On September 15, a couple sat in their car outside a Popeye’s restaurant in Milwaukee. They may have been arguing over one partner having received a phone call that made the other partner angry and probably jealous. Family members said the couple, who had been together for 14 years, had been having troubles.
One of the two had a gun in the car. During the argument, the gun was pulled, pointed and fired. The jealous partner shot and killed her lover.
Sadly, this is not a rare story. Violence between lovers, married couples and dating partners is far too commonplace and always tragic. In this particular case, however, the unexpected twist is that the partners were women. Both were former basketball players who starred on their college teams. One, Rosalind Ross, played in an NCAA Championship title game for the University of Oklahoma and was drafted by the WNBA. Her long-time companion, Malika Willoughby, has been charged with first degree murder. Both women are African American. Rosalind was 30. Malika is 27. They have known each other since they were teenagers. Rosalind and Malika’s families knew about their relationship and the families were friends. Everyone is devastated by what apparently happened in the car that night.
In many ways violence in lesbian and gay relationships is no different than violence in heterosexual relationships. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with how well we deal with relationship conflict, infidelity, or just growing apart. Our ability to cope with the anger, jealousy, anguish and depression that often go with a break up has nothing to do with whether we are gay or straight. Though we hear more about violence in heterosexual relationships, relationship violence of any kind, whether the relationship is straight or gay, is a problem.
On the other hand, many gay relationships must be negotiated without the institutional and personal support that are taken for granted by heterosexual couples. Coping with the relationship issues that are inherent in being in one are often exacerbated by isolation fear, and discrimination that many LGBT people face every day in a culture that tells them they are sick, sinful, immoral or crazy.
I don’t know anymore about the specific circumstances of the relationship between Rosalind and Malika than what I read in the media accounts of Rosalind’s death, but it is reflective of the ambivalence and uncertainty with which same-sex relationships are viewed by the media that it took awhile to understand the intimate nature of their relationship. At first, Associated Press articles said Rosalind and her suspected killer “knew each other.” They were described as “roommates” in another story. Later articles said the killing was related to a “domestic dispute.” Rosalind’s mother cleared things up in a later article by saying Malika and Rosalind were “partners.” Later still, articles revealed that they had been partners for 14 years; a long-term relationship by most standards whether heterosexual or gay.
I don’t know if Rosalind and Malika’s relationship faced additional challenges because they were two young Black women who loved each other. I wouldn’t be surprised. Many conservative Black churches condemn homosexuality and so cut many LGBT people of color off from this source of community and support. I know that many LGBT people of color hide their sexual orientation to avoid isolating themselves from family, friends and churches. I do know that this is yet another tragedy in a month already tainted by so many suicides by young gay men who lost hope.
I try to keep track of LGBT sports news and I almost missed this one. My heart goes out to the families of both Rosalind and Malika.