by Lauren Means | photos courtesy of TennesseePhotographs.com
Our very first issue in July 2017 featured recently wed Judge Rachel Bell and Dr. Dorsha James. Now, almost three years later, we’re excited to catch up to see how wedded bliss is treating them and what they’re working on today. As expected, they’re still hard at work pursuing their own endeavors while also collaborating in life and in love.
Like most married couples have experienced, there’s a bit of a learning curve when you combine two personalities under one household. It can be more of a test with two strong, independent people. Dr. James says, “When you put two independent, Type A individuals with different upbringings in the same house, you are definitely going to have some heated disagreements. Over the last three years, we both have had to take a step back and learn to evaluate what the other person’s needs are.” Those disagreements, however, create a new normal as Judge Bell explains, “I enjoy our healthy and challenging debates and that neither one of us are ‘yes’ people. I think that would be boring. We both bring something to the table and I enjoy being in this space with her.”
As busy professionals, Judge Bell and Dr. James share in domestic responsibilities and they make sure to carve time out for date night each week. “In order to build a successful relationship, especially when you both have demanding careers, [it] requires that you are intentional in making sure that you make time for each other. This isn’t easy to do all the time, but the consequences of not doing so would be much worse,” says Dr. James.
Judge Bell echos these sentiments saying, “It’s taken us some time to realize that a healthy love/life balance is important. Once we worked the kinks out, it’s been great.” She credits meal prep service Blue Apron for helping them set time aside daily to spend together outside of work functions. “Dorsha preps the meals, I cook the meals and then Dorsha cleans up behind us. It’s a win-win. I love cooking and I love us spending time doing something like this together on a daily basis,” said Bell.
In the Public Eye
When you are a prominent, African American, same-sex couple navigating married life, you may have eyes and ears everywhere you turn waiting to make a comment on your personal life. Luckily for Dr. James and Judge Bell, they haven’t experienced discrimination since their wedding. “When I tell people that I am married to a woman, I am met with a sense of wonderment, especially when Rachel is around,” says Dr. James. Judge Bell says while she has faced discrimination growing up, now, people honestly just have questions. She says, “Most people are really curious and just want the space to ask us questions about our relationship and our love. We are very approachable, so we invite the conversation. We enjoy the panel discussions and the events [where] we get to share our story.”
Dr. James does point out they both have developed a thick skin over the years from people they have dealt with in their chosen professions. She says, “Rachel and I always say that we both work in fields where we have had some really cruel things said about us to our face, so it’s fairly difficult to hurt our feelings.” While it may be difficult to hurt their feelings, Judge Bell points out that they are not immune to hurtful acts and discrimination. “I received a lot of discrimination growing up, in the church, some friends and even with my family and even some from the community. However, we’ve worked through those issues and I am aware now how to help others get through the pain that comes along with being gay,” says Judge Bell.
She also mentions they had close friends and family members who didn’t show up for their wedding. While it may seem hurtful, they understand there will always be people who aren’t on the same page as you and that’s ok. She explains, “Dorsha and I have always said that there is still some maturing for some in this space and we’ll be sure to give them the space to do so. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. [The] good thing here is that it’s our life, it’s our love.”
Action and Reaction
Although they knew they would be making a statement coming out as married women, some of the limelight was a little overwhelming for Dr. James. She said, “You could have never convinced me that once I got married my wife and I would have the impact that we seem to have within the LGBT+ community.” But it is these strong role models that many in the LGBT+ community search out. People want to know it’s possible to be successful in our professional and personal lives while living as our authentic selves. Dr. James shares that this is a calling – “It’s now [our] life’s mission to show humans that it’s ok to fall in love, that it’s ok to marry the one you fell in love with, and to love them in public.”
Judge Bell agrees, saying, “I do think our love and willingness to show affection in public, holding hands, kissing each other at a play, at the movies, just walking in the park, just like other loving couples has allowed people to see normalcy in this space.”
