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Florida LGBTQ Couples Share Long-Term Relationship Advice

When it comes to love and romance, LGBTQ couples often have to figure things out on their own. Nobody sat us down in grade school and shared with us their secrets to long-term gay relationships. We were only taught how babies were made and told not to get pregnant. Ironic?

LGBTQ Couples vs. Straight Couples

Most of us did’t have same-sex adult role models to show us how to maintain loving LGBTQ relationships while fending off homophobia. Or how to divide household responsibilities between partners of the same gender. Tara Parker-Pope, a writer at The New York Times, says gay marriages “tend to be more egalitarian, in part because same-sex couples don’t divide work along traditional gender lines” (Gay Marriage: Same, but Different – The New York Times). 

Back in the day, while straight couples were openly affectionate and planning big weddings, the majority of LGBTQ couples were holding hands behind closed doors, hosting private commitment ceremonies, often without family members in attendance, and maintaining relationships in the figurative “closet”. Fortunately, our laws and the minds of people continue to progress, although many LGBTQ couples still live closeted lives today.

Gay Marriage and Gay Divorce

When gay marriages became legal in 2015, thanks to Obergefell vs. Hodges, so did gay divorce. It may come as a surprise that, while the overall divorce rate of LGBTQ people (16%) compared to straight couples (19%) is lower, the divorce rate among lesbians is a shocking (34%). Studies have been done to explain these numbers, but no answers have been found.

My best guess is the U-Haul mindset – women are naturally more sentimental and romantic, fall passionately in “lust” fast, move in together, and tie the knot before they’ve truly gotten to know each other. Once the sex slows down and reality hits, they have little in common. And let’s be honest – women are more emotional and hormonal than men. This doesn’t make for easy arguments.

On the other hand, gay men typically take longer to tie the knot. Most date around for a period of time before settling down and often live it up in the social world before committing to one person. And some maintain open relationships or don’t settle down at all. This is one of the many reasons gay clubs survive while lesbian bars struggle to survive.

As for transgender couples, there are additional stressors and challenges. The marriage between Cheryl and SueZie Hawkes serves as a perfect example of a strong trans relationship.

Successful LGBTQ Couples

Fortunately, there are many LGBTQ couples who have maintained successful, loving long-term relationships and are role models for future LGBTQ couples. I asked a few of my favorite Florida LGBTQ couples to share their tips for relationship success.

Brenda Cantrell and Tami Harris

This Florida Panhandle couple has been together for nearly 30 years! Brenda is the HR Manager at Gulf Coast Kid’s House and Tami Harris is a broker/realtor with Palmerhouse Properties in Pensacola, Florida. They are best friends and enjoy spending time together with their RV. Brenda shared a few tips on how they make their marriage work.

Tami Harris on left and Brenda on right. Photo provided by Brenda Cantrell
How did you meet?

We met in September of 1991 at work. I was 27 and Tami was 25. I was the HR Manager and it was Tami’s first job out of college. She was a programmer. I heard a rumor about the new gay girl in the office. While I was married to a man at the time, I found myself curious about her. I had a prior crush on a woman but never acted on anything.

I’ll never forget the day that I saw Tami in the office elevator wearing a white square-collar blouse and cotton skirt and sandals. I never knew a lesbian could be so feminine. My sister is gay, but extremely masculine and that butch lesbian look never appealed to me in other women. But Tami was strikingly beautiful. I was smitten.

Tami didn’t want anything to do with me, because I was an HR manager and at the time you could get fired for being gay. Plus, I was still married. However, an office party, beach walk, skinny dipping, email exchanges, and a straight divorce later – we moved in and have been together ever since.

We were legally married on January 15, 2015. We had a simple courthouse wedding with a European honeymoon. Although we celebrate our legal marriage, we both know that the skinny dipping night was the first day we became official.

Nearly 30 years later we’re going strong!

What is your best advice for LGBTQ Couples?

