Stories

Maria (UK) and Jess (US)

Posted on September 13, 2012. Filed under: Stories | Tags: , , , , , , , |

This is a love story, but not a typical one – at least not one you read about in novels and see on the screen at the cinema. Unfortunately, our story IS typical in that it is a reality for thousands of couples whose love does not see borders or miles and their sexual orientation does not give them an option for an easy fix. This is the predicament Maria and I have found ourselves in, though compared to many others, our solution IS rather easy. I am from America and Maria is from the UK; thankfully one of us is from a country that recognizes same sex unions for the sake of immigration. However, I haven’t made the process as seamless as it could have been with my past mistakes and criminal history. Because America does not recognize same sex marriage federally, Maria is not eligible to immigrate to the States as my wife; however, the UK is far more progressive and allows immigration for same sex partners. If we want to be together that means leaving everything and everyone I have known to move to England, which is something I would gladly do, except for the bind my criminal history has put us in.

Maria and I first met on a silly internet site in October of 2009, when I was 26 and she was 33. We became instant friends, and while I had a romantic interest in her, Maria made it clear that friendship was all she was looking for. By week two of talking I insisted that Maria would become my wife (I even took to calling her My Future Wife). Maria, however, was having none of it. She did not entertain my romantic notions, and what grew in place of obsession and lust was meaningful conversation and genuine interest in the other. For a year, she was the girl I called my best friend. We emailed each other every day, and spent a lot of time on MSN messenger. We occasionally chatted on the webcam and wrote little notes to each other that we would scan to the other. She told me about her life and I told her about mine – our journeys were very different on the surface, but internally we were both going through major tectonic shifts.

She flew to Denver, CO, USA in September of 2010, and we spent three and a half wonderful weeks together. I pulled out all of the charm I could summon – I knew because of the distance I would never get another chance and it was now or never. I loved the girl, and I needed to show her why she should love me, too. Over a holiday in the mountains and a trip to the west coast our love began to develop and by the time she got back on her plane to return to London we were equally balanced. We were unsure what was to happen next, or how we would proceed, but both of us were prepared to give this a chance to grow. We did not let fear stop us or slow us down. We knew we had found love in each other, and that love was too special to the both of us to allow it to be stunted.

In December 2010 I boarded a plane to go to England. I originally thought my tourist visa would only be for three months, so when I was questioned by an entry clearance officer, I stated my length of stay to be three months. Here is where I ran into my first snag: I didn’t have the funds to support myself in London for three months and, unfamiliar with English phone numbers, I wrote down Maria’s mobile number incorrectly. I was detained by the entry clearance officer for several hours until Maria was able to contact the person handling my case. After both of us were interviewed several times, I was released into the country with a six month tourist visa!

The months that followed can only be described as the best months of my life. Both Maria and I knew we were merely in a trial period to see if we would work out. We didn’t have the luxury of merely dating and carrying on with our own lives like a typical couple – I left my own country and moved into her flat to see if we were compatible. She supported me and I became her housewife, and we found that not only was living with each other a complete joy, but that we couldn’t imagine living without the other. I decided to stay the full six months my visa allowed, and we let our relationship develop into something bigger than the both of us imagined. We realized pretty early on that we had something extraordinary, and we were both aware that the time was ticking on my visa, so we did what a lot of couples do when they feel their backs against the wall – we decided to tie the knot.

Luckily, England is not only a country that allows civil partnerships, but it allows same sex immigration. We filled out an application to the Home Office for a Certificate of Approval, which basically gave us permission to enter into our partnership, as I was technically not allowed to get married under a tourist visa. We in no way actually qualified for the Certificate of Approval according to the guidelines, and after reading that the scheme was to be abolished, we wrote to the Home Office to obtain our passports so that we could go on a holiday abroad before I had to return to the States. It took quite a few emails, phone calls, and faxed requests before our passports were sent back to us, but by April of 2011 we received them in the mail…and, along with it, our Certificate of Approval!

We set our wedding date for May 26th, 2011, at the Southwark Registry Office in London, UK. We had a wedding to plan and not a lot of time. However, typical of Maria and me, we prioritized – we went on our honeymoon before our wedding. I’m not sure why I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be allowed back in the country on my tourist visa, but it wasn’t something that we had thought through. My visa was due to expire in June of 2011, and the plan was to go on honeymoon in Portugal, fly back into London and get married, and then fly back to the US to apply for a settlement visa. It was going to be a stressful few months, but we were prepared for it. What we weren’t prepared for was the threat of not being able to get married – I was detained once more at the airport by an entry clearance officer, who was prepared to put me on the next flight back to America, this time because I did not hold the correct visa to enter into marriage in the UK. We had surrendered the actual Certificate of Approval to the registry office when we had given our notice, but we had all of the documentation from the Home Office that came with it, and after what seemed like hours of questioning and explaining, I was given a new six month tourist visa, and Maria was allowed to take me back to our home.

