Naomi Washington Leapheart
This past June, my wife, Kentina, and I consecrated our legal marriage with a sacred wedding ceremony in the presence of our loved ones on a beach in Cape May, New Jersey. Three months later, we’re still basking in the joy of that day. Our joy is sweeter because in many ways, it is our resistance—not everyone was supportive of our union. In fact, we still ache as we remember that in January, a prospective wedding planner we considered hiring told us she couldn’t work with us because she believes in the biblical definition of marriage, which, to her, made ours illegitimate. Kentina and I are Christian ministers. Our faith is precisely what animates our love and the decision we made to make a spiritual commitment to each other and to our communities. Yes, we are grateful that we could be legally married in any State in the country. Yet the rejection we experienced during one of the happiest seasons of our lives starkly reminded us that there is still so much more work to be done.
I am a black gay and queer man from the Midwest. I have experienced discrimination based on my race, sexual orientation, and class, more times than imaginable. Because of what it means to be intersectional—that is, multiple marginalized identities existing at once—it is nearly impossible to determine whether I am experiencing discrimination and mistreatment on the basis of me being unapologetically Black or queer; and many times, both. In an ever-expanding and gentrifying Washington, D.C., where I now reside, it’s commonplace to be followed by law enforcement and be watched as I’m entering more expensive stores. While browsing in Georgetown, a majority-white area, I was once told to leave a store because I “was taking too long looking” just to be mocked by other staff. Not only was I in this particular store for less than 10 minutes, I was certainly not the only one. I was profiled, targeted, and belittled because of where I was and who I was perceived to be. No one defended me, no one made me feel human; and these are not isolated incidences. Every day, LGBTQ people of color wake up understanding that we can be targeted at the intersection of our identities, and it is a perpetual process of healing and understanding.
I was working at a retail store, and I was never allowed to start my gender-affirming transition because the management team would tell me that customers would feel uncomfortable. I was repeatedly told that the customer always comes first and that due to customer apprehension, I could not transition.
I was working at a rehabilitation facility in San Francisco, California, which works with women and children. One day while I was on duty, my immediate supervisor said that she needed to have a conversation with me. I believed we were going to talk about me finally getting hired full time, but she started the conversation by telling me “that the Lord had brought me before her during her prayer time.” After entering into a moment of prayer she disclosed to me that she was concerned that the way I dressed and carried myself was unpleasing to God, and that I “knew God had created me to be a wife.” At that point she asked me if I was involved in a homosexual relationship with the woman that she had seen me coming to church with. I did not respond; rather, I asked why she was asking me that question because we belonged to the same church at the time. I was curious as to why this was suddenly an issue. She said that I was sending mixed messages because I presented as male. I ended up having to go on leave due to the stress, and while I was on leave my employment was terminated. I have been unemployed from that field of work ever since.
When my wife was working at a tutoring center, although the manager knew about me, my wife was forced to keep my existence hidden from the children. My wife actually had to make up a fictional male fiancé and later husband to account for the wedding rings to anyone who asked. The business claimed to be supportive of us but did not want to “upset the parents.”
Born to immigrant parents and raised in a predominately white neighborhood, I spent most of my adolescence trying to fit in. In order to assimilate, I would always try to hide my differences, including aspects of my race and sexual orientation. For most of my life, I didn’t feel comfortable to dress how I want, love whom I want, or be whom I want because I felt like I had to choose safety and security over being myself. I would comply when cashiers told me I should smile more, I would keep silent when restaurant owners made racist comments, and I refused to hold my girlfriend’s hand in public, all because I was scared for my safety. I was scared something could happen to me.
These first-hand stories were originally shared in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of the LGBTQ Task Force, et. al. Click here to read the full brief.