While our 29+ years hasn’t been without challenges, we’ve always agreed to make it through the challenges – to come through for one another. We didn’t grow up watching Ellen or having other public figures to guide us, so we’ve figured things out along the way. It took a while before we were openly out due to the times in which we met. There were a lot of general “we’s” and “they’s” used when describing our significant others in those days. But time has evolved – and so have we!

Our best advice is to have mutual respect for one another. Also, accept that both of you are going to change throughout your relationship, but don’t give up on one another! We always look at each other and think, “ok, we want to be together…let’s make this work!”

Liz Moneymaker and Brenda Smith

Liz Moneymaker and her wife Brenda live in St Petersburg, Florida. Moneymaker is a life planning attorney who works with married couples on a daily basis. While she and her wife Brenda have been together for only 5 years, there is no denying that they have something special that will last a lifetime.

Liz on left and Brenda on right. Photo by Nicole Nichols
How did you meet? 

We met on Match.com.  Brenda was temporarily living in Denver for work and I was living in Sarasota.  My profile requested that any interests would need to be local as I was not looking for a penpal.  Brenda told me she lived in St Pete, so our entire relationship began with a lie.  LOL.  I guess it worked out.

How long have we been together? 

We’ve been together 5 years and married almost 3 year?

Best advice for LGBTQ couples in love?

It’s an obvious one, but bears repeating: communicate.  Being able to clearly and consistently state how you’re feeling, and not being afraid to express your wants and needs, will mean that those bricks that may otherwise build a wall between you can be resolved early on. Our motto is “NO BRICKS”! Also, lots of laughs. Lots and lots of laughs.

Nathan Bruemmer & PJ Nowlan

Nathan Bruemmer is the interim President of St Pete Pride and an out and open Trans man who has paved the way for trans people throughout Florida. A lawyer by trade, he volunteers much of his time to supporting his community. He also hosted St Pete’s first Trans Pride Parade. Nathan and his girlfriend, PJ, have maintained a healthy and loving long-distant relationship for years. He resides in Florida and she lives in New York. Nathan gave us some the inside scoop on his successful LGBTQ relationship.

PJ on left and Nathan on right. Photo provided by Nathan Bruemmer
How did you meet? 

We met in law school, but we didn’t start dating until we had been friends for almost three years. She was a year ahead of me. I found what I thought was a quiet, private study room in the law library. After a couple of weeks studying every day in the same room, she “Kramered” into my room to introduce herself. We were both dating other people at the time, and she wanted to make sure I was worthy of studying in her proximity. Also, to make sure I wasn’t going to be burning popcorn or goofing off. She takes her study mojo pretty seriously. We quickly became study buddies for the next two years of law school and best friends.

Apparently, none of our law school friends were all that surprised when we told them we had started dating. About six months in, she unexpectedly needed to head to New York to care for a family member who subsequently passed away. She then needed to stay in New York to run the family business. I didn’t blink when she asked me if I would be willing to do this long distance. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your relationship? 

We had been traveling back and forth for years when COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, we needed to consider the potential consequences of traveling as often as we had. While we used to travel monthly taking turns who went north or south, in 2020 I only made it north once. 

What’s your long-term, long-distance relationship secret for LGBTQ Couples?   

Hmm. It depends on if you ask her or me. It must be our true, abiding love. Maybe our sense of humor? No, wait – it’s our FaceTime dates when we prepare our HelloFresh meals together. I don’t know. Perhaps when I am old and gray and wise, I might know the answer. We try to cherish our time together. She is fiercely independent, so there is an adjustment period when we haven’t seen one another for a while. I have respected her and trusted her from the day we met. I am in awe of her and have fallen deeply in love with her. We won’t be together for Valentine’s Day again this year, but even with 1,000 miles apart, I always feel her love – and that beats a box of chocolates any day! 

Michael Coleman and Shane Kuppler

This couple has been together for over 18 years. Michael is an internal communications consultant and Shane works on an electronical medical records system called Epic. They have lived all over the country as a couple (Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle and now in St Pete) and both enjoy sports, the beach and quiet time at home with their crazy but lovable dogs Lexi and Blitz.  

