Archive for December, 2009

J. R. and her partner (leave America)

Posted on December 31, 2009. Filed under: Stories, Stories - from other sites |

Exiled for Love is Exiled from Love

Today I am something I never dreamed I would be – a love exile. Why? Because I am a lesbian. My partner is not a U.S. citizen. American law does not allow lesbians and gay men to sponsor their partners for immigration to the U.S. – but there is no such restriction for men and women who fall in love with opposite sex partners from other countries.

Worse, my country is NOT one of 19 in the world that does allow same sex marriages/civil unions/welcome to same sex partners for reasons of immigration. America – home of the brave and land of the free – has a blind spot when it comes to same sex binational couples.

I cursed the Statue of Liberty as we left the harbor November 5 to cross the Atlantic for six months. Just like the pledge of allegiance to the flag does not really include me and my partner in its liberty and justice for all statement, the full promise of America stops at the door of lesbian and gay couples, especially those with non-citizen partners.

I am writing this from Europe, not from my American home where my partner and I would like to be. For us, this issue has changed our lives dramatically and there is no real end in sight yet. Legislation has been introduced. Senators and Members of Congress have signed on in support. Even President Obama has declared that immigration needs to be fixed. But to date, tens of thousands of couples like us languish in overseas – not American – homes, or live separated from each other in two countries far apart, or have decided to make the hard decision to terminate their relationships – something straight couples don’t have to do.

Please understand this in no way takes away from legitimate immigration issues other people face. There are lots of families separated, lots of spouses waiting in other countries to be united with husbands or wives in America. Even lots of children wait to be united with mothers or fathers in America. But for same sex bi-national couples, the law does not even offer a solution until it is drastically changed – and our issue faces lots of competition from some people and lots of just plain ignorance from most. I am ashamed to say I didn’t really know much about the issue until it became mine.

No American citizen should have to choose between country and partner.

No American citizen should have to choose between country and family.

No American citizen should have to choose between country and career.

Yet I have had to do all three. I chose my partner over my family and career. I have left behind family in my hometown, family in other parts of California and family in other states, including aging parents in Oregon.

It hurts!

I took early retirement from my job of almost 30 years, making me receive a reduced pension each month now because I did not reach optimum retirement age. So now, at a time when my partner and I have increased living expenses, we have reduced income.

It’s hard!

The journey to this place in my life has taken twists and turns. It has called me to think about what matters and determine solutions for myself, my relationship and my future. What I have come to understand, more deeply now – in exile – is that where we are in the world does not matter as much in the long run as who we are, what we are and how we are in the world. I believe this now with all my being and I have been sharing it with those I share my soul with, and now with you. But I still would like to be in charge of my own destiny when it comes to where I live and how I live with my partner.

In my case, leaving behind family has been harder than anticipated. Why? Because I have more family now than I used to and I have closer family now than I used to. Even though my parents have been gone for years, I now have new parents. I was adopted as a baby. From 1948 to 1992 I enjoyed a wonderful life with a sister and then her growing family and with my parents, who I cherished. My mother was taken first, with a return of cancer after ten years of so-called remission. Devastated by that, I found that I needed to – and was successful at – creating a new relationship with my father, who I was not as intimate with all my life. He was just very different about personal things than Mom.

From 1992 – 2003 my life with my family took on a new twist – my Dad and I learned to love each other and act with each other in a whole new way and it became a joy in my life. My sister, off on her own journey with her husband, his family and their daughter born to them late in their marriage, was not involved with me much and the new involvement with my father became a huge part of my life – an unexpected treasure that dashed my assumptions about how things would be after Mom died.

But Dad’s life was dealt very unhappy turns with an unanticipated triple bypass, a leg amputation and then blindness and finally three years of bedridden immobility in a nursing facility. Through those years I learned to be there for him in a way that mattered and it became a lifeline for both of us. When he died at the very end of 2003 my life was very different very quickly.

Friends were there – even new friends who became very close friends – and I moved on the path of my life without a partner and without my parents and in many ways without my family. I was trying to shed grief at the same time I was trying to move on. My feet were in jello much longer than I realized.

After some time I began to be more of the person I always thought I was and things seemed brighter. Then I started socializing and enjoyed it. But dating was still not my area of expertise.

Through curiosity and a series of events that could not be accidents, I found out who my birth father was. I took a risk and pursued him. I located him in Oregon, where I had been born, and met him in August, 2004. What a magical thing that was!

First, he wanted to meet me – after not knowing at all of my existence. He took a risk and we met. He looked like me, he acted like me, he wanted to see me a second time after our first meeting. He told me my mother (who does not want to meet me, I learned) was the love of his life. He says I look like her. He never knew she was pregnant. He couldn’t find her when he returned to his hometown after months of logging in the Klamath Falls area. He lost his chance at love with her. And now I have lost my chance to be with him as often as I have in the past. I am exiled from love when it comes to my new family and my original family, as well as my broader family.

That was more than enough excitement for anyone in that year, but two months later, I met my partner Karin (also not an accident, but it seemed so at the time) on a lesbian dating site. We corresponded, talked on the phone, met in person and began our exploration of each other and a future together.

She was British by passport, but German by birth. She had lived in Germany first, then England, Spain, Scotland and France, as well as Florida and was visiting in Oregon when we met. She explained the visa issue she faced and we agreed to abide by her regulations and trust that we could be together.

She continued to leave the U.S. and return to visit. I went to the UK to visit. In 2008 and 2009 we were apart the longest, precipitating our decision for me to retire early. Karin had been told she was visiting too often and would have to leave for more than six months. After living apart for eight months (with me visiting for one month in December/January) we knew that we had to do what was necessary to be together. I became exiled for love with Karin and we are dealing with those consequences now and will be for a long time.

In late 2008 and early 2009 I began working with one, then a second organization to find answers for the same sex binational couple immigration issue. Through them Immigration Equality and I have met brave men and women who challenged the issue, convinced legislators to help and kept the message in front of the public. I learned of the work of Senator Patrick Leahy and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, who had been reintroducing their Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) legislation for 11 years. Karin and I went to the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on that bill in Washington, D.C. in June, 2009 – the bill’s first big step toward consideration for passage in all those years.

