Donor Spotlight: Karen and Nelda

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LGBT people and people living with HIV.
“Lambda Legal has our lifetime support”
Nelda and Karen, center, with their two great-grandnieces Marissa and Sharla.
Share on Facebook

KAREN AND NELDA MET AS COLLEGE STUDENTS IN HUNTSVILLE, TEXAS, IN 1957. “I was engaged to a boy who I was with for four years,” Karen says. But soon after she moved into the same dormitory as Nelda, they became good friends and realized that they shared a lot in common. “I found out that Karen grew up in the Methodist church,” Nelda says. “I grew up in the Baptist church, and we shared the same values of honesty and caring for other people.”

Their relationship gradually deepened and became romantic. They left college and moved through life together, but they were careful to maintain an illusion of heterosexuality. “I was working at an oil company, and I had a fake life there where I had a boyfriend,” Karen says. “If people knew you were gay, you were fired right away. In Texas, you could get arrested, you could lose your friends, your family, and your church.”

When Karen and Nelda became Lambda Legal plaintiffs in Arizona’s marriage equality case in 2013, they’d been together for more than 57 years. Together, they’ve raised two children, Karen’s great-grandnieces, Marissa and Sharla, as their own. Sharla came into their home at 4, and six years later Marissa did at 3. Today, the girls are 26 and 19.

“The first time we came out was actually to the two girls,” Karen says. Nelda adds, “They were so accepting and welcoming that it made it easy for us to come out to others and become public faces for Lambda Legal.”

The thought of getting married felt unrealistic over most of the six decades that Karen and Nelda were together. But after they fought with Lambda Legal to have Arizona’s marriage ban struck down, they were overjoyed. “We were on cloud nine just knowing that people still cared for us,” says Nelda. “We didn’t realize how good it would feel.”

Karen and Nelda have been supporting Lambda Legal since 2005, and they continue to stand with us in our fight for full equality for LGBT people and everyone living with HIV. “Lambda Legal has our lifetime support,” says Nelda. “It is the most important LGBT organization, because if you don’t have the law on your side, then nothing else matters.”

Even in challenging times like today, that’s important. “You just have to keep taking those small steps,” she says. “Sometimes you might take two or three backwards, but you just have to keep moving forward.”

Stand strong next to Karen and Nelda by joining Lambda Legal with a Justice Fund monthly gift of $30.42 today.