite of how intense the day or evening may have been. I will tell her. I will tell her for all the ones that died hiding in the closet with their own secret dreams... I will tell her for all the ones that were killed before they had the chance to. I will tell her about Disney World for all the trailblazers that would do anything to be in my place at this exact moment. Of all the places to tell her about, I find it so appropriate to describe the place where dreams come true every single day. It’s where happiness is commonplace and magic is an ordinary miracle.
We are eternally grateful that our lives are a little more like Disney World than we once thought and we owe it to each and every LGBTQ+ pioneer that played such an integral role in writing a new chapter for all of us. God bless you all.
You can always count on January to be full of New Year's resolution clichés that make you want to just slam your face in a door. Well, I hate to add to the torture, but you know I have to chime right on in!
This January marked my 10th year of kicking the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes. It was the second hardest thing I have ever done. Last year I wrote about my personal coming of age story about the wild and crazy life I led when I worked in the nightlife on Bourbon Street. It definitely wasn’t for the faint of heart. Check it out if you haven’t already. Ultimately, I would leave that life behind. Unfortunately, my love of cigarettes survived. To allow you to really understand where I am coming from, I will just pick up where the last piece left off.
I was shellshocked when I first left my partying lifestyle. It was 2007 and Douglas and I were only in our first year together. We both had a lot of growing to do. Not only did I smoke cigarettes, but I also smoked pot. Not to justify my reasoning or excuse my actions, but to put it "bluntly," it helped with getting over my brother’s death. He died in 2005 and, obviously, that experience lands the top spot for the hardest things I have ever had to do or get over.
I was seeing a therapist at the time and she told me to start working out. She said it helps tremendously with depression. So, I took her advice to heart and went out and bought a really cute bike. The next day I started biking to the gym... right after I watched The Price is Right. Hey, don’t laugh. That’s my program! Everyone has their morning routine and mine is espresso and The Price is Right. Those of you that know me personally are nodding your heads right now.
After the Price is Right, I would hop on my bike and start the ride. On the way I would listen to the Forest Gump soundtrack station. Hey! Don’t hate! It really is such relaxing and peaceful music. Check it out.
I would bike under all the century-old live oaks in Uptown. The smells of the flowers, freshly cut grass, the views, the peace, the thoughts. I would get lost in my music and meditate. I would ponder life. I would think about where Douglas and I were at in our relationship. I would think about the future and where we were going. Where we’d be in 10 years. Would we make it? Would we ever get married? Would we own the house with a white picket fence? Would we have babies one day? I would lay out my dreams as I peddled my bike and try to connect the stars to make them align. How could we make our dreams happen? What could I do to be a better person? Then, I would get to the gym and have the most hardcore, adrenaline rushed workout ever (fyi I change the radio station at the gym, Forest Gump is only on the bike).
The first year of my new workout routine was incredible! I was not only seeing results in my body, but I also stopped having nightmares about my brother. Things just started to feel right. However, I would run on the treadmill and have to stop and cough because of the smoking. My boss at the time was very outspoken about my smoking habit. He would tell me how gross it was and that I should quit. Hearing that from him and other people in the context of having to stop for coughing breaks during my workout prompted me to finally quit. It took about a year of my new morning routine to really help prepare me for this new chapter. On New Year’s Eve of 2008 at 11:58 pm, I had my very last cigarette. Honestly, I wish I could say that the gym was my only guiding light to quitting but I would be lying. Pot also helped. Yes, yes, I know. I was replacing one habit with another. But that worked for me. Sure, there are people that judged me. There were people that looked down on me. One year led to another and before long I was 5 years stronger without cigarettes and my body and self-confidence had completely transformed into something I had never had before.
