OUR LETTERS TO USCIS
These letters were written(and needed completion) with just a few hours notice in Dec 2012.
At the time, our future depended on it. They are still important to kept posted fro two reasons: 1) simply for what they were for…just allowing us to remain together despite that we had the legal right to before DOMA was struck down in June! 2) there are MANY people in the U.S who have to “prove” who they are until equality becomes legal NATIONWIDE!
Below is the letter I had to write to USICS in Dec 2012. If your read the summary on Gary’s Letter (below) you can get clearer understanding of what I was asked to do. The reasons why I have to post this hurt, a lot. My partner sums it up well enough for both of us. Thanks.
Gary and I first became acquainted through mutual friends via the Internet in early summer of 2008, our early interactions consisting of long conversations via email, chat programs and on webcam. We became instant friends, and were soon chatting about every aspect of our lives, connecting with each other several times a week, sometimes several times a day. Even back then, despite having never met him in person, I felt strongly for him and looked forward to sharing in his day, even if it were just a short email.
After several months of exchange via the Internet, we finally made arrangements to meet in person, and I had bought an airline ticket to New York for Spring Break of 2009. Unfortunately, Gary suffered a bereavement barely a week before we had intended to meet, and we had to reschedule to the summer. We continued with our regular contact, and became even closer. When eventually we finally met in the summer, we were both overwhelmed with confusing feelings. Despite the long term friendship and an obviously strong attraction between the two of us, we were both very nervous about falling for somebody who lived so far away. We talked late into the night every night and the short ten day vacation disappeared so quickly it surprised us both. It was very hard to say goodbye, and only a few days after I had returned to the UK, we had already arranged another visit just a few months later.
Between the visits, we resumed our regular contact, contacting each other several times a day. We reached a decision to embrace our feelings for one another, despite the distance. We told each other that we would find a way to make it work, no matter what it took.
I visited the US several more times over the coming months, each time getting closer and closer to Gary, even spending Christmas and New Year of 2009 with him and his family. Then, in April of 2010, he proposed to me while I was visiting, which I accepted without hesitation, having known in my heart that I loved him since the first time I heard his voice over a year before. After this first cementing of our commitment to one another, we began investigating how we could be together, despite the physical distance between us.
Shortly after this, Gary was able to arrange his first major visit to the UK, where he met my family and friends. He became very friendly with my father almost instantly, and won over both of my elder sisters and father’s wife with ease. We both got to explain to them our hopes for the future, and they could all see how much good our relationship was doing for us both.
Realizing that it was more practical for me to relocate to the US, than it was for Gary to move to the UK, I sold my house in November of 2010 and began spending long periods of time staying with Gary at his house in Connecticut. The time we spent together was the happiest I can ever remember being. The love and support we had for one another, and life we began to build was truly wonderful.
One year later, after lots of the highs and lows of committed relationship, we became married on 11/11/11 (At 11:11am). His family was present, and my family
watched via webcam as we declared our commitment to one another, in a very simple ceremony. The simplicity of our wedding day suited us both perfectly, as it made the event much more about our love and commitment, than about the pomp and circumstance that can often surround weddings. The party we had at our small home in the evening, was packed with friends and family wishing us well, and our 3 dogs (who we treat like our children) were able to lap up all the attention as well. (As well as sneak lots of food from the guests.)
From that point forwards, things felt very different in our lives. With so much uncertainty around us, the ring on my finger gave me something stable to hold onto. We continued our life together, working together towards the goal of living together permanently. Gary visited the UK with me twice that year, and on his most recent visit, he brought his mum and sisters with him and our two families were finally able to intermingle properly. Not surprisingly, both my relatives and his got on together like they’d know each other for years.
In the year and a month since the day we got married, we have stuck together through thick and thin. Facing challenges, victories and losses as one, I know that Gary is man who I will wake up next to every day for the rest of my life.
