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V. “Screaming Into a Vacuum”: The Consequences for Couples’ Lives

Wendy and Belinda’s Story (Part Two)

Wendy, who has an advanced degree in Chinese medicine, is working and supporting herself and her British partner Belinda. “But this is where I start to establish the effect this has had on me,” she says.

We live with this so constantly that we lose track of how it affects us.  I am not willing to put my energy into building up a really great practice or starting up an office or establishing myself really well—because there’s this sense that right when it starts to take off, we’ll leave, and I will have invested all that time and energy and money into a life that I will just have to walk away from… The profound effect it has all had, on the choices I have made in my life…I’m a good doctor, and I am not using it to the fullest.  

Of course, there’s no guarantee of anything in life.  But here there’s something wrong—whether you go or stay is not your decision, is at the mercy of somebody else. …  I come to realize it has had a really undermining effect on how I live my life.

Some people say, Well, she has to leave, but you don’t have to.  I say: If your husband got kicked out of the country, wouldn’t you go with him? They don’t recognize that whatever commitment I have is as valid and strong as theirs. If she goes, I go: we’re in this together. 

Belinda reflects, “We own this house. It’s not a great house: we don’t have money to spend on anything.  We spend it on attorney’s fees.  Every piece of furniture has been given to us.  Why spend the money when it’s so impermanent?”

Wendy continues,

We haven’t had kids.  I’m thirty-seven, we’ve been together ten years; I always wanted a family. As a little girl, I wanted to adopt children—I cottoned onto the fact there were kids out there without parents, and someday I could give them a home…  And with all the ups and downs, the fact that every year or so we are faced with some new crisis about whether we can stay in the country—Belinda feels that to subject children to this craziness would be irresponsible.  I’m not even sure we could bring them with us if we move.  Some other countries, some other states in this country, won’t recognize us as parents—so can we actually bring them with us? And the added trauma of moving children.  Why should we uproot them?

I am amazed and surprised that we are still together.  We’ve watched a lot of couples split up because of the pressure and stress it puts on the relationship.  We would be in a radically different place if we didn’t have to go through this.

“All the money, the pressures, the inertia,” Belinda says, “not being able to get the job you want to get, not being able to move if you want to move, not being able to have children….”

How do we meet a crisis when it comes? Fight it, fight each other, or just go into a depressive funk? For the last three months since this hit, I have been in a depressive funk, and Wendy has been trying to help me out of it. One of us is always having to help the other through something.  And so few people understand it. 

Wendy elaborates:

The truth is there’s been a  lot of fighting, a lot of moments when our relationship has almost split—we were so new as a couple when we had to start dealing with this that I don’t think we had any established patterns for dealing with intense stress …The denial, the level of frustration, the fear, the anger—the whole big ball of it just grows and grows and it’s hard not to take it out on each other. And we definitely have had times when we did take it out on each other. 

Belinda concludes, “Someone said to me: a straight couple has a relationship, with all the stresses a relationship brings.  Then you’re a gay couple, with all the added stresses of being gay.  And put on top of that being a binational couple and having no legal rights…” Wendy finishes her sentence: “You haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell.”141

Financing Love

Invisibility is not easy.  The exclusion from immigration policy of lesbian, gay, and transgender foreign national partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents affects every imaginable aspect of the couples’ lives.  This chapter explores the economic stresses of confronting an unjust immigration policy, and the anxiety and emotional hardship that isolation and indifference bring.

The monetary burden on binational lesbian and gay couples is severe.  Partners repeatedly turn their financial lives upside down.  They may go from getting by to struggling, from planning for their financial future to being unable to save—in some cases, from prosperity to poverty.  When forced to live apart, their relationships are sustained through expensive trips and phone calls. To be together, they may sacrifice jobs and careers.

Binational same-sex couples stand at an intersection of inequalities: the acute disadvantages most immigrants face, and the widespread discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.  The stresses they face are inseparable from the general economic pressures on these groups.

M.V. Lee Badgett’s research has countered the misconception that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals have above average individual and household incomes.142  Through empirical analysis of diverse, random and representative surveys, she found that:

  • Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals do not earn more than heterosexual people;143
  • Gay men earn less than comparable heterosexual men (17 – 28 percent less, depending on the study);
  • Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are represented throughout the economic spectrum. 

The economic disparities involving sexual orientation and gender identity become even more obvious when race and ethnicity are added to the calculation.  Black married opposite-sex households report an annual median income of $51,000—21 percent greater than black female same-sex households ($42,000).144  Latino married opposite-sex households report an annual median household income of $44,420—11 percent greater than Latina same-sex households ($40,000).145  Meanwhile, though there is no national data available on transgender people in the U.S., restricted studies indicate high unemployment, discrimination, and overall poverty.  For instance, nearly a third of transgender people surveyed in Washington D.C. reported incomes below $10,000 annually146 and 53 percent of the transgender population in San Francisco earn less than $25,000 a year.147 

Meanwhile, immigrants are more likely to struggle financially than non-immigrants.148  Though immigrants make up 11 percent of all U.S. residents, they constitute 14 percent of all workers and 20 percent of all low-wage workers.149 The average low-wage immigrant worker earned $14,400 in 2001.150 Thirty-one percent of foreign-born full time workers earn less than $20,000 a year, compared with 17 percent of U.S.-born full time workers.151  Seventeen percent of foreign-born workers were living below the poverty level in 2002, compared with 12 percent of U.S.-born workers.  Foreign-born, non-citizen full-time workers, however, are nearly twice as likely to be below the poverty line as U.S.-born citizen workers (21 percent and 12 percent respectively).152  Concerns about confidentiality may lead foreign born non-citizens not to report themselves, or to identify as naturalized citizens on their census form, which means that the statistical differences between U.S.-born and foreign-born full-time workers could be still greater. 

The pummeling of couples’ capacity to get by is steady.  Debt is a constant threat. David, forty-two, spent a year living apart from his British partner, Howie, thirty-seven.  In that time, they flew back and forth “about ten or eleven times to see each other,” David recalls. “We spent maybe $10,000 on travel. It completely drained our finances.  Each trip was at least $400-$600 in airfare.  It was not something I could afford.  But, even though I should have, I didn’t really give it a second thought.  I put it on credit cards—and I’m only now coming out of debt.”153

David and Howie at David’s mother’s home in 2005. © 2006 Private

When Amy, a forty-two year old U.S. citizen, received an artist’s residency in England three years ago, she fell in love with Jerry, thirty-five.  To sustain their relationship when the residency ended, Amy took time off from her photography business for a second sojourn in England.  When it ended, the couple clung to an intercontinental connection through phone calls and frequent trips, until Jerry managed to move to the U.S. on a two-year student visa.  “It’s expensive to go back and forth,” Amy notes. “My career took a big hit when I was away.  Jerry has no extra money because she’s spending everything on school.  I spend all of my money on credit card debt to pay off plane tickets.”  At one point, Jerry had to return to England indefinitely to renew her visa.  “I couldn’t get a roommate because we weren’t sure when she was coming back,” Amy says.  “So, for three or four months, my bills doubled.  I’m just coming back from that.”

Amy, who earns $30,000 a year, is carrying $25,000 dollars of debt on her credit card as a result of their immigration trials.

