The first time I met them was about 1982 or 1983. Who remembers – it was the 80’s, I was stoned back then. I was at the Valencia Rose in San Francisco on Gay Comedy night doing a bit about trying to pick up Mormon lesbians in Utah only to end up with Marie Osmond.
The two women in the front laughing the loudest were, I thought, enjoying the unbelievable concept of Mormon lesbians until the sassiest one, Stella, points to her partner and says “Hey, she’s a Mormon!” I was aghast and asked them dumb questions like – did they have other wives? Through her guffaws Ina Mae told me about ‘Affirmations’ the only organization for LGBT members and ex- members of the Mormon church.
It was a group in which she had played a leadership role. When I think back on that night I respect how good-natured Ina Mae was explaining her faith to an agnostic like me during a comedy show. I also realize that even if she and Stella might have been laughing at me instead of with me, the sight of them poking each other and doubled over and giggling was something I wanted more of.
On July 17, 2010 gay comedy lost its two greatest champions Stella Lopez-Armijo and Ina Mae Murri in a fatal car accident. Who they were and the life they made together during their 30 year relationship could fill a best seller and has positively impacted many people in all walks of life. Doing comedy is how I got to know them.
They were the original Gay Comedy super fans. In the 80’s and up to this year, Stella and Ina Mae, partners in love and laughs, followed us queer comics from San Francisco to Albuquerque and all over America to festivals and Prides and famously on Olivia cruises. They were the deadheads of Queer comedy. Sometimes you’d even see them sporting tie dye shirts (in rainbow colors of course.)
Sure they followed women’s music, loved traveling and all things LGBT, but we comics liked to think this couple bought that ticket or took that flight or got on that ship because of us. When they met, Stella was a wise-cracking chicana dyke who liked to have a good time and Ina Mae was a tireless political activist with a wicked grin. Gay comedy was a perfect fit for them on date night.
Their support meant the world to us comics. When they were in your front row it felt like a command performance and before the show was over at least one, if not all, of the comics would give them a shout out. We worked a little harder for them, because we needed to be at least as funny as Stella. We comics found it remarkable how they would appear in the audience when we were out on the road, always front and center. They had a way of sweet talking every usher in every town to let them take the good seats before the crowd rushed in.
On their tribute page many have noted that throughout their relationship you’d never see one without the other so family and friends often called them “Stina.” I must admit I used to get their names mixed up because to me Ina Mae really looked like a Stella and vice versa. So Stina sounds like them. They were so close, like two distinct halves of a better world and always inseparable. I am one of the lucky comics who got to be a small part of the great adventure that was Stella and Ina Mae. We will always remember them laughing, front and center.
Learn more about them in their own words:
Visit Marga Gomez at www.margagomez.com