Monday, November 8, 2010

From Iowa to Ecuador: Peace Corps Volunteer Falls in Love, U.S. Denies His Partner a Visa

Brad, Raul and Raul's sister
We decided to share our story to let others know about the way in which discrimination can destroy young, new love.  This December my partner and I will celebrate our first anniversary as a couple, but we will be in two different countries that are 3,000 miles from each other, and in many ways, worlds apart.

Raul lives in Cuenca, Ecuador and I live in Davenport, Iowa.  We met in the middle of 2009 when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small town just outside of Cuenca.  As soon as we met,  we had that kind of instant chemistry and we bonded quickly. We knew that we wanted to be together as a couple and after a few months of stalling on my part as I weighed the practical considerations, we began our relationship. As with many new couples, things went rather smoothly for the two of us.  We spent many moments during my final year of Peace Corps service getting to know each other, visiting his family, visiting my host family, and helping each other out through thick and thin.  He was there for me when I got tonsillitis and was so sick that I couldn't eat anything at all.  He knew he could count on me if the lunch lady forgot to bring him lunch at the construction site where he worked.

When it was finally time for our tear-filled goodbye at the Quito airport at the end of July 2010, we knew that we didn't want it to end there. I love him too much to imagine not being with him. Something special and precious happened to us that we found each other, and against all odds and from such different backgrounds and experiences we fell in love.  I promised I would be back and I intend to keep that promise.  I recently accepted a 7-8 month job in Cuenca and will be returning to my partner in January 2011.  Raul and I are very excited about being reunited in a two months.  We have every expectation, given our strong commitment to each other, that we will settle into a routine familiar to any other couple in a new relationship, learning to get to know each other and live as a couple.   We have even been discussing entering into a civil union once we reach the 2 year mark required by Ecuadorean law.  

Unfortunately, over that excitement hangs a dark cloud of uncertainty.  Earlier this year, Raul applied for a tourist visa to visit me in the US.  Because of the general subjectivity of the visa application process at the US Consulate in Guayaquil, Raul was denied a visa. He simply could not provide sufficient evidence of his intention to return to Ecuador, even though he had no intention of doing anything other then coming for a short visit. Unfortunately, coming to see me is not a very persuasive reason for a visitor visa since it is presumed that he would remain in the US and never return. He has little prospect of coming to the US on a work visa, since his skills are as a construction crew foreman and for the most part, long-term work visas are only available as a practical matter for highly skilled occupations. While many are fighting to prevent their partners from being deported, I just want Raul to have the possibility of visiting me in the US so that he can meet my family and see where I grew up. We understand that would only be  a brief visit, but as we are planning our lives together, it would be mean so much to us.  Many binational gay couples who first meet and fall in love abroad are in a similar situation.  I know it is hard for Consular Officials to determine who should be allowed to visit, especially from a relatively poor country such as Ecuador, but surely some policy could be put into place to permit me to vouch for his intention to return to Ecuador? Heck, my entire family would be willing to sign off on that.  We just want to be able to share some of our life here with him. And even that is denied to us.

As for me, I am in the midst of Ph.D. program applications to start in the 2011-2012 academic year. Thanks to my quality education, references and strong test scores, I am applying to be admitted into some of the best Psychology programs in the country.  However, if I am offered admission and the chance of a lifetime that it represents, Raul and I will face a decision that no heterosexual couples in our situation should be forced to make.  We will have to decide whether to live 3,000 miles apart and wait for the laws to change or live together in exile and accept the consequences for our livelihoods and standard of living. A third possibility is to study and live together in a marriage equality country. However, in my field, that would be a career limiting move; even if I could find a Ph.D. program abroad in a country where we could both live, that foreign degree would not be as well-received by US institutions. Did I work this hard and this long to get to where I am to lose what I have achieve or may achieve? Why can I not file a fiancĂ© visa petition for Raul, like all heterosexual Americans can in this situation? If he was granted a fiancĂ© visa, he could come here, we could marry and I could petition for his green card. I would continue to pursue my Ph.D. and I would be able to do so without losing either my country or the man I love. Why is my government so hell-bent on doing this to me? I am speaking out because I worry that our lawmakers are not aware of the small ways in which the Defense of Marriage Act destroys dreams and short circuits blossoming love. And in the end, our dreams and our love is what makes us human.

Raul and I have some difficult decisions to make. When I return to Ecuador in January, we will spend a lot of time discussing them and weighing our options. Our only hope is that things will change quickly.  We are both committed to helping bring about that change.  As a gay binational couple we cannot ignore the discrimination. We hope others out there will read this story and join in this effort.


  1. What can we do to help?

  2. Please contact us at for more information. We are currently welcoming any binational couples who are separated, faced with the threat of separation, exiled, etc. to add their voices to our campaign with stories, photos and video.

  3. I am very sorry to hear about your situation. I am in a similar situation myself. My partner is French. We met in the US when he was on a student visa for his Ph.D. Some stuff happened and he had to cut his program short. After 5 years living together, we had to choose between living in the US where he couldn't work, or living in France where jobs in his field would be almost impossible to find but we had a better shot to stay together. We went to France and still had next to no luck.

    We're looking at moving to New Zealand coming in March. I hope you and your partner can make it work.

  4. Best wishes anonymous! As we continue to let the world know the tough decisions that DOMA unjustly forces on us, the quicker DOMA will fall.

    Melissa and anyone else interested, if you were to write your representatives, it would be helpful. They really do keep track of how many people write them on different topics. I plan on doing the same.

    Or, if you contact Lavi, he might have other ideas of how you could help.

  5. Thank you, Brad, for continuing to share your story through this site and other forums. I wish you and Raul the best and am so happy to hear that you are returning to Ecudor and will at least have that time to be with him.

  6. This story illustrates the exact reason I quit adjudicating immigration benefits as an officer and moved into another area of USCIS. How degrading do you think it was for me to grant benefits to people who were perpetrating fraud, although difficult to prove, while bonafide couples like Brad and Raul have to live apart? Benefits that I had no rights to myself! It is a disgusting situation that the government discriminates against its GLBT employees insofar as benefits, and discriminates against its GLBT American citizen petitioners. Jeffrey.