Below is the letter I had to write to USICS. Because of a time issue, Sam and myself literally had a matter of hours to get them done (so please excuse any errors that you spot). ANY couple with a spouse who violated a visa (Sam staying past his 3 month visitor visa is a violation) would have to write the same type of “hardship” letter. However, what we had to do, in a matter of hours, was to try and persuade USCIS that we, and to others in our lives, are a legitimate couple. We also had to prove how we, and other people in our lives, are dependent upon us. Along with my letter and Sam’s letter sent to USICS as part of the Deferred Action Appeal package, were all the support letters, photographs, and video on our website.
No one should have to prove WHO they are. That is, unless, you are a gay American who is not recognized by your own government. What you are about to read is very personal and it’s intent was just that: the personal side of us that we needed to justify and prove to USCIS. Imagine as you read this…yourself having to justify not only your relationship, but who you are as a person as well…and you have just a matter of hours to sum it all up in a “one-time” chance to prove yourself.
The letters we wrote, the photographs, and video, and all the letters from others, was not enough. The Deferred Action was denied.
My friend Carolyn was the first one to point it out. She noticed how, when she asked me how Sam‟s visit went, I replied with “it was great. So relaxed and fun. Was as if no one was here”. She replied with “uh-oh”. I would not normally not say that after someone has come to visit. I like “my space” after a few days and Sam had come to visit for just over a week. After a week, my normal reply would be along the lines of “was great but nice to have my space to myself again.” I never will forget the tone in her voice when she said that “uh-oh.” Was very clear to me what she was saying. And I immediately started to backtrack my thoughts to find a bad moment during is trip. There were none. I was in trouble. That was August 2009.
By the time I met Sam when he visited, I had in my life over the past 20 years, three long term relationships. While each one ended in a civil and friendly manner, they helped me make a few choice rules. 1. No long distance 2. No one younger than me 3. No one shorter than me. Blue-collar worker 5. Has a good relationship with his family. So, “five” general rules I had set about, to make any next relationship that could develop, be without the obstacles and challenges of my previous ones- so I thought. That‟s not too many? Five. But they were “rules” in the back of my head with regard to meeting anyone. Stuck to them, too. What was the concern over someone who had become such a good friend? So he‟s become my main confider and listener, supporter and friend through good and bad times. What was actually meeting him person going to do? Big mistake but best mistake I ever made.
I had met Sam via mutual friends online the previous year. We had decided one day to say hello via Skype and, from then on it, was an instant connection. Despite our distance and age difference, we connected immediately on a deep, personal level. Our chats varied from topics of politics to pop culture, technology we shared an interest in, and just every day tales of life. The video chats became more frequent. I would have “dinner” with Sam while he was working. Sam‟s job at the time meant he sometimes would work late and that coincided just perfect with my schedule and the time difference. The chats became almost daily. I had met and made an incredible friend. I refused to accept the attraction I was feeling towards him when he was here. It was purely a „friendly” visit; platonic and not meant to be anything other than it was- one friend visiting another. I had rules to follow and he, had an ocean to cross again in a couple days.
I think it took maybe a few days after Sam had gone back home to the UK before we decided to plan another visit. Within hours of his being home we had set up a video chat. His job at the time meant he had a more flexible schedule, so he was going to come here again. Between following a school schedule and two dogs, it‟s not as easy for me to travel. So we made arrangements for Sam to come visit in the fall when I had a few days off from work. Rest of the time he didn‟t mind staying home and being kept company by the dogs (there were only two at that time- there are now three).
I was well aware of the eventual separation each time he came to visit. I tried not to let it be in the forefront of my thoughts. I was just excited that Sam was coming to visit. I
remember how he would show me photos of himself with family and friends and I used to think “how lucky they are to have him in their life”. Had no idea he would become my life one day.
