De Leon: Gay Binational Couples Fight Back


A gay couple outside of the City Clerk's office in lower Manhattan on July 24. (Photo: asterix611/flickr)

After last week’s commentary on the response of gay binational couples to new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deportation guidelines, I received quite a few heated reactions.

Kathy Drasky, whose story is featured in Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, sent me a link to an online petition spearheaded by the organization she co-founded, Out4Immigration, an all-volunteer grassroots group made up of binational couples and their supporters.

The petition criticizes DHS, which the group says has left the LGBT community “disappointed” because the new guidelines “fail to specifically mention gay and lesbian binational couples,” who are in danger of deportation because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents them from equal protection. It also offers a way for people to get involved.

“We like to go on record and empower as many of us as possible,” Drasky told me via email. “So many couples are living in exile, or under the radar, or from visa status to visa status that they find it hard to get involved and do something.  We strongly encourage people to use these petitions to educate their friends, families, colleagues and communities about our issue. What same-sex binational couples face is a very complex issue. It is rarely even understood by other LGBT people, so our work is cut out for us.”

C., who asked not be identified since his husband is an undocumented immigrant, said, “You must have seen the video of the cop pepper-spraying the students at UC Davis. The rage I feel at the sight of that is the rage I have so often felt at our government’s failure of its LGBT citizens where it comes to immigration. The very fact that it continues to let itself tear committed families and couples apart, squandering resources for all involved, is nothing but gratuitous cruelty, just as the officer’s stupid display of power was.”

C. has been with his spouse for 18 years and they recently got married in New York.

“The lack of language clearly protecting families like mine where immigration is concerned, is a de facto policy statement that only some families count, only some families are valued, and government officials still allow fear of us to rule their ability to take a stand on our behalf,” C. said.

He is concerned that the lack of clarity on who is allowed to stay and who will be deported leaves them vulnerable to the whims and prejudices of an immigration official, particularly one who does not care for gay people.

“Our almost two decades together would be torn apart, spreading circles of hardship to employees, extended family, and our community,” C. said.

“This is not consistent, in my opinion, with the ideals upon which this republic was founded—and counter to the reality I see in the real world of my community, where we are acknowledged by everyone we know as a couple, committed as any other,” he added.

C. and his husband have run a small business since 1997 and they are very much embedded in their community.

“We have our house, we have our dogs, we have our business, we are active in our neighborhood’s redevelopment…we have our life here.”

C. and his husband are not giving up without a fight. They do what they can to raise awareness about the plight of binational same-sex couples. They even speak up in a video produced by the Devote Campaign, albeit in the shadows.

“Some of the most impressive couples I know are binational same-sex couples who have endured against all odds.  We bring much to our families and communities, and I believe am keeping the American Dream alive by fighting for it,” C. said, “by speaking out about this issue, by taking risks.”

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Feet in Two Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund.  Feet in Two Worlds podcasts are supported in part by WNYC, New York Public Radio.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.