H8ed Into Exile

Three days ago we joined in the international day of protest against California’s Prop 8 and other hate-oriented laws around the world.  Before heading off to the US Consulate here in Toronto to sound off against the bigotry, hate and discrimination that drove Vajdon and I from our home in the U.S. I started this entry which has been stewing for awhile.

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Being gay in America is a bit like two things:

•    being at a party to which you’re not invited and
•    being Frankenstein getting chased by villagers.

To flesh out what it’s like for some of us U.S. Queers, particularly those of us with non-American partners, let me share the part of our exile journey before we left the States.  Later, I’ll write about our harrowing experiences just before, and then at, and then after our border crossing.  That part of the journey was gut-wrenching and I need to pace myself to put it into words. In spite of everything working out, Americans ought to know what they are forcing American families to endure.  If most Americans knew what we have to go through, they wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  It’s up to us to spread the word.

Because we were the lucky ones.

My partner and I had to leave the US because of our bi-national, same-sex partnership.  It’s no secret there is no place for us in the States except in hiding and deceit.  Since Bush has used the bully-pulpit to bash us for eight long years, it is extremely unsafe to stay.  In an environment where almost half of all hate-crimes go unreported, it’s clear that less than half of us think we’d get any justice.

We’re not interested in living that life.  Vajdon and I met nine years ago at a friend’s birthday party and have been together ever since.  When Vajdon’s immigration status went “out of status” years before, the situation for queers in Zimbabwe – his home country – was rapidly deteriorating.  This is the mid-90s, right, when Mugabe (Zim’s dictator) had taken to calling queers dogs and attacking queer groups when organizing.  One particularly nasty bit was when a queer group held a book sale and soldiers attacked the participants.  A return there would likely be an act of suicide for Vajdon and would, at the least, require a return to the closet.

While many Americans admire queers for coming out, queers often endure years of confusion and disorientation as we weigh the opportunity costs of hiding and remaining under the radar.  Many of us can pass as straight.  Why bring trouble on ourselves?  Truth.  That’s all.  Queers are some of the bravest people I know.  We come out to live in our truth.

In 2002, I went to France and got accepted in a PhD program at Charles V (Paris) studying the history of marriage (of all things!).  The great thing was that Vajdon could come with me, the bad thing was that we’d have to live on a grad student’s salary for over a year before Vajdon could work.  The previous year we’d contracted a lawyer, J. Craig Fong, who’d come highly recommended.  Beware of recommendations!  The idea was that Vajdon would apply as a “Skilled Worker” to migrate to Canada.  Fong, cruelly, strongly advised Vajdon to apply as a single person and for us to erase all evidence of our relationship.  We were sick to our stomachs.  And for good reason, you don’t lie on an immigration application.  Following his directives, though, Vajdon filled out the application as a single man.  He would wait until approved and then follow me.

I, however, would have to figure out my own path to Canada.  This was fine (well, relatively) because my priority was Vajdon’s safety.  I set to work and got accepted into a Master’s program in Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario (UWO).  While I love Philosophy, specifically Ethics, I’m a creative and education type, not a professional philosopher.  In August 2003, we sold everything, dismantled our household and I flew off to London, ON.  We made plans to see each other at my sister’s wedding in Michigan the week after but, still, in bed at the Delta Chelsea hotel late at night I sobbed and sobbed asking myself, what have I done? What have I done? Even though it made logical sense,  I had moved 2,500 miles away, to another country (! )without the person I love.  Vajdon talked me down on the phone and we just kept repeating that we had to have faith.  He was coming, he was coming.

Vajdon was supposed to be following shortly under his “Skilled Worker” application, theoretically submitted the previous year.  But after 3 ½ months of being in Canada and Vajdon still stuck in the States – and no word from Fong or the Canadian Customs & Immigration (CIC) – I couldn’t take it. We hated being apart.  I saw my future in Canada rolling our before me in some university office grading papers and the grammar of 18 year olds and bolted.  Vajdon, too, had lost his job again – a pitfall of being out of status – and I refused to let him swing on a string alone.  I moved back to Los Angeles.  The grin didn’t leave my face for months – the joy of being together is worth everything to us.  And not a word from our lawyer during this whole time.  Not a word.  It took us a year to find out, partly, why.

So, I moved back to LA and god knew what lay ahead.  And, we waited to hear something from Fong or CIC.  By Nov. 2004, I was very angry and demanded a meeting with Fong.  He said he had bad news for us – Vajdon’s application had been lost!  Lost?!  If you know Canadians, you know they don’t lose anything.  Again, we were sick to our stomachs and I almost leapt across the desk and got Fong around the throat.  I didn’t believe him for a minute.