I began to help too. I wrote letters to legislators explaining the problem and sharing my story. I went to meetings and panels on immigration reform and made sure that same sex binational couples were included in the discussion. I met with a U.S. Representative in my hometown who had a pivotal role on the issue because of her committee position. Several of us who face this issue were there. I have known her for years because of my work with LGBT issues in my community.

I met with my local U.S. Representative and told him my story. He and I had known each other a long time and had worked on LGBT issues in the community over the years. Now I had brought him a new problem, a much more personal problem. He acted on it and included same sex binational couples in his legislation called Reuniting Families Act (RFA). Karin and I were there in Washington, D.C. in June, 2009 when he had a press briefing to announce our issue as part of his bill.

Now, I help as much as I can, I continue to wait and hope – from Europe. I watch the online press daily for news of some move for true equality for lesbian and gay couples like mine. I hope that the promise to work on it as part of comprehensive immigration reform in early 2010 is accurate. I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I continue to write letters, post information, ask family and friends to keep the issue in peoples’ minds and donate what little bit of my pension I can for the cause.

Mostly what I hope for is that CIR – comprehensive immigration reform – will include all the fixes that the U.S. needs and will not mire down into a horrible face-off over illegal immigrants and same sex binational couples. In today’s political climate in America, that’s a recipe for disaster, I believe. I do not want any special rights. I am an American citizen. I want what other American citizens who fall in love with a non-citizen have – the chance to sponsor their spouse for immigration. It’s simple – but so hard for us with today’s laws. Karin is not illegal. She has not broken the law. She just wants what I want – to be together and live in our American home. If we choose to go elsewhere, that should be our choice, not the government’s. Let’s hope we see that solution to our current dilemma and we can be with our loved ones whenever and wherever we want. I want to get rid of the word exile from my vocabulary!

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Juan Carlos Galan, Panama

Posted on December 30, 2009. Filed under: Stories |

I was borne and raised in an ultra conservative Catholic country town in Panama, Latin America by my maternal grandparents.  Although, Panama City, Panama is one of the most liberal cities in Central America, the same thing cannot be said about the small town where I was raised.  Growing up gay in a highly homophobic family, school, and society made the process of coming to terms with my sexuality an extreme journey.  By the time I was 17 years old I had already come out as a gay young man to my closest friends, who were more supportive than I would have ever imagined.

At the ripe age of 17 I was finally done with high school.  I could not have been happier when presented with the opportunity to come the United States for college.  Most information about American culture had come to me through movies and TV shows, so I could not wait to move to a country that, in my teenage mind, was all like New York City.  I had so many choices, so many cities, so many states, so many schools where I could go!  This is why I decided to move to Knoxville, Tennessee.  I was quite shocked when I arrived in Knoxville.  It did not look like New York City at all!

You might want to know why I chose Knoxville of all places.  Well, the answer would have been a very simple one coming from a 17 year old.  I did not want to go up north because I did not want to deal with the cold.  I did not want to go down south because I thought there would be too many Spanish speakers, and I wanted to force myself to speak only English.  I did not want to go too far west because I thought it would be too far from Panama. So I looked at the US map and thought Tennessee seemed just fine right there in the middle.

Being a Hispanic gay immigrant in Knoxville, Tennessee was not as bad as you are thinking.  I was so culturally ignorant and young that I did not even notice how different I was from everyone else.  Also, I moved to Knoxville in January 2002, and I was completely oblivious to the anti-immigrant sentiment in the aftermath of September 11th.  Ignorance is truly bliss; being from Panama, race did not even cross my mind very often.  In Tennessee, I suddenly became Hispanic or Latino (white people use the terms interchangeably depending on geography; I stopped trying to figure it out a long time ago). 

However, I had never met any gay people before, and was ready to embark on my first trip to a gay bar.  Packed with my fake ID, my flirting skills learned from cheesy sitcoms like “The Nanny”, and a pretty rough English grammar, I went to my first gay bar with some lesbians in their thirties that I had met in the University’s gay organization.  The experience was as liberating as it was scary.  I had never felt so… free?  I could not believe that gay men were actually able to hold hands and buy drinks for each other in the gay clubs.  It was beyond me how a woman could flirt with another women.  This was happening before my very eyes and in such a normalized and peaceful way that I just did not know what to make of it. 

I can barely describe how I felt, but I remember a strong sense of relief, belonging, freedom, and equality.  My mind was in shock, but I have always believed that whenever your mind is not responding, you should always rely on your instincts.  And my instincts (along with my hormones) were telling me to give my number to that cute guy who was smiling at the bar.

He never did call, but within a year I was already living with three gay roommates and fully aware of how conservative the state of Tennessee is.  Once I got a little more acclimated to American culture (rather “southern culture”), I realized that there was another society to become familiar with: the GLBT community.  In a way, gay culture became home.  It became my community.  I was the only Panamanian I knew in the university, so I was really out of touch with my Panamanian roots.  I needed a place to fit in, I needed a family, I needed a support network, and I needed to come to terms fully with my own sexually, so I embraced gay culture at its fullest because the gay culture embraced me as well!  They did not care that I was an immigrant! They did not care that I had an accent!  They made my immigrant journey easier (special thanks to the show Queer as Folk for strongly influencing my sense of style and wardrobe).  I realized how special a gay friendship could be, and the sense of belonging and understanding that gay friends could give you.  I really did feel like I was finally home.

For the first time, I could go out with friends and be myself.  I was able to flirt and go on dates.  I was able to kiss the guy I liked (only in private, I mean… this is still Knoxville, Tennessee).  I was able to be a college student and just have fun like any other college student. However, all these things could only happen under very limited and determined circumstances: in gay clubs or in the privacy of my home.  I never saw gay couples holding hands in public in Tennessee.  I did not meet many LGBT families.  I started noticing that GLBT individuals were actually being made fun of and regarded as strange by the community at large.  I was only able to feel fully safe around gay people and allies.

I knew that my legal standing was different, not only because I am an immigrant, but also because I am gay.  I knew I could not get married (I did not care so much about this because I was having too much fun having casual sex), I could get fired from a job for being gay (this did not bother me too much either because student visas prevent you from working off campus), I could not serve openly in the army (this also was not too big of a deal for me… I would get my ass kicked in the army anyway), hate crimes did not protect me (looking back and thinking of the many times I walked back and forth late at night from the gay clubs to my dorm room… I am very grateful that nothing tragic ever happened to me).  I also knew that many GLBT youth were not safe in school (just like I was not in my high school). 

