Celebrating Pride with stories of love

Joan Hepsworth and Tammy Perone-Hepsworth
Li Cohen / CBS News

Joan Hepsworth and Tammy Perone-Hepsworth

Joan Hepsworth, who is non-binary, and their wife Tammy Perone-Hepsworth, 55, grew up just miles apart in a small Ohio town. They went to the same schools and Joan even had a crush on Tammy in high school — so much so that they made her a piece of pottery in art class, but never worked up the courage to give it to her. 

“I asked her if she remembered who I was and she didn’t,” Joan told CBS News, “but I could tell her how she walked.” 

So, it wasn’t until years later, when they were in their mid-20s, that they crossed paths again at a local bar.

“I remember calling my best friend and saying, how does it work? Is this a date or are we just going out as friends because she said we went to high school together,” Tammy told CBS News. “… Still to this day, I am 55, and it is the best date I’ve ever had. She cooked chicken. I was dieting at the time, and she was like, ‘Well, I’ll make you some green beans.’ She fried these things in oil. It was so beautiful. And she plays guitar. And so after we ate, she sat at my feet and played guitar and sang. And I don’t think we kissed the first day. The second day she kissed me, but it was one of those long drawn out things that just makes it better.”

After dating on and off for years, they got married in a gazebo in New York’s Central Park on November 11, 2011, at 11:11 a.m., one of the few states that allowed same-sex marriages at the time.

Four years later, on the day that same-sex marriage was federally legalized, they ran to a massive celebration in downtown Tampa, Florida — their new home — and got married again. Today, they run a small, but bustling bookstore in Florida.

“I’m not the same person I was when we were in junior high or high school or even close to being after that … And I think that it was probably a good thing that we weren’t together for a few years,” Joan said. “It instilled the fact that we went through all those different experiences, and we could come back and make our experience even better and more grounded and more mature and better for the both of us.”

Paul Bradford and Paul Martin

Paul Bradford and Paul Martin
Li Cohen / CBS News

Paul Bradford and his husband, Paul Martin, have been married for two years, but due to the coronavirus pandemic and issues with immigration processes, they couldn’t be together until three months ago.

The couple, who affectionately call themselves Paul Squared, met in 2016 through a Facebook group. One day, Bradford, who lived in Florida, was accidentally kicked out of the corresponding group chat, and when Martin, who was based in the U.K., went to add him back in, they struck up a conversation. 

“In the beginning, it wasn’t so bad. It was just getting the time zones right because they were five hours ahead. And then it got to where we were just chatting every day. And that was multiple times a day,” Paul Bradford told CBS News.

A few months later, they decided to spend a week together, and quickly realized how much they loved being together. The problem with starting a new relationship, they explained, was that they lived an ocean apart.

“You’re not talking about just flying over … you’re talking about an expensive plane ticket back and forth. You’re in a different country,” Paul Bradford said. “… We were just going to see each other every three months, but we had some stuff going on with my job — It ended up taking another three months before we got to see each other again.”

A grueling process with immigration ensued. There was extensive paperwork and the pandemic forced interviews and meetings to be postponed. Then, just before midnight on March 20, Paul Martin finally arrived in the U.S. to live with his husband.

“It took forever. We were married for two years at that point. We got married, we went ahead and had our honeymoon. We had to wait for the marriage certificate to show up and then we turned in the paperwork to try and get it over here. It took two years because the pandemic hit and that just shut everything down,” Paul Bradford said. “It’s our first time living together. We’ve never spent more than two weeks together at a time. So we’re dealing with each other’s little quirks, little idiosyncrasies. He likes to do things this way. I like to do it that way … I actually like him being here … I have no regrets.”

Nina Borders and Diana Shanks

Nina Borders and Diana Shanks
Li Cohen / CBS News

As Nina Borders and Diana Shanks like to say, they are like “a yin and a yang.” Nina, 35, is a firefighter medic with big dreams and a love for parties and traveling, while Diana, 24, is a community organizer for a racial justice and prison abolition organization who thrives on logistical planning, reading and learning. 