They also acknowledge the impact their flourishing relationship has on acceptance in the African-American LGBT+ community. Dr. James says, “As an African-American woman raised in the Baptist church, I saw firsthand the humiliation, discrimination and disrespect of fellow church members who were known to identify LGBT+.” Judge Bell recognizes that the community has a long way to go in allowing love to be exactly what it is, love. That is why they make sure to attend events and be present in the community. They know they are one of the few openly gay African-American couples, at least in Nashville, that people can identify with. “We want to honor this space and do the best we can to help other humans remove all the labels and just love!!” said Judge Bell.
When asked about advice for people planning their wedding in an area that’s hit or miss on support, Judge Bell says, “Go for it!! Don’t complicate it. Go with the option that best fits your soul.” She also recommends saving money on the wedding and putting it toward travel to see the world. However, she might be a bit biased but rightfully so. “Courthouse weddings are fun. Especially when you have the officiant, “Judge Rachel,” [who] is willing to be cool and creative with you!! Call my office at 615-862-8341, and we’ll take it from there,” said Bell.
Dr. James reflected on their wedding ceremony and why they decided on a more intimate event. She said, “We chose to have a very small, intimate wedding ceremony with only a few very close friends and family in attendance. We figured that would be the easiest way for us to exchange our vows because neither of us wanted to plan a wedding.” She also said even though they didn’t run into any roadblocks in their planning due to it being for a same-sex ceremony, it’s best to have backup plans. “It’s unfortunate that we are still having to even address this in 2019, but if I had to do it over without knowing the outcome, I would always have a Plan B, C and D.” She added, “We say that we can always take our dollars elsewhere.”
Life in the Fast Lane
Outside of their married life, you would be hard-pressed to find two harder working women. In 2017, Bell and James started a company called Solutions NOW. It’s a holding company that houses their ventures including The NERDs TV Network which produces “The Judge Rachel and Dr. Dorsha Show” and their new production, “Venus Squared.” Shortly after they were married, they launched the “I AM…JUST HUMAN” campaign which led to the LOVEFEST, an annual event celebrating love at an open, safe, and judge-free festival. This event is attended by humans who come from all walks of life that are LGBT+ and LGBT+ friendly, disabled, heterosexual and from a diverse mix of religions, races and cultures. It’s hosted by their non-profit foundation, The Ring the BELL Foundation. Stay connected by liking their FaceBook pages,
Dr. James, an ER doctor, has been working on launching a new telehealth company called myURGENCYMD. She explained the services they’ll provide saying, “What’s exciting to me in addition to virtual doctor visits is that our company also provides 24/7 Mental and Behavioral Counseling as one of its benefits. I can’t help but think of all of the youth and young adults who are struggling alone with LGBT+ and family issues who are afraid of being outed by going to talk to a therapist. Plus, it’s very expensive whereas our pricing is only $24.95/month with unlimited counseling sessions per month.” To learn more, visit myURGENCYMD.com or on FaceBook at @myURGENCYMD.
As for Judge Bell, she is going into her eighth year as an elected official. During her tenure, she’s created the state’s first Community Court, named the General
Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII (8), launched the state’s first Community Justice Center, and has hosted Saturday Court Dockets, Expungement Clinics, Indigency Dockets and Resource Fairs.
With the Community Justice Center she has a Courtroom in the community at the McGruder Family Resource Center, named Bordeaux-North Community Justice Center in Davidson County, Nashville, TN 37208. In 2018, the Community Court, in partnership with the TN Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, was awarded the 2018 Community Court Grant from the United States Department of Justice to receive technical assistance from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Center for Court Innovation. They were one of five other
judges/courts selected for this opportunity.
Her latest project coming in 2020 is the C.A.R.E. (Creating Avenues for Restoration & Empowerment) Diversionary Court for those aged 18-30. It will allow low-level non-violent crimes to be transferred to the Music City Community Court. The participants will complete several months of extensive requirements, receive individualized plans along with their plea conditions. After successful completion of the program, their record will be dismissed and expunged. Finally, in fall of 2020, she will be rolling out C.A.R.E. Diversionary Court for the LGBT+ community. To learn more about Judge Bell, click here.