Written by Kenya Hunter
The shooting of Anthony Hill, a Black U.S. Air Force veteran, happened on March 9, 2015 near Atlanta. Hill was fatally shot four times by officer Robert Olsen. He was unarmed and naked when he was killed at his apartment complex in Chamblee, Georgia since he suffered from bipolar disorder and PTSD. When Olsen shot him, Hill was going through his first bipolar manic episode. Covered in local and national headlines such as the New York Times, CNN, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, at the center of the new case that took the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement was Anthony Hill’s girlfriend of three years, Bridget Anderson.
“I was thrown into this movement,” said Anderson in a 2016 Tumblr post. Bridget was not an activist prior to the death of Anthony Hill, but she does recall wanting to be out in the streets exactly eight months prior to his death. “Exactly eight months before Anthony died, Eric Garner was killed in New York. I remember crying and wanting to be out in the streets. But I didn’t. I mostly watched the coverage of what activists were doing in Atlanta.”
After going through three months straight of radio interviews, newspaper interviews, and television press conferences, Bridget went through a lot mentally and physically: dramatic weight loss, suicidal thoughts, and much more. Bridget, while still considering herself an activist, declares herself on “self-care mode,” and still cries #JusticeForAnthonyHill. Often when reading these stories about black people being killed by the police, we wonder what happens to their families once news coverage ceases. Or how do their loved ones move forward. For Bridget, moving forward looked like moving on to a new love, coming out to her family, and buying a new house with her new love.
After losing Anthony, Bridget found love again six and a half months later. She met Keyonna, a photographer from Atlanta, GA, and is now in her first relationship with a woman. “I met Keyonna through my friend Lauren on Twitter,” said Bridget. “One day she was like ‘check out this girl’s Tumblr. She’s cute and she’s from Atlanta.’ So I sent her a text that said ‘U cute.’”
Keyonna, who does not subscribe to labels under the queer umbrella, says she heard Anthony’s story before meeting Bridget, but never thought she would be involved with the person who it directly affected: his girlfriend. “I almost didn’t know how to react,” Keyonna reflects. “I had heard about the story because I’m from Atlanta. I’m familiar with the area. At the time my cousin lived in the area where it happened. I remember seeing the apartment complex on the news and I knew where it was. I remember thinking about how screwed up it was, but I never thought I would be in contact with the person who it directly affected.” Keyonna immediately knew she could not put Bridget off because she had been through such a tragic situation. “I let it run its course. I somewhat put the situation to the side so I could get to know Bridget,” she said.
The first time Keyonna witnessed a movement for Anthony Hill was September of 2015, when Bridget and the Veterans of Atlanta organized a protest at Decatur Station to put pressure on the D.A. of Dekalb County. “That was my first time being out and around the situation,” she said. She reflects about how that particular protest made it difficult for her to continue to move forward with Bridget because of how overwhelming the situation itself was. “She had so many people in her face, asking her all these questions. They were giving her all of this love and all of this support. I felt like maybe it was too much for me, and maybe I was signing up for something that I wasn’t ready for yet.” She wondered how serious was Bridget could be about a new relationship considering that her last relationship ended so tragically and suddenly. “After being with someone for so long, you can’t just up and fall for someone else. So there were times I had my doubts and I was unsure. But [Bridget] had ways to make me talk about stuff, and that’s something I’ve never had.”
Keyonna describes herself as a “closed book” during this chapter of her and Bridget’s life, knowing that if she opened up fully, she would have no choice but to move forward. “It was very weird. I had a lot of doubts and a lot of questions. But as time goes on, you can tell if someone is being consistent or if someone is just running game.” Even in moments when Bridget would refer to Anthony as the “love of her life,” doubts did not prevent Keyonna from wanting to get to know Bridget. Though, according to her, there are some moments when she still feels like he’s the love of her life and she’s “just filling in.” However, Bridget sees it differently. “I feel like I was in Anthony’s life for a reason,” says Bridget. “When we were around each other, it was a fun relationship, he was my best friend. So I think at that point in my life, he was the love of my life. But now as I think about it, I was more so the love of his life. I was able to help him at the end of his life. I couldn’t imagine him going through that alone. Ultimately, I hope Anthony was able to experience the love of his life in his last three years.”