Michael Coleman on left and Shane Suppler on right.
How did you meet?

Shane and I met in Atlanta at a random dinner back in 2002. A friend called me and said a few people were getting together for dinner that night and asked if I wanted to join. I was pretty tired from a busy week and really didn’t want to go, but he said it would be fun and he was sure I needed to eat (I do love food!), so I decided to go to dinner. When I arrived at the restaurant there were several folks at the table including a handsome guy named Shane. 

After dinner we all decided to head out to a couple of gay bars in Atlanta for drinks. After the second bar everyone else went home while Shane and I decided to head to one final bar called the Heretic for a couple of more drinks. We ended up kissing for the first time at that bar, danced our asses off all night and ended up having a great evening!

I called Shane a few days later and we went out on an official date. After dating for one year we moved in together and have been together ever since. 

What is your best advice for LGBTQ couples?

The best advice I can share is to follow the “you do you” approach. As gay men there can sometimes be pressure to follow along with what other gay couples are doing. We don’t believe there is a magic blueprint you can follow to create a successful relationship. What works for your friends or for couples you read about online might not be right for you and your partner, so it’s important to take some time to talk about what matters to you as a couple early on in the relationship.

For instance, there are times when one of us feels like going out to meet up with friends for dinner, drinks or social functions, and the other doesn’t want to leave the house. This has never been an issue for us as we discussed that topic early on and both decided we have no problem with one of us going out to meet up with friends or just explore around the city without the other. However, we have met some couples over the years where going out without the other causes fights and is an absolute deal breaker. Once again, talk to each other and decide what works best for you as a couple.

Jenn Possick and Can Cornish

Jenn and Can live in St Pete. Both independent in their careers (Jenn a digital ad guru and Can a carpenter) but united at home, they love to travel, spend time with their dogs, and have an obsession with Walking Dead and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I chatted with the two on the phone about their relationship and they were more than willing to share their experience and advice.

Jenn on left and Can on right. Photo by Pure Emotions Photography
How did you meet?

We met through roller derby 14 years ago. I (Jenn) was up in Asheville and she was in St Pete. I met up with her (and her girlfriend at the time) to skate in a park. We friended each other on MySpace and got to know each other more when Can moved up to Asheville. We became close friends. When Can split with her ex I helped her pack to move back to Tampa. Moments before she left for Florida, we connected and knew we would be together. We shared a long distance relationship for five months before moving in together have been together for over 12 years now.

What is key to relationship success?

We are determined to work stuff out. We finish all of our fights. Obviously, communication is key and we’re constantly working on that. And we’re best friends. We genuinely enjoy hanging out and having adventures together. People grow in different ways and we’ve been fortunate to grow in parallel.

Jeanette and Linda Bokland

If you spend an afternoon with these two lesbian lovers, you’ll feel like you’ve been swept up in a gay Hallmark movie. The respect, love and adoration Jeanette and Linda share is intoxicating. Owners of Spouses with Houses realty in Mount Dora, Jeanette and Linda have weathered the storms together while creating beauty in their adorable town. From tackling breast cancer to running a Letters for Santa drive during the holidays, this couple is one to know and model your own relationship after.

Jeanette Bokland on left and Linda Bokland on right cheer to “new beginnings” every day.
How did you meet?

In 2003, I stopped into a little plant and hydropic store across the street from my uniform shop.  I was with my husband’s mother when Linda and I first laid eyes on one another. It was the proverbial fireworks. Being a straight gal, I had no idea what to make of the heart palpitations and butterflies in my stomach. Linda had the same reaction and once I left, ran next door to the hair salon she had seen me use. She was warned that I was a straight girl and to stay away. Linda was in an 11 year relationship that was rocky, at best.

We quickly became friends; we both had motorcycles, golden retrievers and love of cooking. Soon, Linda invited me to partner in her catering business where we worked together with an incredible level of sexual tension. It was a solid year of exhausting deniel before a little wine allowed us to finally have a very honest conversation. The famous words that night were me saying ‘Just kiss me, dammit”.

