Living a lie. It is a reality for many LQBTQI+ youth. Knowing that your parents’ faith will not allow them to fully accept who you are forces a lot of kids to stay in the closet, sneak around behind parents’ backs, and sometimes can lead to dangerous behaviors. The following is the story of two young women who were forced to deceive their families in their continued desire to be together.
They met in junior high and really didn’t like each other at first. A soccer field rivalry had to be put aside when Hanna B. was assigned to be the scribe for Hannah Joy due to an injured arm. That dislike turned quickly into a friendship, and soon they were inseparable.
One night, hidden away in the back row of a dance recital, Hannah Joy rested her head on her friend’s shoulder. Hanna B realized that she never wanted her to remove it. That night at a sleepover, the girls fell asleep together on a bean bag chair. In the middle of the night Hannah Joy woke up. They had been laying in each other’s arms. It was too gay. She immediately called her mother in a panic and asked to be picked up.
They struggled with faith and accepting themselves and finally agreed that they were “straight, but gay for each other.” They knew it was a sin, but perhaps lessened if they never acted on it. This worked until Hannah Joy was on an airplane getting ready to go to Church Camp for the summer and realized she couldn’t deny it any longer. She called Hanna B and said four words, “Let’s go for it.”
Weeks later, they had their first kiss. Hidden away upstairs at school, the experience made Hanna B. almost faint, and she had to sit to regain composure from the excitement and the fear that they would be found out. She soon again found herself on the floor from an encounter involving the girl she was falling in love with.
One day, Hannah Joy sent a romantic text and failed to realize that her mother was directly behind her with a clear view of the screen. Her mother grabbed the phone immediately. Thanks to quick thinking by Hanna B. they played off the talk as just a silly joke between friends and denied all the accusations. The stress of it all had caused Hanna B. to take a knee in the middle of a grocery store due to a combination of fear, nausea, and panic. Hannah Joy’s parents were not convinced and restricted their daughter to only an hour of phone time a day. The girls doubled down on their secretive behavior, quite literally, and during this hour of phone time would send two texts at a time. One with their real conversation, and the other with a fake conversation about school or class. At the end of their phone time they would go back and delete all texts they didn’t want their parents to see.
Labor Day weekend every year changed as the girls packed to attend a church-sponsored youth retreat. Hannah Joy’s parents had warned the youth pastor not to let the girls share a tent, so other campers were added. One day, under the guise of studying bible verses, the pair hiked as far as they could away from the rest of the group until they came across a secluded cove. Once alone they embraced, exchanging cuddles and kisses until suddenly a man’s voice startled them. “Flat group starts in five minutes.” Their innocent romantic bliss was replaced by fearful anticipation.
Later that evening, Hannah Joy was called over by the youth pastor. He informed her that there had been a family emergency and her parents were on the way, and Hanna B. would be picked up as well. The girls were told to go pack their belongings immediately. Hannah Joy believed that there was an emergency while Hanna B. tried to tell her that this was it. They had been found out, and she knew they would not be allowed to reconnect until they were adults. She kissed her, knowing that it may be for the last time.
When the parents arrived, Hanna B. got into the car with her mother, not knowing what to expect. After a mainly silent ride home, Lori simply said, “Kissing girls, huh?” and that was that. It was a different story for Hannah Joy. Her parents berated her, lecturing and admonishing her on the sins of being gay. She was in tears the entire ride, finally admitting what had happened. Her parents took away her cell phone and any other ways that she might use to contact her girlfriend. Originally, they planned to homeschool her, but she managed to convince them that she was done, and would not be around Hanna B. Her parents switched her class schedule and even changed her locker to create as much possible distance between the two. Again, the girls reunited, determined to become even more secretive, until one day Jill arrived to drop off lunch for her daughter, and found her with her head resting on a forbidden shoulder.
After that, for almost two full years, the girls were kept as far apart — physically — from each other as possible while they lived in a small town. Hannah Joy was placed in Christian school and therapy to try to “fix” her. Church retreats with messages against homosexuality became the norm. Her survival mode kicked in and she stayed silent in therapy, tuning out the sermons that preached against her.
Hannah Joy was eventually moved back to Soldotna High and discovered that Hanna B. had been dating other people. Partially out of a sense of self-preservation, she became cold, and even outright cruel to her first love. “I was really rude to Hannah and there’s nothing I regret more,” she now says. “Hanna was nothing but an angel.”
