Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ed & Tim: An Eleven Year Struggle to be Together

I met Tim, my Canadian partner, over eleven years ago. At the time, I had only been out to myself for two years after 18 years in repressive, conservative churches. I knew the road for binational couples was hard, but I was naively optimistic. I hoped that the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (now known as the Uniting American Families Act) would be passed soon. Years later, even as that legislation has progressed and built support in Congress year after year, binational couples face the very same hurdles as Tim and I did when we first met. It’s tragic, really.

Through the first ten and one-half years, we managed to remain together, always working hard to comply with the letter of the law. Eventually, Tim found a teaching job with a local Quaker school willing to sponsor him for a visa. For six years, he gave everything he could to that school and really enjoyed being a part of their team. Thanks to complications with lawyers, misinformation, and a ticking clock, we found out late in 2009 that, barring a miracle, Tim would have to leave the US in August of 2010 for one year, so that he would once again be eligible for the visa status that had enabled him to be employed as a teacher for the past six years. And his school, despite loving him almost as much as I do, wouldn’t “hold” his position, though they remain willing to re-hire him if they have an opening.
To make matters worse, Tim couldn’t find a reasonable job in Canada. He was offered one in an extremely remote village in northern Manitoba—so remote, in fact, that their selling point was that it was a mere three hour drive to the closest Walmart… of all places!

Having considerable debt, we knew he had to work for our year of separation just in order to make ends meet. But where?

Years before we met, Tim had taught in Turkey and in Guatemala, so he returned to the idea of teaching in foreign schools. About seven months before his visa expired, he attended an international teaching fair and landed a job… in Cairo, Egypt.

To put it mildly, I was devastated. It may be hard for readers to imagine, but Cairo actually was less remote than northern Manitoba. Well, at least it WAS. We felt that as long as he stayed “in the closet,” he would be ok.  So last August, I said, “farewell,” to my only love. He began teaching during Ramadan, in Egypt. Being seven time zones apart proved to be quite the challenge. Not just the time difference, but the fact that technology we take for granted in the US is not so cutting edge in a country like Egypt. And that was before the events of the past two months.

In mid-November, I was laid off from my job as a technical writer. I had been with my company for more than twelve years, and with a plan to visit Tim already in the works, I decided to spend a month in Egypt, saving a few dollars by not visiting over the Christmas rush.

Shortly after returning to the US in January, though, all hell broke loose in Cairo. I knew Egypt wasn’t the gay-friendliest place on Earth, but I had no idea just how unstable it could be. It’s bad enough to be separated from the one you love—for the simple reason of being the same gender—but then to be seven time zones apart while your partner is in a country undergoing a revolution—however peaceful some of it might be—is agonizing.

Time ticks slowly by. Thank goodness, it does tick, but living this reality is like hearing each grain of sand as it squeezes through the narrow neck of the timer. Nothing goes quickly.

If we were a heterosexual couple, we could marry, and I could sponsor Tim for a green card. We’ve demonstrated a commitment that has out lasted so many straight marriages, and yet, we’re still denied basic rights.  In fact, we would marry in a heartbeat if the Defense of Marriage Act would cease being the sole obstacle to our access to the very family-based immigration system designed to keep binational couples together.

It’s simply unfair. It must end. With DOMA under attack on multiple fronts, it is time for binational couples to stand up and tell their stories and demand that this discrimination end. I should have the right, as an American citizen, to petition for a fiancĂ© visa for Tim and bring him here to marry me so that we can apply for a green card. This is routine for straight couples in our situation. My government should not be treating me any differently. Please join our effort and this campaign. Support Senator Feinstein and Representative Nadler's bills to repeal DOMA. Most importantly: go out there and tell your story. Give a human face to the cruelty inflicted on our community by DOMA which defends no marriages, but tears apart our families.

1 comment:

  1. Ed and Tim, I know these times are hard and if I were in Congress I would fight for your rights. I can only pray that what needs to be done will be done and that those who need to pass this legislation will try to open up their hearts and minds to give everyone the same rights. Your friends stand behind you and Tim.