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Someday we’ll be together?

Bi-national couple describes pain, anxiety of navigating U.S. immigration laws

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You’re waiting on your partner and he’s late.

Most gays in that situation might be mildly irked, especially if a dinner reservation or theater tickets are at stake. Even if a few hours pass, you realize the likelihood that something serious has happened is small.

But when Kelly Cross, a local gay attorney, found himself waiting more than two hours at the Foggy Bottom Metro station last summer with no sign of his partner, who was scheduled to join him following a stint in Europe, it was a much more serious situation — it could have meant the end of their relationship.

Because the United States doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage at the federal level — where immigration is handled — bi-national same-sex couples have few options for staying together long-term in the U.S. or anywhere else. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) further complicates the matter.

Cross and his partner, who declined to be identified because it could increase his chances of being deported, had tried to make a go of it in Europe, spending more than a year together in Dusseldorf, Germany, but a bounty of practical considerations — most pressingly Cross’s cancer-stricken mother in West Virginia — made staying there untenable. Cross returned in June 2009. But on the July day when his partner was scheduled to arrive at Dulles Airport, Cross’s panic increased as time went by.

“I was going around calling all kinds of people,” Cross says. “I thought he’d gotten pulled over and sent to the detention center where they’re double- and triple-checking everything probably. They want to make sure these folks are not going to stay in the U.S. They have no idea of his life here, his friends and family. It’s terrifying to know that you could be traveling and get the wrong immigration officer and not be able to get back into the country and I would not be able to go back and say anything and have no right to appeal anything. We’re very much at their whim.”

It had already been a nerve-wracking month for Cross, 31. Since he’d returned to the United States, he’d spent a frantic month trying to find someone willing to give his partner a job. Without that, there was no hope for the partner to stay. Though the partner’s background is in public policy, he had some experience doing financial analysis in Europe and that led to a D.C. opportunity but one that they say is more of a temporary fix than a long-term career plan.

For the couple, who got serious quickly after meeting at Apex in 2007, it was just one more in a string of seemingly endless obstacles. The relationship is strong enough, they say, that it’s worth the constant anxiety and uncertainty.

Cross’s partner, also 31, came to the states from his native Poland in 2003 to study public policy at the University of Northern Iowa. Disenchanted with Iowa, he came to D.C. for an internship in 2006. Though he liked the U.S., he was planning to return to Poland or possibly somewhere else in Europe — wherever he might find a good job. His plans changed radically when he met Cross.

“This is an everyday concern, how are we going to survive,” the partner says. “In our situation, we’re lucky that we have sufficient funds to live in this not-very-pleasant situation, but I just cannot imagine if somebody is gay and working for McDonald’s and he has a boyfriend who is working for Burger King. I don’t think they are going to make it. They won’t make it for sure because they’re not able. But if there’s a couple who’s straight, they have all the rights and all possibilities to make it because it will be possible. A law that gives them the opportunity, one piece of paper, a marriage license, that gives all kinds of rights and we don’t have it.”

The couple did enter a New Jersey civil union last summer, but they say it was purely symbolic and has little practical benefit. The partner says although he understands the arguments of those who will settle only for marriage, he’d be happy with a federally recognized civil union.

“That would be fine, I don’t give a shit,” he says. “Just anything so I don’t have this headache every morning. I would be perfectly happy with a civil union.”

Cross and his partner are, of course, not alone. Immigration Equality, a gay rights advocacy group working to end discrimination in U.S. immigration law against LGBT people, points to Williams Institute figures based on the 2000 Census that indicate there are about 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples struggling to stay together in the U.S. They’re hoping the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), versions of which date back to 2000, will solve the problem. Because its wording says “permanent partner,” activists say it wouldn’t conflict with DOMA, though they’re hopeful — as are virtually all gay activists — that DOMA will eventually be repealed.

But how are the odds looking for UAFA? Immigration Equality’s communications director Steve Ralls is optimistic.

“Now that health care is officially behind us, there are indications that Congress and the White House are turning to immigration reform in the coming weeks and months,” Ralls says. “The White House has called key lawmakers to plot a way forward for comprehensive immigration reform and as part of that process, we’re working very hard to ensure that the Uniting American Families Act is part of that comprehensive bill.”

If it fails there — and many are opposed to its inclusion — it could pass on its own but Ralls says Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, supporters of the legislation, have told him they want to tackle a comprehensive bill before individual ones. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who introduced UAFA in the Senate last year, is a key ally, Ralls says.

