4 Questions With Aisha Moodie-Mills

At CBC Week, the LGBT activist (and Essence "model") shares what's key to social change.

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills
Aisha C. Moodie-Mills

At Thursday’s CBCF Annual Legislative Conference panel, “Anatomy of a Revolution” (part of the popular Emerging Leaders Series geared toward students and young professionals), activists illuminated the role that young people have played in various change movements, from Alabama to Egypt.

For Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, adviser for LGBT policy and racial justice at the Center for American Progress think tank, her example of successful social change was close to home.

As the president and key strategist for the marriage equality campaign in Washington, D.C. — which last year became the fifth jurisdiction/state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage — Moodie-Mills, 33, was integral to the movement’s victory. The Root spoke with her about why African Americans were key to its success, the end of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and what it’s like when your wedding photos are featured in Essence magazine — and set off a political firestorm.

The Root: What strategy helped make D.C.’s same-sex-marriage movement successful?

Aisha Moodie-Mills: We made sure that the movement looked like the city that we were in and was fully representative of the diversity of the city. That’s why there were so many African Americans out in front for marriage equality. That was critical to our strategy: to make sure that the people who would be impacted by [the legalization of same-sex marriage] and the people who were doing the talking were folks who were from the community. If you look at the first couples who got married, they were all people who were from D.C. and who have roots here.

With other movements, sometimes there’s this sense that folks from the outside or national organizations are sweeping in to try to push an agenda. That’s not what happened here. It was very much from the ground up.

TR: Your own wedding last year was the first lesbian wedding featured on Essence.com. It sparked enormous debate, from readers who both supported and were against gay marriage. How did you feel about your personal story being the catalyst for such a heated conversation?

AMM: [My wife] Danielle and I are political people. But when we decided to share our wedding pictures with Essence, it was not a political moment for us initially. Just like any other couple and any other brides, we wanted to share our pretty pictures with the press. That’s all we were going to do — get our pictures out there so people could gush over us and say, “This is so lovely.”

When we started to see all of those comments, we were overwhelmed by the power of the images. It struck us that we were called to share ourselves and allow ourselves to be models to create and spark those conversations. Because if we wouldn’t have had those images in Essence, then nobody would be having that conversation.