It was dark. It was cold. Rain was in the forecast. Leaves changed from vibrant warm colors to darker shades as they fell from the trees above. Booming clanks from the industrial site across the river echoed throughout the aisles. But the white altar was luminous against the grey sky, and the rainbow stole of the pastor illuminated the dreary day.
The pastor announced Mrs. and Mrs. St. Nolde. Then the rain began…
This is the story of two women who fell madly in love and, against all odds, had the ability to legally exchange wedding bands and begin a life together as spouses.
According to the Milwaukee County Clerk’s office, through mid fall, 239 same-sex couples have been wed in Milwaukee County since the brief legalization of gay marriage in June. Only nine of those marriages occurred since the Supreme Court’s ruling in early October that led to official gay marriage recognition in Wisconsin.
On Oct. 17, former UW-students Dezy Brown and fiancée Meghan St. Ledger – a couple that is known in Milwaukee for their activism, singing and performances – were among the first to hold a ceremony post-legalization in Wisconsin.
Meghan met Dezy at the UWM drag show, then pushed their application through at the Starbucks she was employed at. The relationship had its share of trials and tribulations, but after Meghan ended things with her girlfriend at the time and Dezy transferred to a different Starbucks to be sure not to break supervisor-employee relationship rules, the couple found themselves walking down the aisle three years later.
But this story of love in the city was a long journey.
"Gay marriage isn’t about a person marrying a house or a horse; it’s two people coming together and celebrating love," Meghan said.
It started fast, and there was no turning back once it began. Meghan requested that Dezy closed with her, so the two would be alone to talk about everything – usually Meghan’s current relationship. That’s when Dezy realized this girl was perfect for them. But after knowing each other for only a few short weeks, Dezy was admitted to the hospital.
Most members of the LGBT community are daunted by the idea of coming out, but for Dezy, it’s old news. Dezy had to come out three times. First as bisexual. Then gay. Then as androgynous, meaning Dezy prefers genderless associations and pronouns, such as: they, them and theirs.
After transferring schools in their early high school years, Dezy made the choice to be open and proud about their sexuality. The fabric of their backpack was almost completely invisible, covered by Rosie the Riveter buttons and rainbow stickers.
As one of the only openly out students in their school, Dezy wasn’t a stranger to bullying, but it came as a surprise when a simple drawing of SpongeBob SquarePants for a Spanish project landed them in the principal’s office.
"All it said was ‘Star, Hug Me,’" Dezy said, as they explained that their Spanish teacher informed the principal that they were flirting with their female project partner, Star.
"It was clearly: You’re gay. Don’t talk to girls," Dezy said. "She was actively trying to bring me down."
But at the time, Dezy identified as bisexual. It wasn’t until after a three-year heterosexual relationship in their early 20s that they began to identify as gay.
"It’s really important to understand how fluid sexuality is. Even though I’m a lesbian, that’s only 90 percent of me; there’s still 10 percent of me that likes men," Dezy said. "I actually just identified for awhile as sexual," they grinned.
However, Meghan’s story is vastly different. She never struggled with discrimination in school, but instead was filled with anxiety when coming out to her closed-off family.
After coming out at the dinner table, Meghan was soon engaged to another woman.
"I didn’t give my family a chance to give their feelings or opinions," Meghan said. "I wrote a letter to my dad saying: This is who I am, and if you don’t like it then I’m ready to be disowned."
To this day, Meghan doesn’t know if her father ever received the letter. They have never talked about it. But that’s just the structure of her family. Amazingly different than Dezy’s, they don’t talk about their feelings.
"But when I told them Dezy and I were getting married, my brother, who I love to death, immediately turned around and said, ‘That’s gay,’" laughed Meghan.
A growing relationship
Meghan found herself sitting in her car in the parking lot of Columbia St. Mary’s well past visiting hours. 10:30 p.m. As she debated her next move, she glanced out the window and saw two women walking to their car. One older, one younger. They were walking far apart from each other, clearly heading to the same destination, with their heads lowered.
What a strange relationship, Meghan thought. Who were these two here to see?
She had just gotten off of work and knew that she had to be Dezy’s family to see her. But something had driven her here. A gut instinct.
"Good job, gut," said Meghan.
She may have only known Dezy for a few short weeks, but their energy together was infectious.
"The baristas were very friendly and seemed happy with their jobs," read a customer's review of Meghan and Dezy's Starbucks. "They were often seen dancing and laughing with customers. I saw people come in with a frown and leave laughing with joy. They took time to connect with everyone, including me. It was my first time in this Starbucks, and I decided to unexpectedly stay because of the great energy. A friend (or girlfriend) of one of the baristas came, and she brought even more laughter. Even though the weather has been dismal."
