Kelly Glossip lost his partner of 15 years, Missouri state trooper Dennis Engelhard, on Christmas morning in 2009. Missouri offers survivor benefits to spouses of state troopers killed in the line of duty, but excludes committed same-sex partners from receiving those benefits. Kelly is working with the ACLU to recover the same survivor benefits that would have been provided to an opposite-sex spouse.
Over the past six months I have been reminiscing quite a bit about my life with Dennis. Even more so than I did right after I lost him back on Christmas 2009. Unfortunately, I have recently had some medical problems, and during my time in the hospital, I got to thinking about which Pride celebration was my favorite.
St. Louis Pride 2004 was mine and Dennis’ most memorable Pride. Dennis and I had so much fun at Pride that year, helping out and getting things ready for the parade. That year we were working with OASIS, an Episcopal organization that offers the LGBT community a safe place to worship alongside opposite sex couples. OASIS was exactly what Dennis and I had been looking for — a church where we could be ourselves. The people there loved everyone and it didn’t matter if you were white, African-American, gay, straight, young, old, rich, or down on your luck homeless. They truly welcomed everyone.
Dennis and I might have created our own “bubble” in St. Louis; a bubble where everyone is accepted, which is how St. Louis felt to us. But ultimately we couldn’t live in a bubble. No one can.
When Dennis died and our story came out, it was clear that many people saw us as being different somehow, even in St Louis. In the media, Dennis would often be referred to as the “gay trooper.” I cringed every time I heard that term. If Dennis had been African-American instead of gay, he wouldn’t have been the “black trooper,” and if he had been in an opposite sex relationship he wouldn’t have been the “straight trooper.”
Labeling minorities hurts, and gives the message that it is ok to single out certain communities. We cannot and should not relive the 1950’s and 60’s where discriminatory practices were standard in our country.
Words matter and we need to share stories — our struggles and our triumphs — without labels. Ours is simply the love story of Corp. Dennis Engelhard and Kelly Glossip. All we ever wanted was to be ourselves and to be comfortable with other people of all walks of life.
I pray that you all have a very happy Pride. Please remember those that have fallen, and those that are still fighting for equality.