I have been named a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change for 2013! I am thrilled and honored and excited. I thought I would be giving a speech, but it turns out that the 14 of us honorees will be participating in two panels, each with a moderator.
We will be asked questions and respond to them, sharing our history of involvement in community organizing, our work, our challenges, our inspiration, why we do what we do, that sort of thing. We are to help people get to know who we are and also hopefully inspire action in others. This is all from the conference call we had today to give us information and details about the upcoming event.
I am part of the Second Annual Cesar Chavez Champions of Change. This is designed to carry on his legacy of service activity and to spotlight those who do similar work. This year the focus is on immigration support and honors people or people from organizations who support this. The title is “A Legacy of Service: Organizing for Immigration Reform,” but the best thing I have heard and learned so far is the phrase the folks in the White House are using – “common sense immigration reform.” How refreshing! Wish I had thought of that.
I keep telling people that immigration reform is not truly comprehensive unless it includes folks like me, namely same-sex binational families. We are in need of comprehensive (or common sense) immigration reform big time. We LGBT Americans in legal marriages with foreign-born spouses cannot sponsor them for immigration to be with us because of our country’s Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, signed into law in 1996.
So on the day before the Supreme Court hears arguments on DOMA, I will be sharing my immigration reform work and story with White House executive staff and my fellow honorees and an audience in the room and via online streaming. If you don’t catch me live in person or live online, the session will be on YouTube later.
If I could stand there for a few minutes without the panel format, this is what I would like to say, how I would share who I am and what I have done.
The Hurtful Politics of Love Beyond Borders
Speaking at the White House is not something I do everyday, that’s for sure. I appreciate being here and I appreciate you listening to my story. Life is personal, isn’t it? All of us have stories and our stories are very personal. Your personal story and my personal story and all the others make America’s story. That’s what we are addressing today.
Nothing is more personal than who you are, who you love, how you create family. But because of who I am and who I love and how I have created family, my government has forced me to choose between spouse and career, spouse and country, spouse and family, life as I know it and an unknown future. That’s not right. No American should have to face such choices. For me and my wife and an estimated 36,000 other such families, our futures are not our own. DOMA determines them.
When I met my wife and we fell in love and committed to each other, we had no idea it would mean lots of separation and possibly leaving America – a future that still looms for us. I never thought I would have to leave my country to stay with my wife. Who would imagine that? It shouldn’t be a risk, a problem, against the law to love and commit to someone born in another country. But we have paid a big price being different, being a same-sex binational couple. We have been apart half of our time together because we are both women and not both American citizens. We have faced expenses and problems and stress that most people don’t have to deal with – just to be partners, family, loved ones.
When the hammer dropped five years ago, I made the right choice, the only one. I took early retirement with a reduced pension for the rest of my life so that my wife and I would be together more than apart. Why? Because Karin was detained in a cell at the San Francisco International Airport and told she was visiting the U.S. too often. She was told to get her affairs in order and leave the country for a long time. She wasn’t even allowed to visit me for the usual six months. Her crime? She had been visiting too often.
That pissed me off! I started sharing my story, our problem. I found allies who knew of our plight – Immigration Equality and Out4Immigration and Love Exiles Foundation as well as folks sharing their personal heartache via social media. I jumped in and started making connections, sharing stories, searching for the solution we needed.
I went to my Congressman, Mike Honda, who I knew from years of LGBT civil rights work. He learned of our struggle and added us to his comprehensive immigration reform bill, Reuniting Families Act. Sharing story is powerful!
Then I realized since so few knew of this problem we needed a tool, to share the information. I tried to get Elizabeth Gilbert, herself a victim of immigration problems with her boyfriend from another country, to write a book about immigration discrimination we faced. But she was too busy with a new book deal. She told me if I got a book deal, she would write the foreword. So I did, and she did! My book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011, is part memoir, part a collection of stories of others’ discrimination from DOMA, part a how-to on how others can help and part resource guide. It keeps getting updated with my blog and web site at http://tornapart.findhornpress.com
Sharing my story – personal and political – is how I roll. Letters to editors, conferences, phone calls, blogs, you name it. I do it. As my book came out, I met more allies – Lavi Soloway, The Doma Project; Brynn Gelbard, DeVote Campaign; David W. Ross, I Do: The Movie. I got more press. I talked to elected officials, clergy, PFLAG, California Teachers Association, National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. I preached at an MCC church in San Francisco. I talked to senior LGBT groups and LGBT youth groups. I met more allies and learned to go outside my comfort zone with dialogue groups bringing LGBT groups together with immigrant groups. And it just keeps going. Sharing that story. Finding those allies. Blogging. Posting on Facebook. Creating a Facebook page for my book. Creating a portrait project of same-sex binational couples with David W. Ross. Creating a Facebook page for that. Working on the solution we all need.
So here I am, something else new is happening to me because of my story! Standing in front of you I may not look like someone you would think has an immigration problem, needs an immigration solution. But the truth is very personal. Here it is:
Immigration, like sexual orientation, is not a skin color, or a country of origin, or a religion, or a culture, or an ethnicity. It’s all that and more. It’s not “them.” It’s “us.” We need a country where we are all “us.” Let’s make it so!
Some people think of immigrants and hold the word “illegal” in their hearts and minds. Some people think of the LGBT community and hold the word “immoral” in their hearts and minds. Imagine how that makes people like me and my wife feel!
We live in that world where these two intersect – it’s like pouring gas on a fire when people who hold illegal and immoral in their hearts and minds think of LGBT immigrants, same-sex binational families. These categories, LGBT and immigrant – are the two most volatile subjects in politics today. Who is going to help us? Who will include us in comprehensive, common sense immigration reform?
We know the Supreme Court is dealing with DOMA as well as the related California same-sex marriage case. We know that Congress has three pieces of legislation languishing without much traction to date – Uniting American Families Act, Reuniting Families Act and Respect for Marriage Act.
That leaves the third house – you folks of the Executive branch. I’m hoping you and your boss, President Obama, can help too. Your voices will help things move along faster to the solution we all need for common sense immigration reform that is truly comprehensive. I’m 65 now. My wife is 72. I sure hope to spend whatever remains of my golden years being able to do other things than fight to keep my wife with me. In my country we say that’s the American dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’d like an unimpeded chance at that. Thanks for listening and I hope you can help us all.
So here’s my regular sign-off for posts:
Immigration Equality, Out4Immigration and Love Exiles Foundation are the three groups working on our issue – and the three groups who receive whatever money comes in from sales of my book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011.My newer project, with David W. Ross, whose new film “I Do: The Movie” will be out in June 2012, is a portrait project of LGBT binational families, United by Love, Divided by Law Portrait Project. It expands the reach of my book and will keep adding portraits as we find couples and funds to add more. We will hold events to assist the work being done for our families by Lavi Soloway and Stop the Deportations – The DOMA Project.Check out the site athttp://unitedbylovedividedbylaw.com/and see the Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/unitedbylovedividedbylawTo follow Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, go to its Facebook page at:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Torn-Apart-United-by-Love-Divided-by-Law/116343758442046Read an excerpt of my book at this link: http://bit.ly/eIyGxhOrder online from the publisher at this link:http://www.findhornpress.com/relationships-43/torn-apart-392.htmlElizabeth Gilbert wrote the foreword to my book. She is an ally in our fight and has suffered from the immigration situation herself as part of a binational relationship. Though she and her boyfriend were able to marry, they know what the drill was and they advocate for LGBT binational families. We like that!Remember, too, you can follow me and what I am doing and thinking and reading on twitter @tornapartbook