Borders told CBS News that one of the things she loves most about Shanks is that she is one of the few people who challenges her. 

“I’m continuously growing,” she said. “I grow and then she grows and then we grow as a couple. And that’s kind of really beautiful.” 

The couple met in 2018 when Diana applied to work with the Pasco Pride organization. One year later, they became a couple. Now, almost three years later, Diana has come out as pansexual, and she and Nina — who’s now the CEO of Pasco Pride — are working to make sure that all LGBTQ individuals in their community have access to the resources and support they need.

“It’s really powerful to be in a relationship where you’re building something together that’s bigger than yourselves,” Shanks told CBS News. “This relationship is very much about the two of us and our love for each other, but also, we are building something together that’s gonna outlive us and it’s gonna leave a mark.”

“To be out and proud today, to be completely, just living in our lives out there, it feels amazing,” Borders said. “And it feels very natural at the same time …. And I think that’s how it should feel — liberating.”

Gina and Sally

Gina and Sally
Natacha Larnaud / CBS News

Sally and Regina’s love story began almost 47 years ago when the couple met through a friend in common. After their first walk on the beach in Virginia, Gina — who at the time was still Roger — had made up her mind: Sally was the woman she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

Four decades and two children later, the couple’s bond is even stronger: “I knew right away this was a very special person,” Sally said. “I’m not going to say that it was always easy, but I love the person that she is deep inside. The very tender person that I married is still here. That hasn’t changed.”

Sally recounts the moment her husband, Roger, became Gina: “It wasn’t easy. I thought it was my fault. Maybe I wasn’t good enough, or I wasn’t pretty enough. It brings tears to my eyes to talk about it. But I realized it was the person inside of her I was in love with. And I couldn’t be without her. So, what she looked like on the outside didn’t really matter anymore. It’s love in its purest form,” she said.

“You have to do a lot of soul searching with yourself first. You have to be okay with what other people think,” she continued. That takes a lot. Once you’ve done that, and realize that your life is better with your partner than it would be if you were apart, you’ve pretty much made up your mind.”

Gina and Sally

Gina and Sally
Natacha Larnaud / CBS News

Gina, who used to be in the Navy, said she’s spent a big part of her life having to hold her emotions in and hide who she really was: “When I was male, I just saw life as something I went through. But when I became a lady, the world changed from primary colors to many, many shades. It made me feel right inside,” she said. “I could feel love deeper than I ever had.”

Sally said that whatever life throws at relationships, love is always worth fighting for: “I can’t imagine a day of my life without Gina. I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “Being with Sally makes me fly. I just absolutely adore her. It’s really pure,” Gina said.

Aisha and Lasharndra

Aisha and Lasharndra
Natacha Larnaud / CBS News

Aisha and Lasharndra met on a dating platform two years ago and have been inseparable ever since.

“At first, I didn’t think we were going to make it as a couple because I didn’t think that my strong-willed personality was going to mesh well with her extra giving spirit, but as I started looking within, I started developing a deeper love for her,” Lasharndra said. 

Lasharndra said her bond with Aisha “is like Gorilla Glue: It’s unbreakable.”

“She bridged the gap between my tough exterior and my deep-rooted hidden softer side — something no one else had been able to do,” she said.

Aisha and Lasharndra

Aisha and Lasharndra
Natacha Larnaud / CBS News

Lasharndra says that a few of the things that make their relationship successful is that they “constantly make it about the other person, have fun, explore and date like we just met.”

Like every relationship, Aisha and Lasharndra have had their ups and downs: “You have to work hard at it and keep pushing through the toughest times and always take care of each other. When it comes to true unconditional love, you should love them for exactly who they are without placing any expectations,” Aisha said.

“We are each other’s yin to the yang. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”