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.

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.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Saturday October 9 - Indianapolis, Columbus, Akron and Pittsburgh

I had hoped to catch up on my sleep last night, but instead my lack of sleep is finally catching up on me. I'm starting to feel the wear of 2 weeks of not enough sleep.

We board the bus at 7:30 am. I woke at 6 am, checked my email and read the latest article on www.sfgate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle site, which is publishing daily stories about the caravan. Today's story is about all the technology we've got on board the bus and how we're using it. Our reporter herself has been known to rush out of the bus into the hotel as soon as we pull up to plug into the Internet to make her deadline. Often though we're able to use the Internet from the bus, with a couple of laptops that have a special wireless connect - as long as the batteries hold up and there's a signal out there.

We're going to Columbus, Ohio, for a lunchtime event at the Metropolitan Community Church. We're leaving early because we underestimated how long it would take to get there from Indianapolis. It turns out that Indiana doesn't have Daylight Savings Time, so we have an hour less than we though. So we move our departure from 8 to 7:30 and grab breakfast on the way to the bus.

We've had quite a few events at churches. Last night's in Indianapolis at the MCC, Columbus will be at the Unitarian Universalist Church as was our event in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

When we pull up to the church in Columbus, I nearly break down in tears. People are waiting outside – families with children, everyone looking happy to see us. We're a group of strangers but before we even get out of the bus we've had a warm welcome.

I thought I was schedule to speak in Akron, but it turns out I'm on the schedule for Columbus. We have a short program here, so I try to fit my message into a few minutes. My energy is low and afterwards I'm wiggling in my seat because I have to pee. When the final speaker is finished, I head in the direction of the bathroom.

When I emerge from the stall, two women are washing their hands. "Should we wash the keys too?", one asks the other. They look at me and explain that they were putting fuel in the car and spilled on the keys. One woman looks at me and asks, "Are you the one from the Netherlands?" She says she's Dutch, from Arnhem. And she's angry with people like me, who give up the battle and move to Holland. She's been struggling to stay in the USA with her American partner, which has been a huge challenge. I'm taken aback, but listen to what she has to say. She wants us to fight. That's why I'm on the caravan and what we're doing.

She learned about the event today from a friend in Arnhem, Mike Gould – a business associate of mine. He phoned the day before I was to leave to San Francisco to ask me to help out with a project while he was out of town on a business trip to Mexico. I told him I would be out of town too. I hesitated for a moment and then said I was going to the US to be on a marriage caravan. He told me he knew a US-Dutch lesbian couple but he'd lost contact with them years ago. I learn that he hunted her down on the internet and sent her the information about the event today! Yup, coming out about what you're up to is the way to get the word out and find and engage new allies. What a great feeling not to be in this alone, to have the support of family, friends and now business associates.

My nephew wore his Immigration Equality t-shirt to school on Thursday, the same day the caravan riders all wore the Immigration Equality shirt in support of bi-national couples. He's in fourth grade. He told the other kids that he's sending a message to his elected officials. How cool is that!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Friday October 8 - Kansas City, St. Louis and Indianapolis

I'm over my jet lag. I did not wake up at 5 am this morning. The alarm went off at a few minute after 5, tried to ignore it, had a waking up chat in the dark with my roommate, Kara, who generously offered me the first shower. I jumped at the chance to immerse in hot water and especially wash my hair. I feel gritty after 10 hours in the bus yesterday.

I'm also a little sleep deprived, but not enough to nap on the bus. It's such an amazing experience that I don't want to doze through any of it.

Last night I was devastated when I heard that wireless Internet at the Kansas City, Kansas, Comfort Inn was out. The staff informed us as soon as we arrived. I don't have a dial-in number for my provider in The Netherlands, so I asked around and found out that Ron, one of the riders, who owns a technology company with his husband Dan (they married in Massachusetts two weeks ago tomorrow), found out at the desk about an internet cafe and planned to head out there in his Westfalia van, which is fully decked out in marriage equality bumper stickers and slogans. Dan and Ron are driving alongside the bus, which turns out to be useful at times like this. Ron tells me he loves driving, and that this vehicle has been to the Arctic Circle and down to Brazil.