However, I did not make much of it because none of these laws prevented me from going out, partying, and having a good college time with my friends.  On the other hand, when I started noticing how racially segregated the school cafeteria was, how small the Hispanic community was, how sometimes people would choose to ignore me because they did not want to make the effort to understand my Spanish accent… This is when I decided that Knoxville, Tennessee was not the ideal place for a gay Hispanic immigrant, and this is how I ended up on South Beach.

Coming to Miami for graduate school was a completely different experience. After finishing my Masters degree, I got a job offer from an American company.  My student visa expired, but I had a temporary work permit that allowed me to work for a year.  That same year I fell in love with my partner and started planning my life with him. My work permit had an expiration date, but my love for my partner did not.  After thousands and thousands of dollars spent on legal fees, I was able to secure a temporary work visa.

This is when all the legal inequalities really started to bother me. If we were an opposite-gender couple we would not be faced with immigration challenges, and he would be able to sponsor me for permanent residency just like straight couples can do it when they get married. Also, not only did I have to worry about my immigrant status during my job search, but I was also afraid to be judged because of my sexual orientation and not my skills and qualifications.

I have been living in this country for almost a decade.  I am involved in my local community, pay my taxes, work in the nonprofit sector helping underprivileged communities, and feel happy to be part of and contribute to American society.  This says a lot about my immigrant journey.  I do not understand why there is not a realistic, affordable, and legal path towards permanent residency

My GLBT immigrant journey has been and continues to be an exciting one.  Coming from such a small town knowing nothing about the Stonewall riots to being involved in grassroots gay rights lobbying efforts.  From being so repressed and afraid of my own sexuality to living with my partner and demanding the right to marry him.  From not understanding Saturday Night Live sketches to cracking up with watching the movie Superbad. 

I do not struggle culturally because I am a gay immigrant anymore, and that is in great part because both the gay and immigrant community have embraced me helped me acclimate to this great country.  The gay and immigrant groups need to work together towards their final goal, which is legal recognition.  Discussions need to start happening and coalitions need to be made.  I am looking forward to the day when I am regarded as equal and when the laws treat the GLBT AND the immigrant community fairly.  In the meantime, I will keep fighting for it and invite you to do the same because unless you are a Native American, we are all immigrants and fairness and equality are the reasons why ALL OF US moved to America.

Additional Questions that were ask of Juan after he submitted his story as listed in the above, it was submitted via email:

Coming out:
When were you first aware of sexual identity? How did that happen? 
 Ever since I was a little kid, I always knew that I was different from all the other kids in school.  I didn’t know exactly how I was different because at such a young age I still didn’t have the notion of sexual orientation, but I definitely knew I was different.  When I started going through puberty I realized that I was attracted to guys instead of girls, and that’s when I knew HOW I was different from others.

How do you define coming out?
… to self? 
Coming out to self means finally accepting in your mind that you are gay and being able to identify yourself as gay without necessarily having to tell anyone.

.. to other gay people? Coming out to other gay people is easier because they will understand better what life feels like before coming out and after coming out.

… to your family? Coming out to my family was an exrtremely difficult process because they are all conservatic Catholics and Hispanic, so I was very afraid of how they would react.  Most of them were very supportive, except for my grandparents who chose not to speak to me for about 7 months, and afte much tension and sadness from all parts, they finally decided on a Don’t Ast Don’t Tell approach where I don’t speak about my sexuality, but they also don’t try to impose their religious morals on me.

… to straight people (how and when did you first tell them?) I started coming out to my straight High School friends when I was 16 years old.  I didn’t know any other gay people, so all of my friends were straight.  they were extremely supportive.  They accepted me and understood me and if hadn’t been for them I would have committed suicide.  They truly became my family during my high school years.

What influenced your coming out? I couldn’t keep quiet any longer.  I had this huge secret that I couldn’t share with anyone.  I just felt like I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore and that in order to be happy I needed people to know.  My life changed once I came out, it was like getting a fresh and much happier start.

Family background / growing up:
When / where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town called David in the country of Panama.  It is a country town where everyone knows everyone.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Do you remember what inspired those dreams? I wanted to be a Paleontologist so that I could study dinosaurs.  Jurassic Park inspired this dream

Any early signs about later orientation? (being a tomboy, playing w. kids of opposite sex, preferring opposite sex games and activities) I never wanted to play sports.  I hated PE class, and I hated every single physical activity because I always had to compete with other boys and could never win.  I also wanted to play with dolls and get girly toys.  I also preferred playing with girls when I was little.

Acceptance/rejection of these activities, or of emerging expressions of identity, by family members? My family was not supported at all.  They were always telling me that I needed to talk like a man and walk like a man, that I had to go outside and play more with other boys.

Did it make a difference? how?
I think when I lived in Tennessee I experienced racism, but I was too young and naive to have noticed.  It was just wierd to me that black kids and white kids never sat together in the cafeteria.

Social acceptance/rejection within gay community (re race)? — within one’s ethnic community (re sexual orientation)? I think the gay community or the Hispanic community have been very supportive everywhere I’ve lived in the US (Knoxville, TN, Austin, TX Miami, FL).  I never really felt like I needed to belong to one group more than the other, but I do have to share that the most supportive community I have been a part of were my gay hispanic college friends in Austin, TX.  We were all gay and hispanic, and we understood each other very well.  We were also going through the same phase in our lives.

Interracial relationships or friendships? If yes, what did you learn from that Experience, or from people you knew? What were the attitudes of others you knew to such relationships? My boyfriends and I are an interacial couple.  He is white, and I am Hispanic.  We haven’t really dealt with many cultural differences.  I have been in the US for so long, that I am very aware of any cultural difference he or I might experience.  I know when I am not necessarily in tune with what is happening around me because of cultural barriers.  However, living in Miami he is the one that experiences cultural shocks sometimes because of the large (majority) Hispanic community in Miami.  He has been in Miami long enough to also develop a self-awareness around cultural barriers and uderstand them.

