Love Exiles on the Marriage Equality Express

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Nevada to Utah and Wyoming: Day Two, Oct 5 2004

Tuesday, 5 October, 5:30 am - Elko, Nevada

The alarm wakes us early to pack up the suitcases, load the bus, and head across the street to breakfast. I'm not the only one who has charged her batteries with a good nights' rest after day one. All the excitement and tension of the big day finally arriving is behind us and the breakfast room is buzzing with energy.

We're all over the news! We made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle and we're on There is coverage in the Sacramento papers and three photos and a story in the Reno Gazette. We buy up all nine copies on the way out of the restaurant and head out to the bus to depart for the drive across the rest of Nevada and into Utah.

What can I say. It's a joy and honor being with this wonderful group of activists, driving all day long through stunning countryside, and getting out the stories of love exiles and what it will mean to couples and families in the USA when we gain equal rights.

Driving to Salt Lake

It's a four hour drive from Elko to Salt Lake City, where we'll stop for lunch. We had hoped to stop to meet with local groups here, but it wasn't good timing for our issue so we're passing through on our way to Wyoming, where we'll make two stops.

Driving through the rugged, huge, open and empty American west is overwhelming, coming from the Netherlands, where every centimeter of space is consciously utilized many times over. I understand why Dutch people travel to the US or the Australia and never leave. It's like nothing back home. Mile upon mile of rolling, brown hills, enormous plains, huge skies, are just as dramatic as the hypnotizing green fields and amazing light of the Netherlands, which Rembrandt captured so well in his paintings. Just as dramatic - but very different.

While something deep inside me feels at home here, it also makes me realize that the Netherlands has become the place I call home.

The energy in the bus is electric and we spend the first hour sharing stories from yesterday. As incredible it is to just be in the bus and at actions with this group of intelligent, committed and enthusiastic activists, some of the most amazing incidents happen in the breaks off the bus. This morning the riders share the conversations they had last night, in the restaurant, the gift shop, and the casino after dinner.

Like in Reno, there is unexpected support from the local population, words of encouragement, gay people who are pleased to have us here, out and proud, even though they cannot be out themselves. Passing through town, decked out in political statements on t-shirts, dedicated to our mission of opening up marriage to everyone, we trigger a spark wherever we go. And who knows where that spark will go and who it will touch and inspire. We become aware that we're part of something bigger than ourselves, and that coming into town, openly yet with respect for the local situation - we are, after all, guests who will soon leave - sharing our stories, we are giving something to the local community, causing conversations that might not happen otherwise, being the face of a gay America that they might not ever see otherwise.

Moving stories on the bus

It's not just local communities we are touching. Being on this adventure, only 24 hours into our trip, is transforming for us as well. After we share about our encounters yesterday, more stories start to flow, as we pass the microphone around. Joining the caravan has meant taking a stand for equality for all of us, and for going beyond the normal boundaries of what we're willing to do. We each had to raise $1,500 just to join the caravan. That meant letting people in our lives know that we were joining the caravan, and why marriage equality is important to us, and asking for their support.

We hear about the son who finally came out to the last person in his life he hadn't told he was gay: the mother who was not around when he was growing up, who is now in his life, who he decided he had to tell because he's going on the caravan. Tears streaming, he tells how difficult it was to get out the words to her, not knowing how she would respond, how he put his relationship with her at risk, anticipating rejection, estrangement, perhaps an awkward silence. Tears streaming, he tells how she interrupted him to say "You're gay - how cool!" Acceptance, love, and a new relationship. I'm in tears because of his courage, and how simple things can be - yet we often make them so complex. More caravan coming out stories follow, how riders asked for and got new acceptance and understanding from parents and other family members, and caused their family members to act on their behalf for the first time.

I took a quick detour this morning to check email and read a message from the 14-year-old son of a college friend, thanking me for the work I'm doing to bring equal marriage rights to all people. It moved me to read his mail and to realize what an extraordinary young man my friend is raising.

Many of us are loaded down with technology: digital cameras, video recorders, laptops, cell phones, wireless modems. I thought I'd regret the inconvenience of lugging around my bulky Dell laptop, extra battery, plus the camera, microphone and cassette recorder, but it's ideal having all this technology at my disposal. The bus company installed extra cigarette lighters that we can use to charge our laptops. It works like a charm. We even surf the net and upload files while riding through the desert!

