For soon-to-marry couple Dominic Spence and Nick Gilyard, Instagram has become a place where together they show others what a young, black, queer relationship looks like.
Their joint page, @dom_and_nick, recently had a moment when the Instagram account The Way We Met profiled the 27- and 25-year-olds, who live in Brooklyn. Their photo and story of growing up in South Florida and knowing each other for many years before dating became one of the most popular posts with 17,500 likes in the past week.
“Dominic and I met as teenagers. We went to different high schools but they were close in proximity, so we had a lot of mutual friends. High school was also the time period in which we both came out to our families, although at separate times and unknowingly of each other’s personal journeys. After graduating high school, life took me and Dominic in different directions. He went on to attend UCF in Orlando while I went to college in Kentucky. We reconnected one summer when I was in Orlando helping a friend move into her dorm and asked Dominic to have dinner with me. That night we talked for 4 hours and shut down the restaurant. Shortly after, Dominic asked if we could make it official and so our long distance relationship began. But the distance wouldn’t be ending anytime soon. After college, I moved to New York for work and Dominic moved to D.C. to go to law school at Georgetown University. Finally, after 7 years of the back and forth, we are finally living together in Brooklyn… and engaged! Dominic and I feel lucky to have found love at such a young age. However, falling in love with another black man was scary in ways neither of us could have ever imagined. It forced us to face the very real resistance from society for being not only homosexuals but black men as well. We had to confront the stereotypes of being largely defined as uneducated, disloyal, untrustworthy, and unreliable individuals. But together we chose to rise above those prejudices and rewrite our own story- one of inspiration. We want others to see that our union is marked by achievement, love, friendship, respect, and unconditional support. We hope to encourage other black and brown men and boys everywhere to be true to who they are. And when they find love in each other’s eyes, to know that their love is just as strong and beautiful as anyone else’s.”
The couple started their joint account last year because they both were “frustrated that many of the advertisements and gay love stories highlighted by both straight and LGBTQ-centric media rarely (if ever) showed images of gay black couples.”
So they started posting their own photos and videos where they could “proudly and unapologetically showcase our black gay love all the time.”
While couple accounts are definitely a thing on Instagram, it’s still pretty rare to find black queer couples sharing a public profile. Some hashtags, message boards, and Instagram and Tumblr pages provide an outlet to showcase these complex relationships, but few are solely dedicated to one couple and their experience.
“The hope was always that showing our lives would inspire others (especially young queer people of color),” the duo wrote in an email.
The couple, a law clerk and a public relations senior associate, are marrying next month in Miami Beach. Earlier this year, they were featured in shaving company Bevel’s Valentine’s Day ad. They called the experience “empowering.”
“We received so many messages from people who had seen the ads who told us how it actually made them cry to see two black gay men embracing each other in an ad for a black-owned company. So often we feel like there isn’t a space to be both black and queer so to have Bevel embrace both parts of our identity was truly a special moment,” the couple said.
Another couple, Kordale Lewis and Kaleb Anthony, stepped into the spotlight several years ago to show what a family with two black dads looks like. They pioneered the way through a joint Instagram account to show what moments of fatherhood, family, and partnership are actually like, especially with a new baby in the family.
The couple shot up in fame when a photo of the couple doing their daughter’s hair went viral back in 2014.
From there they became a well-known Instagram presence and the whole family starred in a Nikon ad the next year. Later, in July 2015, Lewis and Anthony announced they were no longer together on Instagram. Their breakup played out all over social media as their fans learned of the news, showing that a joint account can have its drawbacks. The pair had to put everything out there, even their most difficult moment.
The two have since gotten back together and deleted their breakup posts. By Christmas 2015 they were posting family photos again and by the next April they were expecting a new baby.
Their account and others are curated to emphasize the beautiful, happy moments and don’t always catch the disagreements and tears. But relationships can get messy and these profiles are about highlighting what makes a relationship worth it, even during the hardest times.
Like Spence and Gilyard said, they wished they had more role models and relationships, like Lewis and Anthony, to look up to when they were younger. So now they want to “give people someone who looks like them, faces the same hardships and adversities, and not only overcomes them but finds a love that helps them do so.”
Juan and Gee Smalls, a married couple in Atlanta, also share their professional and personal lives together on their joint Instagram. The couple, who married in 2009 in Connecticut, offer relationship, dating, and life coaching. Back in 2011 they wrote an advice column for a magazine which turned into a joint Facebook and Instagram page and blog. Now they help others with their relationships. They started The Gentleman’s Foundation to celebrate gay men of color.
In a phone call, Gee Smalls, 40, said he hopes something as simple as their Instagram posts help other gay people of color and “inspires them to keep hope up.”
Even if Gee and Juan, 35, are using their social media profile for their coaching business, Gee said they keep it “transparent and real.” He’s been told couples got married because of their blog and social media presence. “It’s been a blessing for us.”
June is Pride Month, and Gee said it seems like this year more than ever Instagram and social media pages like his and Juan’s are getting more attention.
For them and others, these profiles are another small, but powerful way to use digital tools to combat negativity around black, queer relationships.