Six years ago yesterday was the day that Lin and I decided to take the step from friendship to being lovers. Today, driving through Kansas, we had no mobile phone or internet access for hours on end. It was incredibly frustrating not being able to send or receive email or have a long chat to hear how she is and tell her what we're up to and to acknowledge this day. When the mobile reception returned, I was able to make a quick call to hear her voice and tell her I was OK. It was quick, because Vodafone charges a lot for using a Dutch mobile phone in the middle of Kansas. She promised to call me when we got to our hotel, and I promised to send her the phone number.

Well, it didn't work out that way. We got in late, Internet was down, and Lin woke up at 5 am so she could call me, but could not. Ron and I drove 30 minutes into downtown Kansas City, Missouri, to find an Internet cafe that did not exist. The staff leaving the Starbucks at 11 pm said they'd heard that the Fairmont Hotel had wireless internet in the lobby. We parked the van and headed over in the rain.

In the lounge of the Fairmont, with a large, loud and drunken party going on in the banquet room, we installed ourselves on a couple of velvet chairs in a hallway, purchased the wireless service for $14, and I downloaded my email, sent Lin and email explaining what happened and uploaded two days worth of blogs. Hooray!

Today we had an early start at 6 am, so I got 3.5 hours of sleep. We're heading to St. Louis, where we'll have a lunchtime rally, and then head to Indianapolis for a town meeting at the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church.

I'm punchy tired but decide not to nap. We have some good brainstorming discussions among the immigration equality activists. Nadine tells everyone that her partner from San Diego will be joining us in Indianapolis, and asks everyone to write a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein asking her to support PPIA. It gets us started thinking about what kind of information the senator needs. We make a template to show who we are: our professions, education, community involvement, and that our or partners, to show the senator the talent that is lost or will be lost when we leave the country. We'll send this out to our networks and collect it in time for the meeting on Tuesday. We're engaged and it's fun to work together, we're creating new bonds that will result in action long after the caravan.

St. Louis is great, a big rally, despite the rain. They've BBQed and called out the local community, there's great disco music, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Missouri has passed a referendum about banning same-sex marriage in their constitution, and the activists here are experienced in organizing around this issue. '

It's along ride to Indianapolis. After a box dinner (our first cold dinner of the trip), the bus driver takes us to the MCC church. I'm aware that we're in a conservative area, and it feels different from other places we've been. We watch a film and have a panel discussion afterwards. The local people on the panel are great and I realize what it must take for them to be out. The panelists include a transgender woman, a lesbian couple who demanded and got domestic partner health benefits, an age diverse gay male couple with 5 children from previous marriages, a lawyer with the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, a woman from a local church organization. There is a good sized audience who have come out for the town meeting. What courageous people these are. Imagine being out as a transgender person in Indianapolis.

I'm going to sleep at least 6 hour tonight! Lin gets up at 5 am to call me. I talk to my mom. Being on the bus all day, getting in late and up early, it's hard to talk to people. After talking to my love, I go to bed satisfied.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Thursday 7 October - Denver and the road through Kansas

Thursday 7 October - Denver and the vastness of Kansas

We're heading along Highway 70 east to Topeka, where we'll stop for dinner, and Kansas City, where we'll sleep tonight. It's a long day of driving - more than nine hours.

Our Denver experienced started last night. We arrived, checked into our rooms and turned around right away to go to our event. We'd left Cheyenne late so there was no time to freshen up before getting back on the bus.

Equality Colorado was hosting a fundraiser and show and had invited us to speak. We are an incubator for inspiring speakers. Many of our riders are speaking in public for the first time on this trip, but they are so moving and eloquent you would think they'd been speaking for years. And each time we become more on target and effective with our message.