Still, even with this reassurance, Keyonna tells me that there were still times where she was thinking about not moving forward with Bridget. She experienced emotions of jealousy that felt unwarranted and felt that being with someone who lost their loved one so tragically was a daunting task. Keyonna felt unsure if she really was “the only one” in their relationship. “When I’m in a relationship, I like to be the only one. I understand I’m the only person, but then there’s this situation that isn’t a normal situation. I have to have a certain amount of understanding. Especially when dealing with people coming up to Bridget, giving condolences for losing the ‘love of her life.’ I have to keep checking myself, reminding myself that Anthony is gone, so I can’t be jealous or feel a type of way that people are saying these things to her.”
As tragic as the situation is, this was not the only difficult task for Bridget and Keyonna to move their relationship forward. While Keyonna grew up in a fluid and accepting family, Bridget had a hard time openly identifying as queer. At 23 years old, the only family member who knew about her same sex relationship with Keyonna was her brother. “For the first year of our relationship, I had to endure Bridget’s mother sending her pictures of these guys she wanted her to date,” Keyonna reflects. She recalls Bridget receiving pictures of young men who were doctors, in school to be engineers, and other men who came from old money. Keyonna felt intimidated since she was a photographer. “I just had a regular job. I’m not this grand person.”
Bridget described coming out to her family as a “horrible experience.” On a visit home to her stomping grounds in Columbia, South Carolina, she let her family know that she had “met somebody.” Her mother, excited with curiosity, requested pictures of the presumably lucky man she imagined Bridget to be with. When breaking the news to her mother that she was in a same sex relationship, and had been in one for a full year, her mother laughed it off as if Bridget was joking. “I told her I was serious. Her name is Keyonna, and I love her. After that, her face just drop and she just started rapidly stirring her food.”
Bridget confessed that she doesn’t believe anyone has a good experience coming out to their parents. “All of the hugs that happen on Facebook, that shit don’t happen in the Catholic/Asian household.” But what was worse to her was when her father, who is African American, found out. “It was the day after his birthday, and he called me.” Expecting that he would be more excited to talk to her the day after his birthday, he sounded rather somber for Bridget’s expectations. That is when he let Bridget know that her mother told him about her new relationship, and he was disappointed. “He said he wouldn’t stop loving me, but he was disappointed.”
Keyonna was shocked at Bridget’s mother’s reaction. Keyonna’s mother is gay, so she never had to experience coming out to her family. “My family opened their entire house to Bridget. It was an easy transition for her to meet my family. It felt weird to not have the same thing with her family.” For Keyonna, this was her first time experiencing dating someone who was not already out to her family. “It was bad. So I really didn’t know how to deal with it. I can’t be a guy. I don’t have a penis. I can’t buy you a house. We can’t just up and have kids. It’s not going to be an easy process.” She made sure that Bridget understood that their relationship would be different: from stares, to whispers, to guys attempting to hit on Bridget in front of her. “So when it came to her parents, I had nothing to say. I felt like I couldn’t say anything. I never experienced any kind of hate, or not claiming ownership of their kids, or anything. So to hear her mom say these things, it was hard watching her deal with a lot the first year. I almost wanted to break up with her just for the sake of her family.”
Through moving forward and coming out, Bridget was still determined to keep Anthony’s name in the streets and place pressure in order to have Robert Olsen indicted on all six counts regarding Anthony’s murder. These charges, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, include: two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, two counts of violating oath of office, and one count of making a false statement. If indicted, he would be the first Georgia law officer in more than five years to face prosecution in the shooting death of a civilian, despite Georgia police being involved in 187 fatal shootings since 2010.
In order to apply pressure and ensure the indictment of former officer Robert Olsen, Bridget and many of Atlanta’s student activists planned a sleep out outside of the Dekalb County Courthouse. For several days, they slept in cold weather in the month of January 2016 to make sure their presence was known.
— Da’Shaun L. Harrison (@_iAmRoyal) January 23, 2016
The days during the sleep out were emotionally charged for Bridget. “That was the day I actually asked her to be my girlfriend,” Keyonna recalled. “We were laying the bed and I knew she was waiting, so I just asked her. She rolled over, smiled, and said yes.” Later on in the weekend, Robert Olsen became the first Georgia Law officer to be indicted in the shooting death of a civilian. He was indicted on all six counts.
While moving forward from Anthony into a new relationship was an unusual and daunting task for both Bridget and Keyonna, these two Queer Black Millennials were able to overcome their challenges of uncertainty within the relationship, navigating through heteronormative spaces, and other adversities that come with existing as openly queer. They told QBM they enjoy being around each other and that they are each other’s best friends.