May 26th, 2011. It was simply the best day of my life. None of my family could make it, nor could any of my friends. Our wedding was so last minute that no one was prepared for it when I called with the news. It didn’t matter to me, though. I was setting out to do what I had said I would do two years before: I was marrying my best friend. The joining of our paths were blessed with love from my own family, and the attendance of hers. Our day couldn’t have been any sweeter.

Our lives as a married couple were wonderful, but they weren’t without more immigration drama. In July of 2011 I was served with papers informing me that I was to check in weekly in person with the Home Office, as an investigation had been launched and the process had been started to deport me. The charge on the documentation was ‘deception,’ which is something neither of us could figure out. Maria came with me to my first appointment, but she was made to sit in the front lobby while I was taken into a back room. The entry clearance officer explained to me that when I entered the country in December of 2010 I stated that I would be visiting for three months. He went on to say that I did not state that I planned on getting married. Therefore, he concluded, I had entered the country via deception. I was stunned. Those things were true. I DID state I was only going to be in the country for three months and I DIDN’T say Maria and I were going to get married because marriage wasn’t a word on either of our lips. I was in a state of shock and fear and requested Maria to be brought into the back room so that the charge could be explained to her. Her eyes were as big as mine as the entry clearance officer went through the explanation again. It was clear both of us felt like we’d been kicked in the stomach. I was made to surrender my passport and after looking through it, the officer was clearly troubled that I had another visa that he hadn’t known about. It took months for him to find my landing card and the notes that came with it – luckily the entry clearance officer at the airport wrote down absolutely every detail about my stay, why I was entering the country, our Certificate of Approval, and our intention to get married. After checking in with the Home Office every week for several months, never knowing if I was going to be deported, the charges of deception were dropped and once again, I was allowed to live out the remainder of my time in the UK with Maria peacefully…or as peaceful as you can get knowing that soon it would come to distances…

My second tourist visa expired in November 2011. I returned to the States on the 12th of November with a thick packet of prepared documents for my settlement visa application, as I was not allowed to apply for the visa to live with Maria from within the UK (this was because I entered into our civil partnership on a tourist visa). I sent my documents, along with my application, in to the British Embassy in New York. I was scared that my application would be rejected due to prior criminal convictions for offences that had occurred years before, but everything had gone our way despite the odds, so I was strangely optimistic that I would be returning home to my wife in a month. I commenced to visit family in three different states to catch up on what I had missed during the year I was away, and to say my goodbyes. Maria joined me for three and a half weeks during the Christmas holiday, and it was at this time that she finally got to meet all of my family. They instantly loved her and could see the love we had for each other, so their fears and sadness over seeing me leave the country turned into well wishes for us, and prayers for my speedy return.

The day before Maria was set to head back to London I was notified by my immigration solicitor that my application had been denied. The feeling that accompanied my rejection is indescribable – we were filled with fear and uncertainty, as well as a gut wrenching sadness. We had no idea what lay in the path ahead of us; there was no way to properly set our expectations for what would happen next, when we would be able to see each other again, and when I would be coming home. For me, there was fear over practical matters like where I was going to live – I had no housing established for myself, nor a job to supply an income. I was in an uproar over what I was going to do, and putting Maria on a plane the next day was one of the worst experiences I had ever had. Before, we had dealt with every immigration stress together, but as she went through the security gates of the airport we both knew that we were going to have to learn to rely on each other in very different ways.

It is now August 22nd, 2012. I have now been living in America without my wife, Maria, for more than nine months. That seems like a long time when I say it to myself, and it certainly feels like a long time – she and I have both grown and changed in small ways, and in big ways, too – but compared to many others, nine months is nothing. Maria and I were prepared to fight our refusal for as long and as hard as we needed to. We appealed the decision made by the embassy and my case was heard by a tribunal judge in the UK a month ago – on July 16th, to be exact. Maria was my voice – I could not attend my own hearing so not only did Maria do all of the legal work required to make a sound argument in my defense, but she argued it in front of the judge. I cannot imagine the bravery and confidence this would have taken, and my admiration of her, and my love for her fierce determination, has given me a new respect for my wife. She is always willing to fight for me, and she is always ready to do whatever is needed to bring me home. If not for her, I do not think we would have made it through this time. She is my determination and my hope when I have none for myself, she is my reminder of a life better than I can dream up on my own, she is my heart, my voice, and my smile when I feel empty.