But Fong said he would do another application for us at no extra charge.  An immigration application is a lot of work; I never heard of a lawyer doing them for free.  And, when exactly was Fong going to tell us that the application was lost?  We dutifully filled out another app for Vajdon.  In addition, Vajdon studied and studied flew up to San Jose to take the DEUG French test to bolster his app.  Piling more dollars onto the already thousands we’d spent in this process.  We felt lost.  We didn’t know another lawyer, we had no information.  HRC, Immigration Equality and other gay orgs had no idea how to help us.

Then, in early December 2004, we had friends over for dinner and one of them told us that his brother was a Toronto lawyer.  So, we got in touch with him and from there we found our lawyer, Michael Battista.

I was running in Echo Park when Michael rang my cell.  He told me that Vajdon could make a Protected Person claim (making me an American refugee) at the Canadian Border and got to safety that way.  All the years and moves and confusion and anguish of the years before came at me; it was almost too good to be true.  There must be a loophole.  There must be a glitch.  This wouldn’t work for us, would it?  I, of course, was laughing and crying with tentative relief.

From there we demanded our $4,000. from Fong and fired him.  He didn’t say a word.  And, deceitfully it turns out, he had never filed the first nor the second applications! In all of those years, he never said a word.  He jeopardized Vajdon’s safety for years.  I’m want others to learn from our expereince.  Years before we could’ve gotten Vajdon to safety, if this joker had known anything about immigration to Canada or gay human rights.

And, Fong offered no reason for this.  None.  Then, to really display the color of his soul and integrity, in order for us to get the $4K back, he insisted that Vajdon sign a document rescinding/waiving all rights to sue.  Vajdon is not a go-after-them or vindictive kind of guy so he signed, getting the paperwork and money back.

We immediately began planning for how we’d get Vajdon to Canada, again.  This was Dec. 2004 and by May 2005 he was at the border making his claim. I studied the Missing Children posters in the lobby watching people beg to be let into Canada. Not having the remotest idea what we were going to do if the Canadians said, No.

I’ll put the journey, harrowing in itself, in another entry.

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~ by Thom on November 18, 2008.

8 Responses to “H8ed Into Exile”

  1. Some of us will respond this way:

    The National Equality Tax Protest – Wednesday, April 15th, 2009.

    Finally, individuals are gathering to TAKE A STAND against persecution from the Mormons & the Christian “Right”. No vote will be needed on this one.

    • Hallelujah! My sentiments exactly. It’s up to the bigots to explain, justify and defend why a group of citizens should be excluded in civil law. The queer movement has a lot of soul searching to do about this. More to come – thanks for posting, John!

  2. Do you know of Tim Coco’s story? It’s on my blog (EQUALITY FRIENDS). Wanna share your story there also? (I’d add a link to here).

    I’ve been battling PTSD since my “divorce” in 2004. PROP 8 hit me hard. November 6th I walked to work as usual and felt a concentration camp odor in the air….yes….a stench. I came out to all of my clients that Saturday. So far only 2 of 24 dropped; each had the signature “Blessings” on each (curious, but no surprise). Oye….

  3. You’re wrong about it being hate. But keep using it if it gets you through the night.

    In the meantime, don’t bet on Obama to save the day. Ain’t gonna happen. Obama’s candidacy energized the US Afro-American community as never before. They voted in droves and they voted 70 to 30 against you. 70 to 30 in a democracy is an ass-kicking.

    Democracy is not about being nice to people. It’s about votes. You could get a dictator to order people to be nice. But then, you wouldn’t have democracy anymore.

    It’s a real crossroads kind of thing, ain’t it? Like what Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it…”

  4. To the previous commenter:

    Hate is a complex concept. Religious voters at the polls may not think they are being hateful, but their actions result in discrimination and contribute indirectly to a culture of hatefulness. In this, it is irrefutably “hate”.

    Also, to selectively quote voter demographics that support your argument of a democratic “ass-kicking” is to offer a very narrow sliver of the picture. Yes, if you would prefer to take a defeated outlook, the African-American vote is a helpful figure to focus on, but what if we were to look at age demographics, or income level, or education? Each, I imagine, offers a different conclusion, but only altogether can they illuminate the whole picture. That whole picture is 52% to 48% – far from an “ass-kicking”, and arguably, for a minority rights referendum, one of the closest in history.

  5. Apologies for hogging this comment box, but I had not seen a new post since November and wanted to send a personal message (didn’t find a “contact” link).

    Anyhoo, I sincerely DO hope you and Vajdon are doing well and adjusting. There is such a long, SENSELESS, tragic list of marriage inequality victims who have survived a wide variety of UNEQUAL PROTECTION under the law. Take Care. (john)

  6. […] Thom & Vajdon […]

  7. Your support for us in California is very appreciated. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

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