When Teresa Leggett’s husband came out as gay, she took him to Mardi Gras in Sydney.
She now runs an LGBTQ social group and was the “best man” at his wedding.
This is Leggett’s story, as told to Gary Nunn.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Teresa Leggett. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Every year, when I dance in Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade with my ex-husband, his new husband, and 160 people in the LGBTQ social group I cofounded, I always think back to the 29-year-old woman who realized she married a gay man.
Amid my initial anguish and even anger, I couldn’t have imagined that two decades later, my then-husband’s coming out would save both of us and help us find our purposes.
20 years ago, it dawned on me that my husband was gay
Michael and I got married when I was 21, and our marriage lasted a decade — eight years of which were very happy. In our ninth year, I went out to meet his new friends. As the night progressed, it was clear one of Michael’s new male friends became very angry and emotional. I looked at him and then at Michael. It was the behavior of someone who felt emotionally betrayed. Suddenly, I had this sinking feeling.
That night, I asked Michael outright if he was gay. He repeatedly denied it. Despite his consistent denials, I felt sadness and anger. Our future was so intertwined.
Then the day finally came when he could no longer ignore the truth behind what my intuition had told me.
Michael came home late and was sobbing. When he could get the words out, he finally said he was gay — the relief he must’ve felt. He’d put up such a fight, even after I’d already accepted it. We fell asleep on our marital bed, crying and clutching each other.
He later admitted he’d been sitting in his car deliberating for hours whether it’d be an easier route for him to take his own life. In his eyes, he would lose everything, he said — his wife, his parents, his friends, and his career in the police force and the army.
Despite those fears, he chose to come into the house to tell me his truth.
We then had to decide what to do next. Michael was determined to keep his vows to me, saying even though he was gay, he didn’t need to act on it. I didn’t want that for him. I was still terrified the shame and loss he was feeling would overcome him.
I came up with the idea of going to Sydney’s Mardi Gras together
I’ve adored Mardi Gras since I was a child. One magical night a year, all the repression, fear, and negativity is shaken off and the community roars, “I am here. This is me.” I told Michael that we were going, and he was hesitant. But I was hell-bent on taking him.
Our first Mardi Gras was this whirlwind of noise, color, and smiles.
I remember saying to Michael: “You feel so isolated. You think it’s better to be dead than be gay — and look! This is your community. They’re waiting for you. And they’re all celebrating how wonderful it is to be gay.”
After seeing the power of Mardi Gras, I couldn’t stay away. The following year, I gathered Michael and all the friends we met in the community and created a group. It’s called Free Gay and Happy. As an ally, I’ve always been self-conscious about casting myself as the “hero,” but I’ve seen firsthand how gay people often, unfairly, have to struggle to find the courage to live their truth. That’s why I’m proud to say that the group now has over 900 members across Australia. Free Gay and Happy is also a social group throughout the year.
It’s my love letter to Michael — how grateful I am he’s alive, how proud I am of him. I do it to this day because I never want anyone to feel as scared and lonely as Michael did that day he almost killed himself.
For 2 years after our first Mardi Gras, Michael and I remained housemates
I moved into the spare bedroom and started dating. Michael kept to himself, focusing on his career in the police force. He wasn’t out to his family.
After two years of being housemates, I left him in Brisbane, moved to Sydney, and finally got divorced. I quickly started building a new life for myself in a new city, but Michael and I remained close friends, often meeting to attend gay parties together. I watched as he slowly grew more comfortable with his sexuality.
At one party, I somehow managed to dance with the only straight man there. I kissed him on the dance floor, and we’ve now been together for 16 years — married with two young children.
As for Michael, he’s now fighting for LGBTQ rights in the police force and has won awards for it. This growth in confidence led him to finally start dating and, ultimately, meet the love of his life.
In 2019, Michael asked me to be the ‘best man’ at his wedding
I was honored. In my speech, I said how proud I was that he’d become the man I always knew he was.
His partner, Nicholas, later said the most beautiful thing to me. He said, “I love how you still call him your husband. And now, he’s our husband.”