We received our response from the tribunal judge on the 27th of July. In the response, the judge addressed my side of the argument, and the entry clearance officer’s side. I was surprised and overwhelmed to read how the judge tore the Embassy’s argument to shreds, saying that our case should never have gone to court because compassionate circumstances should have been taken into account on my behalf. Not only that, but the judge supported our argument of why I must move to the UK as opposed to Maria moving to the US (in my rejection letter the entry clearance officer stated ‘I am…aware that there is nothing in UK law or US law which prohibits your spouse from traveling to the USA and enjoying family life with you in that country.’ Our rebuttal to that statement was to quote DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage to be between a man and a woman], and to provide proof that immigration for same sex marriages isn’t federally recognized). The judge not only ruled in our favour and has granted me my visa, she also ruled that Maria and I get a refund on the costs for our appeal. That doesn’t give us the last eight months of our lives back, but it does give us validation that we have fought the good fight.

The Home Office have 28 days to appeal the decision made by the judge, but it is highly unlikely that they will. We are still in limbo, but the uncertainty is not nearly as bad now that we know it is only a matter of time before I come home. We are now waiting for the embassy to contact me requesting my passport – once my visa is in there and it is sent back to me I’ll be on a plane home, and we can resume our lives and try to build our future together.

We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and about each other during this time of stress and strain. We’ve fought more apart more than we’ve ever argued together, but we’ve also learned how to love in different ways, and how to appreciate the other for who she is rather than who we want her to be. Our love grows stronger with the days, and though I am still stuck in America for an indefinite amount of time, and we are still unsure of when we will see each other again, we know that it is only a matter of time before I come home and our paths merge together again, this time, we hope, for forever. If there is anything worth fighting for it is a love like this – it is the kind of love one only finds once in a lifetime, and for many it never comes at all. For all of the fear, pain, and uncertainty we’ve had in our lives, we’ve had an equal amount of love, support, and hope. We do not know what the future holds for us, but one thing is for sure – together the future is incredibly brighter.

Written by Jess and Maria

This story is also located at: http://mattcarey.co.uk/maria_jess/

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Tina (U.S) & Anke (Germany)

Posted on March 20, 2010. Filed under: Stories | Tags: , , , , |

Anke and I met online in 2007 through a women’s group that I had created in an attempt to make friends in the lesbian community. She was one of the total five women who joined and the only one interested in getting to know me better. I always tell Anke it was fate for us to meet!

We didn’t start exchanging emails until a few months after the group was created, but needless to say when the emails started, they never stopped. It was an instant connection neither one of us could deny nor stop. The only problem was that she lived in Germany and I in the states.

Later after many emails, phone calls and chat sessions, it was very clear to us that we had to meet. Anke flew to Seattle in September 2007 and stayed with me for a month. From that point on, we realized that we couldn’t be apart. Anke flew back to Seattle that year a few times staying each time for about a month. Saying goodbye was torture! On her last visit in March 2008, we decided it was time for me to fly and experience Germany.

In July 2008 I flew to Germany / love of my life, to decide if I could live in Germany in case we weren’t able to win the green card lottery. Unfortunately, we lost and had to make the choice, or rather sacrifice, of giving up my life and our dream of living together in Seattle.

At the end of July 2008 I flew back to Seattle and started preparing for my move to Germany. It would be five months before we would see each other again. After giving up practically everything I own and many goodbyes later, Anke flew to Seattle in December 2008 to pick me up so we could fly back to Germany together.

A few days after arriving in Germany I was enrolled in language classes (a requirement of the government to marry and live here) and in March 2009 we married legally (this was, of course after I popped the question in Paris during my July visit). I continued my language courses for 8 months (another requirement of the government) in order for me to get an extension on my visa. Only after three years, even though we are legally married, can I apply for permanent residency here, not citizenship, just the right to permanently reside here.

Even though we are legally married here in Germany, life is not always easy for us. I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant for 13 years caring for elderly people who have been afflicted with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and my wife works as a fund accountant. Although I am allowed to work here in Germany, my license does not translate here and my language skills are not enough to work in that particular field. We are forced to live off of one income at the moment, which thankfully is enough.

I know it’s only been a year since I have lived here in Germany, but I miss my life back home (the country my wife considers home), my career, friends, family and the American culture, however, being apart is not an option for us. We both have given up alot but refuse to give in! We will keep on fighting until we make our dream come true. We are thankful to be together knowing what the months apart felt like.

We hope the laws will change soon before anyone else has to give up their entire life and be separated from their loved ones. Our journey has been an emotional roller coaster but we have each other and that is the most important thing. We hope everyone will continue to fight and support each other even if things get tough. We all deserve freedom and no one should be allowed to dictate that fundamental right!

