I travel regularly, and I’m often asked where “home” is. My home will always be Aurora, Illinois because that’s where I was born and spent my 30-year career. But I know they are asking about the geographical location where I live. When I tell them I recently moved to Florida, the typical response is “Why?” accompanied by a giggle, so I know it’s meant to be a joke(ish). Florida makes headlines regarding politics and overall weirdness, so I understand the reaction.
When people learn I have a wife [gasp], they are even more perplexed by the decision to reside in a not-very gay-friendly state.
The truth is, I was apprehensive about moving to Florida.
Let me back up and explain how it happened. Everyone vacations to South Florida at some point because of the fantastic weather and the beautiful beaches. And Mickey Mouse. I’d been a tourist of the sunshine state many times and never considered living there until our close friends invited us to stay with them in their condo. They lived full-time in Illinois but had a vacation home in Naples. We happily freeloaded for several years and fell in love with the city of Naples so much that we decided to purchase our own vacation home. In 2018 we bought an adorable little villa, and it became my family’s happy place to escape the Chicago winters for long weekends.
When my wife and I retired from our policing careers in 2021, our youngest child was about to graduate from college, so we were officially empty nesters. We took advantage of the housing market and sold the home where we raised our kids because it was illogical to maintain that kind of square footage. We decided to head to Florida and stay in our villa so I could finish my book and we could decompress from our high-stress careers.
We started building connections with people in our neighborhood and beyond. Those connections turned into friendships. Our Illinois tribe is still our primary “family,” and they come back and forth to visit (living in paradise is an easy sell to attract houseguests).
Since moving to Naples, we have never felt unwelcome—quite the contrary. Every business we’ve patronized and every person we’ve met has been nothing but accepting of us as a same-sex couple. When my wife introduces me to her pickleball pals (it’s a cult), they don’t even flinch.
And yet when I turn on the news, I am alerted to discriminatory legislation and the bigots who propose it. I see a theme of hatred with words like “grooming” and “don’t say gay,” and I have to take a moment to remind myself where I live.
We attended a play at the Gulfshore Playhouse in downtown Naples this past weekend. Knowing nothing about the storyline, I was shocked when the plot revealed a man in his 60s struggling to tell his 90-year-old father he was gay and had been in a relationship with another man for decades. The story was ancillary to the main characters, but the way in which it unfolded was beautiful and compassionate. No one walked out or scoffed at the support for the gay man like I was expecting. It seemed the audience was pulling for him.
I left that theater having to remind myself where I was.
My wife and I entered into a Civil Union in Illinois about ten years ago. We just learned that Florida doesn’t recognize our union, and we panicked. What would we do if something happened to the other that would require making medical decisions or staking a claim to our home and assets? Despite being together for a few decades and being in a legal union in Illinois, none of that would matter in Florida, and we wouldn’t have any legal rights.
So we set out to the clerk’s office of Collier County to get a marriage license because same-sex marriage in Florida has been legal since January 6, 2015, as a result of a ruling in Brenner v. Scott from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
I’m not going to lie. I was worried. I was concerned that leaving the bubble of our neighborhood and going out into the *real* Florida would finally reveal the disdain.
We walked into the courthouse and asked where to get a marriage license and were met with directions and kindness from the men working security. We stopped at the information desk to ensure we were headed in the right direction, and the woman working said, “Congratulations on your nuptials!” We made it to the clerk, and she found it amusing that my soon-to-be wife (again) and I have similar names: Kristen Lynn and Christine Lynn. The other clerks laughed, granted us our license, and wished us well.
I got into the car and had to remind myself where I was.
I breathed a sigh of happiness and relief and understood that it’s hard to hate close up. I am not naive. I know many people who would wish gay people didn’t exist based on their narrow mindsets or selective biblical passages.
But I haven’t felt one shred of disdain directed at us. Maybe I’m too busy living my amazing life to notice, but I genuinely feel welcomed and supported in Naples.
Perhaps the legislators and the media who continue to fan the sparks of hatred should spend more time on the ground talking to people like us — and those who love us.