My goal is for us to not go any deeper into debt, which will probably mean we have to go to England.  I don’t think Jerry has gone into debt over school, though she can’t save…I took about a $6,000 or $8,000 annual income decline. The last couple of years have just been dreadful financially. 154

“Financially, We've Been Devastated By This”

Callie, who has a chronic illness, hypothryroidism, and is legally blind, already lived frugally before falling in love with her British girlfriend, Stephanie, but the challenges of their situation now overwhelm her.  When they met, Callie’s primary income support was Social Security Disability Insurance, which paid her $252 a month.  They could find no way for Stephanie to relocate legally to the U.S., so Callie is now on a student visa in England, working toward her master’s degree.  Callie explains that their falling in love has had a dire impact on their finances:

Talking on the phone was horribly expensive.  Stephanie’s phone bill was more than two hundred dollars a month!  At the time, my income ranged between five hundred and sixty dollars and six hundred dollars a month.  In October 2002, I started doing minimum wage work, which helped.  At that time, I was going into debt.  Social Security doesn’t ever pay enough, so when the phone bills increased, it all went on the credit card.  I probably incurred at least four thousand dollars of debt, and of course, I had no money to pay that.  I had enough money to just pay my bills. 

Not only did Callie have to move to England, but Stephanie too relocated to the town where Callie studied.  Callie says,

We struggled quite a bit when I first got here. Financially strapped as we were, Stephanie had to move from her home, I had moved from my home; we had to move to a new place and had to finance a new home.  Stephanie had to quit her job and find a new one.  We moved here in September, and Stephanie couldn’t find a job until November…

We live hand-to-mouth, and Stephanie doesn’t even get any financial benefits.  We worry that if she applied for any, it would impact my ability to qualify for a visa the next time.  Because if Stephanie is my sponsor and she needs public assistance, it wouldn’t look good for immigration. 

Because of my school fees, I just don’t have money to go home…We use the overdraft of our bank to pay the minimum balance on the credit card, and it’s been like that for months now. 

It’s definitely put a huge financial strain.  We’re so worried about not taking any kind of benefit whatsoever, that we’re not taking advantage of the standard ways of getting help that others just take for granted.  And financial worries strain everything you do. 

You fight more when you don’t have any money.  It’s not that I love Stephanie any less, but we argue.  When you don’t have enough money to pay all the bills, you argue about which one you can pay, what you can cut back on. 

My visa expires on October 31, 2005.  But the new civil partnership bill doesn’t come into effect until December 5, 2005.  Again, we’re packing up all of our things and getting rid of our apartment and moving again.  Stephanie is moving in with her parents because we’re just that broke.  She’ll have to quit her job here and pack up and go back to her parents’ home.  I’ll move in with a friend in America who thankfully will let me stay there for free. 

In an email to Human Rights Watch, Callie wrote, “Financially, we've been devastated by this.  Between flights and international tuition fees we really have nothing.”  The couple now worries that Callie’s disabilities and their low income will impact her admissibility to the U.K. even after they become eligible for the civil partnership bill. 

Callie says, “Honestly, I feel homeless.  I’ve moved three times in the last two years.  I had no home left in America because it’s gone now; the remaining things are boxed up at my mom’s or were sold, all wrapped up and taken away.” Stephanie adds, “You feel like you’re constantly in limbo.  You have no ability to make plans.  You’re not quite sure even about the next year.” And Callie laments:

We can’t even have a pet.  Where will we live, what if we have to go to America, even signing up for a year-long contract for broadband internet, you don’t know if you’ll be here.

Stephanie says, “You’re always waiting for something, you can never just be.

From a Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Callie and Stephanie (names changed at their request), October 12, 2005.

Many couples are compelled to stop saving money, deplete their personal accounts, or withdraw retirement funds.  Robert, a forty-nine-year-old American, is currently living with his partner, Fabian, a forty-year-old Argentinean, in Buenos Aires.155 Robert was at the top of his pay scale before he went into exile; yet he has been unable to find comparable work in Buenos Aires.  He now teaches English for a living, earning five dollars an hour.  “I can’t save in this situation,” he explains, “and in fact, I’m still using savings.  I’m trying not to go through the remaining savings that I have.  I have to be very careful, but it’s happening, little by little.”  Out of necessity, the couple rents rooms in their apartment to boarders for additional income.156

Nearly every person Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality interviewed spoke of the profound impact that being in a binational same-sex couple has had on their careers.  Partners who relocated, either to or from the U.S., described the difficulty of starting anew.  Others told of being too preoccupied by anxiety to work at their full potential.  Many recounted being forced into miserable jobs.  Young people, compelled by visa juggling to start and stop jobs repeatedly, were left with resumes that misleadingly suggest unreliability.  Others had to take second jobs to cover the costs of travel, phone, and legal fees.  In all cases, the legal onslaught on a personal life warped professional choices.

Thomas has been living in the U.S. apart from his partner, Francois, a chemical engineer with a Ph.D., for the past two and a half years.  He told us:

It’s impacted Francois’ career in that he is hesitant to become deeply committed to his job because of immigration problems.  It’s kept him from climbing the ladder where he works. I think he also performs less than his potential because he is depressed as well.  Two and a half years is a very long time.157

Wade Nichols, American, was living with his partner, Francis Shen, Taiwanese, in Taipei when he was accepted into a year-long graduate program in the U.S.  Francis could have accompanied Wade to the U.S. legally—but would have needed to work illegally to keep their household going.  Wade explains, “We talked about it, but there was the question of income.  Francis said ‘I could get an illegal job working in a Chinese restaurant,’ and I just thought, here is a thirty-eight-year-old man with a master’s degree, and to be with me, he would have to do so illegally?  So he didn’t go.” 158

On the other side, Kelly Bossi-Andresen, an American woman, described the tremendous difficulties of going into exile, even with the benefits of legal status and higher education.  In Denmark, with a menial job at her partner’s workplace,

I do the cleaning, set up meetings, and make lunches.  I do the traditional woman’s job.  It’s not my preferred role.  I put myself through university. I paid for that myself.  I worked hard so that I can have a good life for myself and my children.  To be doing this doesn’t feel right to me.  I’m not using all the parts of myself.

When I tried to find a job, the response was, “Oh, no, your education is from the United States.  We do things differently here.”  If you want to be a teacher, you have to study here for four years …  I’m not given the same opportunities as a Dane would—because I’m a foreigner.159

Enrolling in school and qualifying for student visas is often the only way that foreign nationals in binational same-sex partnerships can legally stay in the U.S.; thus, education costs loom large for them.  The partner cannot earn a full salary on a student visa.  Yet international students often pay far more tuition than Americans students, are ineligible for federal and state financial aid, must maintain minimum savings equal to a year or more’s tuition, and are stringently restricted in the hours of work-study they are allowed in a given week. 

