Celebrating 18th Anniversary: Allen and Jean-Francois in Exile Call for Humanitarian Parole, End to DOMA
It was a very warm Los Angeles day in June 1995 and I was going to the gay pride parade and festival with my friends. I had a lot of friends in Los Angeles and we used to go places and do things together. I had been single for years and had basically decided to remain single unless I met someone very special, someone that would make my life better. I wanted true love and nothing less would do. On our way home from the festival my friends wanted to stop in this little local bar, so in we went and there stood this tall, handsome guy with beautiful blue eyes. I said, “Hi my name is Allen,” and he gave me a big smile and said his name was Jean-Francois. We started talking and he had the nicest French accent. He seemed really nice. From that moment on, and for the last 18 years, I would not be alone; love had finally found me.
Our life in Los Angeles was splendid. We both had jobs, lots of friends, a love for the city, and a wonderful dog named Zelda the Doberman. We just enjoyed our life together. We had saved and really worked hard to buy a condo. After selling our condo we purchased an amazing mid-century modern fixer home. For three years we worked on our house every weekend until it was completely renovated. We were happy being together and really enjoyed our life; it was like a dream come true. The life we created was the life we wanted and had worked so hard to create. Little did we know our life was soon going to change drastically and not in a good way.
We shared an office in the house where Jean-Francois did his writing and I worked in real estate. Jean-Francois was a writer for French magazines and newspapers. He was in the US on a media visa that was renewable every five years and sponsored by his employer in France. I had worked most of my life in hotel management but had recently changed careers to become a real estate agent and really enjoyed it. Then it happened, Jean-Francois received a letter from his employer in France notifying him that the magazine (the sponsor for his visa) was closing down. Without his work visa he could not legally stay in the US.
We went to see an immigration attorney thinking there must be some way we can get Jean-Francois the right to stay in the US. The attorney advised us that because of the so called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) we basically had two choices. We could move to France (where Jean-Francois would be able to sponsor me as his partner) or we could separate. There was no way were going to separate. We were happy together. We had been together for over 10 years already.
So, we sold our home, left the city we loved, left our friends, left our old life behind, and moved to the island of Saint Martin which is French and Dutch. We chose Saint Martin because it is the closest French island to the United States. My mother by this time was in her 80’s and I did not want to be too far away from her. There was also the financial concern that I would be required to fly back to the US every 90 days until I obtained a Carte De Sejour (French green card). According to the French law you can obtain a Carte de Sejour one year after you are PACS’d (French civil union). We arrived in Saint Martin in May 2006 and had our civil union (PACS) in June 2006.
One year later, we had to go Saint Martin Immigration to apply for my Carte De Sejour so I would have the right to stay and work in Saint Martin. We had spoken to other people on the island and knew we would have to arrive at immigration very early at 3 o’clock in the morning so we were far up enough in the line to speak to someone at the immigration office between 8 am and 9 am. Well, the first time the window was closed in front of our face so we had to go back the next night at 3 am and this time we did get to speak with someone in the immigration office around 8:30 am in the morning. The person told us we were misinformed and I needed to fly back to Los Angeles and apply for a French visa there at the French Consulate. We knew if I did fly back there was the possibility the visa could be denied. At this point we realized that this small island had not had gay couples apply for the right to stay and work based on their relationship. We needed to hire an attorney in Paris to write a letter on our behalf to the local immigration office clearly stating what the law is. The local immigration people said they wanted a judge in France to make a legal judgment on our case before they would issue my Carte De Sejour, the judge ruled in our favor. Close to two years after our arrival, I no longer had to spend loads of money to fly back to the US every three months; I was able to stay.
This May will be our 7th year living on this island and it has been hard. We have very few friends here and feel isolated, career potential is very limited here, and it’s expensive to live here. I have applied to all the hotels to try to get a job here but my French work papers are not honored on the Dutch side of the island where everyone speaks English and I do not speak French well enough to work in a hotel on the French side of the island. I have managed to get work managing a few vacation rental condos which helps us get by. My husband manages a small boutique hotel here carrying the majority of the burden of supporting us both. At times he feels bad, guilty, like it’s his fault we have to live here because he is not an American. I tell him it’s not his fault; discrimination against us is not our own doing. Discriminatory laws need to be overturned or repealed. The important thing is that we are still together, and we are empowered to help undo the discrimination against gay and lesbian binational couples by sharing our story today.
Some people have asked me what it’s like to live in paradise surrounded by so much beauty? I wish I could see the beauty here, I really do. Many people dream of living on a Caribbean island, but this was never our dream. I feel like a large piece of our life was stolen from us, and our life has been placed on hold indefinitely. I have written my representatives many times, written the President, written every person I thought could help change this situation, and signed every petition I could for years. Sadly, back in 2006, we had no other option but forced exile. However, after nearly a decade of relentless activism in solidarity with tens of thousands of binational gay and lesbian couples, things have finally started to change. DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) deportations have virtually ceased and efforts like The DOMA Project are actively advocating for much-needed interim policies like the abeyance of green card petitions and implementation of humanitarian parole for the foreign partners of gay and lesbian Americans. Humanitarian parole in particular would allow Jean-Francois and me to resume the life we left behind in Los Angeles, to resume our dream. As the fate of DOMA is considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, the time for humanitarian parole is now. We have been forced to put off our dream for too long; time is too valuable.
Our 18-year anniversary of being together is in June. Our 7 year French civil union anniversary is also in June, and our 2 year wedding Anniversary in Massachusetts is in July. This year it would be great if we could celebrate all of our anniversaries in the United States and be allowed to stay. The Supreme Court has our life and our future in their hands and I hope they strike down the discriminatory DOMA. In the meantime, we will continue to do our part by sharing our story and informing others about the cruel consequences of DOMA. Everyone from your next door neighbor to Chief Justice Roberts needs to hear about the lives of couples like us who have never hurt anyone and love each other very much. In the end, our lives and our dreams are at stake. Please join us in fighting for our future, humanitarian parole, and an end to DOMA. We want to come back home!