By Jaan Williams
I met my wife Pri at a Queer Student and Allies meeting in college. I noticed Pri when she walked in; she was beautiful, laughing and smiling with her friends. After the meeting ended, everyone mingled. I wanted to say “hi,” but Pri was surrounded by people chatting and I decided to hold off.
When the next meeting came around, Pri stayed after and we started talking. I had just figured out that I was a transgender man, I hadn’t come out yet to anyone. When we finished talking, Pri turned to walk away and, without thinking, I blurted out, “We should see a movie some time.” A few weeks later we were dating.
Pri and I have been together for over seven years. Spending time with her is my favorite thing in the entire world. We’ve been through a lot in our time together, but nothing has tested us more than navigating our country’s broken immigration system.
Pri came to the U.S. from India with a student visa and has been able to stay through a series of training and work visas. Every year and a half, we have to go through the same application process, followed by months of waiting. When Pri applied for her most recent visa, we waited weeks after the expected date to find out if she would be allowed to stay in the country. Each day we faced the possibility of having our family torn apart. Because I was legally still identified as a Female on some paperwork, I was unable to sponsor Pri for citizenship. This meant that if her work visa didn’t come through, Pri would have no choice but to leave me, and the U.S. behind.
When we finally heard the news that Pri’s application had been accepted, we hugged, kissed, and sat down on the bed. After a few moments, my joy turned to anger that I couldn’t sponsor Pri for citizenship. As an American citizen, there was nothing that I could do to save my family from the looming terror of what might happen if her visa wasn’t approved the next time around.
I’m lucky to be a resident of Michigan, where two courageous transgender women fought to make the state’s policies for changing the gender on your birth certificate more straightforward and accessible. Because of them, I was able to update my identification and marry the love of my life in front of our friends and family. Since our wedding, one of the happiest days of my life, we’ve filed the paperwork so that I can sponsor Pri for a spousal visa. We can’t wait until the day that we’re done waiting, and the stress and uncertainty are lifted from our lives.
Unfortunately, for the 28,500 same-sex binational couples living in the United States, the wait is far from over. And many other couples like Pri and me–different sex couples where one spouse is transgender–continue to struggle under a restrictive web of laws on gender, marriage and immigration. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s decision to strip immigration reform of an amendment that would have allowed gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their partners for immigration means that these families face the very real possibility of being forced apart.
I know how painful it is to have the future of your family constantly in jeopardy. Lawmakers should not have to make a false choice between protecting the rights of LGBT people and their families and passing compassionate, commonsense immigration reform that keeps families together. As Congress continues to debate this important reform, Pri and I hope that this take-it-or-leave-it stance with regard to LGBT couples is left behind. Our country desperately needs immigration reform, and LGBT families like mine desperately need relief from the fear and uncertainty that have haunted us for too long.