Here Come The Voices of Change: Producer Brynn Gelbard Reflects on Our Recent Trip to Boston, New York and Charlotte
It’s been nearly a week since I returned home to Los Angeles from the first road-trip collaboration between The DeVote Campaign and The DOMA Project. From Boston to North Carolina, we interviewed seven married binational same-sex couples who are struggling to remain together in this country because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the recognition of their relationships for immigration purposes. As one half of a binational couple myself whose Irish spouse won a green card in the lottery, I could never have anticipated how profoundly this experience would affect me.
When I first started DeVote two years ago, I was motivated by the need to do something productive rather than wallow in my fury that the passing of California’s Proposition 8 meant I had to postpone my wedding to my girlfriend of nearly seven years at the time. My goal was to create a series of vignettes portraying the scope of humanity unified by the desire to eradicate discrimination against LGBT people. I also wanted to ensure that first hand anecdotes from this time in history were preserved for future generations. I did not see myself as an activist though, but as a writer and filmmaker who relished great characters for their ability to open stubborn minds.
Teaming up with The DOMA Project has been nothing short of monumental for me. I have never been so convinced of the power of stories to invoke change as I am now working alongside spouses from all walks of life who are refusing to keep silent and wait for laws to shift in their favor. Their unrelenting commitment to each other, despite never knowing what tomorrow may bring, fuels my urgency to help them ensure this fight is unapologetically personal.
When we look back upon historical milestones in the civil rights movement, the heroes we speak of are real people like Rosa Parks, who one day just refused to get up from her seat and move to the back of the bus. For countless binational couples, however, the fear of being torn apart has kept them from openly taking a stand. Now that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act has been ruled unconstitutional by several federal judges and the Obama administration has said it will no longer defend it in court, there is hope where there was none before. Guided by their dedication to one another, these husbands and wives are claiming their power to change hearts and minds – the ultimate manifestation of full equality – by discussing how this discriminatory law has affected their lives and families. It is no longer possible for lawmakers, immigration officials, or the general public to deny that there are real people impacted by this injustice. The terms of the discussion have changed precisely because binational couples have come forward, demanding green cards and a policy that values and honors their love and their marriages.
There is one thing that can and must be done so these families are free to get on with the lives that they have so honorably fought for the right to share. When an American applies for a green card for his or her same-sex foreign-born spouse, as heterosexual couples regularly do without incident, it should not be denied. Rather, it should be put on hold while DOMA makes its way through the courts, or is repealed by Congress.
I am forever grateful to these couples for sharing what it has been like to live in love with the constant threat of losing everything. Some have put off having kids and buying their dream house because they never know what the future holds. Others recount sleepless nights wondering if the foreign spouse will be deported to a distant country that is flagrantly homophobic, affording them no options but exile to yet a third country if they are to stay together. There are those living here without status who have faced the harsh choice of whether or not to attend a parent’s funeral overseas knowing it could mean a 10-year bar from returning to the U.S. Many children are growing up without one of their parents present because there is no way for the non-American to legally reside here. Imagine the mother who got a call from her wife that their son had gone blind after a sports accident. She had to explain to him that she could not be by his side because she had only just left the country and could not get back in as a visitor again so soon.
In honor of these binational couples and their bravery, I am proud to step into the role of activist, working with attorney, Lavi Soloway, to ensure their stories are out there for all to see, including elected officials, many of whom want to do the right thing, but need a context to do so. On behalf of The DeVote Campaign and The DOMA Project, later this month, we look forward to presenting voices that will never again be silenced. Here come the voices of change.