“He’s chair of the Judiciary Committee, which has enormous influence on what immigration bills move through Congress when,” Ralls said. “He remains willing and determined to pass UAFA as a standalone bill if necessary. That gives us a legislative leg up right out of the starting gate.”

But if it fails, what are the options for couples like Cross and his partner? They’re few, they say. Moving to Canada is not practical because the antitrust law Cross specializes in is not viable to practice there. Cross says he was lucky he spoke German and that his England-based international law firm was able to transfer him there, but he took a large pay cut to do it.

His partner becomes indignant at the mere suggestion of moving to Canada.

“This question is not really appropriate,” he says. “Who the heck is going to tell me where I should live? … I am entitled to decide where I should like to live because I’m your partner. We want to live here. Nobody’s going to tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m not a random person who’s just coming and pushing to want to settle in the D.C. area. We have our life here.”

And though the immigration problem is by far the couple’s biggest challenge, Cross says it’s compounded by other factors that flair up occasionally. They have cultural, interracial and homophobic issues that pop up, mostly externally. Cross encountered it often when he was trying to arrange a job for his partner.

“There’s a different sort of worth people ascribe to a heterosexual relationship that they don’t ascribe to homosexual ones,” Cross says. “There’s a presumption that if you’ve found a woman and are in love with a woman, then that must be love and there must be something there and you know, that’s your family. People attribute that and assume it’s real. But I think with gay couples there’s a mentality that yeah, you could find someone else or why go to the effort for this, there’s plenty of other people you could find. But it’s not true. When you love somebody, you love somebody.”

Cross says the challenges sometimes overwhelm his friends and colleagues.

“I think it’s just a combination of the whole thing,” he says. “Black, interracial, bi-national, gay — sometimes it’s just too much and people don’t know how to deal with it.”

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District of Columbia

Accused drug dealer charged with fentanyl distribution leading to deaths of two D.C. gay men

June 13 indictment links previously arrested suspect to deaths

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(Bigstock photo)

The Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. has announced that federal prosecutors on June 13 obtained an indictment against one of two D.C. brothers previously charged with multiple counts of illegal drug distribution that now charges him with “distributing cocaine and fentanyl” on Dec. 26, 2023, that resulted in the deaths of D.C. gay men Brandon Roman and Robert “Robbie” Barletta.

In a June 13 press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Jevaughn ‘Ledo’ Mark, 32, is charged in a new “secondary superseding indictment” linked to the Roman and Barletta deaths. It says he and his brother, Angelo Mark, 30, “previously were charged on April 9 in a 17-count superseding indictment for participating in a conspiracy that distributed large amounts of fentanyl and cocaine in the metropolitan area.”

The press release says Jevaughn Mark is currently being held without bond on charges that include eight counts of unlawful distribution of fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin and distributing 40 grams or more of fentanyl between Jan. 10, 2024, and March 13, 2024. According to the press release, the charges were based on six illegal drug purchases from Jevaughn Mark by undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and undercover D.C. police officers.

Court records show that Angelo Mark was charged in a criminal complaint on March 22 with multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and is also being held without bond.

D.C. police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services reports show that Roman, 38, a prominent D.C. attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate, and Barletta, 28, a historic preservation expert and home renovation business owner, were found unconscious when police and emergency medical personnel responded to a 911 call and arrived at Barletta’s home on Dec. 27. The reports show that Roman was declared deceased at the scene and Barletta was taken to Washington Hospital Center where he died on Dec. 29.

A police spokesperson told the Washington  Blade in February that police were investigating the Roman and Barletta deaths, but investigators had to wait for the D.C. Medical Examiner’s official determination of the cause and manner of death before the investigation could fully proceed.

Both men were patrons at D.C. gay bars and their passing prompted many in the LGBTQ community to call for stepped up prevention services related to drug overdose cases, even though the cause and manner of death for the two men was not officially determined until early April.

In April, the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner disclosed that the cause of death for both men was an accidental consumption of several drugs that created a fatal “toxic” effect. The Medical Examiner’s office said Barletta’s death was linked to the consumption of at least four different drugs and Roman’s death was caused by the “combined toxic effect” of six drugs. The Medical Examiner’s office disclosed that cocaine and fentanyl were among the drugs found in the bodies of both men. And for both men, the manner of death was listed as “Accident/Intoxication.”

