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“Pride is Big Mama’s Love”: An Essay

By Betrice Coleman-Sweet

In 2008, Bea and I had been in our committed relationship for 4 years. We had our official wedding ceremony in May of 2005 and about 2 months later we obtained our domestic partnership.

Through our tribe, we were introduced to someone who in turn introduced us to some amazing people at GLAAD. This is the first time that we heard about the “Equality California: Let California Ring Campaign.” The campaign consisted of same-sex couples who were able to obtain their marriage licenses before Prop 8 passed. Bea and I obtained our marriage license in July of 2008. The reps from GLAAD interviewed thousands of couples for this statewide initiative. We were chosen as a couple to participate in the campaign. We were excited and afraid.

The fear only amplified when the rep from GLAAD asked us to speak with Bea’s Grandmother AKA Big Mama and request her to join us in the media campaign. See, during our interview, we are asked questions about our marriage and our support system. They were not only interested in our family core unit which included Bea, our son Ray and me, they were very interested in the story of Bea having the support of her 84 year old grandmother. Big Mama supported our relationship from the very beginning.

Big Mama was born in 1924 in Shreveport, Louisiana on a plantation. She lived such an abundant life. Throughout her life she has been a foster parent, a caretaker, a public speaker, and entrepreneur. She has traveled the world and had a profound network. She also was a distinguished member of a prominent Baptist church in South Los Angeles that sometimes spewed messages against homosexuals.

So we told her about the campaign and without a hitch, she said yes. We explained that there would be cameras and microphones in her house. She said it was fine with her.

The night before we had to tape, Big Mama came into the room that we were sleeping in at her house at about 2 am. She told us that she was questioning her decision about coming out with us to the world. After talking for about an hour or two, we were all reassured that moving forward was the right thing to do.

Big Mama was the star the next day during filming. To our surprise, Bea’s mom also joined us and she too was interviewed.

Our ad was printed in various print media outlets nationwide. Bea and I were also featured in a small docuseries for the campaign.

After 17 years together, Bea and I acknowledge that the core of our pride comes from the unconditional love that poured into us from Big Mama and our village who continues to stand with us and for us.

Betrice Coleman-Sweet is an alum (Los Angeles ’12).

This piece is part of Public Allies’ campaign to highlight voices of LGBTQ+ members, alumni, staff, and partners throughout Pride Month.