Anita and Lisa’s Great Love Adventure
I (Lisa) saw Anita at an protest about March 2004. I saw her singing “We who believe in freedom cannot rest till MICASSA is passed (medicaid community based community choice act)”. I thought, “wow, she is kinda neat.” She got out her wheelchair and started walking around the crowds of people. I was consumed by her beauty. I would always looked for her on actions. I never said a word to her, except maybe “hi.”
She (Anita) moved to Rochester, NY where I live. I see her from time to time, again with only saying “hi.” I thought and still think she is an amazing woman and I would be lucky to date her. I finally had the nerve to tell her that I liked her on a protest in Chicago in September 2007. It was late one night and only a few people awake in the hotel lobby. I told her that I thought she was cute and that we should hang out sometime. She said she had to hang out with a friend that had to leave early for a family emergency. The protest ended and we went back to Rochester, and I didn’t follow up. I got a really bad cold, and was not well till about mid October 2007. She and I were at a town hall meeting sponsored by the New York Commission of Quality of Care and Advocacy for People with Disabilities (CQCAPD) because they were starting a new department to address and oversee the issues of people who are deaf, deaf/blind, and hard of hearing. I had left the meeting early to visit a consumer and returned back to the office after 5pm (which the doors are locked at the building where Anita and I work). Anita let me back in the building and I then asked for her phone number so we can hang out. We exchanged numbers, and she called me first that night. I went out and did laundry (I had to go to a laundry mat because my apartment has limited usage of laundry machines there), but got her message on my voice mail. I returned the call that same night and we talked for about 45 minutes the first night. I talked about my cats to make sure that she didn’t have any objections to kitties. I tried to ask her out for dinner, but she wanted to go to a museum or something. I think it was about two days after the initial phone conversation we had talked on the phone again, this time about 2 hours. Near the end of the conversation, I asked her again to have dinner with me, and she said “yes”. We agreed to go out on Friday, October 26. Since I had asked her out, I knew I would pay for the meal. I was really nervous. I wanted to make sure that the place we went to was not only romantic, but also accessible. Anita is a pioneer, if you will, for disability rights, and I didn’t want to blow our first date by choosing a place that was not accessible. At first, I thought an Italian restaurant, we got there and the place was packed. We had not left my truck. I picked Anita up, and put her wheelchair on the back of my truck. Her chair was light, and I was amazed. I told Anita that there was another restaurant down the street, an Ethiopian one, and she said that would be fine. So we went to the Ethiopian restaurant. I picked Anita up at 7pm and the date ended at about 11pm. We talked for hours and drank Ethiopian wine (honey wine). I took Anita home and said good night.
OK, now it’s my turn. I’m a bit loquacious, so this might be long, but I believe in starting at the top. Here goes:
I am almost totally blind since birth, and for 13 years, I’ve used a wheelchair due to Multiple Sclerosis. Of course my disabilities have never stopped me from doing anything I put my mind to, and though I literally have to have anything I read right on my face I have been a bookworm since age 2, was reading at college level at age nine, graduated high school at 16, and finished college at age 19.
After college, I faced a major problem. I could not get hired in my field because no one was going to hire a blind person, no matter how smart I was. This was before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and believe me, there are still major hurdles to overcome!
Being African American, and well aware of my history, I felt guilty that I was born too late to participate in the Civil Rights movement, but I committed myself to social justice and social change, and became an activist at age sixteen.
At 21, I took a job as an interpreter and personal attendant for a gentleman who was Deaf, Blind, and used a wheelchair. Dennis was a disability rights activist who traveled the country fighting for the rights of people with disabilities. He belonged to a national, grassroots disability rights organization called ADAPT. ADAPT uses direct action in addition to the normal advocacy methods and draws inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi. Many of the old timers had previous experience as community organizers, and peace and justice activists. ADAPT is very committed to its goals to the point where protest and nonviolent civil disobedience have become very effective means of obtaining rights for people with disabilities, and changing policies that adversely affect us.
Needless to say, I was very drawn to ADAPT, and immediately joined. I moved from Chicago to Denver, and got a job in the national office there as a community organizer. Over the years, I moved to various cities, helping to organize and build up the local ADAPT chapters, and over time, became one of the national leaders.
Today, ADAPT has thousands of members across the U.S., and several other countries. At least 500 people come to each of our national protests (we call them actions), which happen twice a year in various places, but most often, Washington, DC.
In 1991, I noticed that people from Rochester, NY started coming on the actions. Over time, the group got larger, and larger, and I saw several leaders emerge from this group. Another thing that I noticed was that the Rochester chapter had a huge number of Lesbians, and folks who are Deaf. The Lesbians, especially, were very friendly, and I got to hang with them sometimes. The cool thing about ADAPT is that it is diverse in every way imaginable, and very accepting, so it was not strange that there are many Gays and Lesbians in ADAPT, including among the leadership. I had come out at age 21, shortly before joining, and this acceptance was one of the main reasons that I felt so at home in ADAPT.
