When Danielle and Aisha Moodie-Mills first met 9.5 years ago they instantly connected. “It always sounds so corny when I tell people [that],” Danielle laughs, but they both insist that it’s true. Their mutual friend was moving from Washington, D.C. to New York and thought that hooking up his two recently-brokenhearted friends would be a good way to help them out and to help him pack for his trip. He was only right about one thing, though. While he packed himself up, Danielle and Aisha sat in a windowsill talking for hours until the sun came up.
“We were having the most amazing, just magical conversation that we’re still having [to this day].”
Though neither of them quite remember what the conversation was about, they remembered it being “deeply personal and emotional.” They’d talked about how they’d both just broken up with their first major loves and how they were both in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, grappling with where they were in life and where they’d thought they’d be at that point. Though they were complete strangers, it was as if they’d been friends for years.
“And what was interesting, too, was that I could hear the things that Danielle wasn't saying,” Aisha says. “And that's always really powerful when you have a conversation with someone and you're talking and you're talking and then you can tell what they're not saying, that perhaps they're withholding something.”
It was an early sign of the deep partnership that would quickly grow between the two, both emotionally and professionally. Though they were warned by other couples against working together, Danielle says that they’ve been able to maintain a home and a working relationship together because they are “totally connected. We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders, biggest supporters…and I think that’s what has allowed us to work together so well.”
Over the past few years, they’ve launched a think tank together focused on the issues of LGBT people of color through the extremely impactful progressive non-profit Center for American Progress, they host their own radio show called "Politini," where they discuss politics and pop culture and they also run a blog together, “Living, Loving & Laboring Out Loud,” where they express everything from weight loss ambitions to their thoughts on “The New, All-American Family.” (Hint: It’s based on love, not biology.)
For their efforts, the couple, who has now been married for nearly three years, has also been named one of The Root’s “Washington Power Couples,” and The Root’s Top 100 African American Trailblazers, and both also have been featured as one of the Advocate’s Top 40-Under-40 National LGBT Leaders.
But one of their most significant joint accomplishments to date was leading the successful fight for marriage equality in D.C. in 2009. Never having been focused on LGBT issues in their professional lives, the debate around marriage equality was heating up at the same time the couple had become engaged. They had originally planned to wed in Connecticut, but when Aisha was asked to become the president of the marriage equality campaign because of her federal policy expertise, the two jumped at the opportunity to “get up off the couch and do something.”
The main constituents in their district at that time where Black LGBT families with children who had many legal and emotional reasons for wanting to get married, but it wasn’t until after the fight was over that the two realized what the image of a Black lesbian couple at the forefront of the marriage equality fight was doing for others in the LGBT community.
Before them, “There was no one that looked like us that was talking about the importance of marriage equality. People need to see a diverse array of LGBT people, not just the affluent white male couple,” Danielle says. She recalls how their decision to share their wedding photos online through Essence Magazine—simply because, “they were pretty!”—opened up a world of new hope for young lesbians, one of whom reached out to the couple to say, "I used your pictures as a way to come out to my family so they could see that I can get married and I can be happy."
“They're not just pictures,” Danielle has come to understand. “Images provide hope to a young lesbian girl that maybe doesn’t live in a big city. She doesn’t really know any other gay people or what it means to be gay except for all of the negative things she may see. If we can provide a bit of light in a sea of darkness and negativity, we're blessed to have the opportunity to do that.”
Though the national marriage equality campaign is far from over, Aisha says there are so many more issues facing the Black LGBT community, and has even written a report about it, called, “Jumping Beyond the Broom: Why the Black LGBT Community Needs More than Marriage Equality." She says:
“There are so many other issues that young people are having in school, that in this country you can get fired from your job for being gay or not even hired. Black men already have a hard time getting a job. Imagine being Black and gay or a transgendered woman, there are a lot of issues from a policy standpoint that we need to address.”
And Danielle and Aisha are hard at work addressing those needs. “We've made it our life's work to make sure that Black LGBT needs are at the forefront. As we're talking about the economy, we're talking about jobs, homelessness, health issues, we're talking in a way that is inclusive of the Black LGBT community which is, oftentimes, the most adversely affected by a lot of social ills.”
When the two are not in superwoman mode, they are simply best friends in love who have a mini-book club where they dissect and analyze the latest books (they’ve just finished Sheryl Sandberg’s “inspiring and so timely!" book, “Lean In”). They run marathons together, watch Super Soul Sunday and “share our hopes and our dreams, our setbacks and disappointments with each other.”
It’s in those disappointments that Danielle and Aisha’s relationship has grown the most. “We hold each other up to such high standards and there are times when you don’t feel like you’re meeting that and you don’t want to let your family down and you don’t want to let yourself down,” Danielle says. “It’s at those points that you really need a partner who gets you.”
It’s that mutual encouragement and deep understanding that sustains them, 9.5 years later. “Everything in our lives has been like a natural progression from the first conversation that we ever had,” Aisha says. We’re just about continuing that momentum.”
Brooke Obie is a Contributing Editor of EBONY.com and writes the award-winning blog DistrictDiva.com. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.