Did being part of the GLBT community bring you in contact with people of different ethnic backgrounds? How did that affect your circumstances and/or outlook? Absolutely.  Anyone can be queer regardless of race, gender, age, SES, etc.  This is why the rainbow represent the glbt community, because of how diverse we are.  It definitely made me understand why gay people are so opened.  THE GLBTQ community knows discrimination, so they are more aware are more inclusive.  I think this made me realize that people are just people.

Religion / spiritual learnings:
Did your religion/spiritual learnings make a difference? how?
Yes, I had to completely disregard me Catholic believes, and this was a constant struggle until I finally decided that I was not going to listen to a community whose leader, The Pope, is claiming that condoms will promote HIV in Africa.  I completely lost respect for the Catholic church and stopped all involvements with it.

— family background? own (personal)? They were very conservative.

— can you identify sources or other influences of your beliefs? n/a

— changes/evolution of personal beliefs; relation to sexuality? Yes, at first I would reject all sexual activities, then I became highly promiscuous because I was acting out and “making up for lost time” then I was just taking it easy and now I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for over a year.

— membership in GLBT religious/spiritual groups or organizations? No, but my boyfriend is a yoga instructor and I’ve been learning how yoga can be a very spiritual practice.

Class / economic background:
Were your circumstances comfortable when growing up, or not?
Yes, I was definitely comfortable.

— opportunities available (for education, work, career)? did you feel these to be limited or not? No, I had many opportunities

— effects of any of this on personal outlook? n/a

— did your circumstances change as you got older? how? what were the causes? Yes, because of my immigrant status it was hard to find a good job, so I don’t live as comfortably as I would want.

One last question: May I post your story on my face book group and blog? An answer of no is acceptable but I wanted to ask. Also, I can remove names if you like. Yes, you can post it, just make sure you cite me as the author please

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M. From Uruguay

Posted on December 30, 2009. Filed under: Stories |

Story – Interview Style

Basic bio information:
When / where were you born? Uruguay, South America.  But my family moved to Australia when I was 1 year old and I lived there until I was 26 years old.

What is your ethnic background? Hispanic and French.  My mother and her family were from Uruguay.  My father was born in Argentina but his mother was from France and his father was from Spain.

Where have you lived? Uruguay;  Sydney, Australia;  Los Angeles, CA.

What occupation(s) have you worked in? Telephonist, Receptionist, Administration Assistant, Casting Assistant, Senior Co-ordinator for a catering company, Personal Assistant.

When did you come to the US (Western Culture)? 2000

Coming out:
When were you first aware of sexual identity? How did that happen? I discovered men had sex with other men when I was around 9 years old.  I forget when I was aware of what being gay was.

How do you define coming out? I think this means when did I come out, so I answered it that way. to self around 16 or 17 I think.  It wasn’t one defining moment though.

… to other gay people? I don’t remember

… to your family? I told my mother when I was 20 or 21.  She was homophobic and didn’t take it well.  I didn’t tell my brother, he just discovered it on his own when he went through my bag for something and found a gay street rag.  He asked me what that was and my response was an annoyed “What do you think?!!” because he interrupted my computer game.  Then I realized I had just come out to him.  I had extremely limited contact with the rest of my family by this point so it wasn’t an issue.

… to straight people (how and when did you first tell them?) I started when I was 18.  I was pretty upset about some other issues in my life and wrote a whole bunch of notes when I was feeling my worst.  Part of that was an acknowledgement that I was gay.  I showed it to someone who I spoke to as an unofficial counselor.  I also told someone I worked with when she asked.  Those are the first couple of people I remember telling.  They were both women. 

What influenced your coming out? I forget, a need to be open I guess.

When did you decide to immigrate? 2000

What motivated you to immigrate? I was bored and met someone who lived in Los Angeles and assured me his company would sponsor me.  Had I not met him, I would have gotten a work visa and moved to London.

What were the biggest cultural differences you noticed? Not much, coming from an English speaking country.  Everything was just bigger here.

What were your expectations of being an immigrant? I don’t remember.  New adventures I guess.

What was your biggest learning moment/moments as an immigrant? Not sure.  When I spoke to lawyers I think and learning the process of immigration here.  Seeing the ridiculous state of health care in America was a big thing, having come from a country where it was relatively free.  I remember when I first came here I would hear people talking about having health care and having not had financial issues with health care in Australia meant I took it for granted so I didn’t see what the big deal was.  I appreciate health care more now.

What would you like to share with others about being an immigrant? The immigration process is just terrible here.  If anyone is considering coming here, I would advise them to speak to lawyers and act very carefully.  Speak to more than one lawyer.  And make sure you can trust the people who are sponsoring you.

Family background / growing up:
When / where did you grow up? Sydney, Australia
What did you want to be when you grew up and do you remember what inspired those dreams? Dancer, vet, lawyer.  Films like Can’t Stop The Music and TV shows like Solid Gold; loving animals; seemed like a good idea and I was a righteous person.

Any early signs about later orientation? (being a tomboy, playing w. kids of opposite sex, preferring opposite sex games and activities) I got along easier with girls and liked dressing up in my mother’s clothes when I was a kid.  That was just specific to me though.

Acceptance/rejection of these activities, or of emerging expressions of identity, by family members? My family was homophobic, I wasn’t beaten for dressing up or being a sensitive child, but their reaction wasn’t “Oh, I think you’re gay, awesome!”  They just thought I was odd.

Did your race/ethnicity make a difference? how? I didn’t think so.

Social acceptance/rejection within gay community (re race)? — within one’s ethnic community (re sexual orientation)? None.

Interracial relationships or friendships? If yes, what did you learn from that Experience, or from people you knew? What were the attitudes of others you knew to such relationships? No real experience here to speak of.

Did being part of the GLBT community bring you in contact with people of different ethnic backgrounds? How did that affect your circumstances and/or outlook? Not really.

Is there any things else you would like to talk about or share, that has not already been discussed? Or other topics that you want to cover? Um, well this whole immigration situation has been rather trying for me (I came here on the promise from my partner at the time that I would get sponsored by his then employer, that didn’t happen, then he found someone else to sponsor me, that person strung me along and flaked on me/lied to me, my lawyer didn’t inform me of the process completely which made matters worse).  I can start the sponsorship process over again with a better lawyer, but I’m 36 and it would be another 5 years of being in limbo.  I’m too old to go through this crap again or wait for the hope that gay marriage and therefore immigration will change, so I’m moving back to Australia in the next couple of months.  I don’t mean to sound like a victim above, but that’s just the way it happened.  I made some stupid choices.  It’s been a learning experience though.