Written by Tina and co-written by her step mother Imelda

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Tim Coco (US) and Genesio “Junior” Oliveira (Brazil)

Posted on February 24, 2010. Filed under: Stories, Stories - from other sites |

Genesio Oliveira, Gay Brazilian Married To Massachusetts Man, Is Denied Asylum
BOSTON — A gay Brazilian man has been denied asylum by the Obama administration and won’t be reunited with his Massachusetts husband in the U.S., the husband said Monday.
Tim Coco said Attorney General Eric Holder did not act on a Friday deadline in the case of Genesio “Junior” Oliveira, effectively denying the 30-year-old Brazilian man’s request for asylum in the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.

“We needed the Attorney General to make a decision on whether Junior could come home,” said Coco, 48, of Haverhill. “He didn’t take this request seriously.”
The Justice Department did not immediately return messages.

In 2002, Oliveira had sought asylum in the U.S. because he said he was raped as a teenager in Brazil. But an immigration judge denied his request, and Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said in a letter that Oliveira repeatedly remarked at his hearing that he “was never physically harmed” by anyone in Brazil. Coco, however, said Oliveira was referring to street beatings and wasn’t clear during his hearing about the harm he faced because of the rape.
The Associated Press does not typically name rape victims, but Oliveira speaks openly about his case and allows his name to be used.

Oliveira returned to Brazil in 2007 after losing an appeal. Before he left, he and Coco married in Massachusetts in 2005 and bought a house together.

According to federal immigration law, immigrants also can apply for residency if they marry U.S. citizens. But the federal government does not recognize gay marriages under the Defense of Marriage Act, and Oliveira’s request to remain in the United States based on his relationship with Coco was denied this year.

In March, Sen. John Kerry asked Attorney General Eric Holder to grant Oliveira asylum on humanitarian grounds.

Kerry spokeswoman Brigid O’Rourke said Monday that the senator will continue to work toward a solution that would reunite the couple for good.

“The fact is that if Tim and Junior were a heterosexual married couple, they would never have suffered through more than two years of separation,” said O’Rourke.

Coco said he thought there was “no way” the Obama Administration would deny Oliveira’s asylum request after Kerry made his plea to Holder.

“We are profoundly sad,” said Coco. “This is more than any married should have to face.”
The case comes as Obama tries to smooth a rocky relationship with gay activists, who want him to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays, which he has pledged to do but hasn’t given a timeline. Tens of thousands of gay rights supporters marched in Washington earlier this month, demanding Obama keep his promise to end the policy.

Coco said he has spent about $250,000 in legal bills and hasn’t seen Oliveira since January, though the two video chat online every night.

Oliveira was denied a visa to return to Massachusetts last year for the funeral of Coco’s mother.

Oliveira now lives with his mother, helping her run a boarding house for students.
Coco said the couple plans to launch a legal challenge against the federal Defense of Marriage Act as a violation of immigration laws.

“This is our last shot, if nothing else works,” said Coco. “But we think we can pull this off with the right legal counsel.”

O’Rourke said Kerry supports the couple’s legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also called for a law to extend benefits to domestic partners.

This month, Obama called on Congress to repeal the Defense Of Marriage Act.
While Brazilians are generally more tolerant of homosexual conduct than their neighbors in Latin America, the country remains something of a paradox. Judges have granted foreign partners in gay relationships the right to residency and have authorized civil unions that bestow many of the same benefits of marriage to gay couples, but many segments of society remain openly hostile to homosexuals.

A handful of transgender men and women from Brazil also have been granted asylum in the U.S. based on testimony that they had been victims of violence.

Since 1994, sexual orientation has been grounds for asylum in the United States after a ruling by then-Attorney General Janet Reno. Dozens of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa have won asylum on that ground, according to Immigration Equality, a New York-based nonprofit group that helps gay clients with immigration cases.

However, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services doesn’t keep data on asylum cases won on sexual orientation claims.
This story is located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/27/genesio-oliveira-gay-braz_n_335376.html

Story continued:
Immigration Judges Often Picked Based On GOP Ties
Law Forbids Practice; Courts Being Reshaped

By Amy Goldstein and Dan Eggen

The Bush administration increasingly emphasized partisan political ties over expertise in recent years in selecting the judges who decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, despite laws that preclude such considerations, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

At least one-third of the immigration judges appointed by the Justice Department since 2004 have had Republican connections or have been administration insiders, and half lacked experience in immigration law, Justice Department, immigration court and other records show.
Two newly appointed immigration judges were failed candidates for the U.S. Tax Court nominated by President Bush; one fudged his taxes and the other was deemed unqualified to be a tax judge by the nation’s largest association of lawyers. Both were Republican loyalists.
Justice officials also gave immigration judgeships to a New Jersey election law specialist who represented GOP candidates, a former treasurer of the Louisiana Republican Party, a White House domestic policy adviser and a conservative crusader against pornography.