Suzanne, an Australian citizen, was a trained web developer but had to study computer science in the U.S. to be able to stay with her partner, Leslie.  To remain legal, she said,

I applied from Australia as an F1 visa student, and have to pay exorbitant course fees as well as have no legal capacity to work and offset the cost of studying here which is upwards of $30,000 US—I had to sell real estate in Australia in order to afford this; however, this was the only way I could legally join my partner in the U.S… We have been forced to put ourselves into financial hardship in order to be together in the United States legally. We constantly have to be aware of every single expense we have.160

Simon, originally from the Philippines, was similarly on a student visa, staying to be with his partner Joe in Kentucky.  Joe, he told us, is “the sole breadwinner of our family.  Immigration laws are very oppressive.  He has to work more than eighty hours a week, including odd jobs, just to be able to pay for my tuition fees and our living expenses.”161

Other couples reiterate the insuperable difficulty of supporting a household on a single income.  Betsy, a thirty-year old British woman, remains in the U.S. out of status so that she can be with Lorraine, her partner of eight years, and their two children.  Because she cannot legally work, Betsy earns what she can by making and selling homemade soap at craft fairs and doing seasonal work in a friend’s office.  She primarily stays at home raising their children, and they survive on whatever Lorraine brings home.  Lorraine’s annual salary was $21,000 when they met, which had to cover not only herself and Betsy but their children’s expenses.  For the past two years, however, Lorraine has been back in school— which means the family survives almost exclusively on her student financial aid.  Lorraine says, “I don’t look at the total of the student loans; if I did, I’d drop out.”162

For lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people who need public benefits such as unemployment insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, welfare, or subsidized housing, falling in love with someone from another country can make life even more complicated.  Such assistance programs make no allowances for the expenses same-sex couples (or other unmarried couples) may face.  Moreover, public assistance comes laden with restrictions. 

Barbara, forty-three, a U.S. citizen living in Massachusetts, is legally disabled with severe difficulty walking.  She has a disabled son, seventeen, as well as a thirteen-year-old daughter.  She relives heavily for physical help as well as emotional support on her British partner, Susan, who lives with her in the U.S.  Barbara qualifies for subsidized housing because of her multiple disabilities.  Susan is legally in the U.S. on a student visa.  Yet, foreigners on student visas cannot live in subsidized housing, so Susan’s presence in the house must be a secret, even though she is both Susan’s primary caregiver and her partner. Barbara feels the injustice acutely: “I have neighbors who have a partner who is not American, and they can bring their spouses, and I say, accept all; but I’m an American and I can’t get my own home country to accept my own partner.” 163

Barbara and Susan in 2002 at Easter dinner. © 2006 Private

“The Constant Fear”

Liz and Carly—not their real names—had been partners for almost four years when we spoke to them.  Liz is from the Midwest—”I have an acre of land; I live in the country; and I work full time, sixty hours a week.”  Carly is from Jamaica. She says:

I came here really to explore a relationship with someone.  Knowing the reaction to same-sex couples in Jamaica, as far as possible as I could get from there was a good choice.  So I decided to come here and go to school. I got here in 2000 … and after a year and a bit I met Liz. 

I was doing a master’s—I finished in December 2002, and you’re allowed after it to work for a year, so I applied for that.  We had gotten to the state where I had decided I wanted to be to with her, but we had to figure out the logistics. We couldn’t move to Jamaica, that would be a death sentence.  How could we go about staying together?

We spoke to an attorney. Their suggestion was if I had a nursing degree I could get a job and an H1B visa: there is a nursing shortage.  I had an MBA! I had no desire to do nursing. But I had spent months looking through the newspaper, sixty applications in one month, and there is just nothing there. So I went back to school—

Liz breaks in. “That sounds so simple. But the stress!  They stuck it to us on that one, the expense of one semester of nursing school—$7,000 for three months.  I was happy to pay for that but I couldn’t keep that up for four years. But then they dropped the quota of H1B visas by two-thirds.”

“Then I realized,” Carly said, “that nursing shortage or no nursing shortage, I would never get a job. At that stage you really felt like a bullet to the head.”

There is a lot of emotional turmoil involved.  You are so trapped.  You want to feel that you are free in a so-called free country.  But going back home is not an option—it means breaking up the relationship.  Here in America you feel like a rat in a cage.  You can’t work.  You live under constant fear that you are a lawbreaker.  Excessive traffic tickets can get you out.  You live under constant stress that some day someone will dream up a different law and kick you out. Just the term illegal alien is not acceptable for me. I had one traffic ticket in my entire life and all of a sudden I’m potentially a criminal.  Any day they can come to your house if you’re illegal and put you in handcuffs and put you in jail. To go home in handcuffs—that would be the ultimate. …

Coming from Jamaica—it has a very high immigration rate to the U.S. but fortunately I came from a family that had no economic stress.  I had no desire to leave—-it was almost an insult to me to leave the country. But I could not have a relationship there.  I worked with many low-income families there, and I saw the desire to leave—but then to come here, not being able to work, not being able to have an income, not being able to use my two degrees—you are not even a second-class citizen, you are literally nobody. I sit there every day and wonder, is it worth this? You want to be with someone, but you think, I can’t live like this, I may love you to death, but my pride won’t take this.

“I don’t think Carly even loosened up enough to ever start feeling at home in our own home,” Liz says.

But I was ultimately convinced it was going to work out. I am fifty, I have been around the block enough times—there was no doubt in my mind that with Carly, that was it.  I know I want to be with her. And I would go anywhere. I had my plans, I had my home, my house is paid for, and I was prepared to walk away from all of it, for Carly.  Sometimes you just know.

“My mom,” Carly says, “kept telling me all the time, ‘Why don’t you figure out a way to stay? Get married.’ I have an aunt who lives here also; she said, ‘Don’t worry, I will find you a guy.”  In 2004, Carly entered an arranged marriage.

The person I got married to lives in New York—so I’m here, she’s in Wisconsin.  If you weigh complete separation versus a couple of years—we took that option. And we can visit. It was easier to swallow that pill than to leave her completely.

The hypocrisy horrifies both.  “The ‘sanctity of marriage,’” Carly says. “It is painful. It is a piece of paper we have.” Liz interrupts.  “We went to the store together and bought the ring for him.  And we thought, this is all it takes.  A ten-minute interview at the INS.  And most of the time the officer asked Carly about real estate in the area she was living in.”

“They were not interested in whether you love each other and this is a real relationship,” Carly remembers.  “They just want to see you turn up together with a piece of paper that says you own something together. Yet still, a committed relationship like ours, you can’t get in the front door with that.”

The two now live a thousand miles apart; but Carly has a work permit: “I can breathe a little bit easier,” she says.  “But I can’t remember some things.  Even good things that happened—because it was when I was so stressed, just living the constant fear, I couldn’t enjoy it.  Some parts of the experience, the personal stress, I have just blanked out. Days I don’t want to ever relive again.” 

I wasn’t born here, didn’t grow up here, didn’t have the American pride, but I had a Jamaican pride.  In a country that is 90% black, you don’t grow up with the same kind of prejudices.   Then coming to this country, you hear it is the land of equality and acceptance; they’ll accept anything.  You come here and realize racism is not dead, number one. That was an eye-opener for me… I didn’t fit in with black America, and I wasn’t allowed to fit in with white America.  And you’re an immigrant.  And I’m gay to boot.  And you just get excluded everywhere. 

“And just because we love each other!” Liz says. “That’s what gets me all the time.”

One thing I learned in the twelve years of solitude before I met Carly:  there is nothing more important than love.  And this country does not recognize me because of who I love.  Meeting her when I did made it very clear that I would do anything to hang on to it. Because that’s all that matters in life.  The most important thing is to be with another human being.