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Survey Question: Immigration and Gay Marriage

Posted on December 30, 2009. Filed under: Surveys |

What do you think the systemic issues are regarding immigration and gay marriage? And, How might it be different from country to country or region to region? Would would very much like your comments.

Post your responses at:
Face Book Group:
and we are available on twitter.

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LGBT Immigration Stories is now available on twitter

Posted on December 27, 2009. Filed under: Resources |

LGBT Immigrations Stories is doing our best to make ourselves easily available. We are now available on twitter at:

You can now get updates or our stories sent right to your phones.

Enjoy and have a wonderful day.

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Mark and Fred

Posted on December 27, 2009. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

HARRISBURG – FRANCEMark and Fred have been together for 15 years. They have a beautiful home and two adorable kids in Harrisburg, NJ. Fred has been able to stay in the country through student and work visas. When his last work visa came to an end without the possibility of renewal, they faced dire choices. Going back to France is an option, except for the French law the kids will never be considered French and will have to leave every six months. Also, staying in the US was further impeded since Fred had to stop working and take yet another student visa to stay with Mark. They had to sell their home at a loss, since they are burning through their savings, and they may have to live apart for a while, separating even the children.

This information was found on the the following site but it appears that site is now offline (I will update this information when I locate the updated information).

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Ethnography: Mature Friends – Seattle

Posted on December 25, 2009. Filed under: Collective Wisdom, Groups |

By: Beau Williams

May 30, 2007

The systematic approach of ethnography writing typically refers to fieldwork conducted by an individual investigator who has studied a select community of people over an extended period of time, with the intent of creating a textual portrait of the studied people by discussing the shared culture; to include customs, behaviors, and beliefs based on compiled information from the conducted fieldwork.  

Cultural anthropology is an interest of mine and is an area of focus for my Bachelor of Art degree currently being obtained through Antioch University, Seattle. It is my desire to complete a body of work that will be of benefit to the identified community. It is in through this effort and desire that I decided to volunteer my skills to achieve the following: complete an ethnographic research and writing detailing the evolution of the Mature Friends organization, the interviews conducted by me will be placed in the archives at the University of Washington library, and the ethnography produced to be handed over to the Mature Friends organization. 

The Mature Friends organization is a group of gay individuals and couples over the age of forty that formed in nineteen eighty nine and has grown into a large nonprofit, nonpartisan, nonsectarian organization with influence throughout the local gay community by leveraging the group’s vitality and size, making it easy for members to participate in a variety of social activities and providing a network for supporting the community at large.

I came to know about the Mature Friends organization through the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project (NWLGHMP) (Project 2007). The mission of the NWLGHMP is as follows: The Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project (NWGLHMP, or The History Project), founded in nineteen ninety four, is an organization which researches, interprets and communicates the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the Pacific Northwest for the purposes of study, education and enjoyment. Recognizing that the history of this vibrant community has been sparsely and inaccurately recorded, the History Project seeks to: collect oral histories; locate photographs, ephemera, objects and documents; and work with archives to insure the preservation of these materials; and create public programs such as exhibits, publications and presentations to communicate the collective experience we have uncovered.

In preparation for this activity I have read several ethnographies, conducted multiple ethnographic interviews, researched historical information, and completed other activities intended to establish a base line from which to build this ethnography. I have conducted ethnographic interviews; compiled data of ethnographic interviews conducted by others, and acquired archival materials produced by the identified organization. In this material I will look for obvious patterns and use triangulation to show hidden patterns within the fieldwork to built an over all picture that is intended to reveal the origins of the organizations model, funding efforts, the gender make up of the organization, discussion of the original members, creation of by-laws, and the activities that have made this group a success.    

Current members of the Mature Friends organization have compiled a set list of questions intended to reveal the creations of the organization. The list of questions was used to conduct interviews of six the founding members of the organization, each of whom gladly volunteered their time and memories to this project.

I conducted three additional interviews that were held of similar individuals out side of the organization, to be used with the intent of compare and contrast. The interview questions used were predetermined and have been published on Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project’s (NWLGHMP, aka The History Project) web site. In addition the museum project has conducted, and has on archive nearly one hundred additional interviews using the same list of questions published, it is my intent to use these archived interviews as needed. 

The Mature Friends organization has done a nice job of saving and archiving published news letters and papers starting from the year the organization were founded. I have reviewed these newsletters and papers for the purpose of, as mentioned in the above, rediscovering their history.


From the archived material, the interviews, and a considerable amount of reading of related and supporting material I was able to identify several reoccurring themes; Organizational founding, naming, vision & by laws, model, activities, fund raising, and the hurdles experienced as the organization continued to evolve and expand.

