Love Exiles on the Marriage Equality Express

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Oakland to Elko: Day One, Oct 4 2004

Monday October 4, 6:00 a.m. - Oakland, California

We gathered at 6:00 at the BART train station in Oakland, California, to begin the Marriage Equality Express journey across the United States. Coast to coast in eight days, culminating with a rally in Washington, D.C. on National Coming Out Day on 11 October. We are 47 marriage equality activists--gay, bisexual and straight, young and not-so-young, racially diverse, male and female, parents, clergy, students, US citizens, non-citizens, bi-national couples. All affected by discrimination against same-sex couples, and willing to take eight days out of our lives for an out-of-the ordinary trip on a bus to reach out to communities across the country and call attention to our cause.

I hadn't expected how emotional it would be to leave the San Francisco Bay Area after a 36-hour stay. I had 23 hours with my family. I hadn't had a chance to visit my friends or do my favorite things, like look out at the beauty of the California coast and the Pacific Ocean. And now here I was, high up in a bus, cruising along with a view of San Francisco Bay and the coastal hills, leaving this beautiful place that was once my home. I'd had a 15 minute drive at 5:45 am though Oakland, my former home, past the building where I worked for years, checking out what had changed (there is now a Kinko's in the lobby of the Kaiser Building, restaurants have come and gone), remembering lunches with friends and colleagues, and then it was all gone and I was heading out of town. In no time at all we were cruising along Highway 80, a familiar route from my college days, and then passing by the University of California at Davis, another former home. All too quickly we were in Sacramento, our first stop. We were flying along distances that used to seem too long, and now they were already behind us.

Our 9:00 am rally on the steps of the state capital was attended by supporters with banners, rainbow flags, parents with young children. Riders from the Marriage Equality Express spoke of what it meant to legally marry in San Francisco in February and to enjoy the recognition that different-sex couples take for granted.

9:00 am - Sacramento, California

Two PFLAG parents spoke movingly about their gay and lesbian children, both bringing tears to my eyes. The mom from Sacramento spoke eloquently of her desire for both her children to be treated fairly, and the fact that her gay son had fallen in love with the love of his life, who happens to be Portuguese. Separated by a continent and an ocean, she spoke of the pain of their separation and their desire to be together.

Each rider was introduced at the end of the rally. A couple ran up to me as we were departing for our next stop. They turned out to be a US-Norwegian couple who are clinging on to their life in California as the clock ticks on the Norwegian partner's visa, which expires next year. We met earlier this year on the Internet and they are on the Love Exiles mailing list. It was wonderful to meet them in person. They thanked me for taking the message of love exiles on the road and we hugged. As they left, they asked if they could help with costs, and reached into their wallets and gave me all their cash in support of the Love Exiles Foundation, with thanks for the support they've received from Love Exiles Canada. I accepted their incredible generosity with tears in my eyes.

As we returned to the bus, we heard that there was already extensive media coverage of the caravan. San Francisco TV news had covered the caravan on the weekend news and on Monday morning. We were getting attention with our issue of full equality! A story had already hit the wires about the Sacramento rally, a radio program had been broadcast, and Goggle is showing 17 pages of links to the Marriage Equality Express caravan, which will only grow over the next week.

And then we were heading through the Sierra Nevada mountains, which I haven't seen in years, yet another reminder of my years in California. I looked down at Donner Lake, where my family spent many summer vacations. Even the boulders along the side of the road looked familiar, like old friends, like home. I thought about the fact that my wife Lin had never been here with me, that my friend Kirsten thinks it's terrible that I've never taken her to Lake Tahoe. She's right.

12 noon - Reno, Nevada

In no time we're leaving California and crossing the border into Nevada, on the way to our next stop in Reno. With sadness I leave behind my home state, after the briefest of visits: 49 hours. As we cross into Nevada, we're reminded that the California domestic partners on the bus are now "legal strangers" again, another reminder that separate but equal is not good enough, and state or national laws are only partial protection. We're not free until we're all free.

We pass by many of Reno's wedding chapels, where heterosexual couples can tie the knot in no time, and arrive at the Federal Building. The media was well represented, and we hold another rally, with speakers telling what the lack of rights means in their lives. A local Reno couple who married in San Francisco greet us and speak at the rally. We hold up high our signs proclaiming, "We All Deserve the Right To Marry", and every so often a passing vehicle gives us a sympathetic honk of the horn. We're excited to be making our second stop of the trip and to bask in the Reno sunshine.

The press is attentive, filming the rally and interviewing several of the couples festively dressed in wedding attire. On the way out of town, we make a spontaneous stop at a local "wedding chapel" and three couples on the bus clothed in wedding garb ask to be married. The chapel they choose turns out to be run by Pentecostals, who proclaim that the bible prohibits same-sex marriage -- and by the way we can't marry you. When the riders point out that Leviticus also punishes eating shellfish and wearing leather, they seem unaware. The couples trade places, and ask if one of the gay men can marry one of the lesbians, even though they're in love with someone else. No problem, answer the Pentecostals. We can marry you. They return to the bus, sad about being turned away for the first time since being granted marriage licenses in San Francisco in February.

Now we're heading through the Nevada dessert, beautiful countryside, big blue skies with fluffy white clouds. Alongside us are the train tracks as we head east to our evening stop in Elko, a desert town. It's a familiar stop for me, though I haven't been this way since 1981. In my childhood years, my family would travel this way every second year to visit my grandparents in Minnesota and Washington DC. I know the stops: if you leave early and push hard you can make Salt Lake in 13 hours. Nevada is a big nothing, desert towns where you can refuel the automobile and gamble at the casinos.

6 pm - Elko, Nevada

After lunch and a long drive through the desert, we arrive hungry and a little tired at our hotel in Elko, Nevada. It is, of course, in a casino. This is, after all, Nevada, a desert populated with casinos, wedding chapels and barren nuclear testing grounds. We check into our rooms, which are comfortable and spacious, especially by Amsterdam standards, with bathtubs to delight this jet-lagged traveler, and head across the street for dinner. We have a buddy system to ensure safety, and have been issued purple whistles to use in case of emergency only. We are never to go anywhere alone. We meet up outside the hotel and walk over together.

Like the hotel, the restaurant is in a casino. We eat at the buffet, taking up the back part of the cavernous restaurant. Most of us are still decked out in political t-shirts: there's "Marriage Equality - We All Deserve the Right to Marry", "Immigration Equality -- United by Love, Divided by Law", "Demand Equality Rights for LGBT and HIV+ Immigrants", "Marriage is a Human Right, Not a Heterosexual Privilege", and of course "Love Exiles - United by Love, Exiled by Law". We draw quite a few looks in the restaurant as we pass through the buffet and chat animatedly at our tables. This is a happening group, we're getting to know each other, hearing and being moved by each others' stories, bonding, experiencing the support of being in a group all committed to the same cause. We're obviously different, queer, not the run of the mill customers for this desert town.

After dinner, I return with others to the hotel, giving the casino a miss. I tend my jet lag with a hot bath, try to figure out how the phone works, contemplate waking my wife at 6 am with a quick phone call on my mobile (and decide against it), and after writing up the day on my laptop, hit the soft clean white pillows for a delicious long slumber.


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