From a Human Rights Watch interview with Liz and Carly (names changed at their request), February 10, 2005

Friends and Family

Again and again couples spoke of intense isolation.   Navigating the immigration system can be agonizing; inconsistency and insecurity become constant.  What a person in a binational relationship can give as a friend or family member, and what they need in return, may shift significantly.  Barbara says,

I have friends that are supportive, but a lot of them just haven’t understood.  Initially they asked, “Why do you bother?”  In the course of trying to explain this, a lot of friends have fallen by the wayside.  This becomes the center of your life; you’re not the fun friend anymore…Yeah, I’d say that probably most of my friends don’t call anymore.164 

People turn inward, Amy explains. “There’s a sense of helplessness.  You’ve got this black hole.  You start talking about your life and then this major roadblock comes up.”165 

Forming new friendships can prove more difficult.  Betsy told us how being undocumented meant shrinking into a deliberate, but debilitating, inconspicuousness.  “I don’t like to lie to people, but you do it because you have to stop the questions.  When you’re making friends, you don’t know who you can trust: at what point do you come clean to people?  And then, is the friendship real when you’ve started the friendship on a lie?” 166

Likewise, partners in exile, often struggling with culture and language, can be cemented in loneliness.   Wade Nichols is a “social person,” he says, but in Taiwan “I have huge difficulties making friends.  I have to find people who speak English, and then people who I actually like.  It’s hard to build a long-term friendship here.  It is frustrating for me.  I often have nothing else to do but come home and watch TV.” 167

Kelly Bossi-Andresen, resettled in Denmark to build her family, echoed the sense of solitude:

Coming from a place like San Francisco to a rural farm area in southern Denmark, there’s not a lot of diversity—not a lot of gay men and women here. For me that was hard.  When Gitte and I had decided to have our children, and build our family, we knew that gay and lesbian culture was important to us, something we wanted to pass on to them.  We wanted them to be proud of who we were, as we were, and here we are—we are the pioneers.  We are the lesbians in this community.  My midwife in my pregnancy—she’s a lesbian, and Gitte and I have helped her and her partner build a life here.  But there’s no community around us.168

Marta Donayre, a Brazilian national in the Bay Area, says that she and her partner Leslie Bulbuk find indifference not only from friends, but from the populations with which they identify, within which they work.  “To the immigrant community, we’re the gays; to the gay community, we’re immigrants; and in the end, we’re invisible. … I would like to stop being a wedge issue and be able to say that I’m fully a member of two communities.”169

Couples spoke, too, of how uncertainty pervaded their lives.  The impact ranges from the relatively banal, such as whether to replace a weathered couch, to the fundamental: whether to commit to a lease, have a child, keep a job, plan for retirement.  Questions erode people’s sense not just of where they are going, but of who they are.  Thomas told us: “It makes thinking about the distant future impossible.  It makes thinking about the near future next to impossible.”170

Ashwini, twenty-three and from India, was studying in Texas where she had met her U.S. partner Rachel, twenty-eight.   “My student visa will officially expire” in a year, she worried. 

There is an acute sense of uncertainty in our relationship.  This uncertainty does not stem from problems inherent to human relationships, but from the laws of the land. … We are unable to make any concrete plans for our future together since everything will fall apart if I’m unable to live in this country.171

Will, trying to live legally in the U.S. with his partner Stefano, told us, “We always feel a sense of fear; as though someone is going to come along and say, ‘You have to leave this evening.’  It may not be realistic, but it’s there – it keeps you awake at night.”172 

This atmosphere, oscillating between tentativeness and terror, does not just affect personal relationships.  The Department of Motor Vehicles; the police; the bank—with no legal recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships, many couples fear that authorities such as these could frustrate their lives, or, at worst, undo them. They spoke of their need always to be protective and prepared.  As Lorraine points out, “Just something as routine as a traffic stop could end our life as we know it now.”  Betsy, her undocumented partner, only has a British driver’s license, but she drives in the U.S. as well.  Getting behind the wheel is risky, but sometimes necessary.  Betsy explains, 

If I don’t drive, I would rely on Lorraine so much and be stuck in the house all the time.  We’d also have to pay for someone to drive the kids back and forth to school.  On vacation [in the U.S.], using a British license is technically legal.  If a cop stopped me, I would have to make up a story that I was on vacation here and say that I was just borrowing a friend’s car. 

But if the officer chose to investigate more deeply, she says, “You’re in hot water straight away.”173

One particularly humiliating fact for many couples trying to stay in the U.S. is that they dare not publicly celebrate their union, even in jurisdictions where the law allows it—because it might adversely affect the foreign partner’s status.  Rebecca and Eileen, American and British respectively, had been juggling visas for five years to remain together in Vermont.  “We have spoken about having a civil union,” Rebecca wrote, but

from published information we realize that doing it would be detrimental to any attempt Eileen makes toward acquiring another visa.  We fear that any action that would legally commit us would essentially put a red flag on her name—and getting temporary visas would become even more difficult.174

Miriam Alejandrina Morales Marin, a Uruguayan citizen, had been living undocumented in the U.S. for many years—and had become an activist for undocumented workers’ rights. She met her partner, Hana Tauber, in 2002.  On May 23, 2004, in Boston, Massachusetts, they married—only weeks after equality in civil marriage had become the law there.  A week later, they left for Ecuador, because they knew their possibilities of being able to live together legally in the United States were slim, and their marriage only exposed Miriam’s status to greater threat.  “We are going through the opposite of the relationship of man and woman,” Miriam says.  “If I would have married a man, I would have stayed in the U.S. and gotten my papers.  Only I married a woman, and that put me in more danger than I was in before.”175

However, the ultimate victims of constant uncertainty and constrained choices are families—the multiple families that people try to sustain, belong to, and accommodate, while struggling against the indifference of immigration law.  This is particularly true for couples raising children. 

Children in these relationships both have a profound impact on their families and are profoundly impacted.  Caring for a child in a partnership without legal recognition redoubles anxieties and intensifies strains.  Abigail, a U.K. citizen and thirty-two, and her U.S. partner Lynne, thirty-four, had been living for six years in Tennessee when Abigail wrote us.  Juggling visitor’s visas, Abigail feared she would eventually be denied or deported: “If I am sent back, it will not only affect Lisa and I, but her children also. We are a loving family, and provide a secure and loving atmosphere for our children. I don’t know how the kids would react if I had to suddenly leave!”176

“It Puts our Kids in Jeopardy”

Steve Boullianne is a U.S. citizen, Olivier De Wulf Belgian.  “Of the twelve years we have been together,” Olivier told us when we interviewed them in their San Francisco home, “about eight have been full of questions.”

Where are we going to live, what are we going to do?  I need to wake up and know this is my bed, this is where I live.  I am isolating myself from the threat now—living for today and trying not to think too far.  But I know there is something ahead. There is school for the kids—Laurent starts kindergarten next year.  And if we are to move, it is better to do it before he starts school than when he is in fifth or sixth grade.

Olivier and Steve had adopted two young children—Laurent, five, and Patrice, four—jointly under California law.  However, they faced a crisis with the looming expiration of Olivier’s work visa, due to run out in 2006.  Olivier feared it would never be renewed; after September 11, he came to Homeland Security’s suddenly intensified attention, because of an old and inadvertent overstay from the 1990s which had remained in government records.  “Each time I leave the country, I am not sure what is going to happen,” he says.  “I am not sure I can re-enter without a problem.”

