Love Exiles on the Marriage Equality Express

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Sunday October 10 - Pittsburgh to Washington DC

Writing this on Monday October 11, I can't quite believe that only yesterday morning we were in Pittsburgh. So much has happened.

Saturday night was our last event on the road: a panel organized by the Rainbow group at the University of Pittsburgh. We arrived at the hotel, checking in as usual in lightning speed. The executive committee has got it down to a science: riders wait in the bus, someone goes in a collects the keys, we disembark, get our suitcases and keys, and head to our rooms. We usual turn around to go out to dinner and then to the evening's event.

Saturday was no different. We jumped back in the bus and headed into town to a fabulous Italian restaurant, Joe Mama's. The walls are lined with autographed publicity photos of film and sports stars: Doris Day, Veronica Lake, the Brady Bunch.

As usual, a buffet dinner awaits. Salads are already on the tables, our drinks have been pre-ordered. The gals of the executive committee know how to organize!

We don't have a lot of time for dinner, but there's enough time to enjoy the atmosphere and the excellent food: salmon, grilled vegetables, pasta with mushrooms, pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic bread, apple cobbler and tiramisu.

Our dinners in the heartland were sometimes a little disappointing. Tonight we're being indulged and enjoying it.

University of Pittsburgh

After dinner we head off to the university, which is nearby. Someone pays the bill while we wait outdoors, and we are off. We’re a little late for our event, but we turn the short walk into a march and songfest: "What the world needs now, is love, sweet love, no, not just for some, but for everyone..."

I'm so jealous of the people who have cell phones with national coverage. I don't even know how mobile phones work in this country. At home in Holland it is very expensive to use your cell phone when traveling. That doesn't seem to be the case here. I long to talk to Lin, to call my mom, sister and brothers. But we seem to be always in motion and there's no time to stop and buy a phone card or find a pay phone.

We march into the university building, singing, and arrive at our destination: a grand, gold plated ballroom with one of the biggest chandeliers I've ever seen in my life. We're welcomed by our hosts.

Caravan rider Megan is wearing a beautiful silk wedding gown with a lace bodice. A true princess dress that is the fantasy of many young girls when they dream of their wedding day. Megan is single and bought the dress for $50 at the Goodwill on half price day. She's from Pittsburgh and has invited her mother to attend tonight. Her mother and stepfather drive several hundred miles to return early from a vacation to be with their daughter. Megan is home, and she excited to be here. Her mom looks just like her: petite and with a warm smile.

The marriage equality riders speak first. It's become a routine by now, like a well oiled machine. At each city there is a list of speakers who take the floor for several minutes to tell their stories. The speakers rotate so that everyone gets a chance, and the speakers are schedule to give riders a chance to speak in their hometowns in front of their family and friends.

Inspiring speakers

Tonight the riders speak eloquently about their lives, telling their personal stories. There's the elevator repairman who has lost several colleagues because of the inherent danger of the job. His partner is not eligible to collect his accidental death insurance and social security if he is killed on the job. His partner, who he married in San Francisco in February, is an independent contractor, and lacks health insurance because Frank's union refuses to provide benefits to same-sex partners. Joe recently broke his ribs and faced a $1000 bill from the emergency room. Had he been insured by Frank’s union, he would have paid less than $300. Had his injuries been more serious, the couple could have been financially ruined.

The local speakers on the panel are the highlight of the night: young, inspired, and inspiring LGBT activists. We're asked not to take photos of the audience, to create a safe space for the students.

A lesbian couple - a student and a recent graduate - speak with passion and eloquence about meeting and falling in love, and wanting a future together with the rights and recognition that all couples deserve. They're dynamic, humorous and speak from the heart. They're the hope, the next generation. They know they're entitled to and will win equal rights. They're also sorority members. They are touching lives and inspiring allies to join and support us.

