Monday, March 25, 2013

A Champion For Change: California Activist Gets Invited to the White House

One loving couple's visit to the PFLAG National Convention could never have been imagined to lead to a trip to the White House to be honored within a year's time. Yet, as the Supreme Court gets ready to hear arguments for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, Judy Rickard will be at the White House, talking about how DOMA has affected her and her family.
Rickard, author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, is being honored as one of 14 Cesar Chavez Champions of Change. She will sit on one of two panels of immigration advocates and community activists Tuesday, March 26, in the Eisenhower Executive Offices, talking to and answering questions from White House senior staff.

Rickard, 65, had never considered DOMA before she met her spouse, Karin Bogliolo, in 2005. They met on a lesbian dating site, then had their first date at a PFLAG event in Ashland, Oregon. But Bogliolo is a British national, and could only be in the country for six months at a time. That was a problem once their relationship became permanent.
Ordinarily, spouses of American Citizens can get citizenship, or at least green cards. But DOMA specifically excludes same sex couples – even those legally married in different countries – from the same spousal benefits as straight couples.
Rickard started blogging, calling her representatives, and speaking out around her home in California's San Jose and Santa Clara counties. She took early retirement – and a reduced monthly pension – so that she could travel with her wife. Then she and Bogliolo decided to challenge the system directly, by joining with other bi-national same sex couples in applying for a green card for Bogliolo.
They met with immigration officials in September of 2012, and the 72-year-old Bogliolo, surprisingly was given a 14-month work permit as the case to repeal DOMA made it through the courts.
“[The immigration official] couldn’t give us a green card, but he couldn’t deny our green card,” says Richard.
That changed things, but not necessarily for the better. Where before they had to leave the U.S. for months at a time, now Bogliolo is stuck in America until her work permit runs out, or DOMA is overturned.
“We used to call ourselves ‘love exiles,’” says Rickard. “Now we call ourselves ‘prisoners of love.’”
Rickard’s path to the White House started at the 2011 PFLAG National Convention in Alexandria, Virginia, when she and Bogliolo gave a briefing for members of Congress, arranged by their Congressman, Democrat Mike Honda. She also met staff members of the White House Office of Engagement, who told her to keep in touch.
The couple then were invited to hear President Obama speak in Las Vegas in September, where she was assured by both the president and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that same sex spousal immigration benefits were part of the president’s agenda.
Tuesday’s White House panels, subtitled “A Legacy of Service Organizing for Immigration Reform,” will give Rickard the opportunity to tell her story on a national stage, and make sure same sex couples are included when talking about immigration issues.
She says she feels synchronicity, being at the White House the day the Supreme Court hears the case to repeal California’s Proposition 8, and the day before the high court hears the case to repeal DOMA.
“I feel like change is coming and I’ve let myself be more optimistic than I ever had,” says Rickard.