Kelsey and Leah Were Looking for a Safe Space. They Made One, Together.
By Ashley Edwards Walker
When Kelsey downloaded Bumble, she hadn’t come out to her family. She grew up in a strict Lutheran household where “it isn’t acceptable to have this quote-unquote lifestyle,” Kelsey says. “Which we all know isn’t a lifestyle.” Her parents were well-known in their tight-knit community of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, so even though she no longer lived with them, she worried she couldn’t explore her sexuality without them finding out. She liked that Bumble empowered her to initiate conversations with potential matches so she could move at her own pace, and that the distance filter allowed her to connect with people who lived in other nearby cities. She felt the app presented “a safe space to see what my future could be like if I allowed myself to accept who I am.”
In November 2018, Leah was living two hours away in Des Moines, Iowa, when she opened Bumble and saw Kelsey’s profile. “I just thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen,” she recalls. Leah was recently divorced and had no intention of getting into a serious relationship. But looking through Kelsey’s profile, admiring her travel photos and one she’d taken with her dog, she immediately felt a connection. “I had never really experienced that feeling of wanting to get to know more about someone as much as I did with her,” she says.
Leah sent the first message. “I asked her what her favorite place was that she had been to, or where she would like to go.” They started swapping travel stories, quickly moving to text then FaceTime. Kelsey told Leah about a two-week hiking trip in Italy that she’d just returned from for her then-job as a travel agent. Leah—a personal trainer and a world-record-holding power lifter—happened to be in Las Vegas, Nevada, for a competition when they matched. Over those first few days, they were talking so often that Leah’s friends assumed the two had already known each other for a while.
Two weeks after they matched, their schedules finally aligned and Leah drove the two hours to Cedar Rapids for their first date at Kelsey’s house. Kelsey went outside to greet Leah at her car and, before Leah even had her seatbelt off, “I just grabbed her face and kissed her,” says Kelsey. Though Leah says she was “caught off guard,” she knew she felt the same way. “We went inside, had pizza and talked and had a wonderful time,” she recalls. They spent the next several months dating long distance, traveling back and forth to see each other and taking weekend trips to cities like St. Louis, Missouri, to see their favorite bands in concert.
In May 2019, Kelsey “pulled out all the stops” and surprised Leah with a trip to Mexico for her birthday. It was there, sitting on the beach sipping piña coladas, that they decided to move in together. “It was all very surreal sitting on the beach with her and planning out the rest of our lives together when I hadn’t even told my family about Leah yet,” says Kelsey.
Shortly after returning from that trip, Kelsey came out to her family. “It didn’t really go too well,” she says. Luckily, Kelsey’s three siblings “have been there for me since day one” and her oldest sister Lindsay is her “biggest and strongest advocate.” After Kelsey and Leah moved into their first apartment together in Des Moines in August 2019, they found additional support by building a community of chosen family around them. “You don’t have to be blood to be somebody’s family member,” says Kelsey.
Kelsey isn’t the only one who’s undergone a personal evolution since they met. “I definitely struggle with speaking my mind,” says Leah. But since meeting Kelsey and watching her come into her own, Leah admits she’s become more comfortable with the idea of “saying what I need to say without necessarily caring what other people are going to think.” She even got a tattoo that says “find your voice” and decided to pursue a big professional goal she’d been thinking about. In January 2021, she opened her own personal training company. “It’s called Pride Fitness DSM,” she says. “I strive to create a safe space for those in the LGBTQ community to work out in and get stronger.”
These days, the relationship between the couple and Kelsey’s family is easier. She and Leah are invited to Christmas, birthday parties, and other family gatherings. “They’ve come a long way,” says Kelsey of her parents. “Still not where I would hope that we would be, but I definitely have hope for the future that they’ll continue to see how wonderful Leah is and that they’re lucky their daughter gets to be with her.”
Leah, too, is hopeful for their future together, which both agree definitely includes marriage. “I’m so excited for that,” says Leah. “To have all of our family and friends there and just to have it be one big celebration.” The journey to happily ever after wasn’t always easy, but it was absolutely worth it, says Kelsey. “We still look at each other and ask, ‘Is this real life? Do we really get to spend forever together?’”