We arrive at the gay club, Dream, where the event is being held. It's on the outskirts of Denver. It's a small group, since some of the riders are coming down with colds or are tired and have decided to take it easy and rest up in the hotel.

Despite my jet lag, which wants me to stay in the room, I figure I can rest when I get home on October 15. I jump back on the bus.

The buddy system is in place two-fold today. If we go anywhere, it must be in groups of at least four people, for safety reasons. We are getting a lot of press and becoming more and more visible. We need to keep in mind that we could be a target for violence and that we need to be responsible for ourselves and each other. This is a community with a common goal - to make it to Washington DC with everyone safe and sound and empowered. We are all taking responsibility for the group. So that means no wandering off, even for a walk across the street or a run.

And believe me, not going for a run is hard. I'm in training for the half marathon I'll run on October 17, and to go from running several hours a week, bicycling to and from work an hour a day 5 times a week, to not running or even walking much at all, doesn't feel great.

But it's for the greater good and it's what works with a group like this.

Equality fundraiser

We hold another mock wedding at the club and several of our speakers share their stories on the stage. I wear my Immigration Equality t-shirt. We have a recommended wardrobe each day, and tomorrow is Immigration Equality, so I get an early start. They shirts are bold, with a statue of liberty on a neon pink triangle background, and make a strong statement. I also like being in solidarity with my friends from the Immigration Equality San Francisco and San Diego chapters.

I order a sparkling water, which is graciously service "on the house". A woman asks about my t-shirt: "What is this Immigration Equality thing?" She turns out to be an Australian with a US partner, and they are on the verge of exile, either to Canada or Australia. She introduces me to her US partner is born and bred in Denver and does not want to leave her home. She is delighted when I tell her about the Love Exiles Canada Yahoo group, where same -sex couples considering or in exile in Canada meet to exchange information and support one another. I give her my card with the Love Exiles email address and she promises to get in touch with us. Anthony follows up with her later and gets her email address.

It just proves to me again that wherever you go, there is always a love exile or someone who knows a love exile. And yet, people think they have an individual problem and often don't imagine that others are in the same situation.

Back at the hotel, I try in vain to connect to the Internet. I have a wireless card which can't find a signal. There is Internet but I didn't bring a network cable. Tough luck.

I'm aching to talk to Lin and send her an email about my day. But 11 pm in Denver is 3 am in Amsterdam, so I go to bed for a long, delicious sleep.

5 am wake-up

I hardly need an alarm. I'm sleeping well, but short. I wake up at 5 am, 15 minutes before the alarm is set to go off. I lie in bed and think about my day. I'm speaking at our 7 am meeting with the Gill Foundation at the Gay and Lesbian Center. I think about how to make my talk more effective, and about what it means to be a love exile. I have a quiet cry in bed, thinking about my 75-year-old mother, who had her shoulder replaced two weeks ago and is convalescing. Her arm is in a sling and she can't drive or dress herself for six weeks. She was very nervous about this surgery. How I would have liked to be the one to take her to the hospital, as I did when I lived in the states. That she doesn't deserve to have her daughter treated like a second class citizen.
My mom is growing older, she has painful arthritis that makes it hard to sleep and enjoy life, and she's been a widow for 23 years. Why should she be deprived the presence of one of her children? I'm so thankful that my three siblings live nearby and are a wonderful support at times like this. I'd like to be a part of that support system.

I pack up and take my bags downstairs and load them into the waiting bus. Grabbing an apple for later and a cup of tea, I meet the others outside for the walk to the Denver Gay and Lesbian Center, about a 15 minute walk - or march, in our case. It's 6:30 am and still dark outside.

We'll go immediately afterwards to on 9:00 am rally in front of the capital, so we take along our signs and drums. It's too early to drum, but we chant and sing and hold our signs high. We get toots of support from passing cars.

