Melissa Connelly (she/her)
Meet Melissa Connelly - a content creator and (L)GBTQ+ blogger and advocate. She embodies positivity and authenticity while covering real and raw topics. As an LGBTQ+ Influencer she shares personal stories that touch upon difficult subjects like intolerant religious upbringing, coming out, complicated family dynamics and life as a lesbian Black womxn.
Her mantra is lead with love and kindness will follow 💕
Question 1: We first connected with your post about things you wish your mom knew about you. Tell our community about yourself and your experiences with coming out.
My name is Melissa Connelly. I am a Black lesbian in Cleveland recently married to my wonderful wife Kim. I originally made my IG profile public to share our wedding story and promote the amazing vendors that came together to give us a free wedding. What I realized was that our story was resonating with a lot of people. I’ve been involved in the community helping LGBTQ+ youths on their journey towards, through and after coming out. Our paths crossed after you read a little bit about my story. When I came out, my religious family kicked me out of the house. I was homeless for a period. We’ve been estranged off and on over the years, the longest period of time being 7 years more recently. My post about things I wish my mom knew, was more about coming to terms as an adult with the reality of having an unsupportive family and navigating and moving through the emotions that come with it. Sometimes it’s just as complicated but as an adult, I think we’re better equipped to navigate those complex feelings.
Question 2: After you became engayged you secretly applied for a wedding giveaway. You were telling me about applying because you were worried that they wouldn’t accept a lesbian couple. However, you were able to find that one image of a same sex couple. Was it important for you to work with LGBTQ+ Wedding Vendors and Allies? What did you do to ensure they were accepting?
When I saw the Rai of Love post on Facebook, my initial thought was “Even if I entered, would a lesbian couple stand a chance?” The founder of Rai of Love, Jodi Hutton who is also our wedding photographer and now a good friend included a photo of a same sex couple on her website among the other photos and I knew we had a shot. More importantly, that photo gave me hope that the vendors that she had chosen were vendors that were inclusive. I didn’t actually have an active role in choosing the vendors but Jodi made sure she chose vendors at the top of their field that also celebrate love in all forms. I actually remember Jodi saying that there was a vendor who wanted to be included before it was announced that we’d won, but that she didn’t sign them on because they didn’t support same sex marriage. So it’s still a very real concern for so many and something that unfortunately the majority of people don’t think about unless they have to.
Question 3: The story that intrigued me was when it came time for hairstylists you had to go with your own. After reviewing the one that was a part of the package it showed that they wouldn’t know how to work with your hair being a person of color. Tell us more about that. Did you face any other adversity regarding your sexuality or race?
It has to be said that the vendors that worked with Rai of Love for hair and makeup are amazing and talented women. They made my wife and her bridal party (some of whom were multicultural) look spectacular. When I initially looked at their social media profiles, I just didn’t see anyone that looked like me. There was no ethnic diversity whatsoever pictured. This is something that I think a lot of Black womxn and POC have trouble with. You can be the most inclusive, open minded, accepting individual in the world, but if you’re not taking the time to reflect that in your business, your brand message, your advertising and in your everyday life, people are NEVER going to just assume that you are. Which is what happened in my case. Visibility is something that I stress in everything that I do because it’s so very important.
Question 4: What advice do you give to anyone that is in the beginning phase of planning their wedding especially while planning during Covid?
First know what your state’s or county’s precautions and regulations are. These changed frequently with COVID-19 updates, so having accurate information really helped us. Find vendors that make you feel comfortable and whose work speaks to you. They are going to be responsible for helping you tell your love story and share it with those close to you on the most special day of your life. Don’t choose vendors that “tolerate your love” but really celebrate your love! Trust your instinct, go with your gut and in short, make sure that you’re having a day ABOUT you and FOR you.
Question 5: Tell us where you work and how you are involved in the LGBTQ+ community through work.
I work for The Boston Beer Company in sales and I represent some really amazing and inclusive brands. I’ve been so fortunate to work for a company where I have never once had to sacrifice my values, hide who I am, or who I love for the sake of my career. I’m a part of Labels Out, which is this really great resource group at work which focuses on increasing diversity and inclusion in our company, both internally and externally. Seeing these kinds of programs launch and grow over my five year tenure has been so rewarding and really reinforced why I chose and am so happy with my company. I always tell people it’s a blessing to be able to work for a company that allows me to be congruent in my professional and personal life and I think everyone deserves that and should look for that in a company where possible.
Question 6: On Instagram you have a great presence - what are your goals as an influencer on social media?
Visibility and connection. I know what it’s like to feel a lack of representation. To look for faces, relationships, or experiences that look like mine and to come up short. I know what it’s like to feel alienated, misunderstood, and alone. Because of this platform, every day, I get the chance to change that for someone. It is such an honor to try and inspire, entertain and have a chance to educate or impact people. It’s also such a great privilege to also have connected with so many people and made so many friends along the way as well! This community is HUGE and its been really great meeting my IG friends in person!
Question 7: What does Pride mean to you?
Pride is being a part of the LGBTQ+ family and exemplifying the diversity of the rainbow that we use as the symbol to celebrate it. Pride is knowing who you are, what you bring to table as a one of a kind human being with a unique perspective. It’s being unafraid to share that with the world and let your individuality shine. It’s recognizing and appreciating others for that same truth, passion and authenticity. I hope it’s grown beyond just one month of the year and has become part of the fabric that binds us all and creates that sense of community and connectedness.
Question 8: What does it mean to be a part of the Dash of Pride Champions Community?
I feel so honored to be a part of a community created because of a lack of inclusion that’s really focused on and dedicated to changing that every day. I’m proud to be one of many people speaking out and discussing ways that we can even the playing field so that people in the LGBTQ+ community are not only seen as equal but are treated as equal as well. I didn’t set out to be an activist, but the truth is we all become activists when we work on changing the experience of one person for the better, but all it takes is one pebble to cause a ripple that can change the tide.
Follow Melissa on Instagram @missyhalle