The two considered moving to Belgium, which at first seemed entirely welcoming—it had opened marriage to same-sex couples in 2003.  But then they discovered the catch—a Kafkaesque twist that meant their relationship might be safe, but their children endangered. “We could marry in Belgium,” Olivier explains,

But Belgium allowed marriage with an exception: it did not allow same-sex couples to adopt.  So our adoption of the kids will not be recognized in Belgium.  If we took our children to Belgium, in ninety days they would become illegal there.  They could be deported after that.

This was two years ago.  We talked to a Belgian lawyer, and with the lawyer we met the parchet, the institution that tries to figure out how a law will be interpreted.  He told us: there is no way to read the law in a way that will allow the kids to be interpreted as yours. 

For Steve it is different, he is American and American law should apply.  So the children would be his under American law. But Belgium could say they do not want to recognize the birth certificate because there are two men.  There is a Belgian law that says that a birth certificate cannot have more than one man or more than one woman on it.  If it does, it is nullified, without value.  This is to ensure that adoption by gay parents should not be recognized. 

Olivier is in the United States on an investor’s visa, having started his own firm.  In 2002, he returned to Belgium for what was supposed to be a routine renewal, but because the business had shrunk in the Bay Area’s economic crisis, the U.S. consulate denied the visa on a technicality.  Although it was eventually renewed, Steve remembers this as a crisis that forced them to confront their relationship’s fragility:

When we were in Belgium—I guess there are a few pivotal moments in my life, but this was one—I was walking down the street and Olivier calls me from the American consulate and says, “They’ve revoked my visa.”  It didn’t even hit me—I said, are we still leaving in ten days, or do we have to wait a few more days? He said, “No, revoked is revoked, they’ve told me I cannot get back into the United States.”  I hung up and said, What is this? We’d lived here years, had kids, a house, friends, jobs, an established life; and he said, “We’re going to have to move to Europe.” And I said, does this mean I have to go back to San Francisco and raise the kids and he visits every so often and we live apart, or does it mean I move to Brussels and start my life over? It means a lot to me.   To us.  And what about the kids?  Maybe changing your life and moving to another place might be fun.  But it’s not something you want to have forced on you. Or on your kids.

“My lawyer here told me,” Olivier adds, “that at the [U.S.] consulate, I could never mention that my kids were here.”  And Steve continues,

That’s the point of the story. The reason you want to stay here—you have a family, kids, a partner—you can’t describe that. All you can say is, I want to work and pay your country’s taxes.  Whereas if you’re straight and have kids all you have to do is say you’re straight and you have kids and a partner.  And they support that.

Almost a year after we spoke, the catch-22 dissipated. After tense debate, Belgium’s parliament narrowly voted to allow gay couples to adopt. The family still faced having to leave their U.S. life, though, because their relationship remained unacknowledged there.  Steve said bitterly:

I think the last time we checked we had spent $30,000 on Olivier’s visas, including flying, and the lawyers’ fees, and all the court costs, just to stay together  … I would love for our family to receive the support, the simple recognition, that heterosexual couples do.  Instead of having lawyers and accountants fill in the gap for us. But that’s not a possibility for us now.

Olivier concludes, “It teaches hypocrisy to our kids.  We tell them a lot about family, responsibility—and then we have to confront them with the reality: our marriage is not recognized here, our adoption is not recognized in Belgium; the world says differently. And the world’s values are not the ones we want to teach our kids.”

From a Human Rights Watch interview with Steve Boullianne and Olivier De Wulf, San Francisco, January 31, 2005.

Barbara, in Massachusetts, worried about how the uncertainty of her partner Susan’s status affected her children’s’ well-being.  Barbara’s seventeen-year old son has a severe mental illness:

It’s already been five and a half years of this.  At times, we think that if we’re going to have to emigrate, it’s almost better to get it over with.  And yet: my son would be eighteen by then, but [because of his disability] he wouldn’t be able to go, so I would have to choose between my partner, my country and my son.  Obviously, I couldn’t leave my son; he would need to be in a residential situation.  I don’t want to do that.  It’s so frustrating. 

Occasionally, the [kids will] hear these conversations.  My daughter doesn’t want to have to move, and she gets very upset, very unsure of her future, and that’s not good for kids.  There’s been random nights of lots of tears.  My daughter worries Susan will go away and not come back.  You can’t tell kids that it will all be okay.  “Okay” to her would mean we will stay here with her friends, that everything will stay the same.  And we can’t tell her that, because everything might not be okay. 

We just want to be able to have a normal life as a family, just get past this and do what normal people do, just have the freedom to be like everyone else, and not have the government so bigoted against our rights to not have that.  We’d rather spend our energy helping the kids with their homework, seeing a movie, worrying about normal financial issues, not these overwhelming questions. 

Barbara, Susan and children celebrate their first Christmas together in 2000.
From left to right: Barbara’s son, Shayne; Susan; Barbara; and Barbara’s daughter, Jami.
© 2006 Private

Barbara underscores another tension that her family must struggle with: foreign nationals in lesbian or gay relationships often have no legal recognition that they parent their American partner’s children.  “It kills me that [Susan] has no legal rights to the kids.  The family would be destroyed if something happened to me.  She has no rights, and she can’t get rights to our family because she’s not an American.  She wouldn’t even have the right to take them out of the country if she couldn’t stay here.”177 

“I think very few people can understand the dilemma of having to choose between your family and the person that you love,” Thomas told us, in one of the refrains most frequently echoed by the couples interviewed for this report.178  Partners—American or foreign—who had gone into exile described the pain of missing family crises and family celebrations.  It is not necessarily a love of place but often a love of family that keeps lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans struggling against great odds to stay in the U.S. with their partners.  Conversely, many foreign nationals complained of being unable to travel—because undocumented, or because awaiting a visa’s approval—which can mean going for years without seeing parents or siblings. 

“Immigration laws don’t just affect the individuals involved in a relationship,” Ashwini said:

Rachel’s parents are in their sixties and seventies.  She wants them to live with us and we want to take care of them.  But how is that going to be possible if we aren’t going to be in this country?  If we leave this place, then her parents come along with us.  Why should our families be put in a situation where they are compelled to leave their home of forty-five years?179

Todd and Nick had been partners for five years, but mostly living apart, when they wrote us; Todd is a U.S. citizen, Nick is Greek, and they were moving to London to make a common life.   “My friends will miss me,” Todd reflected, “but most of all my parents, both in their seventies, will be saddened.  My mother strongly wishes that I would stay in the U.S. in order to be near them as they grow older but this would require me to abandon my partner, my adult family.  I am forced by U.S. immigration law to move far away from my parents and live in another country as they grow old and need me to be near.180

There are significant sadnesses around not being with parents as they age, for something as minor as home maintenance or something as major as around-the-clock care.  Connie, living in Canada with her Turkish partner Ayla, worried that, back in the U.S., “My mom’s mentally really going down.  I call her every week …She’s always asking me ‘When am I going to see you? When am I going to see you?’  She needs twenty-four hour a day care.  I try to explain, but I don’t think she understands. … I just worry. I think, one week I’m going to call and she’s going to have forgotten about me.”181

Wendy and Belinda, faced with leaving the U.S., reflected on the losses this would entail:  “It’s not just us, a couple. It’s about a community.” 182 Tony, thirty-eight, a social worker in New York, considered the same interconnectedness as he contemplated exile with his Brazilian partner. 

