You know how folks who've been in a relationship for a decade start to look just a little like each other? Ivo Widlak and his wife Laura have been married for a decade and easily fit the bill of an old married couple.
Ivo Widlak and his wife Laura Zabedra with me on Oct. 27, 2013, in Chicago
However, since they are both bisexual, their marriage is under fire, and their relationship risks being broken apart after they were reported to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). On Dec. 15, 2009, Christopher Kurczaba, a Polish-American attorney in Chicago, wrote to the USCIS, saying:
In accordance with my duty to report potential fraud perpetrated on the Service, I have been informed by a very important person in the Polish American Community that they have been informed by several sources that the above referenced applicant for adjustment of status, set to be interviewed on or about 12/17/09 is not in a bona-fide marriage.
In a letter more suited to North Korean reporting tactics than to the land of the free and the brave, Kurczaba went on to say:
The sources have stated that the above is entering into a false marriage solely to obtain permanent residency. The sources state that the applicant has publicly acknowledged in various Polish language sources that he is gay....
The letter quoted here was obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by Ivo's attorney, Ira Azulay, of Immigration Attorneys LLP, after it was found missing from Ivo's file. The letter confirms Ivo's suspicions regarding why his long-standing battle with USCIS continues (click here my blog post on this same matter last year), for what Kurczaba neglected to include in his letter was the recent history of animosity between him and Ivo Widlak, a respected Polish-language journalist. Earlier in 2009, Ivo's article on the corruption of the Chicago Polish consulate and Kurczaba'a alleged involvement had been widely published. That Kurczaba waited six months after that article to report Widlak to USCIS is no mystery, either, since the letter arrived the day prior to Ivo's interview with USCIS.
Oh, the intrigue! One might think this a tale more likely told on Downton Abbey than in downtown Chicago! In fact, due to the recent changes in USCIC immigration policy, if Ivo were gay and married to a man, there would be no case against him! However Ivo is bisexual, as is his wife, so murkiness abounds. As bisexual legal scholar and advocate Heron Greensmith wrote in 2010:
Bisexuality is largely de facto invisible in the legal world. When it is acknowledged, it must either be through the self-identification of the individual or through the affirmative statements of another. Where that affirmative statement occurs, it must be supported by evidence indicating "pure bisexuality."
When you think about it, it's pretty easy to see why Ivo feels screwed (and not in a good way). I recently met Laura and him for pizza on a brief stopover in Chicago, and he said in all seriousness, "What can we do but sexually perform for them before they will believe us?"
I laughingly cautioned Ivo against that approach, but his desperation was palpable and is very real to so many bisexuals. How can we ever prove that we really love someone when we were born with the ability to love differently than what society expects or is accustomed to?
Ivo and his supporters have a petition up on change.org, with over 1,600 signatures so far. Their campaign may be working, as Ivo and Laura recently received a request from USCIS for an additional interview later this week. Laura told me that she's nervous beyond belief, saying:
I think on the outside I'm trying to stay positive, not worry, so that Ivo doesn't stress as much. I've been bottling it up deep inside. I am petrified of December coming around. Instead of holiday planning and Christmas shopping and decorations, I will be sick to my stomach. If you were told the one thing you loved more than anything in this world was about to be taken away from you, how would you feel? Close your eyes and really picture it. It makes you feel sad, lonely, full of fear, powerless and hate. In the inside I'm a mess. I just went to the ER last week thinking I was having a heart attack. The anxiety from this is overwhelming.
I can't imagine what it would be like to have my marriage tested just because someone told someone else something incorrect about how I live and love. Being bisexual is simply the ability to be attracted to people of more than one gender, but living openly as a bisexual person is full of complexities often unheard of by gay and straight people. When I asked Ivo if he was angry that his case had been complicated by his orientation, he told me:
Yes! Before I met many activists of the bi community, I wasn't aware of the huge problem with discrimination that bisexual people are facing.... The problem is that USCIS has no idea what to do with people like me. They know what to do with heterosexual marriages. After DOMA was repealed, they got directives about what to do with gay marriages. Unfortunately, President Obama did not mention anything about other members of the LGBTQ community. They don't know what to do with bisexuals, transgender people, and other people who are minorities of sexual orientation/identity, because I am not only an alien from a different country; for them I am an alien from a different planet.
So it is for too many bisexuals who navigate a legal system unfamiliar with bisexual people and narratives. Ivo and Laura look perfect to me, but many folks who are unfamiliar with the bisexual identity might say, "They look kind of gay," not realizing that they're just 100-percent bisexual. Hopefully Ivo's story will help change how the USCIS and other governmental agencies approach bisexual people, bisexual marriages and bisexual families.