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Advocacy News - Gay exodus to Canada

November 4, 2004

Gay exodus to Canada
The U.S. election & gay marriage bans spur action

"I do not feel alone in this movement. It seems there are a lot of people, gay and otherwise, that find the atmosphere is increasingly unwelcoming in this country."
Ryan Birkman, Seattle, Washington

" ... since the US election Tuesday the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website has had unusually high traffic from the US. On Wednesday it hit an all time high ..."
Canada Bracing for Onslaught of gay Americans, 365gay.com, Nov. 4, 04


We noticed it as soon as we opened our email inbox the morning after the U.S. election: more than the usual amount of inquires from Americans asking for information about marriage and immigration in Canada.

Coincidence? We thought not, so we wrote back, and asked others, to learn more.

"We are DEFINITELY considering a move," writes Michelle Adams (Washington State), "and I started looking into the residency requirements this morning."

Even though Michelle and her partner of 5 years, Diane Roznik, have litigation pending (they were married in Oregon on March 8 this year), the reelection of George Bush figures large in their motivation to move. So does the fact that conservatives prevailed in all 11 states where gay marriage bans were on the ballots. They expect their marriage will be invalidated like the marriages that took place in San Francisco.

"Knowing that we (gays and lesbians) were such evil prospects that keeping us from being able to protect our families was more important to fellow citizens than the lives of their children who will be soldiers, more important than health care for their families, more important than jobs, more important than national security and integrity for our country--that we were so evil that it motivated people to vote who never voted before--I feel disenfranchised and rejected by my own country. Freedom and justice in America? Less and less likely in my lifetime. America is now in the hands of theocrats. God help us all."

"I have always believed no one president could do permanent damage to our country, but I have begun to see things differently. I see an era of theocracy beginning that is going to be impossible to stop. With both houses under neocon republican control, the president a neocon, and the probability that two supreme court justices will be appointed and approved by the republicans, it is a frightening day for freedom, for liberty, for justice."
Michelle Adams

It is painful feeling excluded from the American dream.

"For me," wrote Michelle, "it carries with it a great deal of sadness. I have always loved my country. I have always believed in the inherent good and fairness of the American people. I knew we had our flaws...but I believed in this country and the values of freedom and justice for all was still basic to the American frame of mind. I feel as though all of that was stolen from me last night, and actually considered writing a letter directly to Karl Rove for being such a genius on how to tap into peoples' fears and prejudice in order to elect an incompetent administration. Then, I was afraid to do even that, for fear of becoming an "enemy combatant" who disagrees with the government. Never did I think our country would turn on its own citizens the way it has...and that is incredibly sad for me."

Virginia Brubaker and Gail Schiesser of Illinois were married in Toronto in September. Soon after they became curious about immigration requirements for Canada, and this week they bought Canadian History for Dummies "to learn more about our neighbor to the north".

At least anecdotally, and based on emails and web traffic, a new restlessness seems to have emerged as our American friends search for a better life. It is a dream that goes beyond issues of relationship recognition.

Twenty-year-old Ryan Birkman also lives in Washington State. He's single and does not expect to be getting married anytime soon.

"The United States has always prided itself on being ‘the land of the free’ and has always promised its citizens ‘life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’. But while the United States dreams of being the land of the free, Canada seems to be making it a reality. Being a gay person, I live everyday with the fact that the society that I contribute to, that I was born into, and that I give myself to does not treat me with the respect of a convicted criminal. So why should I remain here, in such an oppressive country? The answer is: I shouldn’t, I am not going to, and I am leaving."
Ryan Birkman

"But when that time comes," writes Ryan, "I do not intend to turn such a beautiful moment of my life it into a legal battle, because a group of people want to push their dogmas on me."

As a couple whose marriage did become a legal battle, we can appreciate Ryan's hesitation to become engaged in such circumstances.

"Even before the election," writes Alan Saugey, " we were already talking about it and checking on immigration laws."

