Part(ners) of the Change
By Glenn Gullicksen, Feb 13, 2014.
Young men in a long-term relationship help promote marriage equality in Arizona by putting their wedding on hold Alec Thomson and Gerald Bohulano could cross the state border and get married in California, New Mexico or a number of other states that offer marriage equality, but the couple have put plans for a wedding on hold until same-sex marriage is legal in Arizona.
Arizona is where the men were born, raised and educated. It's where they've started their careers and been involved with LGBT community organizations. It's also where they met and where they would like to get married.
"We'll do it when it's legal in Arizona and be part of the change," Thomson said. "This is our home."
Bohulano agreed. "We want to be able to say we actually helped make the change happen," he said.
As a couple who seem destined for a long-term relationship, Thomson, 25, and Bohulano, 27, defy the bar scene and one-night stand stereotype often attached to young gay men.
Instead, the couple represents what Thomson called "the new gay culture" marked by committed relationships.
"We are college sweethearts," Thomson said. "It's important for people to see that happens in our community."
After being together for about five years, this is the first Valentine's Day the men are celebrating since moving in together late last year. There will be cards and flowers and a special restaurant dinner, a continuation of traditions started years ago.
Gerald Bohulano and Alec Thomson. Photos by Fernando Hernández.
While their life as a couple appears solid now, Thomson and Bohulano acknowledged that it might not have seemed like a sure thing from the beginning.
Thomson was born to a biracial couple who reflect the Mexican-American heritages of Nogales, Ariz., the border town where he was raised.
Bohulano was an Army brat, raised at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista by parents who were originally from the Philippines.
"I honestly don't know how much more diverse we could get," Thomson said, reflecting on their sexual orientation and ethnic backgrounds. "Our diversity has been our greatest strength."
The men came to the Valley with scholarships to attend Arizona State University, where Thomson was a global studies major and Bohulano studied journalism and public relations.
It was their involvement in ASU student government that brought the men together. Thomson was new on campus when the upperclassman Bohulano noticed him at a meeting.
"I thought, ‘Who is that? I want to get to know him,'" Bohulano remembered. "All the guys were checking him out. I had to pounce."
A mutual friend encouraged Bohulano to set up that first date. But when he got stuck in a meeting, Bohulano didn't show up at Thomson's door until after 10 p.m., meaning a late dinner at the nearby Denny's that included a couple of hours of conversation.
"I had no idea it would lead to dating him, much less being together five years later," Thomson said.
For their first Valentine's Day, the choice of restaurant improved as Bohulano worked to find a special place and made a reservation at VinciTorio's in Tempe.
Thomson gave Bohulano roses and assembled a basket of some of his favorite things, including peanut butter cups.
Bohulano made a "macaroni card" from poster board decorated with red glitter and presented it with a stuffed animal — a green frog. "At the time, I thought it was so cute," he said, but tastes mature and the frog is no longer around.
Learning From A Breakup
But things haven't always been hearts and flowers for the couple. After dating a few months, Bohulano was off to North Carolina for a summer internship. One day Thomson called to break up. He thought things were moving too fast. He needed space.
Then Thomson changed his mind. "I realized I had made a mistake," he said. He called back the next day to patch things up, but Bohulano wasn't having it.
During the next year — Bohulano's last at ASU — the men hung out as friends, finally getting back together before Bohulano graduated.
"Without the break, we wouldn't have been together now," Thomson said. "I needed to grow up a little."
"The space apart made us realize what we were missing," Bohulano said.
After graduating in 2009, Bohulano worked at the Maricopa Skills Center at Gateway Community College and got a master's degree from Northern Arizona University.
He now works as an assistant account representative at the Phoenix office of the Las Vegas-based R&R Partners, a public relations firm famous for creating the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" campaign.
Thomson graduated in 2011 and went to work in the Arizona governor's office for the Arizona-Mexico Commission, then moved to Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot's office to work as research analyst and policy.
When Simplot recently left the council, Thomson became government affairs analyst for the Arizona Multihousing Association, the trade organization where Simplot is president and CEO.
Secret To Success
The men said that the secret to their success is giving each other space. Each maintains his own groups of friends and interests — politics for Thomson, sports and pop culture for Bohulano.
"It's equally as important as time together," Thomson said. "It's hurting the relationship if both people have to be involved in every aspect."
That means Thomson might take a run or go to the gym by himself while Bohulano plays volleyball or tennis.
"Alex gives me space to live my life independently, but he supports me," Bohulano said. "We have our lives together. We're still a team."
Together they explore Valley restaurants on weekly date nights, see movies, shop or travel. Thomson is the cook, and on Sundays he prepares dinner at home. Bohulano tends to be the neatnik; he'll wash the dishes.
After finding an apartment, they shopped together to fill it, then argued about where everything should go. But Thomson said the adjustment to living together has gone quickly.
The men also share an interest in community work. Bohulano is on Equality Arizona's Communications and Planning Committee and Thomson has been a volunteer for the statewide LGBT human rights organization's dinner the past three years. He's also on the committee for Night for Life, the fundraising dinner for the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS.
Bohulano was founding president of the LGBT Devils' Pride chapter of the ASU Alumni Association. In 2012, he was appointed to the Mayor's Youth Initiative Committee.
Thomson is running the re-election campaign for a Tempe city councilwoman and volunteering for Terry Goddard's campaign for Arizona secretary of state.
Thomson said he could see becoming a candidate himself someday, perhaps for Phoenix City Council. Bohulano said his family's background in education could lead him to seek a school board post in the future.
Thomson and Bohulano said that they haven't taken any legal steps to formalize their relationship, but they don't think that's necessary since their families respect the union.
"We're so blessed to have our parents' full support," Bohulano said. "I know people who aren't so lucky."
The relationship with Thomson actually helped Bohulano come out to his parents. He had come out to a friend at age 16, but kept his parents in the dark before graduating from college, fearing he might be cut off.
After introducing his "friend" to his parents, Bohulano remembered asking his father what he thought of Thomson via text, a coming out method he doesn't recommend. When the reply was positive, Bohulano texted back, "Well, he's my boyfriend." A phone call from an emotional mother followed.
"It takes someone special to [come out to] your parents," Bohulano said. "They were the last two people to know."
Thomson said he also kept his parents out of the loop after coming out to a friend at age 15. But in close-knit Nogales, "within a week, everyone had found out," he said. Nevertheless, it took a couple of years for his mom to ask him about what she had heard. "She was upset I didn't tell her," he said.
It helps that both men have gay relatives — Thomson a gay uncle, Bohulano a lesbian cousin.
Promoting Marriage Equality
Now the men are telling their story in a big way as one of the couples sharing their lives as part of Why Marriage Matters Arizona, a campaign to build support for marriage equality in a state where the Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
The couple heeded the campaign's solicitation for couples' stories, figuring their tale of young men in a long-term relationship should be represented among the dozen featured on Why Marriage Matters' website.
Thomson said the sometimes random reaction to their website story has been good. "It was really encouraging to see mostly positive feedback," he said.
Bohulano said got evidence that the story worked when he ran into a former teacher who told him that she donated to Why Marriage Matters after seeing the website.
The men think that marriage equality in Arizona is inevitable. "It's just a question of when," Bohulano said.
And when the time is right, there's likely to be a proposal. It just hasn't been decided how that might happen.
"When it does become legal, he's taller, so he has to ask me," Bohulano said.
"You're older," Thomson responded.