We march and sing our way back to the bus, which takes us home to the hotel around 10:30 pm. An early night, but I manage to stay up until 11:30 again. I call my sister in California and we have a long chat. She tells me that her kids - who want to see Bush voted out in November because that the only chance Lin and I have to gain our immigration rights any time soon – insisted that they get a Kerry/Edwards lawn sign. These kids are young leaders, the generation coming up behind our hosts at the University of Pittsburgh.

Breakfast the next morning is at 7 am. I bring my bag downstairs and head to the cafe, which turns out to have wireless Internet access, so I download my email. Breakfast is late, so we mill around until they bring around the pastries and bagels. We don't have time to finish, so we take the leftovers on the bus.

The road to the capitol

Today is a short drive to Washington DC, about 4.5 hours. It's a little longer because we detour to avoid the state of Virginia. Virginia recently passed a law that invalidates the legal arrangements, such as powers of attorney, that same-sex couples put in place to give themselves basic protections. We've all filled in these forms as a condition of joining the caravan. In Virginia, they're not worth the paper they're written on. We divert, driving through stunning countryside, rolling hills, leaves changing color, rivers, and old towns. It feels like New England. We pass by a sign for the Appalachian Trail.

We arrive late at the Holiday Inn, just down the street for the Capitol. It takes about 1.5 hours to check in this time. To get a discounted rate on the rooms, we've booked them individually and have to pay for them one room at a time. It seems to take an eternity for each room to check in and pick up their keys. Our 1:00 lunch starts at 2:30.

Not that we're grumpy or even hungry. We've learned go to with the flow, roll with the punches. Being with such a fabulous group of people, even down time, hurry up and wait, is a pleasure.

OK, I have to admit, I hate waiting around and I get antsy. But the conversations are great.

A cocktail reception at a bar near Dupont Circle has been organized for us by the Washington DC chapter of Immigration Equality. All of the immigration activist riders and about half of the others take the metro and walk together to the bar. We invent a new chant along the way, and walk into the reception chanting about immigration rights. (We’ll have to work on that one. I’ve already forgotten it. There are too many syllables in im-mi-gra-tion to fit easily into a chant.)

I meet the US partners of an Australian and a Syrian, an Ecuadorian-US lesbian couple who are looking at Canada as a possible new home, leaders from the DC chapter, and Immigration Equality's national coordinator, Adam. They've been following our journey on the internet, reading our blogs and news stories. We receive a very warm welcome.

At 6 pm it's time for dinner, so we head out and walk to another great restaurant, where our meal has been ordered in advance. It has an East Bay/San Francisco feel to it, with a cafe, reading room, and great food. Everything, down to our drink choices, has been planned in advance. We sit back and let the food and drink come to us.

Tomorrow is a big day. The rally at Senate Park in the shadow of the US capitol. I check my email back at the hotel, take a hot bath, and indulge in the phone card I bought on the way to the restaurant. I call Kathy in Boston, Wendy in Maine, my brothers (who are not home) and my mom. We had a good chat. It's wonderful to be in the right time zone to be able to call just about any time. I tell her we’ll be on C-SPAN tomorrow and ask her if she can talk to my brother about taping it. I’ve never spoken on national TV before.

Another short night. The alarm goes off at 6 am. I hit the snooze button twice, which gives me another 12 minutes. I have butterflies in my stomach. We've practiced our 60-second speeches in the bus on the way to DC. We're totally ready to go. We're to be at the rally site at 8 am to help get ready.

I heat some water and make a cup of tea with a teabag I hijacked in Pittsburg. I've got 2 apples and offer one to my buddy and roommate, Kara. I'm not hungry, which is unusual for me. We skip breakfast, hearing later that the restaurant staff were not prepared to make breakfast to go anyhow. I blow my nose, and it bleeds. I just got my period. What next?

After preparing a speech, I learn that I'm to speak together with the head of the DC Immigration Equality chapter, and we have 5 minutes. I rewrite my speech to make it longer, after working hard to cut it down to 60 seconds.

We grab the signs and head out to the rally.

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