Jonathan Lowe and Jimmy Tran are a testament to what “commitment” can truly mean in our community. Celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary in September and being together for sixteen years, they are slowly becoming an example in their own community, and are also starting to learn to be a source of strength for their community in small steps. They are also beginning to to use their own journey together as just one example of the types of relationships in the community and how their own sense of pride & designing their relationship on their own terms are two of the crucial components for a successful relationship. For my ongoing #PrideSeries, I sat down with this San Diego based couple and they talked to me about their unique wedding extravaganza, their one in a kind way of meeting, and what keeps them inspired as active members of the LGBT community.
Michael Cook: So tell me Jimmy, how did the story between you & Jonathan take shape?
Jimmy Tran: We met over 20 years ago on a Chinese cultural dancing group, Lion Dancing. We both became friends within a larger group of friends and that is where our relationship blossomed. At the moment we both were still dating girls and actually had girlfriends when we met. Over time, we broke off from our separate relationships and hung out more together. The time that we spent together helped us come to the realization that our feelings for each other went further than being just friends. From there, we continued to nurture our relationship and eventually we became a couple, yet in the closet. We kept our relationship in the closet for a very long time. It came to the point where our friends around us knew about us, but because we have the most supportive friends they let us be until the time was right for us to share our news.
MC: What was your whole wedding like, it looked like a stunning affair.
JT: Oh man, our wedding. It was the best day of our lives. We were so tired, but it was the best! Initially, we always agreed that we would not having a wedding unless it became legal in California. With all of legal issues that were going on in California, we thought it was going be a long time before it was actually going to become legal and by that time we were already together for ten years. Magically in 2013, our legislation made our dreams come true and gay marriage in California was recognized and became legal. At that moment, we thought-oh shit, we need to start planning a wedding!
MC: So then the planning began, correct?
JT: When we started talking about what we wanted and how we wanted to celebrate, it came down to one major thing that we both wanted. Besides a beautiful venue, we wanted a place where we could party till we wanted to stop. So many event venues want to have you out between 10 pm – 12 pm and that is not what we wanted to do to our guests who wanted to continue to celebrate. After some searching, a friend referred us to a venue on North County San Diego named Bandy Canyon Ranch. It was a beautiful outdoor venue that is secluded between valleys in the backyard of the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The team we worked with at the venue was incredible and there was no real event-end time as we wanted. Plus there were no noise restrictions, so our music could be as loud as we wanted it to be. The icing on the cake was when we found out the venue came with luxury cabins to accommodate us and fifty of our friends for the night. It was amazing to actually hangout with our close family and friends for the night after the wedding. I think we stayed up till 3 a.m. hopping from cabin to cabin hanging out and drinking. The next morning, we all woke up to a buffet breakfast and mimosas by the pool for our overnight guests. It was perfect!
MC: Creating a custom made day for you both was crucial correct?
Jonathan Lowe: Absolutely. For the planning and execution, it was definitely all about creating a custom vision. We worked with many of our close friends from creative design packages for all the visuals, like invitations and signage, to the DJ team we had setting the vibe for each part of the day from ceremony to party time. We always love to promote our fellow entrepreneur friends who have such great talent to share. In this case they all helped us create the most memorable day ever! We tell our friends and clients who Jimmy works with (who side hustles as an event manager), that it is all about the vibe you want to create for you and your guests. A few things to accomplish that is having someone who can help you execute your vision. Without our friends at Sixteen Fourteen Events (IG: instagram.com/sixteenfourteenevents we would not have been able to pull the day off without them. We always tell people it is important to capture the day somehow. Pictures are the traditional way of doing it, which our friend Nick from Moxie Photography did such and amazing job with. We also went the route of hiring a videographer with Kane from Sweet Cinema. We highly recommend hiring a videographer if the budget allows. Because we used a videographer, we can take 3-4 minutes watching our highlight video as a way to take us back to that day.
JT: My most favorite part of the day was when I finally had the opportunity to walk down the aisle with Jonathan to Sam Smith’s rendition of “How Will know” by Whitney Houston. The combination of the song, the day and seeing all of the love and support from family and friends watching us was so freeing that I completely lost it. I tried so hard to keep it together, but it was such a happy moment for us as a gay couple.