What do we want? Marriage Equality! When do we want it? Now!

Leaders and members from the Denver GLBT community greet us warmly at the Center. We have a breakfast of fruit salad, quiche and muffins, and mingle with our hosts. I learn that Colorado has a marriage equality organization, Civil Rights Now (www.civilrightsnow.org). I speak with the director. She is very interested in knowing how Marriage Equality chapters are organized and clearly impressed by the success of this young organisation.

Today the riders are decked out in Immigration Equality shirts. I wore my down to the lobby, on top of my Love Exiles shirt. As much as I want to echo the message of Immigration Equality and make a powerful join statement, I realize that as the lone voice for an invisible group, and decide to wear my Love Exiles t-shirt. Looking across the room, I tear up when I see the ocean of bright pink statues of liberty on black shirts. The community of riders supports OUR issue and is behind our demand to end discrimination against same-sex
bi-national couples. We're not alone. I'm surrounded by love.

The speakers are great, again. Did I say the speakers were great?

There are five speakers who address immigration rights. Belinda and Wendy precede me, and introduce my story by explaining that couples who can't reside in the US may end up in exile. We are visible. Davina introduces me with Jason's line: a US citizen can bring her dog into the USA, but not her partner. Our stories are starting to weave together into a beautiful tapestry.

My emotions are on edge, I'm feeling what it's like to be second class in your own home, and home, accepted and recognized in a foreign country. It's something that after all these years I can't always quite wrap my mind around. How did this happen, how did I come to deserve this? Damn it, I'm angry!

It feels good to speak. My voice cracks as I acknowledge my fellow riders for their solidarity in wearing the Immigration Equality shirts, a visible and tangible sign of support for bi-national couples. I explain my choice to wear the Love Exiles t-shirt so that our exile community is visible. I explain how US immigration works: that a US citizen can bring a dog, children, her parents and THEIR spouses to the US - but not her own spouse.

We have fun marching and singing our way to the site of the rally at the state capitol. A small crowd is waiting for us, and there is a podium. Leaders of the local community and the caravan speak about equal marriage.

Next we hit the road and drive the Kansas ALL DAY LONG.

We arrive late at the hotel and internet service is out. It's midnight and I'm downtown Kansas City sending this out. More tomorrow.

Sweet dreams!

Wednesday October 6 - Laramie, Wyoming

Wednesday, 6 October - Laramie, Wyoming

We wake up in Rawlins, a Wyoming town of about 9,000 inhabitants. I'm tempting to say it's in the middle of nowhere, but that would be putting down a country town that just happens to be surrounded by miles of seeming emptiness.

My jet lag wakes me at 5 am. It's not just jet lag, it's excitement. I'm thinking about how powerful it is to be with this group of activists, how much we are learning, how many amazing conversations we are having, how much we're sharing and enriching each others' lives, and how much more powerful that will make us when we return home. I'm also thinking of the international dimensions of our campaign for marriage equality, that we're not free until we're all free, that this struggle needs to be won in each and every country. I'm thinking about what's possible with this amazing group of people that is growing more powerful every day.

We leave for Laramie at 8:00 am. Operating on the buddy system, Kara asks me to accompany her to the mini-market next door to the hotel to buy batteries before we leave. We head over and are immediately captivated by the beautiful postcards of Wyoming. While we browse through the postcards (5 for $1), the cashier asks if we're part of the group. Kara explains that we are indeed on the Marriage Equality Express caravan. The cashier says she supports us 100%, that we're all god's children. She has two children, and she loves them both the same. Another unexpected statement of support from the "middle of nowhere". Another family with a gay son. A mother who speaks out about the son she loves. Maybe this place really is somewhere.

