As an athletic teenager living in Homestead in the early ’90s, Vanessa Alenier had a secret she held on to tightly, scared she might be rejected by her friends, and even family, if it were discovered. She was same-sex attracted.
Though Alenier attempted to fit into the social molds of the day by dating boys, she quietly suffered, pining for an idea of love she believed would never lead to matrimony and that fabled “happy ending.”
Though Alenier felt alone, her feelings were shared by thousands of other LGBT Floridians across the state who similarly yearned for their love to be dignified in the same ceremonial and legal fashion as that of heterosexual couples.
Despite Alenier's enduring decades of a nationwide fog on whether gay couples should be legally recognized, just this year, due to the lifting of a stay, she and the love of her life, Melanie, became one of the first same-sex couples to obtain a Florida marriage license.
On January 9, Vanessa wore a fitted white suit, Melanie an equally stylish white dress, as they headed to the Broward County Courthouse to be married by Judge Lisa Porter. With their 6-year-old adopted son, Ethan, by their side; Melanie’s mom, Jan Nickel; and their close family friend Veronica Stanfield in attendance, the Hollywood couple officially tied the knot.
For the Aleniers, joy has been met with relief. Not only did they want to be married to celebrate their nearly decade-long relationship but now they are afforded many of the protections they were previously denied because of Florida’s gay-marriage ban, such as the right to take care of a sick spouse in a hospital or to inherit property.
Additionally, their marriage has allowed Melanie to be placed on Vanessa’s health insurance policy, which she is enrolled in through work.
In part because of the media exposure the couple received by being part of one of the high-profile lawsuits challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, the health care insurance company Aetna reached out to the Aleniers to be a part of its new campaign to showcase the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) couples.
Since the Aleniers believe the LGBT community still has a long way to go to achieve equal rights in the U.S., particularly in regard to housing and work discrimination, they were excited to sign on to the project because they believe Aetna is taking a stand against the systemic intolerance of same-sex couples by some conservative organizations.
“Any project that can help open hearts, that all love is equal, we are proud to be a part of," Melanie told New Times.
Aetna contacted the Aleniers, Vanessa says, because the company wanted to share the real stories of real LGBT families that the public could relate to.
“We did the video because we wanted to share our family story,” she said. “Aetna wanted to deliver a powerful and authentic message, one that everyone can relate to. That's the reason for real people [as opposed to actors] being in the video. It was an amazing experience to be included in this project. The completed project is real and authentic, and we are very proud of it."
Click below to watch Melanie Alenier open up about what her family means to her.
Although the couple has been unceasingly interviewed by the media this past year because of the Pareto lawsuit, Melanie says filming the video was different from their usual interactions with the media.
“It was definitely a new experience,” she told New Times. “Most of what we've talked about to the media was about equality in Florida. This project was very intimate. I opened up about my love for Vanessa and my family and what that means to me.”
The couple traveled to Philadelphia in February for the filming, taking their son with them to the City of Brotherly Love. For the Aleniers, who believe it is important for Ethan to know his family is just as dignified as other families, the short video on their life together would have been incomplete without him being a part of it.
“Ethan really enjoyed the entire experience," Vanessa laughed. "As for us being on TV, he thinks it's cool, but he still thinks riding his electric dirt bike or playing football is way cooler than being on TV.”