These appointments, all made by the attorney general, have begun to reshape a system of courts in which judges, ruling alone, exercise broad powers — deporting each year nearly a quarter-million immigrants, who have limited rights to appeal and no right to an attorney. The judges do not serve fixed terms.

Department officials say they changed their hiring practices in April but defend their selections. Still, the injection of political considerations into the selection of immigration judges has attracted congressional attention in the wake of controversy over the Bush administration’s dismissal last year of nine U.S. attorneys.

The Post analysis is the first systematic examination of the people appointed to immigration courts, the relationships that led to their selection and the experience they brought to their position. The review, based on Justice records and research into the judges’ backgrounds, encompassed the 37 current judges approved by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, starting in 2004.

That year is when the Justice Department began to jettison the civil service process that traditionally guided the selections in favor of political considerations, according to sworn congressional testimony by one senior department official and a statement by the lawyer for another official.

Those two officials, D. Kyle Sampson and Monica M. Goodling, have said they were told the practice was legal. But Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said that immigration judges are considered civil service employees who may not be chosen based on political factors, unlike judges in federal criminal courts.

All the judges appointed during this period who arrived with experience in immigration law were prosecutors or held other immigration enforcement jobs. That was a reversal of a trend during the Clinton administration in which the Justice Department sought to balance such appointees with ones who had been attorneys representing immigrants, according to current and former immigration judges.

Boyd said in a written statement that judges appointed during the Bush administration are “well qualified for their current positions” and that “outstanding immigration judges can come from diverse backgrounds.” Boyd also said that race and ethnicity are not factors in hiring but cited statistics showing that immigration courts are “considerably more diverse” than other kinds of courts.

The department launched a new hiring program in April that requires public announcements of open positions and detailed evaluations and interviews, with a final decision still in the hands of the attorney general. The action came partly in response to a lawsuit by a veteran immigration counsel who alleged discrimination when she was passed over for two judgeships.
Some judges and other immigration experts are highly critical of the administration’s practice of placing political allies on the courts. “When we start seeing people who look like [they’re fulfilling] someone’s political debt get these positions, it starts to become disturbing,” said Crystal Williams, a deputy director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“Immigration law is very complex,” said Denise Slavin, an immigration judge since 1995 in Miami, who is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, a union. “So generally speaking, it’s very good to have someone coming into this area with [an] immigration background. It’s very difficult, for those who don’t, to catch up.”

Mike Hethmon, general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which advocates stricter border policies, said, however, that a strong legal background is more important than immigration experience. “The qualities of a good adjudicator don’t necessarily focus on the subject matter,” he said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has said it is employing the nation’s 54 immigration courts, with 226 judges, as a central tool of its anti-terrorism policies, using them to deport hundreds of noncitizens who were detained as terrorism suspects but were not charged with crimes.

In 2002, it created stiffer guidelines for appeals and wrote new rules sharply reducing the number of judges who hear them, partly to reduce a large case backlog. That has made it harder for people deemed unwanted by the government to stay in the country.
The infusion of politics into the selection of judges began in the midst of this transformation of the court system. Sampson and Goodling, who participated in the prosecutor firings, did not say which immigration judges had been selected for their political leanings. But records and interviews reveal the Republican ties of many.

One was Glen L. Bower, whom Bush initially nominated to the tax court. He was never confirmed because lawmakers noted that his amended tax returns showed he had taken inappropriate deductions for entertainment, gifts and meals for three consecutive years. A former Republican state legislator, Bower was the revenue director to then-Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan (R), who would be convicted on racketeering and fraud charges.

A few months earlier, another failed tax court nominee, Francis L. Cramer, a former campaign treasurer for Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), was appointed as an immigration judge. Cramer’s bid for a seat on the tax court foundered after the American Bar Association’s taxation section wrote a rare letter to the Senate Finance Committee, saying: “We are unable to conclude that he is qualified to serve.”

Cramer was then hired by the Justice Department’s tax division and was briefly lent to the department’s Office of Immigration Litigation. Ashcroft approved him as an immigration judge in March 2004. The Government Accountability Office, a legislative watchdog, criticized the appointment, saying, “Converting a Schedule C [political] appointee with less than 6 months of immigration law experience to an immigration judge position raises questions about the fairness of the conversion.”

Another politically connected lawyer, Garry D. Malphrus, was appointed to Arlington’s immigration court in 2005. He had been associate director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and, before that, a Republican aide on two Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittees.

During the Florida recount after the 2000 presidential election that brought Bush to office, Malphrus took part in the “Brooks Brothers riot” — when GOP staffers from Washington chanted “stop the fraud” at Miami’s polling headquarters.