Alan lives in Arkansas and his partner lives in Oklahoma. They were married last April by their local Metropolitan Community Church. "You can imagine how difficult it is to explain to your family and friends why you would move to another country."
Alan Saugey

"Neither of us wanted to move until both of our states voted on the Marriage Equality Amendments," writes Alan. "Both states banned same-sex marriage."

Having built up a successful career, and after volunteering for political and human rights groups in the the U.S., Alan and his partner think it's time to reconsider their options.

"Who knows, at 38 years of age and 34 years of age, we are not too old to be poor again and start over. It may be the best move for both of us."

Canada isn't the only outbound destination for Americans Canadians willing to billet Americans: GaySpaces.org offers assistance in bringing the two togetherseeking sanctuary.

"My partner and I are seriously thinking of moving to Europe," writes Californian lawyer Andrew Alder. "After living through the HIV pandemic to reach the age of 51, at this point I am not in the least willing to stay here in the US, an increasing stranger in my own land, and endure four more years of gay bashing by the right-wing Christians.

"Passage of all 11 amendments yesterday is but the tip of the iceberg, and no one can be foolish enough to believe that legal efforts against gay/lesbian folk will be limited to preventing them from getting married. (Witness the new US Senator from South Carolina who stated during his campaign that he supported legislation banning gays, unwed mothers, and pregnant women from being teachers!) ... The infuriating aspect to all this, is that I sincerely believe this country does still, as it has for so many over so many years, hold out the promise of freedom and self-realization, but that promise has been so nakedly turned on its head by craven politicians who are more interested in short-term political gain than they are in laboring to make the soaring rhetoric of the American experiment match the reality of the American experience. That effort is what has distinguished so much of our history, and it is in the inherent worth of that effort that so many of us still want to hold faith. At this point, however, I refuse to go along with the perversion of the American dream and will, therefore, consider leaving the US."

Andria Crowjoy Auerrell and her partner Amanda have been together 4 years, living in Florida.

"We've been considering "friendlier" nations for some time. Living in Florida where it is illegal for gay men and lesbians to adopt gives us a real view into our denied rights. We'd considered Australia (where Amanda is a dual citizen) and Canada, as well as France. We've settled on Canada, and Toronto specifically, because I can transfer to my company's office there with relative ease."

Making such a move is never easy, but for Andria it is an act of empowerment.

"Once abroad, if presented with the opportunity to take citizenship elsewhere, I would have no problem whatsoever turning in my US Passport in protest. This is rapidly becoming a country far different from the one I grew up believing in, and in that realization is much sadness and a profound sense of loss. To poorly paraphrase Thomas Wolfe, under the current regime it is with no regrets that I leave the land I know for greater loving, to find a place more kind than home."
Andrew Alder

"I generally feel pretty proud to be American and still can't imagine actually giving up my citizenship," writes Andria, "so it's a bit unsettling to feel so strongly that I don't belong here. With 2 children to think of, I have to try and make decisions in our best interests as a family. I think of families crossing over to Florida from Cuba on rafts made of bottles and tires and feel grateful that I can consider this move without putting our lives in jeopardy. But it feels like the most American thing I can think of to sacrifice home ties for freedom and equality. How ironic that we have to leave the US for that. I was very depressed this morning, but taking steps down this path has been helpful. Doing something tangible has been an uplifting experience and I'm excited by the possibilities, as well as the adventure, of learning about a new city and a new country!"

Marry An American

While there are clearly people who are considering or preparing to leave the United States, others are determined to fight on for full equality.

"It's my responsibility to make a difference here," writes Robby Johnson who lives with his partner Robert Peterson in Arkansas. "It's hard to type that, as we were present at Toronto's Gay Pride celebration in 2003 and had an incredible time celebrating the legalization of gay marriage in Ontario."

Our friend Bill Dubay in Seattle agrees.

"We'll stay and fight," he says. "We are going to get to where we want to go, it is just going to take longer."

"Our enemies would love us to get out," says Chicago-based advocate Bill Kelley. "Why give them the satisfaction? Keep doing what we can to attack theocracy and superstition, acknowledge progress that's occurring in some areas even amid defeats in others, and know that progress is inevitable even when bumpy."


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