Nearly 30 years ago, Pat Hussain was touring the Toys R Us in Huntsville, Ala., where she was going to be the new store director when a woman jumped between the men in suits and reached out her hand.
She said her name was Cherry. “And you’re going to love me,” Pat Hussain recalls her saying.
Three decades later, including a marriage in Connecticut in 2009, and the love definitely flows between the two as they cuddle on their couch, playing with their two dogs, on a recent rainy Saturday morning.
“I was married to a man with two kids. But I fell in love at first sight with her,” Cherry says. “And I’m just arrogant,” she adds with a laugh. “I have style, class and charisma.”
Pat, 64, and Cherry, 59, have pretty much been together since that fateful assignment. While Pat enjoyed playing the field and had a girlfriend in Atlanta, she was taken with this confident, sassy woman who was fearless in making her intentions known.
“I thought, oh, she’s going to eat those words,” Pat says of Cherry’s forwardness.
“This cutie comes after the predator. I had roaming feet when we met. I didn’t know she had that spark in her. She was a married woman with two children ― that’s definitely a no-no. But I could not resist a challenge,” Pat says with a laugh. “She had thrown down the gauntlet.”
There were the valid worries of being lesbians in a small-town and when Cherry divorced her abusive husband, she lost custody of her children because a judge believed her to be too immoral to raise them.
The children eventually moved back in with Pat and Cherry when they got older, escaping the abuse he wrought on them after their mother was gone, and the two have been co-parenting for years and are also now grandparents.
“The thing that has been difficult for us has been family. Theres a perception that what’s visible in our community is young, single people. But that’s not the whole truth,” says Pat. “Without the advances in meds, there’d be a lot fewer of us around. Each year is a treasure. Everyone is not 20.”
‘I got my heart and head broken’
Pat Hussain was one the co-founder of the grassroots “Olympics Out of Cobb” movement in 1994 that forced Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games’ to move the 1996 Olympic volleyball competitions out of Cobb County in response to the Cobb Board of Commissioners approving a resolution condemning the “gay lifestyle.”
The pressure was so mighty that the OOCC, with the help of such groups as ACT UP, the Lesbian Avengers, Dykes & Faggots Bash Back, and the Human Rights Campaign also succeeded in ensuring the Olympic torch did not pass through Cobb County. That anti-gay resolution is still on the books, however.
Hussain was also a co-founder of Southerners on New Ground, a group that works to fight for equality on behalf of rural LGBT people, and she spent all her time organizing and fighting for equality. Until she just couldn’t fight anymore.
“I got my heart broken and my head broken,” Pat says. “I want to do social justice work so much and it so painful. You think you’re tough, you’re an organizer.”
But before the start of a SONG conference, Hussain’s body simply quit working and she eventually was hospitalized. “I claimed a front row seat in hell and I hope never to have to there again,” she says.
The breakdown meant Pat had to quit working and the loss of Pat’s income some years ago has taken a deep toll on the couple. Pat also has withdrawn much from any community activity but receives help from ZAMI NOBLA, an organization specifically serves black lesbians who are 40 and older.
Cherry works at a grocery store and is the sole source of income. But she says she would do anything to care for her wife.
“My wife suffers from depression, from PTSD. It was so horrifying for me,” Cherry says. “To watch this beautiful, emotional, vibrant hummingbird full of sunshine and song who is now afraid. It was a challenge and still is a challenge. Sometimes the days are sunny, others are cloudy. I’m just glad my wife has me. She could have disappeared, she could have been homeless. But she is still the bright light of my love.”
Atlanta Dream inspires
Aging, for anyone, is a challenge, emotionally and physically. Cherry just had bones in her knees replaced.
“My knees knees feel good but the rest of me is still getting old. Work is one area ― as we get older we’re not able to do the jobs we used to do. It’s a challenge to keep up at work and then they take your pay and you stress about that,” she says. “My only challenge is getting up every morning and making sure my wife still loves me.”
After seeing psychiatrists and therapists, Pat found an outlet that puts the spark back in her soul ― the Atlanta Dream, the city’s professional women’s basketball team. The season tickets are expensive, especially on one income, but Cherry, a former player and coach, say it is money well spent.
“My wife gets excited, I get excited. I don’t care how much it costs. She comes out of her shell. She wants to go,” Cherry says.
Of course SONG has never let Pat and Cherry go and continue to support the couple. But the Atlanta Dream and those women dribbling and shooting and winning games are a strong source of inspiration.
“After all the therapists and psychiatrists and drugs, the thing that made the biggest different to me is the Atlanta Dream,” Pat says. “Therapy trough basketball. It’s cheaper!”
We’re not all ‘white gay, mostly male’
Pat and Cherry are still socially conscious even if they are not able to physically participate as often as they would like. And Pat still is keenly interested in the LGBT movement and the intersection of all oppressions ― because gay people are not only discriminated by not being allowed to get married in Georgia or other states, but they are discriminated against when seeking housing or jobs or by federal immigration laws.
One way to help the movement, and all social justice movements, to work well together is for the people who are fighting the good fight to get to know each other.
“We’re doing some very difficult work without knowing each other,” Pat says. “And that creates more tension. We’re not understanding each other. I am so glad to have queer folk on TV, in the media.
“But that’s just one aspect of under 30, white gay, mostly male,” Pat adds. “Not to disparage a Wanda Sykes who is out there, but there has been two approaches in our [LGBT] community ― one is to say, ‘Look, I’m just like you.’ And the other is to work to change and reorder the table and say I’m not trying to regain a seat at the table where I wasn’t invited and am not welcome.”
Holding hands 30 years later
Nearly 30 years ago, when Cherry boldly introduced herself to Pat in a small-town Alabama Toys R Us store, neither thought they would be holding hands on a couch in the home they share near Decatur.
They still hold hands when they go to sleep. As a way to deal with her depression, Pat writes poems. She quotes one of her favorites, “Our hands touch in bed/one palm facing the other/ a nest of fingers.”
And for Cherry, words matter in how she talks to her wife. “I don’t tell her I love tell her. I say I’m in love with her,”she says.
Photo: Cherry (left) and Pat Hussain have been together nearly 30 years. (by Tina Tian)