About This Story Collection
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Freedom For All Americans is spotlighting couples from across the LGBTQ and gender spectrum who talk about not only their personal love stories, but also why it is essential for their state and country to embrace LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination protections. Thank you to the National Center for Transgender Equality for partnering with us on many of these stories. Take a look!
North Carolina Couple: Turning to Faith During One Partner's Transition
Sean & Sarah Caroll • Durham, NC
When Sean Carroll came out as a transgender woman, her wife Sarah was the first to know – and throughout these initial months of figuring out what her new life as a woman meant for her, her marriage with Sarah was always front and center alongside their devout Christian faith. “We went through a lot that summer, and Sarah was willing to pray and do the research alongside me,” Sean said.
“It was a really rough year,” Sarah admitted. “It was really, really difficult. The first few months were a lot of soul-searching on my own – but it became very apparent very quickly that this was reality. I understood that. There wasn’t a question of ‘Should Sean figure out the best way to live?’ It was more, ‘Is this a sin, or is this not?’ and then I needed to figure out, ‘What is this like for us?’ I was still going to be there for Sean for whatever she needed, but could there be a marriage? It took a few months for us to understand this together, but I realized that God created Sean this way, and God still loves Sean.”
“Through all of it, we never wavered in our love for each other,” Sarah added. “The affection was always going to be there. The dedication was always going to be there, even when there was a question about whether our marriage would survive it. But I never thought about not supporting Sean during her transition. I was still going to be the biggest cheerleader. She’s my best friend. And so we stood side by side with each other, cried often, and naturally got to a point where we were talking about plans for a month out, or for six months out, or for a year out, or for the rest of our life. And that’s when I knew we had turned a corner and were imaging a future together again.”
Sean and Sarah recognize that their specific challenges are quite unique – most married couples don’t go through a gender transition together. But they also know that all relationships endure hardships, periods of discomfort, and moments where neither partner knows exactly the right thing to do. Together, all couples learn from each other and move forward.
“Lots of couples face growing pains similar to what we went through,” Sarah said. “It just looked different for us. Most couples get to a point where you have to evaluate your expectations of your partner, figure things out. Sean’s transition just forced us to look at those questions all at once and evaluate all of them at the same time, which can be a lot.”
“Coming out together was really interesting,” Sean said. “Really what was on both of our minds was that it wasn’t just one person coming out and transitioning – it was about how we were going to be perceived by our family and our friend group and everything, together as a couple,” Sean said. “We had to talk through when we wanted to share things and include people in our journey so that we could say goodbye to the least number of people that we could. Sometimes I wanted to move through everything really fast, but I saw that if I went too fast, there wasn’t going to be anybody on the train with me. I needed to learn how to take a step back and realize that throughout this process, Sarah had my back, so we could go at a smarter pace. I can’t imagine transitioning by myself without having Sarah by my side.”
Louisiana Couple: "We Love Calling Each Other Wife"
Nette & Jasmine Archangel • Baton Rouge, LA
Nette’s birthday nearly 6 years ago was a very special one – but not because she was the one being surprised. On April 4th, 2012, at 11:58 pm, Nette turned to Jasmine, love of her life and girlfriend of almost three years, and proposed.
Nette knew this was the date to completely surprise Jasmine. “Jazz always said we could never get engaged on our birthdays,” laughed Nette. “She had no clue what was coming!”
They were married just months later in New York, their closest friends surrounding them, and embarked on their lives together. In February of 2014, the couple realized a dream of theirs: to become foster parents. In addition to their two dogs, the couple now lives with five children, ranging from 20 years old to 5 years old.
“We smile because we can now say, this is my wife and these are our sons. They can grow up in a new world where their family is the new normal. It feels so good to walk into an atmosphere and refer to each other as ‘wife’ with pride.”
Texas Couple: "The Definition of Unconditional Love"
Greg & Joan Abbink • Austin, TX
Joan Abbink always had a rule for herself when it came to getting involved in romantic relationships – and that was to never date a police officer. Joan worked as a police dispatcher, and throughout her years of employment it had become a cliché for dispatchers to date cops.
“She wrestled with the idea of whether she would break her streak of never dating cops,” Greg laughed. “I charmed her just enough, and we fell in love.”
