Donor Profile: Walk with the Ones You Love

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ELIOTT CHERRY AND CHRIS CHENARD MET EACH OTHER AT ELIOTT'S MASSAGE PRACTICE IN THE FALL OF 1991.

They quickly realized that they had a connection, and that not exploring it would be a mistake. They met for coffee in Portland, Me., where they lived. “I told him he’d have to stop being my client, and that means he’d lose a massage therapist and I’d lose a client, but we both looked at each other and smiled,” Eliott says, “We‘ve together ever since, and ten years later, in 2001, we had our Vermont civil union—on the anniversary of when we first got coffee.”

Years into their relationship Eliott and Chris visited Provincetown, Mass., where it was relatively safe to be out during 1990s. “We held hands and walked down the streets and it was perfectly normal,” Eliott says. “We felt completely alive and I couldn’t believe that I had never felt that way before.”

In their own hometown, they felt afraid to hold hands because it wasn't safe at times. “That juxtaposition of feeling alive and then coming back to feel the loss of that made us realize how we internalized this,“ Eliott says. “We realized we couldn’t live our lives this way.”

Soon after, they got involved with the Maine Speakout Project and initiated an annual event called “Walk with the Ones You Love,” in which LGBT couples would hold hands with each other and walk with their allies. This galvanized the community, and eventually walks start happening in more than ten towns in Maine.

Eliott and Chris were together for 16 years. Chris was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. Eliott was by his side, caring for him at home. Chris died in 2007. In honor of Chris, his courage and work with the Maine Speakout Project, the governor of Maine and mayor of Portland, issued proclamations that June 10, 2007 was “Christian Chenard Walk with the Ones You Love” Day.

Months after Chris died, Eliott wrote poetry that expressed his devotion to Chris and his experience of grief. Eliott wanted to tell the story of Chris dying young and his experience caring for him, and to share with the world the inspiring conversations he and Chris had during this time. Eliott combined these dialogues and poetry with music to create his one-man show, A Finished Heart, which he has performed 42 times since 2009.

“It’s been used for education in departments of nursing and social work,” Eliott says. “I want to reach out to medical schools to perform this piece, where LGBT students still feel they must hide their identities in order to succeed. A Finished Heart is about building empathy with two men in love, which relates to increasing acceptance of LGBTQ lives.”

Having fought for marriage equality in Maine, New Jersey and Oregon, Eliott believes that fighting for our rights in the courts and by storytelling are some of the best ways to combat homophobia and to achieve full equality for the LGBT community.

“Lambda Legal’s involvement in marriage equality has been crucial to where we are today, but we can’t take our progress for granted,” Eliott says. "We can get married, but we can also still get fired, and the suffering of transgender people hasn't even come to the surface. I choose to support Lambda Legal because their works speaks to me.”

Stand strong with Eliott and make a planned gift to Lambda Legal. Leaving a legacy gift to Lambda Legal could be one of the most important decisions you make toward protecting yourself, your family and our community. An investment in equality ensures that Lambda Legal will always be there to safeguard the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, and everyone living with HIV, while solidifying our future together.

To learn more about Eliott's one-man show, visit afinishedheart.com.