Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Story: Kevin & Francis

Each Obstacle Keeping Us Apart Makes Us More Determined to Be Together

My name is Kevin Yeager and I am currently engaged to Francis Gelay. We are a same-sex binational couple who, like so many others, must endure being separated as a result of the marriage inequality laws in the United States.

Yet this obstacle is also what keeps me more determined than ever to fight for equality, get our story out, and encourage others to add their voices to the call to repeal DOMA.

I am a US citizen and Francis is a resident of the Philippines. In 2011 we knew that we were both ready to join our lives together. As a result, about a year ago Francis and I began researching the U.S. visa process. We quickly discovered that a fiancé visa was out of the question since this is solely reserved for heterosexual citizens. Upon much research we decided that our most viable option was to work within the current non-immigrant options available and aim for a tourist or student visa. Although a tourist visa is limited to a rather short period of time, at least it was better than nothing. Plus, I could travel over to him job permitting, of course.
Let me begin by saying that one can easily compare trying to obtain a tourist visa from the Philippines to the United States is much like trying to break out of a prison. I am sure many couples have faced this dilemma if one of the partner’s home residences is not considered a “First World” country. After a flight to Manila, then checking into hotel across from U.S. Embassy, Francis is off to his interview. The first attempt was denied under what is called “Section 214(b)” on the basis that he could not prove sufficient non-immigrant intent. In other words, he failed to prove that he would return to the Philippines.

Saddened but determined, we then decided we might be more successful going the student visa route. Since Francis has a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, we looked and found colleges in my area that offered ongoing nursing programs. Not only would we be together, but he could enhance his credentials and be able to work through the school in on-job learning, within the guidelines of the student visa restrictions.

More research, paperwork, and my having to show that, as his U.S. sponsor, I had the capacity to support his education and living expenses while in America. In addition, Francis had to complete English courses and tests to prove his English-speaking abilities. Fortunately, his enrollment was accepted by one of the colleges and he was immediately issued his I-20. Even better was the fact that this college is just minutes from my house!

Again, off on another flight to Manila, more hotel stays, another long line at the Embassy, and another denial. Once more, denied due to the failure to prove his intent to return.

We are obviously disappointed, but there’s something about when you want something bad enough you just are not ready to accept defeat. As a result, we decided to go the student visa route once again, use a consultant firm, and armed with knowing what mistakes we made in the first two attempts.

At this point we needed a success. Since I had some vacation time coming I decided to travel to the Philippines to meet Francis' family in his hometown of Davao. From there we would travel to his family home of Midsayap, a rural area in southern Mindanao. Upon our arrival in Davao, we were met by his brother, sister-in-law, and our god-daughter, Arianna. I knew this was going to be a life-changing event the moment I climbed into the van they rented to take us on our journey. In the window was a sign that read:

“Welcome to Davao City Philippines, Kevin Yeager We are happy to see you. Feel at home and be one of us. Thank you very much. Mabuhay.” 

Even recalling this event takes me back to that moment and the overwhelming feelings that were going on inside my heart. I knew at this instant that this was the spouse and family I had dreamed of but never thought it possible for me.

Upon our arrival in the area Francis was born and raised, I was introduced to his parents and many other family members. There were hugs and handshakes from people who, in an instant, were no longer strangers but a family I might have known my whole life. It was as if I was coming home. And, I had Francis, my mahal, with me.

The next day was spent traveling to Francis’ family home. I thought I understood the word rural, but it was completely redefined on that day. Francis grew up on a farm. A typical tropical farm where his family made a living harvesting bananas, rice, and coconuts that surround a home referred to as a Nipa hut, I believe. A home built from the resources right there available on the farm. Even in the tropical heat that day, to have an intimate look at my fiancĂ©'s background and perspective was a gift that I cannot express completely in words alone. Here we are two people, from completely different worlds, whose paths somehow crossed to lead to this moment.

Later that evening his family threw us an engagement celebration. The event was one that we will never forget - our engagement was both recognized and supported by Francis' entire family. The Philippines is a poor country, families live in conditions that are unimaginable to many Americans. Yet, Francis’ family used their very limited resources and put together a celebration to both recognize our commitment in addition to officially welcoming me to the family. I met Francis' Lola (grandmother), the family matriarch. I remember to this very moment, the feeling of her grasping my wrist and whispering, “I would like to welcome you to our family.”

Upon my return to the U.S., Francis continued his English classes to study for the English exam as needed for our next shot at a student visa. Again, his enrollment application was accepted by the college, he received the I-20, we paid the $200 fee along with both the consultant’s and visa application fees. A trip to Cebu to meet with the consultant, then a flight to Manila, more hotels, and standing loaded down with documentation for an interview. But again the door was slammed shut in our face with nothing but an emptier bank account, heartbreak, and one more piece of paper with excuses for denying Francis the visa.

We are saddened that we must continue to endure this separation due to the injustice of current American immigration laws. Although I am periodically able to travel to and from the Philippines with no problem, it is both expensive and relegated to when time off from work is available.

Our story is like so many other same-sex binational couples in similar circumstances who are forced to live apart due to current discriminatory restrictions. I wonder how many people realize the financial and emotional toll we have to endure?

I now am more determined than ever to find a path in which Francis and I can be together. I have considered relocating to the Philippines and living in exile at least until a change is made in our current laws. I have consulted numerous immigration attorneys who are sympathetic, yet all agree that this is almost a no-win situation. There has been discussion of the option of possibly sponsoring Francis for a work visa through my family's business. I have researched this, but it appears to be quite complicated navigating all the paperwork, understanding requirements, and whether it is even viable.

Although sad and frustrated, I will continue my search for a solution to this insanity. Each obstacle we face results in our being even more determined to succeed in our goal of creating the life of which we dream. A life, unfortunately, only now afforded to a specific segment of our country’s population. Our hope is that soon we, and all the other couples who continue to be separated, or face the possibility of separation, will no longer have to endure this legacy of injustice. We all deserve a life and family not separated by distance and discriminatory immigration laws.

I made a promise to Francis. I will not stop, I will not give in, and I will not allow any person, embassy, law, or injustice to have the final say in our life together. This is my vow to my beloved Francis, the one man whose path crossed mine by some universal miracle. I now fight not only for our dream, but for the dreams of countless couples who know the pain of separation due to the inequality of our current immigration and marriage laws.

Are you a same-sex binational couple? Do you have families / friends affected by this issue? Please contact us at http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn if you are interested in sharing your story.

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