Other appointed Republican loyalists include lawyer Dorothy A. Harbeck, who represented New Jersey’s last GOP candidate for governor; Mark H. Metcalf, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the state Senate and U.S. Congress from Kentucky who went on to several positions at the Justice Department unrelated to immigration; and Chris A. Brisack, a former Texas county GOP chairman who had been named by Bush, the governor at the time, to the state’s Library and Archives Commission.

Bruce A. Taylor, who was appointed as an immigration judge in Arizona last year, was general counsel for two conservative anti-pornography groups, Citizens for Decency Through Law and the National Law Center for Children and Families. Taylor also worked as a senior counsel in the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, but his résumé does not indicate immigration-related experience.

Like other immigration judges contacted last week, Taylor declined to comment. He said the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, had instructed immigration judges to refer questions to the main office in Falls Church. A spokeswoman there referred questions to Justice headquarters.

The recent pattern of hiring for immigration judges provoked a 2005 lawsuit by the government’s chief immigration lawyer in El Paso for 22 years. Guadalupe Gonzales — no relation to the attorney general — alleged she was denied a judgeship twice in favor of less-qualified white men who were hired without an open application process.

Her suit alleged that, between 2001 and late 2005, only two Latinos were appointed nationwide as immigration judges. Justice Department records make clear that the immigration bench is overwhelmingly male and white, even though Spanish-speaking people from Latin America make up at least 70 percent of the caseload.

The Justice Department responded in court papers that Gonzales’s lawsuit should be thrown out; it argued that she had not identified a discriminatory practice and that immigration judges did not have be hired as part of a competitive process. It said that all but four immigration judges chosen during the period in contention — from late 2003 to 2006 — were hired without public competition.

In September, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the department, finding that Gonzales “had identified a particular policy that has a discriminatory effect on a particular group.” Sullivan said that one judge hired in El Paso did not meet the minimum qualifications for the job. Neither, the judge said, had Gonzales’s level of experience.
This story is located at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/10/AR2007061001229_pf.html

UPDATE: June 4, 2010

Tim Coco and Genesio Oliveira married in 2005, among the throngs who wed after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. But for nearly three years, they lived apart — Coco in Haverhill and Oliveira in his native Brazil — because federal law does not recognize their union.

On Wednesday, Oliveira returned to Massachusetts for an emotional reunion after federal immigration officials took the rare step of granting him permission to stay for one year on humanitarian grounds, clearing the way for him to try again for legal residency. His return followed personal appeals by Senator John F. Kerry, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on their behalf.

“We’re overjoyed. Words can’t express it,’’ Coco, 49, an ad agency owner, said yesterday from their home in Haverhill, where he had decorated his yard with yellow ribbons to mark their long separation. “Every new moment now is a fresh new moment in our life.’’

Kerry called the couple heroes for persevering in their marriage.

“Here were two people who loved each other and were as committed to each other as you could ever imagine, and a quirk in the law was being allowed to keep them apart. I just wanted to do everything I could to reunite them,’’ he said in a statement.

Kerry also praised Napolitano and Holder, saying, “They really listened, and they righted this wrong.’’ Unlike heterosexuals, gays and lesbians cannot sponsor their immigrant spouses for legal US residency.

Oliveira was allowed to return because US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is under the Department of Homeland Security, granted him humanitarian parole. Parole is a rarely used mechanism that permits otherwise inadmissible people to enter the United States for “urgent humanitarian reasons’’ or “significant public benefit,’’ said agency spokesman Chris Bentley. About 250 to 350 people are granted such parole every year, he said.

He declined to comment on Oliveira’s case because of privacy laws. Holder’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Humanitarian parole is temporary, but Coco said the couple might seek to reopen Oliveira’s case or try another venue so that he can remain permanently.

According to the 2000 US Census, some 35,000 same-sex couples include one US citizen and a partner who is not.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, criticized the move, saying it seemed unfair to grant a special exception for Oliveira when so many others, such as earthquake survivors in Haiti, are clamoring to get into the country.

“It’s a side-door attempt at changing the Defense of Marriage Act,’’ he said, citing a 1996 federal law declaring that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. “That’s the problem with our immigration laws; it’s just this vast collection of exceptions for people who get the attention of a particular bureaucrat or judge or politician.’’

But Kerry and others contended that Oliveira was a victim of injustice. He had applied for asylum in 2002, saying a doctor had raped him in Brazil when he was 16 and he suffered discrimination in his native country because he is gay. An immigration judge found his story credible but rejected his asylum claim, noting that Oliveira had returned to Brazil twice without incident, including for his father’s funeral.

Oliveira was ordered to return to Brazil in 2007. By then, he had been married two years and living in Haverhill with Coco and their dog, Q-tip.

