One snowy winter night in 2002, Mignon Moore begrudgingly trekked to Queens for a family gathering. It was bitingly cold, and Mignon felt less than enthusiastic about venturing out. Her cousin, however, was proposing to his girlfriend at a surprise party, and the event was one she just couldn’t skip.
Elaine Harley felt similarly about the blustery January drear, but knew her sister’s boyfriend planned to pop the question, and with all her friends and family at the Queens soiree, she needed to attend. Little did either woman know that the event—which technically made them family before they formed their own—would forever alter their lives, leading to 14 years of a union founded on trust, support, humor, mutual respect and of course, deep love.
Neither Mignon nor Elaine was looking for a mate. Mignon had recently found her groove as a single gal in the city and was focused merely on meeting new people and having a good time. Nonetheless, “sparks were flying” when she laid eyes on Elaine, and with the confidence that comes from harboring no expectations, she approached Elaine to strike up a conversation.
“Elaine is shy and I’m outgoing, so I’m sure I went up to her and I’m sure I was very flirty with her,” Mignon says, laughing. Elaine certainly didn’t seem to mind, and after the party, the couple began casually dating. “It wasn’t until about 10 months later that we really said we thought there was something serious between us. But neither of us thought it would turn into what it did.”
Elaine and Mignon subsequently blossomed as a couple. While living in New York, the duo worked tirelessly to maintain an active presence in the LGBT and women of color communities: Elaine on the turntables under her alias, DJ One; and Mignon hosting Persuasion, a Monday-night lounge party for women, while researching her groundbreaking book, Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood Among Black Women, which, upon its publication in 2011, garnered acclaim as one of the first-ever sociological studies on black lesbian families (available for purchase on Amazon).
In 2006, the lovebirds relocated to Los Angeles, where they continued their roles as community movers and shakers by launching a party called, “Chocolate and Wine: Upscale Events for Women and Their Friends.” Mignon explains: “Chocolate meant ‘dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate,’ to make sure that everyone was included.” While the event welcomed all supportive partygoers, Mignon and Elaine sought to provide an environment for women of color to feel validated, socialize and shine—in some seriously swanky spots.
Mignon, then a professor of sociology at UCLA, and Elaine, who founded her own graphic design company, Harley Graphic Design (harleygraphicdesign.com), obtained a domestic partnership in 2008. Both native New Yorkers, the couple decided to wed in their home state after marriage equality became legal there in 2011. So, in March of 2012, which marked 10 years together for the pair, Mignon and Elaine traveled to New York to marry in a civil service. They decided to celebrate their union all year. The festivities moved on to a picturesque August destination wedding in Los Cabos, Mexico, with 40 loved ones. “It was so much fun,” Mignon says. “It was the best day of my life, really.” The women walked each other down the aisle because after a decade of partnership, they “were entering this union with both eyes open and facing it together.” The following week in L.A., the newlyweds held another celebration in their backyard for friends unable to attend the Mexico ceremony. “That’s why I always say we got married three times,” adds Mignon.
In the wake of their nuptials, Mignon and Elaine realized the importance of bringing visibility to the national marriage equality campaign and got involved with the group Freedom to Marry. The couple added faces to their story by publishing their wedding photos, which went viral and received 20,000-plus “likes” on Facebook. The images graced the pages of Ebony Magazine, and the couple also contributed to Freedom to Marry’s “Jumping the Broom” campaign—one that showcased different cultural wedding traditions. Then, in a major move in 2013, Black Enterprise, a conservative African American business magazine, featured Mignon and Elaine on its cover. Time Magazine published a two-page spread of the couple kissing. They conducted myriad interviews with newspapers and other media outlets such as NPR. As a team, Elaine and Mignon were unstoppable, and their momentum only sped up.
During that time, the couple was also trying to conceive and grow their family. “This turned out to be one of our biggest uphill battles,” Mignon says. The duo determined that Mignon would carry their child and embarked on a challenging journey toward parenthood. Elaine was “right there through every step of the process—from hormone injections to doctor’s visits.” Despite giving biological birth their best shot, it proved not to be in the cards for the couple. Instead, the stars aligned when Elaine and Mignon became certified to adopt. Soon after, they brought their beautiful daughter, Joie, now 3, home from the hospital. A year later, they adopted Joie’s newborn biological brother, Ryan (presently 2), and welcomed him into their budding family.
“Joie and Ryan are our biggest blessing and a precious gift. We’re so thankful for the opportunity to be parents and raise them together,” says Mignon.
Elaine and Mignon moved back to New York with their toddlers in 2015. They now live in Harlem, where Mignon works as a proudly tenured sociology professor at Barnard College, and Elaine continues to build her graphic design business. They attribute their success in career and home life to maintaining balance, co-parenting with “continuity and agreement in approach” and making time for their relationship no matter what.
“Having children can really be stressful to a union because now you both have to put the children’s needs ahead of your own. So we have weekly date nights, even if we can just grab dinner together or watch Netflix when the kids are asleep. You need to make time for your relationship and sometimes all it takes is sharing a bowl of popcorn.”
Mignon and Elaine also always ensure each of them is “growing as an individual while still nurturing the relationship.” They’re cognizant that personal identities can sometimes get lost in the bustle of partnership and parenting, and they take care to nurture and support each other’s passions and interests.
“You need to be willing to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work. Compromise, use humor, forgive—because you don’t stay together 14 years without some conflicts—so you have to be able to see the other person’s side,” says Mignon.
Then, of course, there’s their profound affection for one another. “I love that Mignon is reliable, very friendly, really smart and a go-getter,” says Elaine. Mignon is crazy about “wickedly smart and funny” Elaine, whom Mignon credits with being her “rock and a calming presence.”
Their future together is certain to hold many adventures (and ventures), and Mignon and Elaine already have some planned. Elaine dreams of buying a brownstone in Harlem, renovating it as a family home and converting one floor into a “little speakeasy” for the LGBT community. Mignon fully backs Elaine’s goal, noting that she and her wife also plan to launch a Sunday brunch party this spring.
No matter what endeavors these ladies take on, we’re excited to see their family and careers further bloom and their advocacy work continue. Reflecting on her years with Elaine, Mignon says, “There’ve been good days and bad days, but the good have absolutely outweighed the bad. Through the years, you’ll see some struggle, but you’ll persevere through it. And if you both really want it, then you can find your way back to one another.”
Seems to us these two only know forward.