Married with Pride
June 18, 2017, was our first wedding anniversary. My wife, an engineer, insisted on the date since 6-18-16 is a palindrome. I went with it. We got married last year in a park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on a perfect, sunny summer day. From the park, West End Overlook, we could see the whole city in all its glory: Heinz Field, PNC Park, the downtown skyscrapers, Point State Park where the three rivers meet, and the yellow bridges named after Andy Warhol, Roberto Clemente, and Rachel Carson. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful wedding. We had friends fly in from all over the country, and the best part to us was just having everyone together. I was grateful for my wife, who took care of most of the logistics and leg work the day of while I was busy getting my hair done and drinking mimosas with my friends. During the ceremony, we stood with the city right behind us, the view picturesquely framed on both sides by trees. We couldn't imagine our wedding being anywhere other than Pittsburgh. The city held special meaning for both of us. It's where my wife attended graduate school and her doctorate program at Carnegie Mellon. Although my wife and I lived two hours apart when we first met (on a dating app), the city brought us together. Our first date was a Pittsburgh Penguins game. Go Pens!
Pittsburgh was also the biggest city closest to me for most of my life, and I had many firsts there: first concert, first pro baseball game, and my first real college party with my high school best friend at the University of Pittsburgh. I grew up in a small conservative town in Northwest Pennsylvania that has one stoplight. In high school, it felt like I was the only gay woman around and I wasn't sure that I would ever be married. I was desperate to find others who were like me. My best friend in high school was gay (we actually came out to each other at the same time) and I don't know what high school would have been like without him. I remember when my mom found out I was gay, and I secretly called him on our landline phone, crying because my parents had taken away my car keys and cell phone and had said some harsh words that were hard to shake. As is generally the case, time eventually heals wounds, and after enough time my parents accepted me for who I was. I wouldn't say that they openly encouraged it (and I didn't feel comfortable talking to them openly about it), but they no longer rejected me and they allowed me to be me. Back then, especially during the hard "being found out" phase, I never really pictured my parents attending a wedding where I married another woman. I knew I always wanted them to come, but I think I prepared myself for their absence so I wouldn't be disappointed.
Our wedding was small, with only about thirty people, and not only did my parents attend, but so did my grandparents, and my wife's parents as well. It meant the world to both of us, and I'm sorry for doubting their acceptance of our relationship and of gay marriage. This was the first gay wedding that many of our guests had ever attended. Gay marriage has only been legal in PA since 2014, followed by national legalization as a result of the overruling of the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2015. We had our "court-official" wedding at the Pittsburgh courthouse after getting a recommendation from friends for an LGBTQ-friendly judge. We saved the ceremony part for our friends and family. Our friend, DL (short for David Luke), who was in the same program as my wife at Carnegie Mellon, flew in from Boston to be our officiant for the ceremony. I was especially surprised that my grandparents came because I was never sure if they truly accepted me. I never really had an official coming out with my family and I would just constantly do the dance of introducing partners by avoiding pronouns. I was afraid of their rejection. Their attendance made me so incredibly happy and put to rest any fears I had.
I recently met a volunteer my grandparents' age at the Center on Halsted in Chicago, the Midwest's largest LGBTQ center. I was volunteering for a lesbian film screening. The film, titled Lives Visible, was about a guy who found a box full of old photos of two Chicago women who lived together. He was their neighbor who would stop by to help them with errands. There were tons of photos of them that they had taken on a Brownie camera, which the guy had found after the women passed away. He had thought that they might be lesbians, but they had never mentioned it to him and he never asked. It wasn't until they had passed away that he discovered their true lives, the ones where they were not afraid to take photos of themselves together, kissing and holding hands. LGBTQ people taking telling photos of themselves like that during that time was almost unheard of. Sadly, many people go back into the closest during old age. The volunteer I met at the screening said she couldn't stand how ungrateful young LGBTQ people are today, and how they take everything for granted and don't appreciate the fight that her generation had to take on in order to make today's more accepting world possible.
This reminded me of another comment a friend had made to us. A friend who is in his fifties told us after he attended our wedding that while he was happy for us, he was also jealous because he "never could have done what we did" when he was our age. He never could have married a man at twenty-six years old. These types of comments stick with me. I have always realized how lucky I am to live in the time and place that I do, but it was the comments of these people that made the feeling of indebtedness much more real. My circumstances were incredibly fortunate. There are so many LGTBQ kids today who do not receive the same acceptance that I did, who don't even have a place to sleep at night. Fortunately, there are organizations like the Center on Halsted that are there to help youth in need. While LGBTQ equality is at a high point today (in certain countries), it's important to remember those who didn't grow up in the world that my generation did, with legalized gay marriage and out celebrities all over the media and the internet to connect them to each other, and to LGBTQ resources. While it's necessary to look ahead and continue the never-ending fight for equality, we also need to to honor and serve those who battled long and hard to make marriage equality in the United States possible.
Shawna Davis lives in Chicago where she works as a Program Assistant at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. She enjoys reading, hanging out by Lake Michigan, craft beer, and spending time with her wife, Shelly, and their two pets–a cat named Mustang Sally and an American Bulldog named Sammy.