|Raúl and Brad|
For many gay Americans with a partner abroad, obtaining a visitor's visa can be an elusive and frustrating process. Just spending a few weeks together in the United States can start to seem like one of life's most daunting challenges. Most applicants for visitor visas in developing world countries have virtually no chance of approval unless they are from the most affluent echelon of society. LGBT applicants, who may have fewer "country ties" than most (no spouse and children to anchor them to their own country, for example), often have even lower chance of success. If the Consular Officials know that the purpose of the trip is to visit a same-sex partner, that could be enough reason to deny the application since that may suggest a strong likelihood that the applicant will stay in the U.S. These were the enormous odds that Brad and Raúl were up against as the fate of their visitor visa application was in the hands of the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
We’ve all heard the story about that Peace Corps volunteer who goes off and spends two years working alongside community members in a developing country. Before he returns home, he meets the love of his life and before you know it, they’re on a plane to start a life of opportunities together in the U.S.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite how the narrative works for a good number of same-sex couples who fall in love abroad, be it in Peace Corps or otherwise.
I met my partner, Raúl, in August 2009, half way through my Peace Corps service in Ecuador. Not much longer after that we started dating. We were an unlikely couple to start, being of different nationalities, languages, education levels, and socio-economic status, among other differences. However, what we lacked in a common background, we made up for in patience, caring, and clear communication. Throughout the ups and downs of my final year of service, Raúl and I grew as a loving couple. July 29, 2010, my close of service, came much too soon. My plan was to leave the country to seek employment and apply to graduate programs in psychology in the U.S.
|Brad's grandparents who will soon |
celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary
with Brad and Raúl present
It was a heartbreaking moment for both of us and we shared it with The DOMA Project on this site earlier this year. I still remember being in Chicago’s Union Station hearing Raúl cry over the phone after his unsuccessful interview. Never had I felt so powerless. That day, I decided that if Raúl could not visit me and my family in the US, I would return to Ecuador.
So, I did return—much to the disappointment of my family and friends back home. Together, we bought a café/bar aptly named “Black and White.” Starting a business was far from easy given that neither of us had any experience in opening one, much less while holding a 40+ hour/week day job. Fourteen hour days were not uncommon. In spite of the stress of working our day jobs and running Black and White, we were eventually able to make our small business profitable.
After a couple of months together, we decided we would try again for a visitor’s visa. I knew that my grandparents would be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in August and while I was still in the US, my grandmother invited both me and Raúl to join the family for this momentous occasion. After consulting extensively with Lavi Soloway at The DOMA Project, we began working on Raúl’s new application. This time around we took a much more comprehensive approach and did our homework with Lavi Soloway's guidance. Between my day and night jobs, I did my best to motivate myself to work on writing and collecting affidavits from family members back home; documenting an offer to post a bond to guarantee Raúl’s return if a visa was granted; completing the DS-160 form; compiling financial records and business records from our business, Black and White; purchasing round-trip plane tickets; acquiring an invitation to present on Ecuadorian crafts; and collecting any other information that might convince a consular officer that the purpose of Raúl’s visit was specific, discrete and temporary.
After months of hard work, anxiety, exhaustion and tears, and several pro bono Skype consultations with Lavi Soloway, the application was ready. On the day of Raúl’s interview, June 27th, 2011, we were both extremely nervous, knowing that since he had been denied the year before, the outcome of this application was extremely uncertain. It was hard to permit ourselves to get too optimistic. Even with all the evidence we were able to compile, we both knew it was more likely than not that his application would once again be rejected.
Much to our surprise, Raúl beat the odds. The friendly consular officer in Raúl’s interview took the time to understand the unique circumstances surrounding his application to visit the United States. She noted that Raúl’s purpose in visiting the U.S. was to attend my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. She had statements from my grandparents and my parents in the file, with all the other evidence. Upon the conclusion of Raúl’s interview, the consular officer informed him that he would be granted a visa to accompany me on a visit to my family in the U.S. When Raúl told me over the phone of the outcome, I was overwhelmed by feelings of joy, disbelief, anxiety, and vindication from the past year; I can’t well describe just how I felt. All I could do in that moment was cry. Even now, I get teary-eyed writing about this. Most importantly, I felt that for the first time my government had validated my effort to be treated equally and with respect by knowingly permitting a gay man from Ecuador to travel to the U.S. to spend time with the family of his American boyfriend. I was grateful that the Consular Officer believed Raúl when he said his intention was only to make a short visit and that he would return to Ecuador as promised. The Consular Officer required Raúl to physically return to the consulate after the trip to prove that he had come back. This suprised us, but it also reminded us how incredibly difficult it is for an unmarried man, with limited financial means and few ties to his own country to obtain such a visa at all.
Raúl once told me that he was born without wings to fly—that is, the ability to accompany me to the U.S. Today, thanks to many people including my parents, grandparents, Lavi Soloway, Representative Braley, the Director of Peace Corps/Ecuador, the US Consulate in Guayaquil and many others who offered either advice or a listening ear, Raúl now has his wings. He now will have the privilege to meet my family as I have had the privilege to meet his. We are most grateful to all for this opportunity.
Because Raúl’s visa is a visitor’s visa, it is temporary. He must and will return to Ecuador. All the same, visa renewal requires another application and further uncertainty. As with bi-national same-sex couples residing in the US, we exiled couples must also learn to overcome uncertainty, separation, and expiration dates. This unfair burden for same-sex couples must be resolved so that future couples like Raúl and me have a fighting chance.
Regardless of what may happen after Raúl’s visit, we will keep fighting for our relationship. We hope that Raúl’s wings won’t be clipped once he returns to Ecuador.
See also, "From Iowa to Ecuador: Peace Corps Volunteer Falls in Love, U.S. Denies His Partner a Visa," and "Exiled in Ecuador, Brad & Raúl Try to Plan for a Future Together." The Iowa Independent ran this article about their plight.
Last fall Brad wrote a moving essay for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender U.S. Peace Corps Alumni, titled, "Back Home: How Peace Corps/Ecuador Changed Me," in which he describes his experiences in that country and his coming out to his grandmother back home in the rural midwest.