Mass media and popular culture tend to think of gay men and lesbians in a vacuum.  But we are so large a part of the fabric of society.  We are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters.  We are also tuition-paying students, tax-paying social workers, working with people with AIDS, helping people with addictions.  I think you would have to ask my mother, my brother, my accountant, my clients, my colleagues, my landlord, my neighbors, my friends, my writing partner, my students, how they would be affected if I left this country.183

“I Am So Scared Because of My Security”

I met Charles in Uganda, in Kampala, it was April 2002.  We became friends, close friends, and after that in May, we became partners.  We moved into a house together. And after that we had a problem with his job. He left there. …  The landlord, I don’t know how, she found out we were gay.  I think someone from Charles’ office may have told her. Then the landlord said she did not want a gay couple staying in her house, so we were forced to move out of the house.   And then the country director of Charles’ office said she wanted Charles to resign because he was gay.  Charles could not find another job in Uganda.  So we thought to move to the U.S.

Emmanuel was twenty-three when he spoke to us in 2005.  Though he had lived in Kampala for several years, he was Rwandan.

When the genocide started I was in secondary school in Kigali.  Most of my family was killed in Kigali—my father, my mother, most of my brothers and sisters.  I fled to Butare and I survived.  They found the person who killed my mother, and took him to jail.  They wanted five people to come and testify against him, but most of the people who could testify had been killed in the genocide.  They let him out.  I was scared, my brother and I were scared.  I went to Kampala to be safe, and I started to study English.  It was there I met Charles.

Charles, his partner, is thirty-six and a U.S. citizen. They met while he was working in Uganda for a large humanitarian relief agency. When we spoke to them, the two were separated.  We listened to their voices on our conference line, Charles in Washington, D.C., and Emmanuel in Rwanda.  Charles remembered:

Emmanuel and I quickly became friends.  I was drawn to his quiet nature, and as our relationship developed, I was amazed that he had overcome so many challenges and still seemed sane.  Not only had Emmanuel been silently dealing with his sexuality, he had also lost so many people in the genocide. … Emmanuel is a wonderful person, and we have come to depend upon one another a great deal. …

Emmanuel moved in with me in December 2002.  We lived together till roughly January 2004.  Six months after we met the problems started.  When we moved in together, the landlady got wind that Emmanuel and I were living together as partners. …

The organization asked me to resign—because they felt that my “security” would be in jeopardy in Uganda.  They said if I resigned I would have a better hand in negotiating things, whereas if I didn’t they didn’t know what would happen. It all happened very suddenly. … The staff were very upset, tears were shed, with the exception of the country director.

The organization knew that I was gay.  I was recruited for my job, I did not apply; I did mention in the interview that I was gay and they did tell me up front that it was illegal in Uganda; “If you do get in trouble we cannot guarantee that we will be there for you.”  … But down the road, ironically, when this landlady finds out we are gay and tells the organization she doesn’t want us in her house, the organization construes this to mean that she could put something in the paper and that could put my security in question.  There were points when Emmanuel blamed me because I had been too open with my employers.

Emmanuel and I did not go to the U.S. embassy to apply for a visa.  I knew it would be all but impossible, because Emmanuel was an African male, single, unemployed, no job, no ties to the land—that he would basically be throwing money away in applying for the visa. In my two years in Uganda I have known many African nationals to apply for visas to visit the U.S., and have even written letters of invitation and reference for several, and have only known one person to be granted a visa… I’m embarrassed to tell anyone that I am American, since many Africans view the visa application process as another way for the U.S. to extort money from Africans who really don’t have the money to lose.

Charles was unable to find work in either Uganda or Rwanda, and had to return to the U.S.   Emmanuel could not support himself in Kampala; he was harassed for being gay. “They beat me in Uganda,” he says: “I was staying with one friend, and a policeman came with another guy and beat me up. They didn’t put me in jail: they just left me there.”   

He had to leave for Rwanda, where homosexuality also incurs hatred.  At first, Emmanuel lived with his grandfather, but, he told us:

It is not safe here.  I had this problem with my grandfather, because he suspects I have a relationship with Charles because of some of my friends who came to visit me in Uganda.  When they came back to Kigali they are talking about me and said I am a gay, and my grandfather found out and he didn’t want me to stay in his place.  That’s why I stay here in Kigali alone.  Right now my neighbors don’t know about me but I am scared if I stay here very long they will find out, and I will have a problem.

When we spoke to them, Charles was desperately trying to find a way to return to Africa and Emmanuel. 

My current employer is actually considering me for a position in Nigeria. This employer does offer some benefits for same-sex couples.  I latched on to the idea, thinking it will be great for Emmanuel because we will be able to be together.  The policy manual said the benefits would include a plane ticket for Emmanuel to accompany me, and extra freight allowances for things that we can take—household items and so on.  We do currently have staff in the field who are serving with their partners. But then I found out that one stipulation is that for Emmanuel to get those benefits he has to be living with me at the time the offer is made.  We are not living together because we cannot live together; it is impossible for him to get a visa.

We aren’t even talking about big-ticket items, health care and pensions—they only offer those to married heterosexual couples.  We are only talking about amounts of two thousand dollars a year, and we can’t even receive those. With hetero couples, if they get married while in the field, they can roll into those benefits if they live together for six months. There is no such provision for same-sex couples—because we cannot legally get married.

As the two struggled to reunite, Emmanuel, asked what he was hoping for, said,

I am so scared because of my security—what happened to me here. I just pray God that if something happens sometime I can be somewhere where I can have security, where I can be happy with my partner. I can only say that—I don’t have anything else to say. 

Charles, facing expatriation, spoke at greater length:

I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I served my country; I am trying to work where I could paint a better picture of the U.S.  But I feel let down by the lack of understanding about what Emmanuel and I face… We’ve been through so much together that I can’t give up now.  I just hope what we’re going through can help change the way other people view these things.

I feel let down by the U.S., by our elected representatives, by the people who were supposed to help me. But it has brought Emmanuel and I closer together.  Not literally—but in our hearts.

(From a Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Charles and Emmanuel—not his real name—April 1, 2005.)


In a situation of unhealthy strain, most partners in these couples are under great pressure—to stay healthy.  Lesbian and gay foreign nationals usually do not qualify for their partner’s health insurance.  They either go uninsured or must find a way to afford private insurance.184  They may forgo medical care for both routine and serious health issues—and the vicissitudes of immigration decisions cause American partners to face this dilemma as well. Wade Nichols, living in exile with his partner in Taiwan, needs knee surgery.  He is reluctant to have it performed in Taiwan where, not speaking Chinese, he would be unable to communicate with medical personnel (nor is he sure his partner would be allowed to be present to help). Yet, Wade no longer has U.S. health insurance, so he cannot afford the operation at home. 185 

With the HIV ban in effect for immigrants, foreign nationals trying to stay in the U.S. constantly experience an extra edge of worry about the consequences of contracting HIV/AIDS or other communicable diseases.  The same applies for many Americans in exile: as Wade explained about his journey through the Taiwanese immigration system, “You have to be in good health.  I have to make sure that I don’t contract any disease that would prevent me from getting residency.” 186   

If one partner has a serious health concern, separation for a period as brief as a visa renewal or as long as the resolution of a major immigration issue can be a huge burden.  Barbara, legally disabled, tells of the reverberations of Susan’s absence when she had to return to England to renew her student visa.

