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Marta Donayre

On February 19th, 2002, Marta Donayre was granted sexual-orientation-based political asylum in the United States, which illustrates that the INS is aware of the extremely dangerous and volatile environment towards gays and lesbians in Brazil, and that they acknowledge that if Marta were to return to Brazil to live openly as a lesbian, her life would be in danger.

We feel very fortunate that our personal fight is over. However, the fight for rights for couples just like us is NOT over. We will continue to advocate for rights for same-sex binational couples and to raise awareness of others who are not as lucky as we have been.

Marta Donayre and Leslie Bulbuk have been tremendously impacted by the current immigration laws in the United States, which deny immigration rights to committed same-sex and unmarried opposite-sex couples. On April 6, 2001, Donayre lost her job and with it the privilege of living and working in the United States. If Donayre and Bulbuk were an opposite-sex couple, they would have never have had to deal with the imminent forced separation they faced at the time. They could have gotten married and Bulbuk could have sponsored Donayre. Bulbuk's frustration was tremendous because her freedom as an American citizen to build a family of her choosing was denied. She realized that she is a second-class citizen suffering the cruel and unusual punishment of having her family torn apart by issues totally unrelated to the family. Fortunately Donayre found a job at a company that sponsored her, enabling the couple to remain together.

Previous to this, Donayre and Bulbuk faced similar fears when in March 13, 2000, i2 Technologies announced the acquisition of Aspect Development. At the time, Donayre worked for Aspect Development and feared that she would be laid off. Fortunately this did not occur.

A little over a year after this frightening event, Donayre and Bulbuk were hit by the realities of the dot-com crash, and Donayre, along with 700 fellow employees, was laid off from Ariba Inc. According to obscure INS rules and policies that have never been declared as official by the INS, H-1B visa holders have only 10 days to find a new job or to leave the country. This task proved almost impossible given the economic conditions propelling companies nationwide to conduct massive layoffs.

Fortunately a new job appeared a week before Donayre was planning to return back home to Brazil. This was a blessing to their family, which managed to remain intact for the time being. Unfortunately, the economic crisis still has not calmed, and Donayre's current employer is not immune to its force and the company already had layoffs after she joined. Fortunately Donayre was not included this time around, but she she may be in the future if further layoffs are needed leaving couple exposed to external influences-such as the economy, senior management, and the INS to dictate their future. Needless to say, the recent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have worsened the economic environment placing the family's stability at a greater risk.

At tremendous personal risk, Donayre and Bulbuk realized that it was time to take a stand and come forward with their story in order to show the American society the injustices that same-sex couples face. This issue takes a daily toll on their family as a whole. Plans and dreams must be put on hold, as they have no choice other than to sit back and watch while corporations, the economy and the INS decide their fate. Even if they managed to find that one safe corporation that would sponsor Donayre, they would be at the hands of this corporation for many years, since the green card process is long, bureaucratic and painfully slow. Were they an opposite-sex couple, none of this agony would be necessary since they could marry and solve this dilemma. As an American Bulbuk feels that denying her the ability of sponsoring her partner is de facto government intervention in her pursuit of happiness. The passing of the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA), H.R. 690, currently stalled in Congress would solve this. Donayre and Bulbuk are not asking for same-sex marriage. They are simply asking that their relationship is recognized for immigration purposes, as is the case in 15 other countries.

Marta and I had been dating for a little over a week, when we first felt the sting of discrimination against same-sex binational couples. Today, our story has a happy ending, but we had to endure the possibility of losing the relationship we were just beginning to build.

Their Story:  Love Sees No Borders’ Marta Donayre (left) and Leslie Bulbuk

On March 13, 2000, Marta, who is Brazilian, was employed at a Silicon Valley software company. That morning started out like most other mornings. Marta was on her way to work, listening to local radio, when she heard that her company was about to be acquired by a much larger company. As is common when these kinds of corporate acquisitions are announced, Marta feared there would be layoffs, due to job duplications.

She immediately called and woke me up, and told me that I should find myself a nice American girl, someone who wouldn’t have to leave the country if she lost her job. I told her I had no intention of doing so. But this was just the beginning of what would be two years of stress and turmoil due to US immigration laws. 

We were lucky that time. Marta kept her job, and about six months later, she—and her H-1B visa—were transferred to another job, at a company which promised an eventual green card in its offer letter to Marta. After about six months at this new job, however, in April of 2001, Marta was laid off. Our hopes that she would be able to stay in this country, with the economy now in a tailspin, were diminishing.

We received confusing and conflicting information. One human resources person told us Marta had 20 days to find a new job or leave the country; another told us 30 days; and yet another said it was 60. At the same time, we saw an article on in which an INS spokesperson stated that laid-off foreign workers had an unlimited amount of time to find a new job in the US. These statements were retracted a few days later, in yet another article.

We realized we needed some solid answers. That is when Marta and I discovered LGIRTF, which holds free legal clinics in San Francisco. We spoke to a lawyer, and were told that, “unofficially,” Marta had 10 days to find a new job or leave the country.

We were lucky once again. Marta found a new job in an absurdly short period of time, and was able to stay, though prospects for a green card were slim. It was at this point, after untold stress, that we realized that no matter what occurred in our lives, the clock was ticking. Even though Marta once again had a sponsor for her H-1B visa, and we were “safe,” we knew we had to break our silence on this issue.

We became active in LGIRTF, first by beginning to attend meetings of the San Francisco chapter, and soon after that, by beginning our own organization, Love Sees No Borders. Our mission was to bring attention to the issue of same-sex immigration, an issue that affects countless thousands of binational couples in the United States. So many people within the LGBT community don’t even realize that our community has no right to sponsor a partner for immigration, and even fewer know that there is currently a bill in the House of Representatives – the Permanent Partners Immigration Act – that would grant us this important right that opposite-sex couples take for granted.

Even as we became activists, we formulated a backup plan, should Marta not be able to secure a green card through an employer. We began the process of filling out paperwork to move to Canada, something no US citizen should have to do in order to remain with his or her partner. Another potential option we had to consider, albeit a risky one, was asylum. We interviewed three immigration attorneys in San Francisco in September, 2001, chose one, and Marta helped them build a solid case by doing a lot of her own investigative research.

Brazilian society is notoriously homophobic, despite having some very pro-gay laws on the books. One of the challenges facing Marta was that most of the documentation about anti-gay abuses in Brazil told the stories of gay men.  There was little documentation of abuses against lesbians. Our guess was that anti-lesbian abuse gets categorized as violence against women, not as violence against lesbians.

On February 4th of this year, Marta had her asylum interview. I was in New York, attending the first ever national strategic planning meeting of the LGIRTF (click here for related story), when, nearly two years after we began dating, on February 19th, Marta got the good news: she was granted asylum in the United States.

We feel so lucky, since there are many couples who do not have the option of asylum, and many more who do not have the ability to go public with their stories the way we did, due to fear of the INS and deportation.

We plan on continuing to fight for same-sex immigration in this country, and to raise as much awareness as possible. And from now on, we can fight from a position of safety, without the awful stress of worrying about our right to remain together.

The web site for Marta and Leslie’s organization, Love Sees No Borders, is Marta Donayre recently accepted a new position as Director of Public Education at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.





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