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police spokesperson Tom Lynch said the police investigation into the deaths remained open but said, “There are no updates on the investigation that we are ready to release to the public.”

But the Medical Examiner’s findings prompted Johnny Bailey, the community outreach coordinator for HIPS D.C., an LGBTQ supportive organization that provides services and support for those who use recreational drugs, to say he strongly believed that Barletta and Roman did not intentionally consume some of the drugs found in their system.

“I’m going to say I do believe this was a poisoning,” Bailey told the Blade. “I think it is unfair to call some things an overdose because an overdose is when you do too much of a drug and you die from that drug,” he said. “This is like if you have a few glasses of wine every night and someone puts arsenic in your wine, no one would be like, ‘oh, they drank themselves to death.’ They were poisoned. And that’s what I think is happening here,” he said in referring to Barletta and Roman.

In announcing the new charges against Jevaughn Mark that link him to Barletta and Roman’s deaths, the U.S. Attorney’s press release discloses that he supplied fentanyl in the drugs he sold unknowingly to the undercover DEA and D.C. police officers when one of the officers, posing as a drug buyer, did not ask for fentanyl.

“In each instance, the DEA/MPD agents requested to buy ‘Special K’ or Ketamine from Jevaughn Mark,” the press release says. “In every instance, Jevaughn Mark supplied a mixture of fentanyl and other substances, including heroin, but not ketamine,” it says.

The release says that after the earlier indictment against Jevaughn Mark was issued, law enforcement agents conducted a search of his Southeast D.C. home and “recovered two firearms, cocaine, fentanyl, about $38,000 in cash, body armor vests, and drug trafficking paraphernalia.” It says on that same day authorities executed another search for a second residence linked to Jevaughn Mark, where they located a bedroom used by his brother Angelo Mark.

“From Angelo Mark’s bedroom, law enforcement recovered seven firearms, 900 rounds of ammunition, dozens of pills, cocaine, fentanyl, drug trafficking paraphernalia, and about $50,000 in cash,” the press release says, adding, “Based on the evidence, both brothers were indicted in the first superseding indictment.” 

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Delaware

Delmarva Pride to feature drag, dancing, and more this weekend

Easton and Cambridge to host events

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A scene from Delmarva Pride. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Delmarva Peninsula will hold its annual Pride celebration this weekend, including drag shows, a festival, and much more. 

The Delmarva Pride Center will put on the annual Pride celebration starting on Friday, June 14, and it will go until Sunday to celebrate queer love and acceptance in Delmarva.  

The weekend kicks off on Friday with a free legal clinic in partnership with FreeState Justice at the Academy Art Museum, 106 South St., Easton, Md. Free legal services including name and gender marker changes, criminal record expungements, and peace and protection orders are just some of the services being offered. For more information visit freestate-justice.org.

Then on Friday night, the third annual Pride Drag Show will be at the Avalon Theatre, 40 E Dover St., in Easton. Bring your cash as four drag queens and host Miranda Bryant put on the fundraising show, where 100% of ticket sales go to the Delmarva Pride Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and performance begins at 7 p.m. For tickets visit avalonfoundation.org.

On Saturday there will be the Pride festival from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at  S. Harrison and E. Dover Street, in Easton. This free community festival will include vendors, live performances, and more. 

Saturday night the party gets going as Delmarva Pride will host its 2024 Pride Dance. There will be a DJ and drinks available for purchase. This event is for 18 and up and will include a cash bar for anyone 21 and up. No tickets are required. 

To round out your Pride weekend, on Sunday the Delmarva Pride Brunch will be held at ArtBar 2.0, 420b Race St. in Cambridge, Md. Tickets include food, access to the mimosa bar, and a drag performance. Tickets are available here

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Baltimore

People of Pride: Five Marylanders making a difference in the LGBTQ+ community

Baltimore Pride is this weekend

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Jabari Lyles poses for a portrait in East Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore on June 10, 2024. (Photo by Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | One hosts movie nights, karaoke and other events that provide a safe space for LGBTQ people. Another has become a sounding board for customers at his gay bar dealing with pressures of the outside world. And a third beats the pavement to promote political awareness about LGBTQ issues.

These are just some of the things five Baltimoreans the Baltimore Banner is profiling in honor of Baltimore Pride Month are doing in the fight for visibility, support and acceptance of their peers.

The rest of this article can be found on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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