Thursday, March 28, 2013

Our Story: Ken & Otts

As told to members of Congress in Washington DC, March 13, 2013

Otts Bolisay and Ken Thompson in Washington DC.

My partner, Otts Bolisay (Twitter: @ottsatwork), and I (Twitter: @7ofKen) were invited to tell our story in front of a small group of House Democrats who are leaders on trying to get comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) passed. The '"people's hearing" in the Senate Office Building took place March 13, 2013 in Washington DC, and was the culminating event of the Keeping Families Together bus tours, which occurred in many states the preceding week. These events were part of Fair Immigration Reform Movement campaign coordinated by the Center for Community Change (CCC).

Otts had participated in the bus tour that occurred in Washington State (we live in Seattle), which included over 40 immigrant riders, who took turns speaking at different stops throughout the state. Otts' speech on his story as part of a same-sex binational couple came to the attention of CCC, and we were asked to present at the hearing in Washington DC, where we were one of only four families invited to tell their stories. That CCC chose to prioritize our story as one of very few, shows the real commitment of that organization to inclusion of same-sex binational couples in CIR.

Our testimony was fairly lengthy, but here are a few quotes from it, that give a flavor of what we presented:

It is a hard thing to walk away from your loved ones, not being sure when you'll see them again. I've put it out of my mind, what it felt like in the airport that day when Ken and I said goodbye to each other. As he walked away, I could feel the air suddenly pressing on top of me, how it wouldn't enter my lungs. The inability to stand, or speak. Having to close my eyes because the dizziness would make me collapse. 

All of this happened in 2007. My work visa had expired, and in order to qualify for a new one, I needed to leave the country, and not reenter for a full year. 

But there was no guarantee that I would get that visa. Which meant that I had to leave Ken (we had been together 6 years at that point), my community, my home, without knowing for certain that I would see any of it again. It is a terrible thing.

At this point in my life, I've spent almost 24 years in this country. I turn 41 this July. That's over half my life. I've spent over half my life in this country on some kind of temporary status, with no path to permanence.

So what lies ahead for Otts and I? The clock is ticking again for us. Otts' visa expires next year, and once again, we will have to leave the US.

Our dilemma is that there is no country we can live together in permanently, and as of right now, there is no path back to the US for Otts. I can not move permanently to Otts' home country. So where can we go?

If this sounds like some sort of horrible limbo to you -- it is. But our limbo is not limited to just the times we are exiled from the US, it permeates every day of our lives. We've avoided, or put off, most every major decision most couples make: about changing jobs, moving to another city, buying a home. Or having children. It is a life deferred, a thing I'm sure many here are familiar with.

Some people must wonder why gays and lesbians are part of an immigration reform discussion. Aside from the fact that many people, like Otts, are both immigrants and LGBT, after hearing the stories of everyone here today, I'm more convinced than ever that there are more similarities than differences between these two communities. We both want to keep our families together. We both lead lives of deferred plans and dreams. We both are accepted and rejected by the country we call home.

We were really blown away by how supportive the crowd and the Representatives were. We got hugs, and a standing ovation. This truly is a time that the LGBT and immigrants rights' movements can band together, and be stronger together than apart.

[To hear more on Otts and Ken's story listen to this local NPR station report from February 2013. Click here now] 

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

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