His third visit was just a month or so later when he arrived on Christmas Day in 2009. By this point, we had established a connection beyond any I knew before. Friends and family were asking about this man I was spending hours with each night talking to. My colleague at work pressed so much that, one day afterschool while I was still there, I went online so Sam could meet my friend Meg. My family was exceptionally curious about this man from England who was coming to visit, again, and what it meant. At the time, he was just a friend coming to visit. Closest friend I had ever made. I suppose they all saw what Sam and I didn’t see happening, we were falling in love with each other.
My second nephew was born during the Christmas visit, and Sam and I went to see my sister in hospital after giving birth. It was her second time meeting him, as she met us in the city where she worked one day back in the summer when I played tour guide for Sam‟s first NYC visit. But the fact that he was coming to share this family experience with me- with us- said a lot about not only how I felt about him, but others did as well.
Sam came to see me again that spring. By this point we had acknowledged our love for each other. I went to see Sam in England and as able to meet his family that summer. I suppose I hoped it would go “terribly wrong” this way there could be a down-side to what was, otherwise, the perfect man and relationship. With sweat dripping down my back we met Sam‟s father and his wife in London for dinner. Within 15 minutes Sam‟s father was asking Sam to move out of the way so he and I could talk easier.
By this point in our relationship, we also began to acknowledge the obstacles of how we could possibly have a relationship. But we didn’t care. We were happy with our being able to spend so much time together thanks to his job, and the future was just that. No plans, we would just let things work themselves out. But in reality we knew that was not going to happen and I knew there was no way I was going to lose him. I only had one option- ask him to marry me. I did and he said yes. The obstacles didn’t go away but the commitment to tackle them had started.
Once it‟s happened, you‟ve fallen in love with the “one,” you can‟t just wish it will go away. I‟ve tried that before in my life and it doesn‟t work. Countless nights and days I spent as a kid wishing my being gay would just “go away”. I spent my entire adolescence wishing and hoping it would away. I, like so many people in the world, had to accept it wasn‟t going to go away. I‟m gay and that‟s just how it is. I didn’t choose this. I tried all I could to get rid of it, believe me. But that should be enough of an acceptance of one self. To then find the someone who you know is the person you‟re meant to be with, you can‟t just wish that will go away either. I had to make decisions and lost many parts of my life because of my identity. But to have to be told that since that person is from another country, you‟re not allowed to, is, well, simply put, not fair. You can‟t wish who you are away. You can‟t wish feelings about someone to go away. You just wish you can find a
way to make what you‟re entitled to happen: being loved and respected by someone in the world, your partners in life, and being allowed to be together.
It‟s been a few years now Sam and I have been together. We have shared good times and bad. The birth of my nephew, the birth of another one of his, the death of my father and the scare one day that we may have lost his. By the time my father had passed away, Sam had become not just my partner, but my life. Our friends knew it, my family knew it. So much so that Sam was able, as were we, to say goodbye to my father when he awoke from his coma for a few minutes before he passed. The fact that he was there, and in the capacity he was in, amongst my sisters, mother and brother-in-law. My partner, there by my side, during what was the most difficult experience I had ever had. My dad gave him a big hug. I will never forget that sight- my father knew I would not be alone anymore and he wanted to be sure Sam knew he loved him.
I had thought that was the most difficult experience of my life. I was so wrong as I am living it now.
The commitment Sam and I have shown each other is just as strong of heterosexual married couples. The marriage and being with each other is our right. All that we ask is be treated with dignity and equality. Yet we are denied it because of our orientation. What we have endured together over the past few years would have broken so many people apart. But that never was, or is, an option for us. Life doesn‟t give you many chances at things. We took the chance and know it was the right thing to do. I suppose now the only “hoping wish” I still do is that others can see our commitment, and allow us to live together and share what we are entitled to: a life of liberty and pursuit of further happiness, because the past one has not been easy- yet we are still happy. I can only imagine how “happy” must feel when the risk of losing your partner is based on a decision by yourself, and not anyone else.
Gary J. Wanderlingh
AND AFTER WE WRITE THAT, WE GET DENIED TO JUST REMAIN TOGETHER!
(see Simplest Summary Page to make sense of it all)