As far as daily living, I need her to lift things, to get down to the laundry room, things like that.  When she was away, my daughter, who was nine years old, had to do things like carry the laundry downstairs, because I couldn’t do it – she weighed just fifty pounds herself!  It’s not like you want your kids to have to deal with that.  I couldn’t get groceries.  We had to stock up on everything before she left.  It was a lot to ask my daughter to have to do these things. 

I walk with a cane, but there are days when I literally can’t walk.  I live on the second floor, so I can’t always get out.  It would be really, really difficult to function without Susan.  Even to lose her to change her visa is a huge hardship.187 

Being apart, or being financially burdened by their immigration hardships, often means that couples cannot support each other in health emergencies.  Before they went into exile in Spain, Anji lived in San Diego and Hills lived in London. “When Hills was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, she sat in a doctor’s office alone.  The diagnosis came before I could get on a plane over there.”188  

The fact or even the fear of separation from loved ones can erode or devastate a partner’s health.  Anxiety, depression, fear, insomnia, exhaustion, eating disorders, and even suicidal thoughts are only some ways that the experience of injustice infiltrates the most personal realms of peoples’ lives: their bodies and minds.

Felipe is a Colombian geology professor who teaches at a community college in Texas.  After twelve years of visa juggling, he recently became a permanent resident, but remembers a decade during which “My self-esteem was underground.  Many times during my lunch break, I would just drive my car to a parking lot for half an hour and cry.”189  Ben, a San Franciscan whose German partner Kurt had to leave the country when his visa ran out, told us:

I’ve had to be treated for depression since then. …  It’s been a tremendous amount of storm and stress about the condition of our family.  We are in our eighth year together, and have a family unit just like any other couple.  It’s distressing to come home at night and find your lover not there.  It’s painful to come home and have no partner in the house, just emptiness.190

Such apparently endless pressure leads some to an ominous brink.  After long separation from his partner of eight years with little hope of living together in the U.S., Thomas found himself “suddenly having these thoughts that I’ve not had before.” 

This sort of situation makes people ask themselves fundamental questions that the average person doesn’t have to ask themselves… Others don’t understand your struggle, or they can’t do anything about it.  You’re left screaming into a vacuum and asking what point your individual existence has.  If you’re looking for answers, you won’t get one.191

Mental and physical problems can lead to increased alcohol and drug use and dependencies.  Partners told us of drinking as a “coping mechanism.”192 Kelly McGowan sees her present striving as part of a story that began with the difficulties of growing up lesbian in “an Irish-American family in a predominantly Catholic city in the 60’s and 70’s”:

Needless to say, I have had to work very hard since then, with lots of therapy and peer support, to create a life that is free from the emotional pain that is caused by being disenfranchised from both my family and community. Self-help has also enabled me to avoid using drugs and alcohol— a way of coping that has caused harm to too many queers—as the only way to deal with these kinds of emotions. But until the U.S. recognizes my rights to live here with my life partner, she and I will have to deal with the day-to-day struggles and related stress that comes from being an outsider. A day doesn't go by when I don't wonder what more productive things I and the rest of this country could be accomplishing if we weren't organized around these kind of battles.193

Indeed, some relationships cannot survive the blows.  Madison, in Kentucky, wrote of her former lover from Australia:

She and I are no longer intimate partners. The relationship lasted almost three years and we gave up after that because we couldn’t find a way to be together due to lack of money and more importantly the lack of a visa.  We were only able to spend about four and a half months of that time physically together: and that was enough for us both to realize that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together and someday get married.

“How could there be a rule that says two people can’t love another?” Madison demands. “What difference does it make if they’re the same gender?”  And she adds, “Let’s be realistic—I’m gay—no one knows I exist.” 194

“I Have Played by the Rules, and This is What I Get”

Jay Vega is a fifty-one-year-old Mexican-American female-to-male transgender man who was engaged to Catherine, a Canadian woman. Yet, unable legally to marry, the couple was unable legally to be together.  There was no legal option for Catherine to move permanently to the U.S.; their only remaining possibility was for Jay to relocate to Canada.  However, Jay’s salary was more than twice Catherine’s and he owned his own home, so they determined to endure a long distance relationship until Jay’s retirement at fifty-five. 

While the two were living in their respective countries, an opportunity arose for what would be a dream come true: to adopt a newborn baby.  They planned for Catherine to care for the child in Canada and for Jay to continue working in the U.S. to support their family.  But the burdens of child-rearing and supporting a family became taxing beyond their imagination.  Jay explains,

I started working two jobs in April 2004.  It was expensive –the phone bills and traveling back and forth to see each other was a lot of money.  When we knew the baby was coming, that was even more a need for money.  I refinanced my home to try to work all of this out, including paying for legal fees to be able to adopt the child. 

Jay began working seventy-two hours—seven days-—a week.  “My only relaxation was Sundays when I got off at 3 p.m. and tried to have dinner with a friend.  The second job cut my ability to travel.  Catherine’s taking care of the baby; I’m working two jobs; we can’t see each other as often as we were.” At his full-time job,

My attention wasn’t as focused as it should have been.  ... It created personal blocks.  I just couldn’t give what my employer needed.  I didn’t have the mental wherewithal.  I couldn’t do it because I might have to travel for my professional job, but I had a second job that was not flexible at all… 

I started out in the projects.  And I did all that stuff you’re supposed to; I didn’t ask for anything special … And Catherine and I didn’t take a dime from either government asking for assistance… 

After all this, I felt and I feel like a person without a country.  My father fought in the Korean War; my brothers fought; I would have too if they would have taken me.  I pay my taxes.  I’ve never been in jail.  Bill Clinton used to talk about playing by the rules.  Well, I have played by the rules, and this is what I get…

The stresses on Jay and Catherine led to their breakup.  When Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality last contacted Jay, he was struggling to recover from the collapse of his family and his dream.  The circumstances had proven insurmountable:

We felt very much alone.  She felt like a single mom, not supported.  Basically, all I could do was send checks. … I tried to be positive, but it wears you down, it takes you to the edge.  I have my strengths and I have my weaknesses, but under that kind of stress, under the impossibility of our trying to be together physically, it took a toll on me, on my physical and spiritual outlook.  It wore me down; it wore her down.  I could provide a financial foundation and a values foundation, but other than that, I wasn’t able to give so much more.  I felt like the situation was completely hopeless, not her or me, just the situation of the laws. 

You just need that pat on the back or that massage or just being able to look them in the eye and say, “Honey, it’s going to be all right.  I’ll take the turn of getting up in the middle of the night; I’ll feed the baby.”

I wanted and dreamt all my life of the woman that was the right one for me and that I would be the right one for her.  We were engaged until early this summer when we broke up.  That was our relationship: she was my wife and I was her husband.  At the very least, we were official fiancés.  I waited for the perfect woman and the perfect time, but we weren’t from the same country. 

From Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Jay Vega, October 10, 2005.

