LGBT couples who are changing Nashville
This Valentine’s month O&AN would like to introduce you to some of the AMAZING LGBT couples who are not only giving back to our community, but also fighting for our causes and representing us on the Nashville scene. There are innumerable couples we could have chosen, and many worthy examples aren’t presented here, so if you know of couples who should be featured, feel free to contact the editors and make suggestions for future features! Now, let’s take a look at the couples shaping our community.
Abby Rubenfeld and Helia Rethmann
Attorney and champion for equality Abby Rubenfeld runs her own legal practice focused primarily on family law and civil rights issues. Abby was Legal Director at Lamda Legal Defense from 1983 to 1988, and served on its Board of Directors for seven years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She served on the Board of the ACLU for Tennessee for 20 years and has helped found several different Tennessee LGBTQ groups over the years.
Helia Rothmann is a teacher, trainer, educator, and translator, as well as a once-certified court interpreter! She takes care of the couple’s thirteen acres and many animals. The couple have three daughters between them (Lily, 23; Sarah, 19; and Laura, 19). They’ve been involved with the Tennessee Equality Project from its inception, and do their best to support the community. They met through political events (the Gore campaign and gay pride, among others). Their first time “almost” going out together was the TEP’s holiday party in 2004: Their first “date” was the next night.
“Helia is a saint for putting up with me,” said Rubenfeld. “She would tell you that I have worked every single day that we have been together, including the day of our wedding.” The wedding was during a national conference of LGBTQ lawyers in San Francisco. “I spoke at a plenary and then we got married,” said Rubenfeld. “Seriously.”
Rubenfeld has led the state’s fight for marriage equality, and continues to fight for the rights of Tennesseans to marry. And it’s paid off, as this year the Supreme Court of the United States will take up Tennessee’s case. One thing’s for sure: No matter what any court says, this couple’s the real deal.
Jim Schmidt and Joe Woolley
Jim Schmidt and Joe Woolley will have been together for fourteen years in May. They were married on their thirteenth anniversary last May in San Francisco. They have two dogs and live in the Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood. The couple have been very active in politics. Schmidt and Woolley helped found the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) in 2003 because of a lack of a statewide advocacy group for the LGBTQ community, and have also been active in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Victory Fund.
Schmidt has worked in government affairs on state level policy in Nashville for 20 years. He runs his own lobbying firm, Schmidt Government Solutions, currently specializing in healthcare lobbying. He currently serves on the boards of the Nashville Children’s Theatre, Davidson County Mental Health and Veterans Court Foundation, the Tennessee Lobbyists Association, and the Brooks Fund. He is a past Board Chair for the Victory Fund Campaign.
Woolley has worked in journalism with CBS in New York and then in marketing, but now he is a marketing and operations consultant for small businesses and non-profits. He is the current Vice President of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and also serves on the Belmont-Hillsboro Neighborhood Association. Woolley previously served on the Board of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival. Joe also volunteers for CASA (Court Appointed Child Advocate), an organization for children removed from their families due to abuse or neglect.
“It is important for everyone to step up and get involved in any way they can to help make change happen,” says Woolley. “There is an old saying that if you are not at the table then you are on the menu. We think that is very true. So, we want to make sure we have a place at that table.”
Lisa Howe and Wendy Holleman Howe
Even after thirteen years together, the Howes think their relationship continues to grow stronger, with every life experience bringing them closer together. They are best friends. And, with so much in common, it’s easy to see why!
Wendy Holleman Howe grew up in Dallas, Texas, and played college soccer at Jacksonville State University. After being an Assistant Coach in NCAA Division I, she now teaches lower school PE and coaches varsity girls’ soccer and middle school girls’ lacrosse at USN. Wendy has twice been named Coach of the Year, and won a state title in 2012 and runner up in 2014. Wendy is one of the co-founders of the Nashville Gay Parents, and is a member of HRC and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
Lisa Howe is also from Dallas, Texas. She played soccer at Barry University and won the Division II National Championship. In her seventeen-year career coaching NCAA women’s soccer, she was named Conference Coach of the Year in the Atlantic Sun Conference three times. In 2011, she received the NCLR Justice Award, and has also been honored at Autumn Honors and received a Making History Women’s Award from Vanderbilt Divinity School.
In February 2012, Lisa became the first Executive Director of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce. In three years, the organization has more than tripled its membership and revenue. She is also serving her fourth year on the Pride board, with responsibility for the Equality Walk.
Brian Copeland and Greg Bullard
Brian Copeland and Greg Bullard were ceremonially wed in 2006 and legally married in San Francisco in 2013. They are fathers to three-year-old Micah and eight-month-old Esther.
Copeland is the Chief of Broker Services for Village Real Estate and a corporate keynote speaker. He became the first openly gay Realtor of the Year for the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors in 2011, and holds numerous positions at the local, state, and national realtor organizations. He was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Leaders in the Country in 2014 and 2015.
Copeland has served on the boards for the Family Equality Council, the American Fertility Association, TEP, Hands On Nashville, Greenways for Nashville, and the Nashville Farmer’s Market Commission. In 2011, Brian founded Nashville Gay Parents, which has grown into a network of over 200 families throughout Middle Tennessee. He also founded the largest online network for gay fathers, which has 4000 members internationally.
Bullard is the founder and pastor of Covenant of the Cross in Madison, which runs the only LGBT-affirming food pantry in Tennessee and feeds more than 200 households monthly. In 2014, he accepted Hands On Nashville’s Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Group of the Year Award for that work, for which Covenant was also recognized at Autumn Honors. In 2014, Greg received the Community Service Award at the HRC Equality Dinner.
