American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

Standing Together: Leah and Leanne’s Love Story

In January of 2011, Leah Neaderthal and Leanne Pittsford of San Francisco left for the trip of a lifetime – eight months in 35 cities in 16 countries. However, it was their experience in one city in particular that stuck out from the rest.

On June 11, 2011, the Croatian city of Split held its first gay pride parade, and Leah and Leanne were thrilled to participate. It turned out, this parade was not like the colorful, musical, friendly events they were used to in the states.

“We had heard that there might be resistance, but nothing could prepare us for what we saw there. Thousands of protesters lined the parade route, and I’ll never forget walking by them, seeing them angrily shaking their fists, doing the Nazi salute, and chanting ‘Kill the Gays’” recalls the couple.

Police officers formed a physical barrier between the 200 brave marchers and the violent mob, but despite their presence, things turned ugly.

As the parade turned a corner, Leanne and Leah heard three loud noises that sounded like bombs. In an instant, they were surrounded by tear gas. They and the other protesters ran through the narrow streets to safety, lungs burning and eyes watering. “It looked like a scene you’d see on CNN. We had no idea things could get so ugly.” It really opened our eyes to the type of prejudice and violence that gay people face there. We felt really lucky to be from the U.S.

Challenges Closer to Home

In 2010, only several weeks after Leanne and Leah became a couple, Leanne’s brother died suddenly.

In a lot of ways, he helped bridge the divide between Leanne, who worked professionally advocating for LGBT equality at Equality California, and her parents, who are Christian and conservative.  In Leanne’s large family, he was the only family member who supported who she was.

“When Tim passed,” describes Leanne, “it became this battle of remembering my brother how my parents thought he was and who I knew he was: my parents remembered him as the quiet teen he was, and I knew him as the adult he had become. We ended up having three funerals for him because we couldn’t agree on [how to deal with] it.”

“Leah graciously agreed to come with me to all three funerals, which is a lot for a new relationship,” recalls Leanne.

Even in the face of loss and supporting Leanne, Leah struggled with the conservative family. “The compassionate side of me felt for this family that just had a major loss, but I was torn because much of what they believe is hurtful to Leanne and me: they believe being gay is a lifestyle choice, and they don’t approve of our relationship,” says Leah.

Luckily, both women relied on each other to get through such a terrible time.

A Unique Proposal

After the passing of Leanne’s brother, an eight-month long travel experience, and more, Leanne knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Leah. However, she wasn’t going to pop the question in a conventional way…

“I knew I wanted to propose in Washington D.C. in the park where she said ‘I love you’ for the first time,” explains Leanne. “And we had this inside joke about flash mobs – or really just that I love them and she thinks they’re so 2004.”

Leanne found a choreographer and enlisted tons of people to create a flash mob proposal to the tune of Bruno Mars’ “Marry You.”

“It ended up being a really romantic moment because as we walked through the park, she remembered that it was the place where she first said she loved me, and got sentimental even before the proposal.” describes Leanne.

But when the music and dance started, Leah was under the impression that some sort of professional dance rehearsal was going on and kept trying to pull Leanne out of the way.

“Finally I just said, ‘No! This is for you!’ and she immediately got it,” recalls Leanne. “So I got in there, did a little dancing and got down on one knee.”

“I was really, really surprised,” says Leah. “She just got down on one knee and said what I assume is the sweetest thing on earth but I don’t know what it was because I interrupted her and just said ‘yes!’”

Improving Each Other

Through the ups and the downs, Leah and Leanne stay strong and find happiness in each other. Today, they run a business together while traveling for several months out of the year.

“I love Leanne’s passion,” says Leah. “You don’t get to meet a lot of people that really go after what they want despite challenges and naysayers. Most people stay well within their comfort zone. Not Leanne. She continually sets ambitious goals and isn’t afraid of taking risks. But Leanne just does it, and it’s so inspiring. She really builds me up.”

“Leah is the first person I’ve met who always has the desire to be better,” says Leanne. “I think that’s why we make each other better people. She’s so smart and intellectually curious, and she pushes me to be better and more thoughtful. We are able to go further together than we could alone.”

Leah and Leanne are hoping that they can make their love official sooner, rather than later.

A flash mob may or may not be included.