Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently articulated the Obama administration's unequivocal support for the human rights of LGBT individuals while admitting that much more needs to be done in the United States.
"I speak about this subject knowing that my own country's record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect," she said at a Human Rights Day speech. "We, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home." The Secretary also made clear that gay rights and human rights are not separate and distinct, "but, in fact, they are one and the same."
Among the civil rights America has yet to bestow on queer individuals is the freedom to marry, which brings with it over a thousand federal, state, and local benefits and privileges that straight married couples take for granted. Amanda Lucidon, a straight documentarian, hopes to put a spotlight on this injustice that is suffered by lesbian and gay couples thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Lucidon, an award-winning photojournalist, is the producer and director of The Legal Stranger Project, which documents, through a series of intimate personal stories, the great disparities encountered by lesbian and gay couples under DOMA, which, according to Lucidon, "allows the federal government to merely recognize these couples as 'legal strangers.'"
Lucidon was inspired by what she witnessed when marriage equality was legalized in Washington, D.C. two years ago.
On the first day marriage licenses were issued, she was waiting for couples leaving the Superior Court of D.C. with their licenses when she met Rev. Bonnie Berger. Berger was marrying couples on the spot and invited the photojournalist to attend a mass wedding of gay couples the following week.
It dawned on Lucidon during the mass wedding that gay married couples are not treated equally and fairly.
"I met Amy Sokal and Alex Khalaf, a couple whose lives I'd end up documenting," Lucidon said. "At first I thought I would follow Amy and Alex's journey through the first year as newlyweds after D.C. legalized marriage for same-sex couples. But as I began to look deeper into the issue, I discovered that there are actually 1,138 federal rights, benefits, and entitlements associated with marriage."
She reflected on how she and her husband, along with other married straight couples, are automatically entitled to such benefits. She began asking friends, "Did you know you're entitled to 1,138 rights when you get married?"
Most people had no clue. Lucidon was spurred to act. "I wanted to take a closer look at the issue to see the personal impact on same-sex couples and families."
She has since spoken to and documented stories of lesbian and gay couples. She was struck most by the story of Kelly Glossip and Dennis Englehard.
"I've spent time documenting Kelly Glossip, a widower whose spouse, Dennis Englehard, was killed on Christmas day while working for the Missouri highway patrol," she recounted. "Since their 15-year relationship was not recognized, he has been denied survivor benefits. He was left out of the funeral arrangements and burial services. Kelly continues to struggle emotionally and financially with the loss of his partner. He is suing the state of Missouri for survivor benefits."
Lucidon hopes to share these stories to a broader audience, but like so many other documentarians, funding has been a challenge.
"Until this point, all of the content for this project, including photography, video, audio, and production, has been self-funded," she said. "It's very expensive to shoot and produce the stories and we need help."
Lucidon and her team of volunteers have therefore started a fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo to help offset the ongoing costs of the Legal Stranger Project. She hopes that others would help her shed light on the injustice suffered by lesbian and gay couples by donating, sharing the campaign link, or following the project's progress on Facebook and Twitter.
Follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ErwindeLeon