Love Exiles on the Marriage Equality Express

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Monday October 11 - Washington DC and leaving on a jetplane

I'm the kind of person who likes to know what is going on and gets anxious about things long before they happen. For days I've been thinking about the end of the caravan, how sad it will be to leave this wonderful group of new friends, and return to exile in the Netherlands.

It's not fair. They get to go home to San Francisco and continue their actions together. I head in the opposite direction to Europe, 5000 miles away. We'll be divided by an ocean and a continent.

But when I go home I'll have all of my civil rights as a lesbian woman. I'll be in a country where my relationship is 100% respected. These folks will be returning to struggle for full equality, in a country where it is still OK to discriminate again GLBT people.

Down at the rally site, the stage is being set up. Davina, who organized the rally, is back at the hotel with food poisoning. We help set up chairs and tables with drinks and snacks backstage. The porta potties are delivered. C-SPAN sets up their cameras on a raised platform. I speak with curious tourists from Germany, who want to know what we're up to.

There's a filibuster about pork going on at the capitol just behind us, so we've been rescheduled for C-SPAN3. I call my mom, forgetting that we are 3 hours ahead. It's 7 am for her but she sounds awake. I ask her to try to tape C-SPAN3 instead of C-SPAN2. I call my sister-in-law in Gilroy with the same request, but the phone cuts out. Que sera, sera. Someone will get this on video.

The rally starts as planned at 11 am. Davina is feeling much better and is back well before the start of the rally. It's not a big crowd but some wonderful people have arrived. A couple from Marriage Equality NY who were married in Canada and have been together 24 years. After marrying, they were thrown out of their Catholic church choir. They hold a sign: we've been together longer than Bush has been sober. A big group of Unitarian Universalists arrive, holdindg signs and wearing purple t-shirts. It's an audience full of love.

The rally goes well, as planned and on schedule. There are speeches and then musical entertainment by singers Tuck and Patti, who perform their song Love Warrior. Later they tell me that they come to Amsterdam frequently and will be back in a few months time. They often perform at the Melkweg.

Time flies and before I know it it is 1 pm. I'm scheduled to speak together with Jeffrey Richter at 1:40. I look for Jeffrey, and find him just as he is coming backstage. We decide that I'll speak first, and he will follow me and provide information about action people can take for immigration rights, like writing their congressional representatives and visiting www.immigrationequality.org

I've given this speech before, so it is well rehearsed. Surprisingly, I'm excited to go on and not nervous - the result of having had 5 speaking engagement this week.

This time there is no reaction from the audience when I say I flew 5000 miles to join the caravan and that I can bring my dog to the US but not the person I love most in the world. I wonder if I made my point. I notice later that sometimes the audience cheers, and sometimes they listen as the words of pain and discrimination fall on their ears. My story is about broken hearts - that my heart breaks every time I leave my beautiful nieces and nephews to return to Amsterdam, every time my mother has a surgery and I'm not their to hold her hand and rub her neck, every time I miss a family birthday.

Before leaving California, at the party my sister organized for family and friends, my nieces made a sign that we hung by the Love Exiles t-shirts that I was selling to raise money for the Love Exiles Foundation. I've got the signs with me and when I looked at them last night I realized that they are decorated with broken hearts. It's a powerful image they've borrowed from the Immigration Equality San Francisco shirts. It speaks to them. They know about the broken hearts in our family that are caused by discrimination against Lin and I as a same-sex couple.

In a few hours I will be leaving this group of people that I have come to love and catch a plan for Portland, Maine. All the riders ascend the stage as planned to sing a final song from our repertoire, "Love Sweet Love". A final speaker, Crissy Gephardt, arrives at the last moment for an uplifting and encouraging speech.

Before the final musical act, the UU reverends who traveled all this way with us on the caravan perform a reaffirmation of vows for the caravan couples on stage. I'm aware that I'm one of the few on the bus without a loved one to share this moment with. The pain of being a love exile comes home again.

The goodbyes begin. Bev comes over and thanks me for coming all this way to join the caravan and says how much it meant to her that I shared my unique story. I'm a puddle, I choke up with tears and can't speak. A while later, another band performs, and we all jump up and dance. They follow with a slow song. It makes me sad, and I contemplate slipping away without saying goodbye to all these wonderful people. I decide against it, and start my goodbyes, acknowledging the others for their strength, beauty and power in standing up for equality.

I head out to catch my shuttle to the airport. I'm the first person the driver picks up. We drive through Washington DC, and I think about all the times my father would drive us around this city on our summer vacation here visiting our grandparents. We had all the tours, many times over: the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, riding the subway underground from the senate building to the capitol. He knew all the inside routes, having grown up in DC. He'd worked as a cab driver, so he also knew his way around. He amused us endlessly by making driving into a game, scoring points by nearly missing pedestrians who had stepped into the street, which was not a right in DC the way it is in California.

It's a long drive to the airport, I'm not exactly sure where we are until I notice a large building that has got to be the Pentagon. I was last here 24 years ago, protesting. We're in Virginia, the state that does not acknowledge legal arrangements of same-sex couples made to protect each other. "Virginia is for lovers" is the state's slogan, but for GLBT people Virginia is not about love - it's about blatant discrimination.

At Dulles airport, I noticed t-shirts for sale in a gift shop: "Friends don't let friends vote Democrat". It takes me a moment to realize what the message is, and then I'm shocked that these are for sale at an airport. Time to go.

I fly to Portland, Maine, to be with my friends and watch the leaves change color, brilliant hues of red and yellow. The caravan is over, but I have one more stop. Wednesday I'm speaking at the University of Southern Maine, on the subject of "Love Exiles: till death - or borders - do us part". Then flying home to Amsterdam.

It's been a wonderful week and I'm looking forward to the next adventure with Marriage Equality California. Maybe another caravan, which could easily be an annual event. Until we get full marriage equality in the United States.

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