By now it was 2012 and my fitness routine had become second nature. But I started noticing that when we would travel to see family across the country I would go through full on pot withdrawal. I mean, I wouldn't dare bring weed to the airport, right? So I would do without it for the duration of our trip. To put it mildly, it was torture. I’ve heard many people say that you don’t go through withdrawals from marijuana. That is absurd. You absolutely go through withdrawals. I would literally break out into sweats at the sight or smell of food and I would randomly barf throughout the trip. It was a nightmare, and it happened every time I had to leave town without weed. So to make things better, I chose not to leave again! What an excellent idea, right? (palm to face)
From 2012 to 2014 I never went further than a car ride from New Orleans. I truly thought that was the remedy to make things better. Then, Douglas asked me to go to Europe. He planned a European vacation that sounded amazing! We were to fly into Ireland, then on to Paris, Switzerland, Venice, and Rome. I was elated but also terrified. How could I travel having pot!? Well, I knew there was no way in hell that I was going to spend 3 weeks in Europe feeling sick to my stomach. I knew that I would have to either stay home and be a prisoner of my bad habits or break the chains and become free to do what and when I wanted!
On March 4, 2014, I stopped smoking pot. That is the 3rd hardest thing I have ever done. This upcoming March 4th will be my 5th year clean. It literally felt like I broke the shackles off of my hands and feet and gained complete control of my life. I learned that the herb Valerian Root helps tremendously. To this day, I still take it every night.
Europe was breathtaking. Paris has always been my most favorite city in the world, and finally I was able to see why. Saying goodbye to cigarettes and pot was the best things I have ever done. Sure, there are times that I miss them both... but the moments pass and I am okay again.
Today I am thankful. So, so thankful. I had no idea what was waiting on us around the corner in 2015. That year really took us by surprise. We had the opportunity to become first time home owners! For that to happen, we’d move about 30 minutes away. That meant my morning routine would end. My daily bike ride to the gym unfortunately came to a close. Many people may say, so what! Buy the house! Well, we did.
I learned to adapt. I did’t bother to bike nor look for a gym. I did the next best thing. I went to Costco and bought a treadmill. Just like the Flock of Seagulls song, I ran. This routine wasn’t the same, but I made it work. About 2 months after we moved into our new house, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage!
So we jumped in the car and went downtown to get our marriage license! On August 1st, on our 9th anniversary together, we were married in Jackson Square in the French Quarter.
photo credit: BSA photography
Our honeymoon was in Disney World and it was perfect! I couldn’t believe this was my life. And then, literally like 3 months later, we got the call that shook us to our bones. We were going to be dads. We were in shock. We were told our wait would be 5 years for a baby- and that time shrank into being 3 and 1/2 weeks! Our baby girl was a preemie, so she needed to get stronger in the NICU. And on December 4th of 2015 we brought our itty bitty baby girl home.
The year 2015 was the year all the stars aligned for us. It still feels surreal to think about. Then in 2017 our second daughter was born. By then, I was lucky if I could get 30 minutes of running in. It took a while to learn my rhythm. One waist size grew into another and before long I felt like I was the Pillsbury Doughboy. However, something happened on Ella’s first birthday. We found out that we were going to move back Uptown. Not only Uptown, but blocks from where we used to live! We were overjoyed. Douglas would be 4 minutes from the hospital where he works, and only 8 minutes away from the girls' nursery school. The house was a dream, the location was perfect but for me the highlight was being able to get on my bike, put on my headphones... and yes- listen to the Forest Gump station while riding my same exact route to the gym I had gone for so many years before. I felt like I was channeling my inner Maxine Waters. I was “reclaiming my time.”
This time, the ride was different. It was like I was transported back to 2008. Each familiar song that would play as I passed by the same houses on the same streets under the same trees-- it was like I could hear my thoughts from years ago still echoing in the live oaks. What would our lives be like in 10 years? Where will we be living? Would we have more babies? I had goosebumps. My life had came full circle. And it all started on this bike route. Wow, the universe is amazing. Some people ask, “when is it my turn? What about my life?” Everyone’s path is revealed for different reasons at different times. For me, it was when I put my own selfish desires away and focused on what was truly important. That is when my life began. That is when all my stars aligned.
Follow my family’s journey!