How did you survive the transition of your relationships?

We weathered the fallout of exposing our relationship. I think we were most disappointed in some of our friend’s reactions. My straight friends thought I had lost my mind, Linda’s strong circle also self-divided by choosing sides between her and her ex and declaring me ‘a phase’. My family immediately fell in love with Linda and supported us unconditionally.

We married in 2014, somewhere between my chemo and radiation after battling breast cancer, in a lovely wedding attended by family and some of those same old friends who watched us solidify our true love and relationship over the years. The gathering of so many to support us was overwhelming to our hearts.

How do you make your relationship work?

We are 2 women, born 6 months apart that share shoes, jewelry and careers. We are both strong of opinion yet vastly different in our skills and M.O’s. From our catering business to our real estate brokerage, we have an uncanny ability to work together and support each other’s strengths. 

At home, we found it best to divide and conquer for matters of decisions. When it comes to the interior, I have veto power on any decorating or remodeling. Linda wields the same power on the exterior and yard.

Truth be told, we may not always agree in the kitchen when cooking.

Each night we clink our glasses to toast “cheers to new beginnings”. It is our special mantra to honor the day that was and welcome a new beginning for each and every day, and we accept together whatever the new day brings us. 

Marlene Ross and Erica Beaurline

Marlene and her wife, Erica, are entrepreneurs and sweethearts! The two opened Herbalife-based Gulfport Nutrition after losing a combined 60 pounds as a united front. Together for over a decade, Marlene and Erica are perfect examples of how a loving and committed relationship should look and feel.

On their wedding day (prior to their weight loss) – Marlene on the left and Erica on the right. Photo provided by Marlene Ross
How did you meet?

Erica and I meet on an Olivia cruise.  We were both single at the time and met on this cruise over the Thanksgiving Holiday back in 2008.  We have been together as a couple since 2009. In 2013, four years into our relationship we went on another Olivia cruise (Olivia’s 40th Anniversary Cruise) as a couple and attended a commitment ceremony. In April 2019 we were married.

Top advice for LGBTQ couples in a long-term relationship?

Communication, communication, and more Communication! Relationships are not 50/50 – it’s 100/100. We each need to take full responsibility for ourselves to make it work. Both partners need to do their own personal development work and together, the couple should have a project, goal, or dream that stretches each beyond the small things. And mostly, PICK YOUR BATTLES!

Barbara Rowland and Suzanne Feese

Barb and Suzanne are life partners (engaged) and business partners in the residential real estate agents with Palmerhouse Properties in both Atlanta, Georgia and St. Petersburg, Florida. If you’re friends with them on Facebook, their love for one another is evident. I’m convinced they own a floral business as well, because the flowers they gift one another on a weekly basis are breathtakingly beautiful! They love to travel and enjoy their together time watching sunsets from their rooftop. Suzanne shares a few secrets to their successful relationship.

Barb on left, Suzanne on the right.
How did you meet?  

Barb was my real estate agent, no joke!  She sold me a condo in the building where she lived in Atlanta, and within a couple of months we were dating and have been together ever since. This was in 2014. At that time, I was a retired corporate lawyer and she was a twenty-year veteran realtor wanting to travel and relax and taper down work. But real estate work kept its allure for her, so by the end of 2015, she had convinced me to get my real estate license. 

How do you make it work with busy careers?

We launched our real estate business (just the two of us) on 1/1/2016 and were wildly busy and successful right off the bat — way busier than preferred because we wanted to play lots of golf and travel. We managed to make it all work somehow. 

Meanwhile, we got engaged in 2016, and bought a much larger condo together in Atlanta. We’ve traveled all over the world while continuing to work super hard. We’ve been to India, Chile, South Africa, Panama, Baja Mexico, Canadian Rockies, St. Lucia, Mauritius, Hawaii, and all over Europe (including taking the Orient Express from Venice to London for Barb’s 70th bday — which turned out to be our last trip before COVID shut everything down).