Jonathan-My favorite part of the wedding (beside our amazing food) was when we took time to go up to the DJ booth and gaze down at everyone having fun. The DJ booth happened to be perched on a balcony overlooking the dining area and dance floor. When we were able to get away, we took a few minutes to watch everyone below us. The fact that everyone was dancing, eating, drinking, conversing, and generally having fun, made us feel like we had accomplished what we set out to do, which was to ensure the night would be memorable for everyone, not just us.
Where do you both call home? What is it about the community that you both love?
Jimmy: We call San Diego our home now. This is where we hope to start a family with both of our families who also live in San Diego. We love San Diego because it is our roots and the LGBTQ+ community here is strong! I think at the end of the day we want to have a normal life just like everyone else does and we feel like we don’t have to change or not be who we are here.
MC: What do you find to be the biggest challenge to your relationship and how do you overcome it?
JL: The biggest challenge to our relationship would have to be distance. We both lived apart from each other for a majority of our relationship. Jimmy went to college and unexpectedly started his careers in Orange County and Jonathan went to college and started his career is in San Diego. That left us apart from each other a lot. At one point our distance grew even further from each other when Jimmy briefly moved to China for work. We went from 60 miles apart to 6,000 miles apart.
When you have challenges of any sort in your relationships, communication is key! We knew the distance apart was going to be a challenge so we knew we would have to do a lot of commuting. So we both traveled back on forth between San Diego and Orange County on our weekends and made sure every moment we had counted. When we weren’t together we talked on the phone, a lot. We talked at every moment we could. Sometimes we would even be on the phone doing other things. Knowing that we were there for each other when we physically couldn’t be there brought us great comfort.
How do you both give back to your community and express your own individual advocacy?
JL: With this particular government administration, we are learning to become more politically-minded. Encouraging others to vote and to stand up for marginalized communities is important. Right now we try to find causes we feel passionately about and support them through financial donations, the Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Project for example.
As a police officer, I worked in the LGBTQ+ area of San Diego for almost 10 years. During my time there I worked hard to foster a better relationship between the community and law enforcement, which can be strained at times. I’ve marched in uniform in the Pride Parade and worked the SDPD recruiting booth at the Pride Festival several years. Letting people know there are gay police officers is important in building community trust. And letting the community know we want more LGBTQ+ representation among our ranks will only help foster legitimacy and justice for all.
I also teach the LGBTQ+ diversity class at the Police Academy. Being able to educate future law enforcement officers about our community and culture promotes that recognition and knowledge we all strive for. I want to make sure all officers feel comfortable engaging with the community. Nothing should be foreign or scary after my class!
MC: Many consider you an “example”; why do you think that is? What do you both to to keep your relationship paramount and a priority?
Jonathan: As far as being an example, I think a lot of people look up to us for the fact that we’ve been together for so long (almost 16 years together and almost 5 years married), which in the gay community might as well be eternity! Lol. And when people hear that the majority of our relationship was long-distance, people always wonder how we survived. Much like Jimmy said earlier, communication is the key. Be open and honest with your feelings, never go to bed mad or without settling arguments, and always be willing to compromise.
Keeping the relationship for us has always been a priority. Whether that was because distance was a factor, or even when it wasn’t, work could get in the way. I’ve done shift work for over 18 years. You really have to maximize your time together, and not take that time for granted.
MC: What advice do you have for the younger generation behind us that is looking for their own love story?
JL:Find your best friend and marry them.
JT: Love is least where you expect it, but it’s out there. When you find it hold on to it. Relationships worthwhile take work to make work.
MC: What gives you both Pride?
JL: For me, seeing LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood, politics, and in other influential platforms gives me great pride. Growing up, I never felt like I had someone to look up to who knew what I went through as a kid. Will & Grace was a trailblazing show in my day. But now with shows like Modern Family, Glee, This is Us, young people can see that being gay is normal, and not something to be ashamed of.
JT: What gives me Pride is seeing friends and family around me find love and expressing it. Almost 20 years ago when Jonathan and I were a couple and in the closet, we were so scared to express our love for each other whether it in public or social media. Now, I am so proud to see that landscape continue to change and that we can share our love for each other openly
(Photo Credits: Wedding related photos gym, kitchen and outside with the swat gear/kitchen outfit-by Moxie photography (Nick Nguyen).
Beach/alley shots by Earl Buenaobra and Philip Cariaso Jr.)