Anyway, by September of 2003, I noticed that a cute woman in an orange baseball cap was with the Rochester group. I suspected that she was a member of the Rochester Dyke Crew, but I was too shy to say anything to her, so I just watched her every move and nursed my crush. In time, I found out that she was indeed, a Lesbian, and that she was Deaf, but could hear some with the help of a hearing aide. I was still too shy to say anything more than hi to her, but I looked for her on every action, and she was always there, wearing her signature orange baseball cap.
Over the years, the Rochester ADAPT crew got huge, to the point where they were nicknamed the Nation of Rochester. The group was so cohesive, and the leadership was so strong, in addition to the hellacool folks that made up the chapter, that I decided that if I were to join another ADAPT chapter, it would be Rochester.
In October, 2006, I was offered a job as a Systems Advocate at the Center for Disability Rights in guess where–Rochester, NY!! It seems that while I was watching them, they were watching ME, and when this position became available, they thought that I would be perfect for it. Needless to say, I jumped at the offer, and moved to Rochester in late November, 2006.
It was easy to fit in. The Center for Disability Rights is the home of Rochester ADAPT, so I quickly ran into many of my friends that I met on the actions. One day, I was walking (although I use a wheelchair, I use the term “walking” to describe how I get around, as do many folks who use wheelchairs) down the hall on the first floor, I saw my crush, The Lady With The Orange Baseball Cap. She smiled, and I said “hi”. I couldn’t believe we worked at the same place!
It was at one of our local ADAPT meeting that I finally learned her name: Lisa Brophy. Over time, Lisa and I would make small talk, but nothing more than that, unless it was about work, but I also noticed that my feelings for her were mounting, but I was too shy to speak up. I imagine that you wonder how it is that a nationally known disability rights leader is shy, but alas, I am, when it comes to one-on-one stuff.
In September, 2007, we were in Chicago for an ADAPT action. One night, I was in the lobby of the hotel where we were staying. Most of our crew has gone upstairs. I was saying goodbye to a friend who had to go home early due to a family emergency. Lisa, out of the blue, decided that then and there, she was going to tell me how she felt about me. When she did, I was shocked. I had no idea! I thought that she was being kind. Me being the dork that I can sometimes be, told her that I had to say goodbye to my friend.
Now, you’ve read Lisa’s part of the story, so you know what came next. A couple of weeks after our first date, Lisa told me about Letchworth Park, an hour’s drive from Rochester. It was her custom to go every year in the fall to see the foilage as it was changing colors. She asked if I would go with her the next time that she went, and I said, “sure, it’s a date”.
She picked me up on a chilly, cloudy Sunday, and we drove over. I was excited and nervous, but happy to be with Lisa. By the time that we got to the park, the sun had come out a bit. We drove around, and I took pictures with my camera phone. Imagine a Blind person taking photos! Actually, I really didn’t do too badly.
Lisa is one of those folks who come prepared for everything, and she brough snacks for us, including hot chocolate with cinnamon, which is one of my favorite things. Even after a couple of hours, the hot chocolate was piping hot, and Lisa had brought along one of her beautiful mugs to serve it in. It may not seem like much, but I was touched and impressed! We stayed at the park for several hours, and while there, we visited the gift shop, where I bought a CD of instrumental Celtic music, which Lisa put in the CD player. It was so relaxing, and it felt so right to be with her, I didn’t want it to end!
When we got to my house, Lisa got my chair out of the back, and I thought, “I’d really like to kiss her”, so I summoned my courage and gave her an all-too brief kiss on the lips. I must have floated up to my apartment, because I was on cloud nine, thinking that I’d stolen a kiss, but as Lisa tells it, she was the one who stole the kiss. It doesn’t matter. That kiss was only the beginning!
It has been several months since that first tentative kiss, but our relationship has blossomed into something indescribably beautiful. Though we are worlds apart in some ways, we are like peas in a pod in many respects. On April 26, 2008, Lisa proposed to me, and without missing a beat, I said “yes”!!
Lisa and I want a legal marriage, so we are going to go to Canada to do the blessed deed, then, have a large ceremony for family and friends here in Rochester. As it stands now, the state of New York must accept same-sex marriages from other states and countries where it is legal on the same footing as heterosexual marriages, and thankfully, our company offers benefits to same-sex couples. One of my co-workers, a dear friend, is our wedding planner, and many folks at work, and indeed, in ADAPT are VERY excited about our upcoming wedding. Our families are supportive, and Lisa’s church is accepting. Neither of us can wait until the very special day when we officially begin our lives together!