For nearly three years, the couple talked nightly over the Internet and lobbied lawmakers and others for Oliveira’s return. Coco estimates they spent about $250,000 in legal fees and other expenses on the case.

Oliveira missed the death of Coco’s mother in 2008 and lived in near seclusion just blocks from the doctor who had assaulted him as a teen in his hometown in eastern Brazil.

Though Brazil recognizes same-sex marriage for immigration purposes, violence against gays persists. More than 100 homosexuals and transvestites were killed last year in Brazil, according to the US Department of State’s human rights report.

Wednesday night, the couple celebrated with family and friends. They finished each other’s sentences. Oliveira whipped up a batch of chicken Alfredo, with strawberries for dessert.

“It seems like I never left,’’ Oliveira said. “This has made Tim and I stronger than ever. Our commitment for each other, I always say to him, is unbreakable.’’

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Eric (California) and Neto – Hervatska (Croatia)

Posted on February 13, 2010. Filed under: Stories |

Kako Sam Upoznao Moju Ljubav (How I Met My Love)

By: Eric

How do I start? There is so much to tell!

I remember sitting in the living room with a dear friend of mine on her couch. We were looking out her window at the rose garden when she said, “you are going to meet the man of your dreams”. After having just sold my home in Alameda, left my job and sold pretty much all of my personal belongings- the last thinking was meeting the man of my dreams. I was getting ready to leave on the journey of my life to travel the world, visit museums and see the world that I had only read about till this point in my life.

A little history…

Mom was a teacher and dad was a cop- they raised us four kids and provided a pretty good life, at least they did the best they could. I was fortunate to have grown up in the country living on a ranch with lots of animals, places to play and friends and family to love. Then my parents lost the home that we lived in due to a bad investment deal. They had purchased the land our home was on from a family member who was being forced to file bankruptcy- that meant my parents did not own the land our home was on- talk about uprooting my young social calendar. We lost pretty much everything and had to move down to the SF Bay Area to live with my grand-parents. How yummy humble pie tastes!

It was difficult because I was just entering puberty and I was sensitive and slightly- well…gay! My sexuality was not easy for me to accept mostly because I had always been very close to God as a young boy. That all changed when the pastor at our church told me that if I didn’t change my ways- that I would go to hell. I guess he suspected that I might have been gay- you think? His comment really screwed things up for me mentally and helped fuel a life long struggle for acceptance and security. Struggling with thoughts of suicide and self torture- I often begged and bargained with God to help me change myself. Funny it took me years to realize he left me just the way I was and waited for me to accept how he created me. It took a long time and I still even struggle till this day to accept this.

I ended up leaving High School early because of threats to my safety and distraction. There was just no way to focus on education when I was coming out- meeting men that would help me find my way into adulthood was all that would avail itself to me at the time. I remember once some friends from High School had followed me to where I had arranged to meet the first gay man I ever knew. He picked me up in his black sports car and we sped off to the city where he would take pictures of me in Golden Gate Park. My friends drilled me the next day- “Are you gay?” they asked curiously. My best comment about coming out came from my sister- when I told her that I was gay- she said, “Oh my God, how cool- I have a gay brother”.

My first partner and I moved in together when I was about 16 and we were together till I turned 21. Being in a monogamous relationship with him is probably what prevented me from contracting HIV/AID’s. For the remainder of my 20’s and 30’s I was a typical Gay Guy living in the City of San Francisco- moving up the corporate later and doing very well for myself. Struggling with addiction to food and alcohol has also always been a part of my life.

Why did I all of the sudden digress- because I felt it was important to include a little bit of history in my story. I am not unique and I understand that some of us have struggled with religion, acceptance, and many other social stigmas that are imposed on us by society and our government. I have always wondered what my claim to fame would be in life and as I now turn 40 realize that it’s to watch and be a part of GLBT history. Being a part of the GLBT experience has shaped who I am as an individual, a partner, a family member and friend. Someone said once that you might not know it, but GLBT’’s are all around you. I loved that saying and to this day think it is more profound than how simple it sounds as I write it out.

Story resumes…

So I fly to Germany to meet my best friend from High School who ‘s husband is stationed in Iraq. I stay there for a couple of months and decide to take her on a cruise of the med. During this cruise, we stop over on a day excursion in Dubrovnik- OMG. I am in love. I couldn’t get over how beautiful this city is. It was like something out of medieval history 101! I felt like the first time I saw SF or NYC- transformed. I go back to Germany- research Dubrovnik and Croatia and am enthralled. I find out there is an American University there and apply to get in so I can get a visa. I am accepted and the adventure begins.

I had already purchased an Intrepid trip from Saint Petersberg, Russia- to Austria. I have three months till school starts so I figure I better get my travel going since I am now going to be a Student living in Dubrovnik. I travel up through Denmark, Sweden, Helsinki and take the train to Saint Petersburg. I meet up with my group from Intrepid and we go south for a couple of months and numerous countries. I have the time of my life- so far!