Six years ago today, Matthew Shephard was kidnapped and left for dead in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming, by two men he met at a local bar, the Fireside Lounge. The caravan is making a detour to Laramie because we bypassed Salt Lake City. We're headed for the University of Wyoming, where Matt Shephard was a student. We'll hold a mock wedding and speak outdoors outside the student union about marriage equality between classes, when there should be plenty of traffic as students cross campus. We'll hand out marriage equality stickers to passers by and give the an opportunity to sign a petition to President Bush. The petition and signatures are written on a roll of butcher paper which is growing longer by the day. We'll take it to the White House. By that time it may be long enough to wrap around the block at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

University of Wyoming

We arrive early and have an opportunity to get a cup of tea while the groups hosting us set up for the event. Two of our couples, a lesbian couple wearing the same white dresses and lace stockings they wore at their own wedding 10 years ago, and a gay couple decked out in tuxes, will be married along with a local heterosexual couple.

I'm feeling a little apprehensive about being near the scene of one of the most shocking and horrific hate crimes in recent memory. We've prepared by watching a film and we've heard that the community has moved on from those dark days of 1998. Still, my biases about what people in this part of the world are like are very present.

I'm to speak, along with several other riders, after the wedding ceremony. It's cold, 42 degrees Fahrenheit, and the brides shiver, as do many of the rest of us. Indoors in the student union the head is cranked up and it's uncomfortably warm. Outdoors it is definitely "lekker fris" ("crisp" weather). Laramie is at the peak of autumn, the leaves are a beautiful shade of yellow, and winter is just around the corner. We're told that autumn is so short in Laramie that the leaves usually turn color and fall to the ground within a couple of days. This year nature is presenting us with an extended festival of color.

We talk with students as they stop to hear about the caravan and sign the petition. They're curious to learn about the rights of marriage and the need for immigration reform. They like Laramie, telling me it's the best town in Wyoming, but aren't sure they want to settle here. Maybe somewhere a little more diverse.

A sole protester holds a sign. (I ignored him and can't remember what it said.) By the time the wedding starts, 200 have gathered for the rally. It's our largest turnout so far.

The wedding is moving, and I'm near tears as I see these long-term, loving couples (15 and 17 years together), recite their vows yet again, clearly moved themselves by the experience. They'll keep getting married until it's legal. Aside from breaking down discrimination, I'm reminded that marriage equality is about giving all couples the opportunity to make a commitment and express that commitment in front of family and friends. This time it's the community we've formed on the caravan that witnesses with love their vows of commitment, along with the local Laramie community.

We're speaking outdoors without a mike, and as I start my talk I get signals from the riders in the audience to speak louder. I shout out at the top of my voice, "I'm a love exile. I live in the Netherlands because I can't live in the United States with my spouse". It feels good to shout this message. What is up when a country forces those who love to leave, that withdraws the welcome mat for loving committed spouses and children? I explain that there are only 16 countries in the world that allow a US citizen to sponsor a same-sex partner for immigration - and the United States is not yet one of those countries. I end with a warning to students: there are foreign students here on campus, and if you fall in love with someone of the same sex, you may find yourself a love exile.

We head upstairs for our next event: a panel discussion. The speakers explain that there are 1,138 federal rights associated with marriage and more than 300 state rights, rolling out a list of these rights that stretches 40 meters out the door, across the hall, and into far corner of the ballroom across the hallway.

Wendy and Belinda speak of immigration equality, of preparing to leave the country if partner immigration does not become a reality very soon. Our PFLAG parents, Eve and Jim, speak eloquently of their pain and anger of having a daughter who is deemed a second class citizen in her own home country. Our hosts are wonderful. This stop was no accident. We're meant to be here today. Laramie is receiving us with love, acceptance and generosity. The LGBT groups and women's center are honored to have hosted us and in this encounter we have
contributed much to us and we to them.

Our next stop is the Fireside Lounge, where Matt Shephard went for a drink exactly 6 years ago today. Six years ago this afternoon, he was still alive and going about his normal business.