Bullard is also known in the community for his work with Nashville Pride, and has led Nashville Pride’s Spirituality Night for fifteen years. He has also served on the board for the Nashville Interfaith Alliance and Mending Hearts, a recovery center for women. Currently, he is also a child advocate with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, with an emphasis in transgendered children and teen advocacy.
Barb Neligan and Amy Parker
After eighteen years together, Barb Neligan and Amy Parker say their secret to keeping the romance alive is making each other laugh. Their proudest accomplishment? Raising their beautiful twenty-two-year-old daughter, Avery.
They both have volunteered and served on committees for many events over the years, including Pride and Nashville Cares Zootopia. They also volunteered on parent and event committees throughout the course of Avery’s school years in Nashville and were members of the George Eastman Circle and Parents Council at the University of Rochester, from which Avery graduated last spring.
Parker is Director of Support Services at HCA/Parallon. She is currently serving on the Brooks Fund board. Neligan is the Senior Product Trainer at Education Networks of America. Over the years, she has served on the GLBT Center Board, co-chaired the HRC dinner, and served on the HRC Steering Committee and on the HRC Board of Governors.
Jason Warner and DeMarco DeCiccio
Musicians Jason Warner and DeMarco DeCiccio are relative newcomers to Nashville, having moved to Franklin just last year. A couple of nearly fourteen years, they were married in 2010 and welcomed twin sons, Mason and Noah, through surrogacy in 2011.
With the international release of their album Til the End of Time, Jason and DeMarco became familiar names to music fans around the world. Their first single, “Trying to Get to You,” climbed the Billboard charts and their second single, “This is Love,” won “Music Video of the Year” at the 2006 MTV LOGO Awards.
Jason and DeMarco have performed at numerous high profile events, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Awards in Los Angeles, the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s Annual Gala in Denver, and the 2006 HRC Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. They have also been a part of the HRC’s star-studded benefit album, Love Rocks, alongside artists such as Christina Aguilera, P!nk, and the Dixie Chicks.
In 2010, the duo founded a non-profit, S.A.F.E., and opened a drop-in center for homeless LGBTQ youth, serving over 400 clients in less than eight months. Warner said, “In relocating to Nashville, rather than opening another drop-in center, we feel we can better serve our youth and the community by helping to prevent them from being homeless to begin with.”
They hope that their non-profit will be able to work with the Department of Children Services (DCS) to help connect affirming foster parents with LGBTQ foster youth, and to provide DCS with S.A.F.E. (Safe, Affirming, Family Environment) families for these LGBTQ youth. They are also exploring possible housing solutions for youth transitioning out of foster care. Since launching S.A.F.E., the duo has raised more than $100,000 while also releasing a music video to their hit single “Safe,” written by fellow gay artist Josh Duffy.
Zac Woodward and Chad LaBoy
Zac Woodward, twenty-two-year-old model, actor, host, and radio personality, is the producer and on-air personality for Nashville’s #1 rated morning radio show, The Woody & Jim Show, on WRVW-FM 107.5 The River. Zac can be seen in “Mockingjay: The Hunger Games Trilogy,” “Insurgent,” and “Madea’s Christmas,” as well as in Abercrombie campaigns, to name a few.
Chad LaBoy is a twenty-five-year-old music business technology professional. Chad is the founder and “Chief Visionary Officer” for MusicCred, a revolutionary mobile application aiming to launch early this year. Chad’s passion in business is generating ingenious ideas across various platforms to improve businesses.
Recently, Zac and Chad were selected to play a couple in Kelly Clarkson’s music video for her new single “Heartbeat Song.” While on set, Chad arranged with the production team to surprise Zac by proposing while shooting. This epic proposal is actually going to be part of the video, enshrining it in pop-culture history. Here’s to you two for reaching multiple platforms and helping represent same-love equality so publicly!
Jeremy Davis and Matt Dillman
Jeremy Davis is the Chief Mortgage Officer for the Bank of Nashville and leads the mortgage banking divisions for three Synovus affiliate banks. Previously, Davis led a successful, high-profile growth campaign for Fifth Third Bank, and executed successful expansions for JPMorgan Chase and Washington Mutual Bank into new market territories throughout the southeast. In 2009, Nashville Business Journal honored Davis as one of Nashville’s top 40 most influential business leaders under 40.
Matt Dillman is a realtor with Reliant Realty. He began his real estate career in 2005, and quickly discovered a passion for assisting first time homebuyers in navigating the hurdles of home buying. While Dillman helps clients of all backgrounds, the majority of his clients are from the LGBT community, and he prides himself in helping his clients navigate through the specific needs of LGBT homeowners.
The couple has a long history of supporting LGBT organizations as well as organizing and volunteering for equality-minded political candidates. They have hosted dozens of fundraisers for candidates, including Mayor Karl Dean, Metro Councilmember At Large Megan Barry, and Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN). The couple was heavily involved in the Vote No on 1 campaign against a marriage ban in Tennessee, helping to organize and host multiple fundraisers for the organization, including an event at TPAC’s Johnson Hall with comedian Leslie Jordan. Davis served on the TEP Board from 2005 to 2008, and the board of the Brooks Fund from 2010 to 2012.
Davis and Dillman have been very active supporters of the HRC in Nashville, both serving on the Nashville steering committee and volunteering in multiple roles from 2005 to 2012. Their work includes assisting with the planning and execution of HRC’s premier annual gala, the Equality Dinner, from 2006 to 2012. Davis also served as co-chair of the HRC Dinner from 2008 to 2012. In addition, Davis served on the HRC Board of Governors from 2005 to 2011, and served as Chair for the Corporate Relations/Sponsorship Committee.
They have most recently focused on working with the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, devoting their energy and resources to assist with growing the Chamber’s membership, fundraising, and organization. Davis has served as a board member for the LGBT Chamber since late 2009 and was elected President/Chairman of the Board in 2012.