Gay married couple LaVell Lewis-Christian and his husband Eric Christian recently shared their story with Gay Star News about being black gay and married in America
I grew up in a religious family where they felt church was the cure for everything and would talk at the child rather than with their child.
I was the eldest of three boys in the projects of Fort Pierce, Florida. My mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1990 and wheelchair bound by 1992 so for me it was tough. I had to help out around the house and take care of my mom and two brothers.
I really didn’t know what it was to be a kid and play with the other kids in the neighborhood. I would go to school, come home, clean and help my mom while my brothers enjoy childhood.
I turned to dance, fashion magazines and Brandy (R&B singer) as an outlet instead of drugs. My mom abused drugs and alcohol and I knew drugs was not an option at that time.
I took two of my cousins’ dolls from my grandma’s house and tucked them in my jacket so that my mom or dad wouldn’t find them. When my parents would leave us home I would cut out fashion photos from magazines and dress them in the clothes.
I didn’t identify as gay than because as a child I didn’t know what that was, but I did know my aunt had girl friends that would live in our house.
We moved in 1995 to another project. There we had a transgender woman in our neighborhood named Misha. I was always afraid of her but curious. One day I walked by her house headed to the basketball court and she said ‘Don’t be afraid to live’. That stuck with me.
At the tender age of nine I had been violated sexually by folks who were supposed to protect me. I was afraid to say anything to anyone, including my mom because I knew she wouldn’t believe me. So the struggle continued.
She would send me to stay with my father who would abuse me just because I identified as having ‘girl tendencies’ in his eyes and he ‘didn’t raise a gay’.
At 14 I started smoking weed and taking prescription drugs to numb the pain of being molested. At 15 I told my mom that I was into guys and girls. She kicked me out her house.
I went to live with my friend in her dorm room but under one stipulation – I had to graduate high school and I did.
I later went home for a few and eventually moved out for good and never looked back. The hardest part about coming out was my mom turned her back on me and my father still to this day disowns me. It hurts like hell.
Revealing the ‘truth’ about my sexuality to my family was, and still is, a very difficult situation for me.
As a Virgin Islander, I was born and raised on the beautiful island of St Thomas. I am the oldest of two but as long as I can remember, my younger female cousin lived with us and eventually my brother and I referred to her as a sister.
I take pride in being a product of the Caribbean. We were taught to respect God, honor our parents, work hard in school and focus on a craft, hobby or sport that would possibly grant you other opportunities in the future –especially, since finances were definitely a major problem.
Both my parents were born and raised in the West Indian islands themselves, so both my mom and dad shared the same mindset – that homosexuality is wrong. To this day they believe it is against the Bible and immoral.
I revealed my sexual preference to my parents back in 2004. I was already teaching for five years, having gained my masters degree in Vocal Music Education, and I was working on entering the doctoral program at a university in Maryland.
I invited my parents to my place in Baltimore for the entire weekend, with the intent of having an adult conversation. Well, to make a long story short, my parents left the state and refused to speak to me for the next 18 months.
Life with my family would never be the same. As my parents returned to the islands, and the news about my sexuality spread, the relationship with my wider family deteriorated.
My entire family – with the exception of a few uncles, aunts, and cousins (love you LeeRoy and Halima) – refused to speak with me.
I was devastated! I spent countless hours trying to reach out to them with no answer from anyone.
I remember like it was yesterday… my mother texting and emailing Bible scriptures to me, condemning me for my thoughts, and feelings. I remember reaching out to my brother, only to receive the busy signal. Birthdays for me, went from being a celebration to no gifts, calls or even good wishes.
How we met
LaVell: We met in Atlanta, Georgia on 28 November 2012. Eric was there competing for a pageant (Mr/Miss Black Universe) and I was there to support his sister for the same pageant.
Eric walked by and I grabbed him by his forearm and asked his name. What’s crazy is instead of getting his phone number than I decided to wait until competition was over that night and still didn’t get it.
Once I got back to the hotel, I got on Facebook. I immediately located him and sent a direct message. He replied, we met that Tuesday for coffee and hot chocolate at Starbucks, and today he’s my husband.
What happened next
Eric: Today things are a little better. There is a relationship with my mother and father but it’s not the same. Conversations are short and precise, family trips are a thing of the past.
My brother has gone from being my best friend, roommate, and partner in crime, to someone who calls every so often – almost a stranger.
I went from being that brother, cousin, nephew, that so many looked up to, to being the token ‘gay family member’. I’ve made major strides professionally but have missed the joy of sharing it all with my family.
Instead, I take pride in building my own family. I have taken an oath and married an awesome man who supports each and everything I am a part of.
Through the hurt, I learned that I must open myself to finding true love and for this I am happy I met my husband, LaVell.
We were married on 24 June this year. We share the fact our childhood and family have hurt us but have taken a vow to not allow our past to affect our future. Instead, we use those tough lessons to help build the solid foundation for our family.
Not being close to our family hurts, but we would rather be happy living openly and honestly than live a lie for Caribbean and Southern families with small-town mindsets and stubborn ways.
LaVell: My greatest gift is Eric and our daughter India. She is eight and is the light of our world.
I’m proud that I did live my truth despite of the pain I endured then. I am so grateful for marriage equality and all the people that support same-sex marriages because I was able to marry my best friend Eric.
And my mother and I are closer than ever. She has had the sense to apologize.
I currently work for the government in Maryland and I am part-time celebrity wardrobe stylist. I am a better person mentally, I still have moments where I break down emotionally and to this day I have nightmares of those terrible nights.
As two males of African-American descent, we have dealt with our fair share of scrutiny. But love conquers all.