African-American Lesbian Testifies at D.C. Marriage Hearings

rsz_12aisha_mills_headshotGay and lesbian couples in Washington D.C. are one step closer to achieving marriage equality. On Tuesday, November 10th, D.C.’s City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a bill that would grant those in the LGBT community the right to be legally married.  A final vote is set to take place on December first.

Before the City Council voted on the bill, hearings took place in October and early November for supporters and opponents to voice their feelings about the importance of this bill passing. The turnout was overwhelming―over two hundred people signed up to speak, making it the largest hearing that the council had ever conducted. GLAAD had the opportunity to sit down with Aisha Mills, an African-American lesbian who testified at the hearings. Mills, the founder of the D.C.-based consulting firm, Synergy Strategy Group, told GLAAD that she felt compelled to testify. “Unfortunately, there are not enough African -American women speaking in favor of marriage equality and our voices need to be heard,” she said. “Plus, my partner Danielle and I are engaged to be married next August, so this was timely in our lives. “

Mills’ testimony touched upon being raised by her grandparents, how many children in the black community have been raised in non-traditional families and how her grandmother loved her regardless of her sexual orientation. She also talked about how she and her partner Danielle have created a life for themselves in D.C. and how they did not want to move to another state in order to have their union legally recognized.

Here is a copy of Mills’ testimony:

Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson and esteemed members of this committee.  My name is Aisha Mills.  I am a rsz_1da1_(2)Board Member of the Campaign for All DC Families, the organization coordinating efforts to achieve marriage equality in the District.  On behalf of the campaign, I would like to thank you, and all of the cosponsors of this bill, for your unwavering commitment to end discrimination in the District of Columbia.

My fiancee, Danielle Moodie, and I are residents of Columbia Heights in Ward 1.  We are registered domestic partners here in the District, and plan to be legally married next August. I am here today to express my strong support for the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act.

Although I am in my 30’s my story begins some 50 years ago in the rural south. My grandparents were married in South Carolina in the 1950’s. My grandmother, a brilliant young woman—who skipped two grades in school and graduated with honors—had the intellect to be a scholar, but as an African American woman in the south during the 1950’s her opportunities were unjustly limited.  Marriage for her during this time was not one written in fairy tales, but one that commenced as a “means to an end”.  After they had their first child, my grandfather went on to enlist in the Navy, and the stability of his military benefits would be a solid foundation for them to build their family.  Marriage was my grandmother’s lighthouse guiding her out of the impoverished South towards the West, a place that bore unparalleled opportunity.

Sacrifices were made by my grandparents during this time…but their unshakable unity and partnership was purposeful.  Though not always one steeped in love it was their only way to mobilize and create a stable home for their family.  While my grandmother bore just three children of her own, she went on to raise six—her sister’s two children who were orphaned by their mother’s premature death, and then me.  The protections that my grandparent’s legal bond of marriage created allowed me to have a safe space to thrive in when my own parents’ young, volatile, relationship became an unfit place for me.

My grandparents raised me with the southern Christian values of their roots—generosity, respect, and commitment to family—and true to the customs of the south, our dinner table was always a welcoming one.  Mommom, as I so affectionately called my grandmother, always had an extra plate for any last minute guests I brought home, no matter if they were gay, straight, black, white or “indifferent” as she’d say.

I remember my attempt to come out to her—like many black women of her era, she wasn’t the warm and affectionate type that you sit down and have a heart to heart with. So I called her one day and told her I was bringing a group of friends home for the weekend—some of whom were lesbians—to see how she would react.  I will always remember that conversation like it was yesterday.  The phone line went silent for a moment, and then she replied, “well, these are your friends and I want everyone to feel comfortable...so what do you want me to cook for you girls?”  That was her way of letting me know that she would never reject me (or my friends) because we were gay.  My sexual orientation was never an issue to her and she wanted nothing more than for me to find happiness.

Mommom and I were always very close—she was my mother, my role model, and my moral compass; and I was her pride and joy.  While she was not the type to express this in hugs and kisses, in her own way she always let me know that.  And I am saddened that she did not live to fulfill that playful promise she always made when to me when she was trying to coax me into doing a favor for her like “scratch her head” or “run upstairs to get her bedroom shoes”—she’d jokingly preface her request with “I promise to dance at your wedding if you’ll____”.  Which was a huge promise consider my grandmother never danced.

30 years after the time that my grandparents brought me into their home, their unity and the foundation that it afforded me, has granted me the world of possibility that was closed to my grandmother decades earlier.

Their personal sacrifice paved the way for me to follow my grandmother’s path of success, and I live my life with a quest to complete the journey that she was not able to chart on her own.  I graduated from high school with honors, went on to college with a partial scholarship, traveled beyond borders she could have never imagined…and now I have fallen in love.

I have found that unmistakable, bountiful love…that unwavering partnership that great stories are written about…  My grandparents sacrificed so that I could have this opportunity…and I will not allow their work of building a strong unit to falter because of discrimination and inequality.  My grandmother faced discrimination daily in the south and her only opportunity to grow was to leave…and for her courage I am truly grateful.  Now decades later I am faced with my own struggle…and for her and the future generations in my family to come…

Danielle and I will not uproot the life we have built here to go out and search elsewhere for fairness and equal rights.  And we should not have to.  We are committed not just to each other, but also to securing equality here at our home in D.C., and we will not rest until that work is completed. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Council and share my story.

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