Being visible as exiles

My goal on this caravan is to end the invisibility of love exiles, who leave the United States to join their partners and build up a life elsewhere, disappearing from view. Two years ago, I could hardly find other love exiles, and I felt we were forgotten in the immigration rights movement. Hearing the stories of other bi-national couples, I realize that we are on the map, if not on the agenda. Being on the agenda means defining our issues. The first step is to have our friends, family, communities, and the GLBT and immigration rights movements know what happens when a gay or lesbian American chooses to leave the country to be with his or her partner. It's not the end of the story. It's the beginning. We don't cease to be US citizens and we still have a stake in changing US policy to acknowledge and embrace same-sex couples and their families. But we're not present in person. There are consequences to not being at the table. It takes work and creativity to be present while physically absent, to be taken into account, to play a role in bringing about change in hearts and minds and in government policy.

Focus on immigration issues

It's wonderful to see that a big focus of the caravan is on immigration issues. Our issues are urgent and perhaps immigration is one of the rights of marriage that is most palpable and blatantly unfair, and easy to support. What compassionate individual would advocate separating loving couples? The focus on immigration is due to the hard work of Immigration Equality, in particular the San Francisco chapter, which works tirelessly to gain attention from politicians, citizens and the corporate world to move forward PPIA, the US legislation that would allow us to sponsor our partners for US residency. Marriage Equality California has created a powerful alliance with Immigration Equality, highlighting immigration as an example of a key marriage right denied to same-sex couples. The only missing piece is the missing people: the exiles who live outside the USA. I'm glad to be able to give a voice to our part of the story.

And then there was lunch

We pass by the Great Salt Lake, enter Salt Lake City, Utah and head to the restaurant. A buffet has been prepared for us, and we are nearly the only guests in the restaurant. A table of four women is near the buffet; curious, they ask who we are. One of the riders explains our mission. A shriek of delight goes up - we've again found supporters in the most unlikely places, the capitol city of conservative Utah. The woman turns out to be from a local progressive magazine, Catalysts, which recently published a story on a Utah lesbian couple who flew to San Francisco to marry. I'm floored that wherever we go we find such support. I expect to meet ungracious religious fanatics and die-hard conservataives, and this encounter forces me to abandon all my ideas about America and especially middle America. We never would have found supportive people if we weren't so public about who we are and what we represent. It feels like you can never be too out of the closet. Perhaps I need to alter my attire to wear political t-shirts every day!

We're a group that likes to have fun. A fabulous belly dancer performs after lunch, to the delight of all. Am I really in Utah? The restaurant staff are completely supportive. They're immigrants themselves. The documentary crew that is traveling with us interviews the women from Catalysts and one of the waitresses.

A marriage rights action after all

We had promised local GLBT groups that we would not organize an action in Utah. They have a constitutional amendment on the ballot, to ban same-sex marriage, and don't want us to give them bad press. Nevertheless, a decision is made to hold a small action, without the press. Not everyone agrees. We gave our word and some of us stay behind to keep that promise.

I learn that in the California campaign to stop a proposed law to prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages, the GLBT movement took the same tack: don't talk about marriage, don't admit that we want full marriage rights, be careful and strategic and attack the right for being hateful. It didn't work. The law passed. It makes sense that it passed. You don't inspire anyone by being on the defensive and refusing to talk about your lives and human impact of discrimination. That's what we've learned since the Prop 22 campaign in 1999, and that's why we are on this caravan. One group on the bus wants to defy our promise to the Utah GLBT groups, believing their strategy will fail and hoping to contributing what we've learned. A few people go to the nearby university library and hold a silent action.

We spend the afternoon driving across Utah and into Wyoming, where we spend the night in Rawlings. We watch a film, The Laramie Project, about the murder of Matthew Shephard in Laramie Wyoming. The San Francisco Chronicle photographer catches our tears during the film and naps afterwards. We spot antelope along the side of the highway and sing Home on the Range. In Rawlings I discover the joy of wireless Internet, thanks to the technical support of immigration rights activist extraordinaire Abbie.

Next stop: Laramie.


  • Martha,

    I want you to know that your odyssey is shockingly poignant yet equally inspirational. I really look forward to seeing you back here in the Free World when your journey's done. Bev and I are proud.


    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
    - Mohandas Gandhi

    By Outta, at 3:30 PM  

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