But before we leave the campus, we're met by the former Chief of Police of Laramie, who shares with us his 180 degree shift from being a homophobe at the time Matt was killed, to being a supporter of civil rights for same-sex couples. He boards the bus so speak, sharing his transformation, simply and with emotion. His tears flow, moving us yet again on this very emotional day. He tells us that Matt's mom Judy Shephard decided she had to grab the window of opportunity to speak out about what had happened and raise awareness of hate discrimination - and that six years later, that window is still open thanks to this amazing woman who suffered such a huge loss and decided to speak up through her pain. There are few dry eyes in the bus as he wishes us a safe journey and thanks us for our visit.

The Fireside Lounge

We drive over to the Fireside Lounge for a service to be performed by the two Unitarian Universalist ministers on the caravan, Helen and John. The bar is no longer in operation, and a For Sale sign hangs out in front. We gather on the patio and they a candle and speak words addressing the pain, anger and sadness we all feel. Tears flow. We sing, and more tears flow. We share what Matt's death and what it mean for us. We speak about the goodness that came out of it, the awareness, the memorials and incredible work is mother Judy Shephard continues to do to give a public face to hate discrimination. The last chorus of the last song is about how powerful we are. I walk back to the bus in tears. A local woman on her bicycle stops when she hears us singing. She's delighted to find us, on her way home. She wears a rainbow flag on her hat. Her big smiles and support are the perfect ending to our visit to Laramie.

We're tired and the energy level is dropping. Our next stop is Cheyenne - an event at the Unitarian Universalist church and dinner before the drive to Denver for another event tonight. It's a full day. Our 4 pm event starts at 5:30, and we're running very late. The speakers share from their hearts and touch all of us. We're getting really good at opening up and sharing our pain in a way that moves us and others to work for full equality. We ask people to take action, to let the people in their lives know about the need for marriage equality. It's their action that is going to make a difference in this community.

The sharing lifts my spirits enormously. What a day we have had. Laramie, once the epicenter of hate, today the epicenter of love. Meeting the Laramie community who have gone through this terrible tragedy and come out the other end.

Time for bed?

No way. We have a two hour bus ride to Denver, followed by an event organized at a local gay club. Immigration Equality has been invited and encouraged to attend. Much as I would like to go to bed early, I'll join this evening event.

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 http://sfgate.com. 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 Sommer.

Next stop: Laramie.

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.


Friday, October 01, 2004

The National Marriage Equality Express Caravan has already begun

The caravan departs Oakland, California, on Monday October 4. But my caravan started in Amsterdam on September 26 at 1:00 am. For some reason I checked my email before going to bed. I had a message from Eve, one of the caravan participants, asking if I or one of my family members could join a meeting on Monday (very short notice!) with staffmember of California Senator Dianne Feinstein about immigration reform to recognize same-sex couples. Senator Feinstein is not yet a sponsor of the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, which would allow people like me to live in the United States once again.

Given the unreasonably short notice and the fact that it was 1 am (so 4 pm in California), I got on the phone with my sister and asked her to attend the meeting. She said she'd see what she could do. Her had to work and her daughter had a soccer game. Next I got on the phone with my brother, who lives more than 1.5 hours from the meeting in San Francisco, and also had to work that day, getting up at 4 am. He said he'd see what he could do. I went to bed excited and moved that they were willing to consider turning their Monday afternoon and evening upside down. I experienced the support of my family in a whole new way.

On Monday 27 September, my sister Amy Weishaar, her kids Lisa and Garret, and my brother Kevin McDevitt, attended the meeting at Senator Feinstein's office. As a love exile, I couldn't be present. I had to work that week in Amsterdam. But I got to experience the generosity of new friends (Eve, who will travel across the United States with me in a few days time), and the love of my family. And my family got to hear the plight of many other same-sex couples who are less fortunate that I am. I have a home in the Netherlands where I'm accepted. Many binational couples don't have a country they can legally live in, and are separated or constantly dealing with the challenges and impossibility of short-term stay visas.