  1. Founding the Organization: At the center of the Mature Friends organization was a man with a vision, John Reed. John Reed saw the need for an organization for gays and lesbians over the age of fifty and from a Christmas potluck at the Wallingford Methodist Church with hand made aromatic evergreen center pieces a gathering of elderly men formed a group (Reeder, 2007. Morgan, 2007.). When ask ‘Why did you and others start Mature Friends?’ Don Moreland’s answer was “… somebody came to us with the idea and as with most organizations, there’s always a spark plug. And the spark plug for Mature Friends – the person who had the vision of what we ought to do, to begin with – was John Reeder. … he knew that I had some organizational skills, so he came to me more with the idea of what he wanted to do and have happen within the gay community … John got us all to go to a Christmas party. … He knew how to put a pot-luck kind of thing together, and everybody seemed to bring things. And there was a piano and we had Christmas carols and – it was just a really festive event. (Moreland, 2007.)”Due to the success of the Christmas party, John felt energized and passionate about keeping this type of activity going so he put together a plan and met up with Don Moreland and his partner Mick to take the next steps, a Valentine party. The site for the Valentine party was selected to be at the Grace Gospel Church in Ballard. According to John, “…they have a lovely social room in their basement, which they gave to us for no cost at all. And we sent out some invitations and we invited other people. And we decorated up the hall. We had very nice food. And I believe about twenty five people showed up.” This is a thirty percent increase from the attendance at the Christmas party.After another successful gathering, the Valentine party, this small group consisting of John Reeder, Eugene VanVoorhees, Don Moreland and his partner Mick decide it is time to start thinking about formalizing this group of individuals. At this point several other people are now interested and John decides to invite everyone over to his place located at Sixty-Eighth and Greenwood. At this meeting the discussion of the name of the group came up and much discussion occurred. It was clear from the start that words such as ‘Pink’ and ‘Lavender’ were discarded due to concerns of safety and being out’ed. One individual thought long and hard about the word ‘equal’ and wanted to use it as an acronym. He finely came up with Elderly Queers and Lesbians (EQUAL) which brought many laughs & chuckles but was again discarded for reasons safety concerns. With a dictionary in hand Art got out of his seat and sat in the middle of the floor, after flipping though the pages for a while he finely came up with a name the group throught was acceptable and catchy, Mature Friends.      Given there were concerns about safety and being out’ed John wanted to make sure these concerns were abated from the beginning, “I had suggested and advocated very strongly, that we evolve as if this group had been in existence for a long, long time — that we were well-established, that we were safe, that we were reliable, that we were dependable, that we were moving forward, and that we had a mission and that we were accomplishing it. Now, that may sound funny, but it was enormously important because people then had confidence.”  Mature Friends was established and has functioned successfully sense 1989.
  2. Naming the Organization: There was a good deal of thought given to the naming of the organization. When the organization was created in 1989 many of its members were not openly gay so words typically associated with gay culture were intentionally discarded (e.g. pink, lavender). Yet, the organization wanted a name that reflected the general make up of its members. One member recalls “John [the unofficial leader at the time] had a dictionary, … he got out of his chair and he sat on the floor with this dictionary, and all of a sudden he came up, “Mature Friends’. And we all agreed, okay, that’s the name. That sounds good. So that is how the name came about (Morgan, 2007).”  The name Mature Friends was overwhelmingly accepted.
  3. Organizational Vision & By Laws: Initially the organization was intended to be a 501(c)3, a not for profit organization. The original by-laws state the organizational purpose as follows; Mature Friends shall function as a non-profit, non-partisan resource organization to provide social activities, education and human services, creative housing solutions, to protect again discrimination and other considerations appropriate [ individuals over 40 in the Lesbian and Gay Community, and friends] to men and women over 40 in the Gay Community.  The intention to become a 501(c)3 was later dropped and the organization continued on as a socially active organization.
  4. Organizational Model: There has been no one specific organizational model used for Mature Friends. The SAGE organization was looked at from New York but was considered to be far beyond what Mature Friends wanted to undertake. Prime Timers in Vancouver, Canada was visited and a joint activity was scheduled with them but nothing more ever evolved. However, according to one of the founding members, John Reeder, the one model he referred to as needed during the setup and creation of Mature Friends was the same model and concept used for Alcoholics Anonymous – Twelve Traditions. Being self-sufficient, Mature Friends raises their funds to be used as the organization deems necessary. It was also agreed from the beginning that Mature Friends would not have opinions on outside issues such as politics as there was a concern that taking a political stand may cause dissention with in the organization. And lastly, the idea anonymity was very strong for many; mailing lists and contact lists were kept out of sight and not shared with anyone.
  5. Organizational Activities: A key element to the organization’s growth has been its activities and has always remained strong.
    1. Cruises – Cruises have ranged from short 4 and 5 day trips and much longer trips that have taken its members all over the world. One thing I would like to mention about the cruises was a discrete technique gay people used to meet in public areas while on the cruises.  Eugene states, “ … there was something that developed within the cruise line industry that is there today, and that was the Friends of Dorothy. We started the Friends of Dorothy to — the object was to let gay people on the ship know that there were other gay people. … We got the ship to put it in their daily bulletin, and that’s how we started meeting new people and that’s how some of those people started coming on the cruises. To this day it still goes on. Norwegian Cruise Line has it in every publication. … (Voorhees, 2007)” these traditions have continued to grow. There is now a rather successful travel company by the name of Friends of Dorothy: Special Interest Travel that caters predominately to the gay community and some of their cruises are typically booked several months in advance. However, there is one common misconception made that should be mentioned “A lot of people think that it [Dorothy] refers to Judy Garland, but really it refers to Dorothy Parker, back in the early … 20s and 30s … she was very active in the gay community. And there’s been some literature, … written about …. That’s really the Dorothy (Simmons, 2007). More can be read about Dorothy and her legacy at   

