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Engage, Lobby, Love: Elizabeth Gilbert's Passionate Advocacy for LGBT Immigrant Families

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By now, there probably aren't many people who don't know Elizabeth Gilbert's life story. The best-selling author, who traveled millions of miles in what ended up being a search for her own, centered self, caused a sensation with her diary of personal discovery, also known as Eat, Pray, Love.

The book, which became a sort of holistic prescription for self-empowerment via self-fulfillment, was passed from person to person and ended up - in a life-changing moment amidst a story full of such karmic twists - in the hands of Oprah Winfrey.

At its peak, Love was at the top of the best-sellers' list, and was hailed by millions as the holy text for embodying "la dolce vita." (I learned about it when a friend sent me a Barnes & Noble gift certificate, and proclaimed, "Use this to buy Eat, Pray, Love!") Readers have debated its place in the lexicon of feminist literature . . . organized book clubs to swoon over its lush storylines . . . and spent more than a few hours daydreaming about throwing caution to the wind, and following in Gilbert's footsteps, in pursuit of a more perfect union (with themselves).

In short order, the book's title - Eat, Pray, Love - became a mantra for the masses. And now, it has become a Hollywood blockbuster, too.

Beginning today, movie-goers are expected to flock to theaters to see Gilbert - played by screen icon Julia Roberts - eat, pray and love her way across Italy, India and Indonesia. But when the film stops rolling, another inspiring and empowering chapter in Gilbert's life will just be beginning: Her selfless work on behalf of lesbian and gay immigrant families.

Gilbert's follow-up book to Love is Committed, which picks up where the former book (and the movie) leave off. After swearing off marriage, following a now-notorious divorce, Gilbert nonetheless falls in love. When she brings her Brazilian partner to the U.S. border one too many times, though, she is told by U.S. immigration agents that he will not be allowed to enter the country unless the two marry. Suddenly, Gilbert realizes that, in order to be with the person she loves, she must enter into the institution she has sworn to avoid.

Committed chronicles Gilbert's quest to better understand marriage, its history and its meaning across cultures. Along the way, she also ponders those for whom marriage is not always such an easily obtainable union: Lesbian and gay people who, largely, remain locked out of those unions and the rights they convey.

As part of that journey, Gilbert also became particularly aware of the fact that, unlike herself, lesbian and gay Americans who fall in love abroad cannot bring loved ones to the U.S. using the same means available to her. And that, as Oprah would say, was Elizabeth Gilbert's "a ha!" moment.

That moment has now become a mission for Gilbert, and it is what will bring her to Capitol Hill next month.

Gilbert will join the Immigration Equality Action Fund - an organization dedicated to helping LGBT immigrant families - in the nation's capital. on September 30th. She will lend her voice to the campaign to end discrimination against lesbian and gay Americans and their immigrant partners.

Following a keynote address at the organization's fundraiser in June, Gilbert will converge on the capitol and ask lawmakers to pass the Uniting American Families Act . . . a bill which would allow lesbian and gay Americans to sponsor their partners for residency, just as Gilbert did.

For Gilbert, it has become a passionate cause that she sees as a matter of urgency for the families impacted.

Lesbian and gay families, she told the group's supporters in June, must be recognized as families equal under the law in every way, including by recognizing their rights to keep their families together.

"My citizenship is not a courtesy that is offered to me by my government," Gilbert said. "It is my birthright. It is my right as an American citizen. And my rights are not something that are offered to me out of politeness or friendliness by the United States government."

"Central to those rights," she said, "are the idea that I will obey the law and pay taxes and be a good citizen, and the government will do its part, which is to first and foremost ensure the safety and the well-being and the privacy of my family, however I should choose to create that family."

Gilbert called discriminatory immigration laws - which leave more than 36,000 lesbian and gay binational couples facing separation or exile - "unjust and cruel and unconscionable."

She'll continue to speak out next month, when she arrives in D.C. to meet with lawmakers and give voice to LGBT families. In conjunction with her visit to Washington, the Immigration Equality Action Fund will also launch a new campaign - Engage, Lobby, Love - to rally grassroots support for legislation to end the discrimination LGBT immigrant families face.

"With Elizabeth Gilbert's help and inspiration, we will engage the American public; lobby Congress to end this injustice; and share our stories of loving families who are struggling to stay together," the organization said.

"Elizabeth Gilbert is a great writer, and a great activist," said Rachel B. Tiven, the group's executive director. "Immigration Equality Action Fund is honored to have her join us in Washington as she lends her voice to the campaign to end discrimination against our families. Millions of readers, and now millions of movie-goers, have been moved by Elizabeth's story of love, courage and empowerment. We know our elected leaders will be equally inspired by her passionate advocacy on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender binational families."

Those families, Elizabeth Gilbert said in June, "are in a fight for their lives."

"I am proud to be part of that fight," Gilbert said. "I'm humbled and honored to be part of that fight."

For her, it is a new, and passionate, chapter in an always-evolving exploration of, and dedication to, Love.

For more information on the struggles faced by LGBT binational couples, and the Immigration Equality Action Fund, visit www.immigrationequalityactionfund.org.