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July 14, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 28
 
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Lesbian Notions by Libby Post
Exiled for love
"Love exiles." Sounds like a good title for house music in some urban Gay bar, doesn't it?

Not quite. "Love exiles" are real people. They're folks like Greg Meissner and his Taiwanese partner, Shan - two Gay men who were forced to leave the United States because Shan's work visa ran out.

Their story is the story of close to 40,000 bi-national couples residing in the United States but living in fear that the partner who's not a U.S. citizen will have to leave because she or he can't get a green card - all because our immigration laws do not recognize Lesbian and Gay partnerships.

Greg and Shan met and fell in love. The fact that one was a U.S. citizen and the other was not made no difference to them. They were both here in the United States. They moved in together - sharing a mortgage and finances, caring for one another, and becoming a loved member of each other's family.

They built a life together that is a model of love and commitment. Shan taught Greg to speak Mandarin so Greg could communicate with his in-laws. Greg's family has embraced Shan as a son-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle. It was perfect - well, almost perfect.

After working and paying taxes here for five years, Shan was forced to leave the country because Greg couldn't sponsor him for citizenship.

According to the U.S. immigration code, Greg and Shan are "legal strangers" because the Defense of Marriage Act dictates that the only legal relationship is between a man and a woman.

And you thought DOMA and the various drives for constitutional amendments were just about us getting married. But they are also about making sure bi-national couples don't settle here in the good old U.S. of A. - the melting pot was never stirred enough to include LGBT people.

Well, instead of leaving each other, they left the country. Greg gave up his position as an assistant principal in a San Jose, Calif., school district, and they both ventured northeast to Toronto, Canada, where they plan to marry and attain citizenship. Canada's gain is our loss.

"American citizens are being denied the right to live their lives wholly and happily," Wendy Daw, one of the founding board members of Out 4 Immigration, told me recently. Daw is in a bi-national relationship with her partner of eight years, Belinda Ryan, a Brit. "As an American, I continually face the possibility of leaving my country so I can live my life. There are a lot of LGBT Americans who are rendered entirely helpless - forced to live in exile in order to be with their non-American partners."

Recently, Daw and Ryan - who for the moment are still living stateside - got together with a number of other bi-national couples on the west coast to form Out 4 Immigration. Their goal is to put a human face on this issue.

"As LGBT immigrants, we are often too afraid of repercussions to speak out. Our American partners cannot take any legal action to protect our families. We have been excluded from the immigration debate and we are invisible in the community," Ryan said.

Daw and Ryan's passion comes from personal experience. Upon trying to return from a vacation in England, Ryan was detained and refused entry to her flight back to the States because of some glitch in her visa paperwork. It took her two weeks before she could rejoin Daw.

If Wendy was William and legally married Belinda in the United States, none of that would have happened. If things don't change, Daw, Ryan, and their daughter, whom Ryan gave birth to, will be forced to move to England in order to keep their family together.

"We've raised a daughter together," said Daw. "But there is absolutely nothing we can do to keep Belinda, her biological mother, in this country. Our daughter doesn't even have the right to sponsor her own mother until she's of legal age."

It's the Wendys and Belindas and the Gregs and the Shans of our community that make it so urgent to pass the United American Families Act, which is sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and co-sponsored by 100 members of Congress.

"It would give me the right that heterosexuals have - to sponsor my partner," said Daw. "All we're really asking is to be afforded the same rights as other couples have. We're more than happy to jump through the same hoops as heterosexual couples - it's not easy for them either. But we're denied access to those hoops!"



Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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