    2. Garden Tours – The organization was fortunate enough to have a master gardener in their ranks, Glen Hunt. Glen coordinated many garden tours that took members all over Western Washington and occasionally into Eastern Washington.  Eugene speaks highly of Glen Hunts efforts in coordinating the garden tour activities, “We had some members that were really outstanding in developing some specific garden tours. And the garden tours were very successful; Glen Hunt was the one that developed this. And he did an outstanding job of not only knowing the plants and knowing the places to go, but he was a lot of fun. We always had a fun trip. (Voorhees, 2007)” It was also mentioned that the garden tour activities was something most everyone was able to participate in as it was priced affordably from most any economic budget. 
    3. Potlucks – Out of all the activities it is my opinion and those interviewed that the potlucks have been the most successful of the Mature Friends activities. Not only did this provide all members with a regularly scheduled chance to come together with friends but they were organized in a way that has continually been a main source of revenue. See the fundraising section of this paper for additional details.
    4. Progressive Dinners – Progressive dinners were picked up in the beginning and were some what successful but over time the demand for them was lacking and eventually they stopped occurring.
    5. Pinochle and Bridge – Cards games always seem to draw members in and Mature Friends is no different. The bridge group continues to meet regularly for afternoons and evenings with friends.
  6. Fundraising: Fundraising has been very important to the organization, in the beginning and is still so today. It is vital to the organization in order for it to maintain its financial independence. The pot-luck has been the most successful in keeping a steady flow of funding coming into the organization. The group was very creative in coordinating this activity. A ‘suggested’ donation of five dollars is taken at the door, it is my understanding that most everyone pays the five dollars but should an individual find him or herself a little short of cash they are not required to pay, hence the suggested donated. This is a pot-luck and as is expected many people do bring dishes of food to be shared with everyone in attendance. This works out great for the organization as no costly catering is required and the donations taken in are used to pay for any other items needed at the pot-luck and what fund are left are banked into the organizations treasury to pay for meeting space and day to day operations. Also in the beginning, in order to get some reserves amassed in their bank account a rummage sale was pulled together and several thousand dollars was raised, allowing the organization to get off to a great start.
  7. Organizational Hurdles: In addition to many successful activities and endeavors this organization has discovered a few areas that could use more attention and when possible has made efforts to address them. One such issue Mature Friends has experienced from the inception of the organization is attracting and maintaining a female/lesbian membership over extended periods of time and a second concern for some members of Mature Friends is that of maintaining and attracting the next generation as they age into the organization target age range.
    1. Gender Gap: There have been lesbian members in the organization and at one point a woman served on the board but over an extended period of time those members participation in the organization dwindled. This is an issue that has been is touched on briefly in the interviews but no in-depth opinions were given. I have given the matter a great deal of time and consideration, and have come up with the following a hypothesis that has been included in the discussion section of this paper.
  1. Generational Gap: Another concern for some members of Mature Friends is that of maintaining and attracting the next generation as they age into the organization target age range. To address this concern the age limit has been lowered to from 50 years old to 40 years old. When Don Moreland was asked about his opinion on lowering the age limit his response was: “I don’t think it’s a matter of what we say the age limit is. It’s a question of, when do people identify with us and what we do? And just as I was saying I can’t do a lot of what I used to do. And it only happens when this arthritis hits me, and I have a hard time really walking. And it happened when we were in Las Vegas one night, the night we arrived, and the next day it was gone and we just had a great time. But every so often, I can’t do – and I think a lot of our members now are getting older, and so we need younger people. But I don’t think it’s a matter of anything we do. I think we have to be more welcoming to young people, and have interesting programs. (Moreland, 2007)”  Don goes on to speak of a few ways the organization is addressing this concern and one such item is the selection of the guest speakers for the pot-lucks.



“Social support becomes an increasingly important resource for people as they age. Research has shown that the needs of older gay men are no different than those of their heterosexual counterparts, nor are older gay men more isolated than older men in general. Research has shown gay men rely on friendship networks more often than on family while heterosexual men rely more on family for social support. … Even though, the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the subsequent Gay Rights Movement forced Americans to acknowledge the presence of gay and lesbian people in society.” And “… with the advent of the AIDS pandemic.. . Family members often abandoned gay men because of the ignorance and fear surrounding the virus. Gay men’s friends became the primary …” focus for social and nurturing needs (Shippy, Cantor, & Breennan. 2004).

While it is clear that social networks play a critical role in the lives of older people, little empirical research exists on the nature and extent of the social networks of older gay men. Previous studies of gay men have found that most have several gay friends who function as a “chosen family” and are important components of the social network In fact, friends may be one of the most important sources of social support for older gay men. While research has disproved the negative stereotype of older gay men as socially isolated, the extent to which older gay men are socially integrated within their biological families and their friendship network remains largely unexplored (Shippy, Cantor, & Breennan. 2004). It is my belief that social needs of the generation associated and belonging to Mature Friends is in fact the catalyst that brought this organization in to existence.

In the following I will list the items from the finding section and will discuss them further with my own analysis.

  1. Founding the Organization: The founding of the organization has been clearly described in the findings section of the paper and does not need additional analysis in the discussion section.
  2. Naming the Organization: The naming of the organization has been clearly described in the findings section of the paper and does not need additional analysis in the discussion section.
  3. Vision & By Laws: For the most part Mature Friends has held true to the organizations original intent of functioning as a non-profit, non-partisan resource organization. Providing social activities, education and human services to protect again discrimination. However there is one exception, creative housing solutions. I do not believe the group lost its desire for this particular need, even though it is not in the interviews. I believe the desire and need for assisted living and elderly care still exists. What has changed is a shift is the socioeconomic make up of or our society and the offering of housing solutions for Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgender individuals and couples is now available with in the Untied States. To date, I am not aware of any with in the Pacific Northwest, but communities have been developed for this segment of the population and do exist in the Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
  4. Organizational Model: The model of the organization has been clearly described in the findings section of the paper and does not need additional analysis in the discussion section.
  5. Activities: The activities of the organization have been clearly described in the findings section of the paper and does not need additional analysis in the discussion section.
  6. Fundraising: The fundraising of the organization has been clearly described in the findings section of the paper and does not need additional analysis in the discussion section.
  7. Organizational Hurdles: In addition to many successful activities and endeavors this organization has discovered a few areas that could use more attention and when possible has made efforts to address them. One such issue Mature Friends has had trouble with from the beginning is attracting and maintaining a female/lesbian membership over extended periods of time and a second concern for some members of Mature Friends is that of maintaining and attracting the next generation as they age into the organization target age range.
    1. Gender Gap: My analysis of the gender gap within the Mature Friends organization is as follows. The current and past members of this organization are members of a generation that have seen many changes and have experienced several different movements over the past fifty to sixty years, the Gay Rights movement, the Feminist movement, and the Civil Rights movement. This organization was initially started by a man, John Reeder, with a vision. As I listened to the interviews it became clear John’s leadership style has its origins based in patriarchy, a leadership style that lends its self well to a hierarchy.  This hierarchy is the structure used for the elected positions in Mature Friends, president, vice president, secretary, treasurer. This is a leadership structure that seems to fit well with men but may not be the best fit for a generation of women who may be of the same age bracket but have had a significantly different experience and as a result are somewhat sensitive to this leadership style.These women also have the knowledge and experience of the feminist movement. As part of the feminist movement we now better understand some of the fundamental differences between women and men. Author Deborah Tannen suggests that women are naturally inclusive and collaborative in their leadership styles and as such women are more likely to desire a collective consensus on any decisions being made, a leadership style that is more commonly associated with a matrilineal style of leadership. From my own experiences and observations I have believe this to be a true statement (Tannen, 1990).In addition to the Feminist movement there was also the separation that occurred with in the Gay Rights movement, that being the separation of gays and lesbians. Lesbians felt they were being over shadowed by gay men with regards to media coverage and as a result their needs were not being given the visibility required to get them addressed. Both groups made a conscious decision to pursue the rights and needs most important to them and as a result there were several different factions with in the Gay Rights movement (Marcus, 2002. pg154).