The summer of 2014, Hannah Joy attended Solid Rock Bible Camp as a Leadership Trainee, or LT. Another LT that summer was Nicole Mimmzy. She heard first hand from Hannah Joy her testimony about how she was able to curb her homosexual desires through prayer, and able to leave her relationship with Hanna B. behind. This testimony was told many times with embellishments added to make it seem that Hannah Joy was not always a willing participant in the relationship. Hanna B. was the bad influence, until, by coincidence, Hanna B. showed up to make a surprise visit at the camp. While Hannah Joy was struck with terror and went to hide from this confrontation from her past, Nicole went to Hanna B. to question her about why she was there, but also to get her side of the story. It was wildly different than what Hannah Joy had been saying.
The girls started their junior year. Hannah Joy was dating a boy for appearances, but she really had no interest in him. One day she and some friends were goofing off and she started to feel weak, having not eaten that day; she started to pass out. Out of nowhere Hanna B. appeared to catch her, just as she started to faint. As soon as Hannah Joy had recovered the two separated, not wanting to be seen touching or interacting.
Later in the year, Hannah Joy broke up with her boyfriend and decided it was time to ask Hanna B. about women she had been dating. That conversation them a chance to talk, cry, and be honest about everything that had occurred for the past two years. Hannah Joy reached out to hold hands. “Don’t fuck with me like that,” came the response.
“I’m not fucking with you,” was the reply. The pair were back together. Back to the same ways of sneaking around, hiding, and hidden kisses away from judgmental eyes. This secretive behavior was not easy on them, and each day they worried they would be found out.
On Feb. 12, 2015 Jill followed her daughter to school and saw her get into a truck with her girlfriend. Rather than confront the pair, she told her husband Kevin what she had seen. He went to the school that afternoon to collect his daughter. Once home, he started on the usual scare tactics, telling his daughter that she was going to Hell. She tried to deny everything, and then she decided to fight back, arguing that she had also studied the Bible, and what he was saying was not true. Each tried to involve Jill, but the mother sided with her husband. That evening, Kevin told his daughter that she could move in with her girlfriend if she chose. She could not take her car; she could only take one suitcase of belongings, and he would never again support her financially. They would not fight it anymore. She was to have her decision by the morning. She knew what she wanted and packed her suitcase that night.
The next morning, Hannah Joy had to go to court and deal with a traffic violation, and then she was going home to get her suitcase and move out. On the way, her father, Kevin, saw Hanna B. parked a few streets away from the house. The two met eyes, and instantly Kevin changed his mind about the entire situation. He called Hanna B. and started to scream at her, yelling and saying that he was going to move his daughter to Homer, saying she belonged to him and Hanna B. would never have her. The family moved that day, and the pair once again was separated.
Hanna B. went home and in a moment of romantic frustration took paper and staples and made a chain that wrapped around her room, each link representing one of the days until Hannah Joy’s 18th birthday, the day that they would be reunited. If she had to, she would wait.
It took some time in Homer, but eventually Hannah Joy found ways around the strict rules concerning phones and computers, and once again found a way to connect. There were plans made for a secret rendezvous between the girls, set up through a friend that would lie for them. Hanna B. got all the down to Homer and at the last minute they received a phone call from Hannah Joy’s sister. Kevin and Jill knew about the meeting, and they were furious.
From that point forward, there was no going back for Hannah Joy. She fought, obtaining a job, and buying her own track phone so that she could communicate with her love. She eventually convinced her parents to let her go. It was just a few more months until her 18th birthday and she wasn’t going to change her mind about where she wanted to be. In late December her parents finally relented. She moved in with Lori and Hanna B. and the couple got to spend their first Christmas Day together.
On May 18th of the following year the girls graduated, and two days later May 20th they were married. The relationship that had taken years of struggle was finally legally recognized. They knew that if anything happened they needed that protection. They did not want to be separated ever again, even in death. The now adult women live together in Soldotna with 3 dogs, 2 cats, and plans to start a family. Hannah holds out hope for a full reconciliation with her family, even with their history of refusal to accept Hanna as her partner.
Most stories do not end this happily. Documentaries like Bridegroom, which inspired Hannah and Hanna’s rapid wedding, tell stories of long-term couples that are denied place in their partners life or memory. When your faith tells you that love is a sin, what kind of moral code are you following?