Thinking on her feet, Meghan told the security officer that she was Dezy’s fiancé. They weren’t even a couple yet. Without hesitation, they let her in to see Dezy.
Expecting to visit her co-worker, who was having gallbladder issues, she was surprised to find out Dezy was on 24-hour suicide watch.
"I remember her presence," Dezy said. "It was the first time I felt OK not being dead."
Dezy had been struggling with suicidal tendencies since they was 16. This was their third attempt.
"I wasn’t able to be myself," Dezy said.
Dezy’s mother and younger sister had just left the hospital; their mom had no clue why Dezy would do this, but Dezy was struggling with their sexual identity. Dezy was struggling with homelessness. Dezy tried to end their life.
If I died today, how long would it take for my mom to notice, Dezy began to think.
But once Meghan came to Dezy’s side, they saw a reason to survive. Dezy’s survival was a medical miracle. Doctors from all over the country came to Columbia St. Mary’s to analyze Dezy. But they pulled through, and Meghan and Dezy determined that the summer would be the best summer of their life.
The community immediately took notice before they had even made it Facebook official. Their relationship was inspiring people all over. Whether they were holding hands down the pavement at PrideFest or enjoying a glass of wine together at the Skyline Music Festival every Tuesday evening, people were taking notice.
"People we don’t even know were posting stories of how we inspired them on our website," Dezy said.
Soon thereafter, they were sitting in Colectivo on Humboldt, battling the noise of the coffee maker as they planned their wedding together.
"The goal was to show our families that we are two people in love, and I felt nothing but support," Meghan said.
Time for a wedding
Everything was falling into place for the wedding. There was almost no drama, no stress, no road bumps. That came as no surprise, though.
"Two girls planning a wedding, I mean, c’mon," Meghan laughed.
The world seemed to be on their side. Originally planning on getting married in Illinois, where gay marriage has been legal since November of 2013, same-sex marriage began being recognized one day before Dezy’s birthday, and just in time to register for a marriage license and hold the ceremony on the planned date of Oct. 17.
Friends and family all came together to find the perfect venue – the Hotwater Warehouse on Water Street – design the perfect dress, make the perfect vegan food and even officiate the ceremony.
Pastor Rachel Young Binter is the campus pastor at the Lutheran Campus Ministry at UWM. In the past three years, she has performed seven same-sex marriages, the St. Nolde wedding included.
Rachel and Dezy have known each other since 2010 when Dezy began to attend services at the Corner House at UWM. She provided Dezy with an outlet to explore their sexual identity, perform their music and connect to like-minded students. It was only fitting that she officiate their ceremony.
The moment arrives
Guests began to arrive at the Hotwater Warehouse at about 3:30 p.m., all carrying a single flower to add to their diversity bouquet, a bouquet of mismatched colors and unique flowers to celebrate the diversity of the guests.
Once everyone was seated, the wedding party began to walk down the isle to the piano stylings of Rachel's son. However, the party was not separated by male and female, bridesmaids and groomsmen, but instead masculine and feminine.
By combining Meghan’s last name and Dezy’s mom’s maiden name, Nolde, they created a hybrid of a last name. The St. Noldes.
Next came the soon-to-be St. Noldes. Dezy, clad in a grey suit with blue accents, smiled as they saw their wife to be make her way to the altar in a traditional white gown. Rachel smiled at the couple and began the service.
"This love is sacred, and they will sign a marriage certificate if it is so, and it is so," Rachel said. "Stand up for justice for your fellow human beings."
The ceremony was intimate. Only the St. Noldes closest friends and immediate family were invited.
"From today on I will celebrate everything about you," Dezy said.
"I promise to encourage your passion because that’s what makes you unique and beautiful," Meghan echoed.
As the two shared their first kiss squeezed between clanks from the construction across the river, the party began to move inside for dinner and drinks. As soon as the last guest was seated inside for dinner, it began to rain.
It’s a popular superstition to believe that rain on your wedding day is good luck. But what does it say to have rain on your wedding day, the second the party is moved indoors?
As the night progressed to drinks, then dinner and eventually the reception, the crowd grew larger and larger, encompassing more friends and friends of friends, all coming out to celebrate the love between the newlyweds.
"Book of Love" by Peter Gabriel boomed over the speakers as guests gathered around, Meghan and Dezy slowly swayed in and out of the spotlight illuminating their first dance together. Then the party began.