Yet from all these stories, two threads emerged.  First, whether as individuals or couples, against the odds, people defended the lives they had defined for themselves against the state’s indifference.  Kurt, looking back on his battle to stay with his partner Ben, says, “One thing I’ve learned about myself: it is possible to find the courage to fight back and to establish the life you want to live.” 195 Second, couples insisted again and again on seeing the political as well as personal dimensions of their ordeals.  One man wrote us:

I sacrificed two years serving my country in the Peace Corps, promoting American values such as the freedom to pursue happiness. I now realize that these values do not apply to me and that I am in essence a second-class citizen… Do our elected officials enjoy tearing couples apart?  Do they enjoy seeing a group of their fellow Americans suffer?196

Tom, in Texas, carrying on a long-distance relationship with his Vietnamese partner, Phong, said:

I think about my father who fought many wars so that citizens of this country could remain free to choose.  Now this very same country my father put his life on the line for denies me the right to choose… I do not want to leave my country but my country has already left me.  I think this is a very sad day for the United States of America.  For a country to turn its back on its citizens is a disgrace.197

[141] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality interview with Wendy Daw and Belinda Ryan, Fremont, California, January 31, 2005.

[142] M. V. Lee Badgett, “Income Inflation: The Myth of Affluence Among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Americans,” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1998. The myth was popularized in the early nineties when the individual and household incomes of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (transgender people were excluded) depicted in marketing surveys were widely touted.  The most prominent surveys drew heavily on readership of lesbian and gay publications, as well as on mailing lists of political organizations, a mail order catalogue, a credit card company, and sign-up sheets from community events, bars, and bookstores.  Despite the limitations of studies of publication subscribers or credit card holders as sources of community-wide demographic data, these marketing studies became one of the most common sources of information about lesbian and gay communities.

[143] Badgett derives her figures from multiple studies.  She compares the income of gay men and heterosexual men in: the General Social Survey, in which gay men earn $26,321 and heterosexual men earn $28,312; in the 1990 Census, in which gay men earn $23,037 and heterosexual men earn $24,979; and in the Yankelovich Monitor, in which gay men earn $21,500 and heterosexual men earn $22,500.  She compares the income of lesbians and heterosexual women in: the General Social Survey, in which lesbians earn $15,056 and heterosexual women earn $18,341; in the 1990 Census, in which lesbians earn $17,497 and heterosexual women earn $9,038; and in the Yankelovich Monitor, in which lesbians earn $13,300 and heterosexual women earn $13,200.  Her research did not investigate the situation of transgender people/

[144] Jessica Stern, “Lesbians are Women Too: A Set of Fact Sheets from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute,” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2005, at (retrieved December 23, 2005). 

[145] Ibid. 

[146] Jessica M. Xavier, “The Washington, D.C. Transgender Needs Assessment Survey,” Us Helping Us, People Into Living, Inc., and Administration for HIV/AIDS, Department of Health, Government for the District of Columbia, 2002, at (retrieved December 23, 2005). 

[147] “TransRealities: A Legal Needs Assessment of San Francisco’s Transgender Communities,” National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center, 2002, (retrieved December 23, 2005).

[148] At the same time, employment and incomes for immigrants in binational lesbian and gay couples deviate from the immigrant norm.  More immigrant women in such relationships are in the workforce, partly because most women in these partnerships are not immigrating to be with their heterosexual families, thus earning higher incomes.  By contrast, fewer immigrant men participate in the workforce, partly because men in these partnerships are not immigrating to participate in the labor force but for reasons such as their families.  (See Appendix C for details.).  However, their participation in binational same-sex relationships does not mitigate the potential vulnerability that they as immigrants face in the U.S.

[149] Randolph Capps, Michael E. Fix, Jeffrey S. Passel, Jason Ost, and Dan Perez-Lopez, “Immigrant Families and Workers: A Profile of the Low-Wage Immigrant Workforce” (Immigrant Families and Workers: Facts and Perspectives, Brief No. 4), The Urban Institute, 2003, at  (retrieved December 23, 2005).

[150] Ibid.

[151] Luke J. Larsen, “The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2003,”U.S. Census Bureau, 2004, at (retrieved  December 23, 2005).

[152] Ibid. 

[153] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality interview with David (last name withheld at his request), New York, October 14, 2005.

[154] Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality telephone interview with Amy (name changed at her request), October 24, 2005. 

[155] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Fabian and Robert (last names withheld at their request), October 6, 2005. 

[156] Ibid.

[157] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Thomas (names changed at his request), October 26, 2005.

[158] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Wayne Nichols and Francis Shen, November 2, 2005.

[159] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Gitte and Kelly Bossi-Andresen, December 20, 2005.

[160] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Suzanne (name changed at her request), undated, 2003.

[161] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Simon (last name withheld at his request,” undated, 2003.

[162] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Lorraine and Betsy (names changed at their request), November 7, 2005.

[163] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality interview with Barbara and Susan (last names withheld at their request), October 11, 2005.

[164] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality interview with Barbara and Susan (last names withheld at their request), October 11, 2005.

[165] Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality interview with Amy (name changed at her request), October 24, 2005. 

[166] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Wendy and Betsy (last names withheld at their request), November 7, 2005.

[167] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Wayne Nichols and Francis Shen, November 2, 2005.

[168] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Gitte and Kelly Bossi-Andresen, December 20, 2006.

[169] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality interview with Marta Donayre and Leslie Bulbuk, Oakland, November 11, 2005.

[170] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Thomas (names changed at his request), October 26, 2005.

[171] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Ashwini and Rachel (last names withheld at their request), November 3, 2003.

[172] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality interview with Will and Stefano (names changed at their request), New York, January 19, 2005.

[173] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Wendy and Betsy (last names withheld at their request), November 7, 2005.

[174] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Rebecca (last name withheld at her request), September 13, 2003.

[175] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Miriam Alejandrina Morales Marin and Hana Tauber, May 9, 2005.

[176] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Abigail (names changed at her request), undated, 2003.

[177] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Barbara and Susan (last names withheld at their request), October 11, 2005.

[178] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Thomas (names changed at his request), October 26, 2005.

[179] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Ashwini and Rachel (last names withheld at their request), November 3, 2003.

[180] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Tom and Nick (last names withheld at their request), undated, 2003.

[181] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ayla and Connie (last names withheld at their request), October 26, 2005.

[182] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality interview with Wendy Daw and Belinda Ryan, Fremont, California, January 31, 2005.

[183] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Tony (name changed at his request), September 2, 2003.

[184] In addition, those binational lesbian and gay couples lucky enough to receive health insurance by virtue of U.S. domestic partnerships must pay taxes on the health insurance, since non-spousal insurance appears as added income that is taxed.

[185] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Wade Nichols and Francis Shen, November 2, 2005.

[186] Ibid.

[187] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Barbara and Susan (last names withheld at their request), October 11, 2005.

[188] Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality telephone interview with Anji (last names withheld at their request), October 6, 2005.

[189]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Felipe and Anthony (names changed at their request), November 5, 2005.

[190] Human Rights Watch interview with Ben and Kurt (names changed at their request), San Francisco, January 30, 2005.

[191] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Thomas (name changed at his request), October 26, 2005.

[192] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Thomas (names changed at his request), October 26, 2005.

[193] E-mail to Human Rights Watch from Kelly McGowan, March 3, 2006.

[194] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Madison (last name withheld at her request), undated, 2003.

[195] Human Rights Watch interview with Ben and Kurt (names changed at their request), San Francisco, January 30. 2005.

[196] E-mail to Immigration Equality from a man who requested anonymity, August 29, 2003.

[197] E-mail to Immigration Equality from Tom (last name withheld at his request), October 23, 2003.

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