Herstory is made! Niecy Nash and her wife, singer Jessica Betts made history this week as the first same sex couple to be featured on the cover of Essence. The duo, who married August 28th, 2020, is featured in an almost nude, barely there shoot embracing each other.
Nash and her self-proclaimed soulmate revealed their surprise wedding (and relationship) via Instagram, setting not only Black Twitter ablaze, but the entire Black community. In celebration of their Essence cover, Nash posted on Instagram with the caption: “L o v e > U N C O V E R E D @essence read all about it #OurNakedTruth #MakingHistory #Herstory #blackhistorymonth 💫 REPRESENTATION MATTERS 🌈.”
In both their wedding photos and the Essence Cover, the couple looks elated and truly in sync. “What I was and am still attracted to is Jessica’s soul. She was the most beautiful soul I had ever met in my life. Now that I’ve experienced it, I can’t imagine going through life without it,” said Nash in her Essence interview.
The Betts’ [joint name] 2020 social media wedding announcement was a revelation for many as it was the first time Nash publicly identified as queer. Labels and boxes don’t appeal to Nash, and she’s been pushing back against them since her wedding reveal.
“I’m not limiting myself on what that love is supposed to look like,” Nash shared with People shortly after her wedding, adding that her marriage wasn’t her way of coming out, but rather “a going into myself and being honest about who I love.” Since then, Nash has been an outspoken and proud advocate for queer rights and was honored as the 2021 host of the GLAAD’s awards.
For many Black queer women, this cover is not only iconic, but a crucial moment in Black LGBTQ+ representation. Seeing images of Black queer women baring it all on a Black magazine cover is a rarity. As one of her fans commented: “That’s great. But I’m also wondering what took Essence so long to feature a same sex couple.”
The topic of Black queer identity has historically been a fraught and contentious subject in the Black community. In addition, queer representation on screen has been sought after for decades, and tackled by change-making Black LGBTQ+ actors and actresses including Janelle Monae, Tessa Thompson, Billy Porter and more. Although major progress has been made, it often feels incremental and slow moving. We still have far to go.
Nash and Betts serve as trailblazers as so few Black queer celebrity couples are hardly ever seen not only on mainstream magazine covers, but in Hollywood as a whole. This cover is the first step in a needed direction of more representation in media and deeper conversations around race and identity.
I’m happy for Nash and also hoping that this will merely be the start of thousands more covers of Black love in all shapes, sizes, and identifications. As Essence so eloquently put it, “When you find ‘A Love Like This’ it keeps faith alive of what true love means. This Happily Ever Story is one for the books and barriers.”
Black queer folks need to be seen, known, and heard—something that Nash says she realizes every morning waking up to her soulmate and partner. “I absolutely want somebody to see me, and that was when I knew I was fully in love, when I felt fully seen and fully accepted,” she said. “Probably for the first time in my life.” And that’s really all a historically oppressed group can do—find people and a community that truly sees us for who we are. Soul people.