Jirair Ratevosian and Micheal Osa Ighodaro orbited around one another for six years through their work in global health policy and H.I.V. advocacy before ever meeting.
It wasn’t until December 2018 that they finally met at an annual winter solstice holiday party hosted by their mutual friends Kent Klindera and Damon Bolden in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The event is known for bringing together H.I.V. and L.G.B.T.Q. activists from around the world, Mr. Ratevosian said.
When they spotted each other in the crowded kitchen, the attraction was immediate. “I was looking at him and he was looking at me,” Mr. Ighodaro said. “There were 50 or 60 people there,” Mr. Ratevosian said. “So, for our eyes to lock, it had to be fate.”
The two met and chatted briefly, but, Mr. Ratevosian added, “I thought he was out of my league.” Still, he messaged Mr. Ighodaro on Facebook a week later. “Happy Xmas,” the message read.
Both were traveling a great deal at the time, domestically and internationally, but they kept in touch through texts and met at airport lounges during layovers. “It was casual and fun, but we didn’t define it,” Mr. Ighodaro said. They also saw each other at two H.I.V. conferences — one in South Africa in January 2019 and one in Rwanda in December 2019, and later that same month, when they both attended the annual party where they met a year earlier. (This time, “we sneaked a kiss upstairs,” Mr. Ratevosian said.)
Then came the Democratic Iowa caucus in February 2020. The two decided to head there to help out and support Joseph R. Biden Jr. “It was a bold move, but one that really paid off,” Mr. Ratevosian said. “Door-to-door canvassing in Iowa in February is probably a make or break moment.”
For them, it was a “make” moment. “Sparks really started flying,” Mr. Ratevosian said.
Their first official date was at Jesse’s Embers restaurant in Des Moines. Mr. Ighodaro said he felt painfully aware of being the only Black person there, but “The staff was so nice. And Jirair made me feel so comfortable.”
Mr. Ratevosian was impressed that Mr. Ighodaro was in Iowa to begin with. “Micheal wasn’t even a U.S. citizen, so how awesome was it that he was working to help the political process?” Mr. Ratevosian said. “He couldn’t even vote.”
Mr. Ighodaro, 37, was born and raised in Benin City, Nigeria. He left home at age 14 when he came out to his family and became homeless for five years, relying on friends to put him up. It was during this time that he became involved in activism. In 2012, he moved to New York City as an asylum seeker after a story online outed his activism and work in Nigeria and “it became unsafe,” he said. He studied global studies at the New School and became an American citizen in 2022.
He is now an executive director of Prevention Access Campaign, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and ending the H.I.V. epidemic. He is also the president and a founder of Global Black Pride; a founder of Global Black Gay Men Connect; and, in 2015, was honored as a White House Champion of Change for World Refugees.
Mr. Ratevosian, 42, is a first generation Armenian-American, born and raised in Los Angeles. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in physiology and political science. He also has a master’s degree in public health from Boston University and a doctoral degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University.
From November 2020 to January 2021, he worked on the Biden-Harris transition team as a policy adviser for national security, and from August 2021 through May 2023 as a senior policy adviser and chief of staff at the State Department. He is now running for Congress in California’s 30th Congressional District, a seat currently held by Adam Schiff.
By the end of the Iowa caucus, they were officially a couple. But just a month later, the Covid-19 pandemic had begun. At the time, Mr. Ighodaro was living in New York City and Mr. Ratevosian was in Washington. “So, like the rest of the world, we relied on Zoom a lot,” Mr. Ratevosian said. In June 2020, they reunited for a weekend when they took over a friend’s New York City apartment.
Once both were vaccinated in the spring of 2021, they took turns seeing one another in their respective cities every couple of months. Between visits, they continued to connect via Zoom.
Mr. Ratevosian knew Mr. Ighodaro was the one for him in one simple moment: “He made jollof rice for my parents,” Mr. Ratevosian said, referring to the tradition West African dish.
For Mr. Ighodaro, “I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Jirair as he stood steadfastly by my side during my most vulnerable moment.” That moment was the June 2021 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the HBO documentary “The Legend of the Underground,” about Nigeria’s L.G.B.T.Q. activists, including Mr. Ighodaro, and the country’s oppressive anti-gay laws.
Mr. Ratevosian is a hiker. Mr. Ighodaro is not. On March 26, 2022, Mr. Ratevosian planned a hike for the couple near Hawthorne Canyon in San Anselmo, Calif. “I had a backpack with charcuterie,” Mr. Ratevosian said. “After him grunting and complaining for 40 minutes, we stopped. I had researched this tree where we sat down. He was texting, and he turned around and saw this whole spread. It was perfect because I wanted him to be surprised and maybe a little uncomfortable.”
“Now every time we go hiking I expect something dramatic,” Mr. Ighodaro said.
The couple is currently bicoastal: Mr. Ratevosian lives in Los Angeles, where he returned in June 2023, and Mr. Ighodaro travels between Los Angeles and Washington.
The two married Oct. 9 before 160 friends and family members at St. Michael’s Church in New York by Julie Hoplamazian, the church’s associate rector. “We honored nearly all aspects of both our cultures through religion, song, dancing, food, and our attire,” Mr. Ratevosian said of the ceremony and reception. “People noticed, and it was deeply meaningful to do at a time when there is so much pain and worry back in our homelands.”
The reception followed at Legacy Castle in Pompton Plains, N.J., later that night.
“We felt the electricity running through the room,” Mr. Ratevosian said. “Each time I looked out in the crowd, I saw people either crying or smiling. And at a time when there is so much hate and violence in the world, we all needed that sacred time together to spread joy and love.”
On This Day
When Oct. 9, 2023
Where St. Michael’s Church, New York
Love is Love Mr. Ighodaro said, “We recognize the context in which our wedding is happening: at a time when anti-L.G.B.T. attacks are rising in the U.S., across Africa, and globally.” For him, the wedding “felt like a different planet. We were in a new country where the language of love was all everybody understood.”
Dancing On In The couple each had 10 people stand up for them at the ceremony, who then danced in to the reception. Mr. Ratevosian’s side danced to a traditional Armenian song and Mr. Ighodaro’s side vogued to Afro beats. “It was competitive and fun,” Mr. Ratevosian said. “People threw dollar bills as a celebration of love and abundance.”
Quick Change Artists The grooms’ suits for the ceremony were made by the Nigerian designer Weiz Dhurm Franklyn, a close friend of Mr. Ighodaro. Midway through the reception, the couple changed looks. “Our second look honored Nigerian and Armenian clothing,” said Mr. Ratevosian, who wore a traditional Armenian Taraz made of cotton and wool fabrics. Mr. Ighodaro wore a traditional Benin men’s dress.
Royal Vibes The couple chose Legacy Castle for their reception because, “We are kings and need a castle,” Mr. Ratevosian said. “Jokes aside, Micheal does come from a background of royalty: Micheal’s grandfather has a royal title in Benin Kingdom. This makes Micheal a prince.”