In our daily lives, we typically strive to be polite and even discrete. But when it comes to relationships, our curiosity tends to get the better of us. We read tabloids and trashy novels, listen to stories about first dates and sometimes ask personal questions of strangers without realizing we’ve overstepped our Minnesota nice. This happens especially in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community where, as a friend put it, “People equate gay with sex and think asking about it is fine. Do you want me to ask you personal questions about your sex life?” With the one-year anniversary of Minnesota Marriage Equality Bill approaching fast, RochesterWomen sought out members of the LGBT community and asked them to open up about what’s really going on in life, love and their pursuit of happiness.
LYNN, 66 & MARY, 60
Both now retired, Mary was a chaplain and assistant professor of Oncology and Lynn was a physician and professor of Oncology. They were married at their church in Rochester last fall after 19 years together. They’re unassuming, well-spoken, and when asked what it’s like being married, they both smile quietly and their eyes light up. “My home is where Mary is,” Lynn says. “Our wedding was all about promise. The promise I made to Mary is the biggest promise that I can make.” “It was important to us to have the blessing of the church,” Mary says and Lynn agrees. “Especially our church. They’ve always seen us as ‘Here come Lynn and Mary,’ not ‘Here come the lesbians.’” Marriage gives them a sense of security they didn’t have before. “When it comes to death and wills,” Lynn says, “we’ve seen a lot [of hardship] because of our jobs. We now have a sense that our wishes will be followed because we have a legal relationship. Before, we had to be mindful and put precautions into place. We now have a legal standing in this state.” “These are the challenges of who we are,” Mary says. “There are many other stories of couples right here in Rochester: a funeral director who didn’t want to work with a partner, a nurse who wouldn’t allow a partner into the hospital room when one was dying. Battles. Challenges. The majority has the power.” “By putting the marriage amendment on the ballot, our rights to marry, to be happy, were put to a popular vote,” Lynn points out mildly. “These are our basic rights. They’re not for the majority to decide on behalf of the minority.” “There are times when you deal with lesser-informed, closed-minded people who have power over you because they’re the police, the judge, the doctor,” Mary says. “I tell you, if that were my doctor, I wouldn’t hesitate to seek a new one.” “You can change doctors, but it adds a level of suffering,” Lynn says, shaking her head. “Unnecessary suffering.” As for where they are today and where they’re headed, Lynn and Mary have some surprising things to say. “There are struggles, but compared to the fear and stress of 30 years ago, I don’t feel counter-culture anymore,” Mary says. “In the past I felt very alternative, very ‘other.’ Being invisible is not good for the soul. I came out to a straight world. Today, we’re coming out into the world. We’re getting there.” “There’s been a lot of progress. We still have a way to go,” Lynn says. “Some of it will happen as the population, the youth, get to be in charge.”
VANGIE, 39 & LINDA, 44
Vangie is a member of the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Prevention of School Bullying. Her domestic partner, Linda, works as an administrative assistant. Linda is American; Vangie is Filipino. “We actually get stranger looks because we’re an interracial couple,” Linda says, “more than the fact that we’re two women.” They both laugh that their two-year relationship is “not that interesting,” and they attribute some of their stability to their family. “We enjoy having friends over,” Vangie says. “Watching the Super Bowl and the Oscars.” “Our kids deal with some peer pressure on account of our family,” Linda says, “but really, it’s the older people in their lives, other adults, that they worry about being judgmental.”
“Being gay makes you a political issue,”Vangie says. “I can choose to cower and hide and be oppressed, or I can fight for the same opportunities as everyone else.” She counts off on her fingers, “Immigrant, brown, woman…These are all discriminated against, and it limits possibilities and opportunities in life. If I can help pave the road for others, close the opportunity gap, why not do it? It puts you out there, to be a target, but somebody has to do it.” Linda admits, “We know people who stay in the closet to keep their jobs. Coworkers sabotage your work, try to make you look incompetent, try to get you fired. Others see it but don’t feel safe to report it. We have to go the extra mile to look competent and to protect ourselves. We have to document everything, plan ahead, know all the facts.” “Workforces need to be trained on how to work together,” Vangie says, which is an integral part of the work she does. “These are educated people who see clients, patients and colleagues of all cultures, backgrounds, religions, and races.” Additionally, Linda and Vangie report difficulties finding attorneys, doctors, therapists or other professionals who are versed in LGBT rights, health and issues. They go by “word of mouth” more than by public credentials.
“The model for relationships for us is straight relationships,” Vangie says. “We’re now just starting to rewrite what relationships mean for us. For one thing, neither of us has a gender role to play, male or female. We’re equal parts.” “I can tell you that I come out every day,” Linda says. “Every time I’m in public, take on a new job, school or role…Coming out never stops.” As for marriage, Linda and Vangie are reserved. Vangie says, “We’re very committed to each other and our family, and we’re very happy. Just because we can get married, doesn’t mean we’re ready to take that step yet.” Minnesota’s Marriage Equality Bill went into effect on August 1, 2013. At press time, 19 states allow same-sex marriage. The pursuit of happiness continues.