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Worlds Apart 

Federal law gives gay citizens with foreign partners tough choices: Leave the U.S.A. Lose your love. Break the law

Thursday, Jun 17 2010
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Page 5 of 6

Angel says the church paid him a maximum of $700 a month. The visa didn’t allow him to work outside of the church, but with such a small salary, he had no choice. He kept a side job as a caregiver, and at one point, when his hours at the church increased to more than 30 a week, he’d wake up at 4 a.m. to work for a few hours before heading to the church at 10 a.m.

Angel also claims that the church was never wild about the fact that he was gay. After a pastor in the Philippines wrote in a recommendation letter that Angel should lift weights to bring out his masculinity, the elders board asked him whether he was gay, to which he remembers answering, “What you see is what you get; I am what I am.” He says they asked if he was practicing, and he said no, since he didn’t have a boyfriend at the time. Angel says some board members frowned on him wearing pink shirts, or blond highlights in his black hair. Finally, he claims they asked him to move to Milpitas from his place in San Bruno in order to stay away from San Francisco’s “bad influences.”

It was in a San Francisco bar in 2004, in fact, that Angel met Erik and moved in with him two years later. They are an endearingly opposite pair. Angel, 40, is a fashion plate with groomed eyebrows, feminine gestures, and a nonstop smile. His relationship advice, conveyed in a heavily accented sing-song voice, is “Find someone who loves you more!” Erik, 33, is a tall and perpetually good-natured nonprofit fundraiser from Pennsylvania who is happy to let Angel have center stage. Both come from conservative Christian families — Erik’s disowned him for three years — with whom they have tacitly agreed not to discuss their sexual orientation. But their chemistry is undeniable. “He loves me for what I am,” Angel says, and often pats Erik on the arm while talking.

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY JULIE MICHELLE - Erik and Angel, who is here illegally, have decided to stay in the country to be together.
  • PHOTO BY JULIE MICHELLE
  • Erik and Angel, who is here illegally, have decided to stay in the country to be together.
 

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Good Shepherd’s pastor, Virgil Fernando, says Angel’s sexual orientation wasn’t an issue: The church, in fact, sponsored him for an initial visa, then petitioned to transfer it to a church they merged with in 2003, and were again planning to sponsor him for a renewed R-visa in 2007. “Three times he’s come to us and we’ve said yes, so where is it that you see that we’re questioning his orientation?” Fernando says.

To sponsor Angel for the last visa, the elders board drew up a new contract: They would pay him $200 more a month, and loan him $7,500 for legal costs to apply for permanent residency. Fernando says the church couldn’t afford to pay the legal costs. Angel refused to sign the contract, so the church requested a withdrawal of the petition for his visa 10 days later.

It was time to go stealth. Angel changed his phone numbers, and he and Erik moved to San Francisco so immigration authorities couldn’t track them from the information on Angel’s application. Angel has his caretaking paychecks sent to a friend’s house.”You’re invisible; you can’t plan for the future,” he says, saying he is what Filipinos call tago ng tago, or “TNT” — “constantly hiding.”

Angel sings first tenor in a choir, yet bowed out of an upcoming concert in New York City because he didn’t want to face airport security without papers and without Erik. In his nightmares, ICE agents show up to arrest him; Erik won’t let him answer the door at night, in case someday it turns out to be true.

Erik and Angel briefly contemplated a sham marriage, but ultimately didn’t want the hassle. Right now, they’re just waiting for change. “This is where my religious side comes in,” Angel says. “Living here, trusting in God for what’s going to happen with your life.” But if there’s no change in the law, they, too, might abandon the city where they’ve been out and proud.

Mark D. sits on his couch in jeans and an Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie, listening to a reporter finish reading the transcript of Sang’s interrogation at O’Hare Airport. He’s silent for a second. “Sorry, that’s very hard for me to listen to.” It brings back the sense of injustice, he says: “I find it very amazing that my marriage is not recognized for the purposes of sponsoring him, but it is recognized for purposes of denying him entry, saying he’s an overstay risk.”

The lights are off in the tidy, blue-walled apartment with a view of the fog hovering over the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. While Sang was living with him, “every day was a honeymoon,” he says. Sang had been a chef at the Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul, and would deliver lunch to Mark’s office or cook Korean for his poker nights. At night they’d play Rock Band or PlayStation, or walk the aisles of the Marina Safeway to peruse the food — love makes even the most routine errands fun.

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