I get to Dubrovnik, find a place to live, and at this time am VERY LONELY if you know what I mean. When you are traveling for three months- you don’t exactly have the time for quality relationships. There is plenty of other “stuff” but that is one of the reasons I wanted to leave the US. I just felt like everyone was focusing on instant gratification and I wanted more. I was however a little sick of seeing castles- LOVED the museums and the Hermitage puts the Louvre to shame- that is my favorite thing to say about my travels- lol. Everyone has been to the Louvre darlings! How many have done the Tage? Anyway, I am being pretentious- please forgive?

I am now living in the Old Town- Stari grad. Je ucim Malo Hervatska ( I am learning little Croatian). It’s a very difficult language to learn. I am loving the life, meeting tons of people, and am having the time of my life. Life is good!

Then it happened. I have goosebumps as I type this. I met the man of my dreams. He was staring at me from across the Stradun. He gets mad at me when I tell it like this- cause we actually met one other time, he also says it was more than once. We didn’t really meet yet though. I was hanging out and the VIP Café on the Ploce Gate (two entrances to Dubrovnik and this is the West side). I was chatting with the only very well known “Original” aka (very gay man) and he had called some of his friend to have them check out his new American boyfriend. Of course I had no idea this was happening because I don’t understand Croatian conversations happening at 100 miles per hour.

Then he comes into the café and I see this handsome man and am just speechless while sucking in my stomach and trying to look sexy. I am totally liking this guy- he is HOT! He has this cool silver streak of hair in his goodee (as he calls it) and wow how unique.
However- I was to shy and didn’t think he liked me- till the day he was staring me down across the Stradun. I was being shy and hiding behind the umbrella but couldn’t help but notice this handsome man and the fact that he was staring at me.

Well it still didn’t happen. I had a friend coming from the States and she was do any minute. I met her and immediately we started out and about around town. I took her into this jewelry store that was supposed to be very high end- and guess who was there?

And that is how it all started. We exchanged numbers, met that night, and have been together ever since. It has not been easy for us however. After living in Dubrovnik and being together for about 3 months, it was necessary for me to have to come back to the US. I was out of money and could not get a job to stay in Dubrovnik. It was heartbreaking leaving Neto. We had spent every day together and we were best friends. It was so easy- everything! We were so happy together and I had never imagined I would meet such a wonderful man.

I left Croatia heart broken and devastated. Thank God however for IM and Video chat with Yahoo. The time difference was difficult and getting back into corporate world was even worse. Neto and I were making plans- I was doing a lot of research and we decided that we were going to try and stay together. For six months we were apart (which I realize is not as long as others) but it was very hard for us both. I would try and send some money cause it was the winter months where there was no work for him. I also was not earning as much and the economy was starting to tank.

Eventually Neto was accepted at City College of San Francisco and he made one of the hardest decisions of his life. He left his family and friends, his home country, his life, mother, nieces and nephews. He did that for me- he did that for us. I am totally humbled by this and moved to tears when I think of how much he as done for us. I love this man so much. He has given me such unconditional love and acceptance than anyone in my life. I have had a lot of good things in life, penthouse in SF, diamond rings, multiple nice cars, world traveler- but nothing means more to me than Neto. He is my life, he is my soul, he is my shadow, he is my strength. He is the world to me. We have been through so much together and we are still as strong today for it. But we live in fear. Fear that what we have can be taken away from us at any moment. Fear that our love, our life, our happiness and our story- will end tragically for us without any control on our part.

I told a lot about my history because I want people to know what we struggle with. Societal and Historical stigmas are tearing apart the lives of our GLBT society. This doesn’t make us unique- but what does is that Society in general still thinks its okay to discriminate against GLBT’s. This needs to stop. We need to organize, pick one unified voice who represents us all, and start lobbying like the others till we get our deserved equal rights.

Neto and Eric are living together with our two cats- Sara and Katy. We hope that someday soon Neto will get the DV lotto or that by some miracle; our Government will give us our rights. Till then, we are happy- we are strong and loved in knowing we have people out there fighting the cause with us. Thank you for listening! If you are in a bi-national relationship- just keep the faith, one day our country will love us back!

This story was written by: Eric- (California) and Neto – Hervatska (Croatia)

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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 Out4Immigration.org 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!

This story was orginaly posted an: http://saiofrelief.com/?p=230

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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.

Race/ethnicity:
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.

Immigration:
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.

Race/ethnicity:
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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Story of JG.

Posted on November 1, 2009. Filed under: Stories |

JG. Wrote:
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.

By
JG of Miami

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

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