New Yorkers rising up together to meet unprecedented challenges is in the fabric of this great city.
Through the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen countless examples of the community-minded selflessness and resilience associated with New York City and we’ve been inspired by those who have raised a hand and stepped up to help their fellow citizens.
In this spirit, we are setting out to reflect what’s truly undeNYable about our city and the people who make up our extended NYCFC family, all doing whatever it takes today to be back together again tomorrow through the sport we love.
undeNYable is a series of weekly themed stories here on NYCFC.com, holding up members of the NYCFC family who’ve shown the meaning of "For The City", coming through for their fellow New Yorkers when it has mattered most.
A chance encounter at a bowling alley was just the start of this love story for New York City FC Founding Members, Denise and Joaquina Hamilton-Sheehan.
After hitting it off and exchanging numbers, the two went on their first date at Dave & Buster’s and that’s where Joaquina’s competitive streak began to shine through. “I was beating Denise in every game so I said if I want a second date, I should probably let her win one thing,” she remembered. “She won one game, so I got my second date.”
Aside from being competitive, Denise describes Joaquina as the one of the funniest people she knows. “She just makes everybody feel good,” Denise continued, “We get to laugh every day so that's the most important thing.” Joaquina admires Denise for her selflessness and bubbly personality. “She always has a song in her head, whether or not she knows the words to it. She's someone that always has a smile.”
While a mutual love of Star Wars played a part in bringing them closer together, they bonded even more through soccer. As a lifelong fan of the sport, Denise grew up rooting for the U.S. Women’s National Team, admiring players like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Abby Wambach. When she began watching the Premier League, she was drawn to Manchester City and tried to convert Joaquina to a being fan game by game.
“When I found my wifey here, she had no clue what soccer was,” Denise says. “Getting her to watch that first match was interesting. She didn't know that there weren’t commercial breaks.” Joaquina’s love for the beautiful game began to grow over time, and she later surprised Denise with tickets to a Manchester City match at Yankee Stadium. After seeing posters for NYCFC around the stadium, the couple grew increasingly excited about a soccer team coming to their City and having the chance to be a part of history. “It felt like this was New York’s club,” Denise recalls. “We were going to be the first homegrown fans and grow with the Club. Everything from our first goal, to our first game, to our first win – we're part of that history now,” Joaquina adds.
As City Members, Denise and Joaquina have been supporting the Club since its inaugural season. The couple appreciates NYCFC celebrating Pride and seeing other supporters waving rainbow flags and wearing the scarves around Yankee Stadium. That sense of welcoming they feel at matches is not lost on them, “It makes you feel comfortable and at home. It’s nice to have that kind of community.” Denise continues, “We've always been comfortable going to matches. Even when it’s not Pride Night, we go there arm in arm, all cuddly and lovey.”
Having LGBTQIA+ allies among the squad like Brad Stuver has also helped to build that affinity over time. “He's been an awesome ally for the LGBTQIA+ community and for the Black Lives Matter movement. That makes me feel so good,” Denise says. “It feels like they want us, they support us and they love us,” Joaquina adds.
As their love for NYCFC began to grow, so did their love for each other. Denise originally had big proposal ideas in mind, but the 2016 Presidential Election became a source of fear and anxiety, so she felt there was no time to waste. “We were worried that our rights were going to be taken away,” she admits. “I decided like three weeks after the election that it was time so I just kind of put on a song and randomly stepped out of our little hallway. I had note cards all made up like the movie ‘Love, Actually’ and I just asked her and had the song playing.” Joaquina remembers wondering why music was playing so loudly in their home and that’s when she noticed what was happening. “I look up and I see her come out with the note cards. When she said ‘Will you marry me?’ It said yes or yes.”
It was a quick engagement for the couple as they tied the knot just a few months later on January 14, 2017, surrounded by the people they love. “When you realize who you are and you accept that, it takes a while. So then when you find somebody that accepts that, and accepts that for them, and accepts that for you, it all just worked out really well for us,” Denise says.
As a lesbian growing up, this was a moment Joaquina assumed she would never have. “When you're denied so many things you stop hoping and wanting for it. You kind of accept that you're just not going to have it.” She continues, “Being with someone I love that cared about me, I was content with that. Then to be engaged and get married – have that full package. It was just over the moon for me.” While uncertainty remained in what lied ahead for the LGBTQIA+ community, she felt comfort and power in marriage. “They weren't going to take that away that moment. This was going to be my wife. No matter what, that wasn't going to change.”
Joaquina and Denise acknowledge their personal journeys growing up haven’t always been easy. “I grew up ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,’ just keep it to yourself,” Joaquina says. “That always kind of made me an introvert. It messes with you mentally, emotionally, physically.” On the heels of the June 15, 2020 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to protect the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community from workplace discrimination, Denise remembers a time she got fired for being gay and appreciates the progress that has been made for social justice. “These kinds of decisions are huge. They don't impact you right away, but they impact your mindset right away.”
Joaquina reflects on growing up as a Black woman and seeing the injustices of Rodney King and police brutality on the news, “As a kid, you're trying to process that and you don't quite understand everything, but your eyes don't lie from what you see and the injustices that you see.” She continues on how it has been an opportunity for growth and learning in her marriage. “There are times where I’ve had to say [to Denise], ‘You can't appreciate what they've gone through,’ and she's had to understand things too like being married to a Black woman.” For Denise, she acknowledges her privilege and is always making sure she’s educated. “I try to make sure that I educate myself more and more every day. I've always considered myself ‘woke’ but there’s levels to my privilege that I never knew existed.”
While the fight for social justice continues for the Black community all over the country, Joaquina is inspired by the youth stepping up, fighting for change, and pushing the Black Lives Matter movement forward. “They’ve said, ‘Nothing's getting done so we have to be the ones to change it instead of sitting around waiting for someone else to do it.’ It’s inspiring to see. You can’t leave it for the next generation to deal with.” Denise remains hopeful this is the beginning of major change in social justice for this country. “If we give the Black Lives Matter movement the amount of respect and power that they deserve, I think that the momentum can definitely transcend to everything.”
The Hamilton-Sheehan’s realize how important their marriage is during these unprecedented times. “I think the biggest thing is to not hold it in, and to go with the emotions.” Joaquina continues, “If things are getting heavy, I'll call my mom or talk to Denise and let it out. Sometimes you just need someone to listen to.” Denise adds, “We have a good balance, I think. We bring out awesomeness in each other”
Visit NYCFC.com/Pride for allyship links & resources and find out how NYCFC are teaming up with Athlete Ally digitally for Pride 2020.