Between the two of them, Melanie Jones and Ellen Zimmerman are arguably more of a reflection of a diverse and accepting LGBT community than many gay couples.
Zimmerman is a white, Jewish mother and grandmother who was once married to a man, while Jones is an African American, Buddhist drummer and photographer who’s about 20 years Zimmerman’s junior. Zimmerman spends her days working as a psychotherapist, and Jones works with Desert AIDS Project recruiting volunteers and edits a monthly, lesbian-oriented newsletter they bought a few years ago.
“We bring different things to the table, but we don’t infringe on each other,” Zimmerman says.
The ladies also differ in when they realized they were attracted to women. Jones says she knew at age 12 when she met a girl at her Baptist church in LA. When the minister discovered the attraction and denounced the girls before the entire congregation, Jones never returned. She came out at age 17.
Zimmerman had her first lesbian encounter in graduate school, but meeting Jones years later, after her marriage had ended, cemented her romantic interest in women. At the time, they were both participants in a group discussion at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center. When Zimmerman happened to look Jones’ way, she couldn’t stop staring.
Jones recalls: “I’m like, What is up with this lady? I said, ‘Lady, what?’ I didn’t realize she was interested in me.”
Zimmerman’s interest became clear after the meeting during a debriefing. She pointedly mentioned that Jones hadn’t said anything about herself during the meeting. Jones gave her phone number to Zimmerman, who admittedly was so unfamiliar with dating etiquette that she called the very next morning. But that didn’t hinder the development of their relationship. They’ve been together about 16 years and legally committed to one another in 2003 during a Jewish/Buddhist ceremony at a gay synagogue.
During their years together, they’ve been actively supporting the LGBT community. Through volunteerism and, later for Jones, employment with the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, they lent their talents to Pride parades, the AIDS Life Cycle, and numerous other events and activities.
They brought that rallying spirit with them when they moved to Palm Springs about 10 years ago. Publishing the LSpot newsletter has been a significant part of their community service in the desert, starting with the first mixer they hosted for lesbian residents and readers.
“That really pulled us in,” Zimmerman says. “We were the first to break all the barriers to go to the restaurants that wouldn’t allow lesbians in.”
She doesn’t name the businesses, but says there were plenty of owners who didn’t want lesbians in their establishments. That is, until they brought 125 women to that first mixer.
“The owners were beside themselves,” Zimmerman says. “They couldn’t believe how many local, accomplished women came out. That’s one of the reasons we are so instrumental in the community today, because we have proven that we are more than the heterosexual mind has a tendency to believe lesbians are.”
For Jones, who cut her teeth as an activist and politically minded lesbian while attending San Francisco State University, the doors the newsletter has opened and the exposure it has brought for local lesbians is especially satisfying.
“It allowed these women to go back [to the restaurants] and be comfortable,” she says about the first mixer. “That is our job, to break down those walls. That allows people to see us as human beings.”
Read about all of the 2013 Pride honorees in Desert Outlook’s Pride issue:
IF YOU GO
Greater Palm Springs Pride Parade
When: 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 3
Where: Palm Canyon Drive, between Baristo and Tamarisk roads, in Palm Springs