We bought our St. Pete house in summer 2018 and launched the St. Pete real estate business on 1/1/2019. Barb has been in St. Pete pretty much full time since then, but I had gone back and forth to Atlanta, prior to COVID, to keep our business going there since it remains the mainstay of our real estate work.

You mentioned COVID affecting travel. How else has COVID affected your business and relationship?

All of the above changed drastically when COVID arrived. We basically had to refer out all of our Florida business to others on our team because of Barb’s higher susceptibility to COVID, and I had to change the back and forth between St Pete and Atlanta to keep her safe. And all of our fun travel has been cancelled or postponed. But, the benefit of all this has been more relaxed and quality time at home together.  

What advice do you have for LGBTQ couples who want to make their relationship work?  

We try to have fun or do something different whenever possible, even if it’s just a walk on a new route, or trying a new happy hour place. We give each other lots of space — particularly and critically important when you are business partners in a 24/7 business with no breaks. No question that making it work has been harder due to being “locked down” together during COVID, but the experience has also been immensely rewarding. For example, we decided to bring our cats from Atlanta to Florida and I have given up the back and forth commute from November until spring.  

Christopher Clawson-Rule and David Rule

Christopher and David are a dynamo power couple who both have more creativity in their pinky fingers than most of do in our entire bodies. The first is the owner of Breaking Rules Publishing and the other a talented abstract artist and owner of Created Rule. Together they manage Le Cabanon Motel in Pompano Beach. I caught up with them via phone while they were lazing on the beach Valentine’s Day morning. Here’s what Christopher has to say (with David chiming in) about making their relationship work.

David Rule on the right and Christopher Clawson-Rule on the left on Pompano Beach.
You’ve lived in many places together. Where did you meet and where have you lived together?

We were living in Michigan when we met on MySpace. I had been offered a job with Radisson Hotels traveling to open new hotels as an opening party events manager. However, due to budgetary reasons, the company was not willing to let David join me on my travels. I decided to turn down the job and we moved to New York City instead. We lived there for 2.5 years. David worked in marketing and promotions and I was the Development Communications Director at the Riverside Church.

After a while we were getting angry in NY and needed to get out of the city. We found a website called www.workingcouples.com, seemingly welcoming to LGBTQ couples, and moved to Milford, Delaware to run a bed and breakfast. During a vacation to St Pete we realized that we had found our home for the next few years and love it. We found another opportunity to run a storage business through Working Couples while I grew my publishing company and David further developed his art.

We stayed in St Pete for six years before deciding to go on an adventure of a lifetime. With dreams of living in Italy, we left our Florida life behind and spent 3 months traveling around Italy in hopes of finding our forever home. Unfortunately, the apartment we settled into in Florence had shoddy internet service, making my online business success too challenging to run. Rather than wasting any more time searching for the perfect home with better internet service, we headed home.

We ran a Bed & Breakfast in Massachusetts shortly thereafter and are now in Pampano Beach, Florida, outside of Fort Lauderdale, running a beachfront motel. David is currently featuring his work at Bubbles & Pearls in Wilton Manors and life feels good right now. I think both of us have plans to wind up back in St Pete.

How do you make it work as creatives and running a business?

We each stay in our lanes with our personal creative work and we have a middle lane together running a business.

Biggest advice to making a relationship work?

Realizing you can talk through it. Just because you have a disagreement doesn’t mean it’s over. You just have to communicate, love each other and make it work.


For more romance and relationship advice, click here.

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Written by Rachel Covello

Rachel Covello is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity consultant, and LGBT advocate. She is the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, a Chester County, PA nonprofit organization, and CEO of OUTCOAST, an online marketing and concierge platform marketing the Gulf Coast as an LGBTQ-inclusive place to VISIT, CELEBRATE, and LIVE.

Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA, NGLCC, NLGJA, and Out & Equal.


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