      I suspect it is these differences between gay men and lesbains that have contributed to the gender gap experienced by Mature Friends. Example: Prior to the first official Mature Friends meeting there was an attempt by a few men to join in with a lesbian group that held the name of Lavender Panthers. It was suggested in the interviews that when John had an idea and wanted to run with it that established members of Lavender Panthers group may have held some resentment as they felt a man was attempting to take over and a collective agreement had not been made on John suggestion.

      I will also state that there are many factors that can also come into play when describing the differences between gay men and lesbians. When reading over the interviews a second, third and froth time it was obvious many situations were experienced and if each were analyzed closely it is my belief many of those could be explained as I have done so in the above paragraphs. 

    2. Generational Gap: The generational gap of the organization has been clearly described in the findings section of the paper and does not need additional analysis in the discussion section.



During the creation of Mature Friends the founding members were able to quickly access and determine the needs to be met in order to get the organization off the ground. The concern for and requirement of anonymity was very strong for many when the organization is continuing to create a environment of safety and this element is still honored for those who wish to continue their anonymity.

Mature Friends has continued to serve as a non-partisan resource organization to provide social activities, education, and human services which clearly falls into alignment with the organizations original intent. So the founders were spot when placing these elements into their original by-laws. In doing so Mature Friends was able to fulfill a need by creating a social network for those who had been alienated by their families and/or by AIDS pandemic, as well as those who simply looking for a new social outlet.

Be it by mistake or intentional, John Reed and the other founding members had their collective finger on the pulse of a need for an entire generation of gay men located in the Northwest and was instrumental in the coordination of Mature Friends as an organization to support the needs of this generation. 

The organization’s continued success can be directly attributed to all the members who bring their strengths and passions in all the organization’s endeavors. It is my understanding and belief that Mature Friends is continuing to make the right decisions and is moving the organization in a direction in a direction for sustainability and organizational growth.


Miller, Ed & Ordway, Ray. Personal Interview. 9 February, 2006. Conducted by Mature Friends History Subcommittee for Mature Friends.

Morgan, Art. Personal Interview. 21 September, 2006. Conducted by Mature Friends History Subcommittee for Mature Friends.

Moreland, Don. Personal Interview. 15 December, 2006. Conducted by Mature Friends History Subcommittee for Mature Friends.

Reeder, John. Personal Interview. 18 July, 2006. Conducted by Mature Friends History Subcommittee for Mature Friends.

Simmons, Joe. Personal Interview. 15 December, 2006. Conducted by Mature Friends History Subcommittee for Mature Friends.

VanVoorhees, Eugene. Personal Interview. 17 August, 2006. Conducted by Mature Friends History Subcommittee for Mature Friends.

Loughery, J. (1998). The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives and Gay Identities – A Twentieth Century History. New York, Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

Marcus, E. (2002). Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight For Lesbian And Gay Equal Rights. New York, HarpersCollins Publishers Inc.

Martin Duberman, M. V., George Chancey Jr. (1980). Hidden From History: Reclaiming The Gay & Lesbian Past. New York, Penguin Books USA Inc.

Miller, N. (2006). Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History From 1869 To The Present. New York, Alyson Books.

Northwest Lesbian And Gay History Museum Project (2002).  Mosaic 1: Life Stories From Isolation To Community. Seattle, Northwest Lesbian And Gay History Museum Project.

Garnich, Danielle. Personal Interview. 25 February, 2007. Conducted by Beau Williams for Northwest Lesbian And Gay History Museum Project.

Naisbitt, Candace. Personal Interview. 16 October, 2006. Conducted by Ruth Pettis & Beau Williams for Northwest Lesbian And Gay History Museum Project.

Sibon, Richard. Personal Interview. 25 February, 2007. Conducted by Beau Williams for Northwest Lesbian And Gay History Museum Project.

Shippy, R. Andrew, Cantor, Marjorie H., Brennan, Mark. Journal of Men’s Studies. Harriman: Fall 2004.Vol. 13, Iss. 1; pg. 107

Tannen, Daborah. 2001. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York , HarperCollins Publishing Inc..

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Survey: What advice would you give to individuals that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and are immigrating?

Posted on December 19, 2009. Filed under: Surveys |

Survey Results: A few weeks ago we ask the question “What advice would you give to individuals that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and are immigrating?”

From M. in Seattle, USA:
Connect with friendly groups in advance, take their advice on where to live and other support services, at least initially until you are familiar with your new area. Find ways to bring your culture along as well…

From W. in Sydney, Australia:
I would let them know that provided they can prove they have been together a certain amount of time they can include their partner on most visas which they could not do until recently.

From B. in Seattle, USA:
If possible know the differences on who gay culture is viewed between your culture of origin and the culture in which you are immigrating and be careful of stereotypes as they can lead you down a wrong path.

From D.S., Location Unknown:
The advice I would offer would have to depend on where they are going and is being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender a crime in the area your coming from or going to. Know the laws and customs, do not assume anything.

What comments or advice would you give?

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Gloria and Partner

Posted on December 18, 2009. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

Gloria (U.S.) & Partner (Argentina)

This story is located at:

I live in Miami, Florida, and my partner has relocated to Vancouver, Canada in order to be closer to me. After living together for two years in South Florida, she returned home to visit her family and friends as well as to secure a student visa to work on a new degree at a local community college. To her surprise, the US embassy refused her student visa request and in the process denied her re-entry into the U.S., claiming she did not have significant ties to her native Argentina. We were shocked and began looking for ways to be together legally. We searched and searched for alternatives, but could not find any path. We eventually decided that the only way to remain together was to have her move to a third country (Canada). I am trying to find a solution but may soon be forced to leave my successful business practice in Florida to move to Canada. I’m a small business owner in the state of Florida and a respected professional in my field for over 10 years and am distraught at the possibility of having to walk away from a business into which I poured so much energy, funds, and creation to be with my partner. The discrimination is simply unjustifiable and yes, this destroys lives.

This story is located at:

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    Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Immigration Stories – A Collective Wisdom


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