The couple met in 2009 and fell in love. That was before Greg transitioned genders from female to male.
“My wife fell in love with me pre-transition, but she told me later on that there was always something different about me,” Greg told Freedom for All Americans. He ultimately confronted what he was feeling about his gender identity shortly after his 19-year-old nephew came out as transgender in 2014. “I said if this brave kid could begin this journey at 19 years old, then surely I could. I needed to be whole and complete and honest with everybody, and I wanted to be my best self – not just for myself, but for my wife, too.”
Greg and Joan worked through Greg’s transition together, and the couple is now happily married as husband and wife after tying the knot in May of 2016 in Texas. “She is my hero – the complete definition of unconditional love,” Greg said. “She has loved me for the person I am since Day 1, with no strings attached. I adore her and appreciate her for doing that. I met her and she could see beyond my outer shell and love me for the person that I am. She realized that although my transition was difficult for her, it was also difficult for me, since I was experiencing the physical and psychological and emotional changes. She let me deal with a lot of things and made me the focus, which takes tremendous restraint and patience and love.”
Florida Couple: We Were Upfront About Who We Are
Jessie Fischetto & Jamie Mackesy • Jacksonville, FL
Jessie and Jamie have been married for sixteen years – and she said he is one of her most supportive allies. Jessie identifies as bisexual although she has been married to a man for so many years – she finds that people often have the misconception that bisexual people stop being bisexual when they settle down with someone, which is simply false.
“When I was younger, there was no hiding the fact that I was bisexual,” Jessie says. As a teenager, she would date both boys and girls, and it didn’t occur to her that she would face pushback for who she was. As a bisexual person, Jessie has the potential to be attracted to people of more than one sex or gender – not necessarily at the same time, or in the same way, or to the same degree.
“To me personally, it was normal,” she said. She remembers thinking, “If I wasn’t meant to be this way, I wouldn’t be this way. I wouldn’t feel this way. When we started talking, I told him [Jamie] right away who I am,” Jessie said. “I said I’m bisexual, I can’t go back in the closet, I was born this way. We wanted to start really honest and straightforward. He says I changed his life for the better – but no, he changed my life for the better. My spouse loves me and supports me and respects me.”
Tennessee Couple: Marriage Equality Helped Us Adopt
Adam Kalin & Jeff Chipman • Germantown, TN
Adam and Jeff, met 16 years ago through a friend who introduced them at a restaurant in Memphis.
“It was definitely love at first sight,” Adam remembered. “We were looking for a very similar type of relationship. Both of our moms passed away when we were 20 years old, and we often say that they brought us together from heaven. Marrying Jeff after 16 years together was by far one of the best days of my life. Not only was I marrying the love of my life, but our family was becoming legally recognized.”
The couple are parents to two children, Jayden and Ian but had to fight adoption laws in Tennessee to be legally recognized as parents. However, following the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, opportunities opened up for the two.
“Jeff was finally able to adopt Jayden, our oldest son, who was 7 years old at the time, which was a huge relief. Marriage equality meant Jeff finally being able to be the parent he had always been to Jayden legally, after years of us fighting for that adoption and recognition. It added that final stability for our children.”
Florida Couple: "We Still Get Butterflies"
SueZie & Cheryl Hawkes • Brandon, FL
In 1997, SueZie Hawkes found herself in an internet chat room, where she first met the woman who would become her wife, Cheryl.
“Chat rooms were a different world where you could be yourself without face-to-face confrontations. We felt there was nothing to lose by being open and honest, so we shared our inner thoughts and feelings.”
After three years of talking via the Internet, in 2000 SueZie decided to move across the ocean in order to be with Cheryl, and the two were married later that year.
In 2009, SueZie began her subtle transition, but it wasn’t an easy process, says Cheryl.
“Until that time she had always been on the career fast track with glowing reviews and quick progression,” Cheryl explained. “Suddenly all that changed, and her role became static. SueZie began to try to hide some of her transition changes. Over the next 5 years I watched her health deteriorate. In 2014 SueZie restated her desire for surgical transition. I looked into those eyes that were begging for approval. All I could say was, “Let’s do it.”
After all these years, the couple is still madly in love. “I can’t wait to see her face every single day,” says SueZie. “I miss her the minute she walks out the door. Cheryl is extraordinary, her values are so humbling and her love so abundant, that’s why I gave up my home and country for her. It’s been twenty years since we met, and we both still have butterflies in our stomachs. We are so thankful for the passion and love we share. It truly is the kind fairytales are made of.”
Kentucky Man: "She would go to war for me."
Mykel & Kenitha Mickens • Louisville, KY
Mykel, a transgender man, lives with Kenitha, his high school sweetheart, and their daughter. Mykel and Kenitha met when they were both young, through church. Kenitha sang in the choir, and both she and Mykel were children of preachers. “Ever since we were little, she’s been my everything, my best friend, my Number 1,” Mykel said. “She would go to war for me.”
Mykel and Kenitha have been through a lot together – including Mykel’s decision to transition.“I’ve been her husband since Day 1,” Mykel said.
“When this was the decision – that he needed to transition, it wasn’t a surprise,” Kenitha added. “I said, Cool, let’s go.”
For Mykel, all of his energy fighting this anti-LGBT discrimination stems from his love and commitment to his family.
He lives with Kenitha, his high school sweetheart, and their daughter. Mykel and Kenitha met when they were both young, through church. Kenitha sang in the choir, and both she and Mykel were children of preachers. “Ever since we were little, she’s been my everything, my best friend, my Number 1,” Mykel said. “She would go to war for me.”
Mykel and Kenitha have been through a lot together – including Mykel’s decision to transition – although the transition was far less frustrating than what they have had to endure in the past year. “I’ve been her husband since Day 1,” Mykel said. “I told her since we were kids that something’s wrong – that the only thing God forgot to give me was a boy’s body.”
“When this was the decision – that he needed to transition, it wasn’t a surprise,” Kenitha added. “I said, Cool, let’s go.”
The couple legally married in Kentucky on July 24, 2015 – a direct result of the work of many others who worked for decades for the freedom to marry.
Fighting for their family has given Mykel and Kenitha the resolve to keep pushing for greater understanding of transgender people.
The most important thing to the couple is raising their daughter in a welcoming and loving environment.“We try to teach our daughter just to love – she’s very loving…everyone, everybody. We’re just a loving family,”
Florida Couple: "Marriage Equality Gave Us Freedom"
Jen & Jennifer Metcalf • Titusville, FL
For Jen and Jennifer Metcalf, the past decade has been characterized by strong love they have for one another, even in the face of discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The women met each other back in 2005 while they were stationed in Norfolk, Virginia with the United States Navy. Jennifer was stationed on a U.S. Aircraft Carrier as an active duty member of the Navy, while Jen served in the military police for the Navy.
“We met, we hit it off, and it got to the point where our relationship was really progressing and we had to make a choice,” Jennifer said. “Things had gotten serious, and we had bought a house, and we realized we couldn’t stay in the military.”
Part of the reason was that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – the discriminatory policy that barred open service for gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers – haunted the couple like a specter, a dark cloud that threatened to upend their life at every turn.
The women left the Navy, following six years of service for Jen and four years of service for Jennifer, and moved down to Florida. Jennifer got a degree in elementary education while Jen served in law enforcement. They soon moved again, prompted by their decision to marry in Massachusetts in 2009. In 2014 they welcomed their son Griffin into the world, and shortly after they moved back to Florida to be close to Jennifer’s mother.
“It was nerve-wracking in some ways to leave Massachusetts, this state where we felt so protected, and move back to Florida,” Jennifer said. “So seeing the freedom to marry come to Florida was just a huge sense of relief. For me, marriage equality was this feeling that my marriage is legitimate wherever we go – I can move freely and be accepted everywhere.”
Jen and Jennifer continue to raise their son in a loving and supportive environment, all the while working to make sure non-discrimination becomes a reality in their home state. As veterans, Jennifer and Jen served to preserve and protect freedom for every American – but until they are fully protected from discrimination in every state, including where they live in Florida, their country is failing to reciprocally ensure their full freedom.
Thanks to Shannon Fauver and Fauver Law Office for partnering with us on this story.