Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How Do We Put A Label On Love?

One thing I don't believe that ANY straight person understands is that a gay couples worst nightmare is to have the one they love die. That's soul crushing for anyone regardless of sexual orientation. But for many gay couples it carries a heavier meaning. That trip to the hospital may be the last time they ever see their loved one again. They will not be able to be present to hold their hands as they take their last breaths not get to to softly kiss their brow and say good buy. They will have no right and no say in how their love is honored. As many gay seniors pass on into GODS hands, the ones they leave behind have their homes and possessions stripped from them by relatives that NEVER honored their love or commitment to each other. All the pictures and mementos of a life lived together taken away by callous family members.

Don't think it happens?...Take a look:

Forwarded to me on Youtube and found here on www.blog.mattalgren.com is the story of Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn. In 2007 The couple and their children boarded an R-Family cruise all set for a wonderfull vacation....until Lisa Pond collapsed from a brain aneurysm. She was rushed to a local hospital. At Jackson Memorial Hospital, Janice Langbehn and the children were denied and access to Lisa...their wife and mother for hours, until she finally passed away....alone. Here is Janice Langbehn's account:

Hello, I am Janice Langbehn. I know that many of you here tonight have heard the story of our family and the horrible treatment our family received at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

On February 18, 2007, Lisa Pond, my partner of nearly 18 years and 3 of our 4 adopted children: Danielle, David and Katie were on board the Rfamily cruise preparing to set sail. Before leaving port, Lisa suddenly collapsed while watching the children play basketball. The kids were banging on the stateroom door saying, “Mommy was hurt!” I opened the door, and took one look at Lisa and knew the situation was very serious. As a medical social worker for many years, I have seen people in critical condition. I knew that my life partner was gravely ill. As the ship was about to leave, we had no choice but to seek medical help in an unfamiliar city. After local medics arrived, we hurried off the ship to the closest hospital in Miami, Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

As Lisa was put into the ambulance I had no idea when she signed “I love you” to the kids and I it would be the last time I would see her beautiful blue eyes. We arrived at the trauma center minutes before her ambulance. I tried to follow her gurney into the trauma area and was stopped by the trauma team and told to go to the waiting room. The kids and I did as we were told.

We arrived shortly after 3:30 in the afternoon, around 4pm, a social worker came out and introduced himself as Garnet Frederick and said, “you are in an anti-gay city and state. And without a health care proxy you will not see Lisa nor know of her condition”. He then turned to leave; I stopped him and asked for his fax number because I said “we had legal Durable Powers of Attorney” and would get him the documents. Within a short time of meeting this social worker, I contacted friends in Lacey, WA, our hometown, who went to our house and faxed the legal documents required for me to make medical decisions for Lisa.

I never imagined as I paced that tiny waiting room that I would not see Lisa’s bright blue eyes again or hold her warm, loving hands. Feeling helpless as I continued to wait, I attempted to sneak back into the trauma bay but all the doors to the trauma area had key codes, preventing me from entering. Sitting alone with our luggage, our children and my thoughts, I watched numbly as other families were invited back into the trauma center to visit with loved ones. I was still waiting to hear what was happening with Lisa, realizing as the time passed that I was not being allowed to see her and if the social worker’s words were any indication it was because we were gay. Anger, despair and disbelief wracked my brain as I tried to figure out a way to find out what was going on with Lisa. I finally thought to call our family doctor back in Olympia (on a Sunday afternoon at home) to see if she could find out what was happening. While on the phone with our doctor in Olympia, a surgeon appeared. The surgeon told me that Lisa, who was just 39 years old, had suffered massive bleeding in her brain from an aneurysm. A short while later, two more surgeons appeared and explained the massive bleed in Lisa’s brain gave her little chance to survive and if she did it would be in a persistent vegetative state. Lisa had made me promise to her over and over in our 18 years together to never allow this to happen to her. I let the surgeons know Lisa wishes, which were also spelled out in her Living Wills and Advance Directive. I was then promised by the doctors that I would be brought to see Lisa as “soon as she was cleaned up”. At that point all life saving measures ceased and I asked that she be prepared for organ donation.

Yet, the children and I continued to wait and wait. A Hospital Chaplain appeared and asked if I wanted to pray and I looked at her dumbfounded as if I hadn’t already been doing that for over four hours. I immediately asked for a Catholic Priest to perform Lisa’s Last rites. A short time later, A Catholic priest escorted me back to recite the Last Rites and it was my first time in nearly 5hrs of seeing Lisa. After seeing her I knew the children needed to see her immediately and be able to say their goodbyes and begin the grieving process. Yet the priest escorted me back out to the waiting room. Where I was faced with the young faces of our beautiful children to explain “other mommy” was going to heaven.

I continued to assert my self over the ensuing hours again that we needed to be with Lisa. I even showed the Admitting clerk the children’s birth certificates with both Lisa and my name on them… and said if you won’t let me back, let her children be with her. I was told they were “too young”. I thought how old do you need to be to say goodbye to your mother?

In nearly eight hours, Lisa lay at Ryder Trauma Center moving toward brain death – completely alone and I continue to this day to feel like a failure for not being there to hold her hand to tell her how much we loved her, to comfort her and to sign in her hand “I love you”. All my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Lisa’s sister arrived driving straight from Jacksonville as soon as I knew Lisa would not survive. She announced who she was and I was at her side staring at the same person who had been denying me access all those hours. It was only then that I was told Lisa had been moved almost an hour earlier to ICU… and the hospital just kept the children and I waiting in the same waiting room, where Lisa was not even at.

On Monday February 19, 2007 at 10:45am, Lisa was officially declared Brain Dead. It was then that individuals from individuals from the Organ Donation Agency became involved (who I must point out are completely separate professionals from Jackson Memorial Hospital) that I finally was validated as Lisa’s spouse. They asked me which organs she wanted donated. And through this tragedy Lisa saved 4 lives and those at the gathering last night met Jerry, the keeper of Lisa’s heart. Her heart could not be in better hands and I am so grateful and humbled to have met him in person.

Please let me tell you about our Lisa. She and I met in 1988, became a couple in June 1989 and had a holy union in 1991. We were foster parents for the state of Washington since 1992 – fostering 25 children and eventually adopting 4 children. Lisa chose to quit her state position as a social worker to devote all her time and energy to our foster and adoptive children because of their special needs. Lisa was involved in every aspect of our children’s lives from volunteering in their classrooms every week and even sitting on PTSA for 2 years. She became our daughters GS Troop leader and her troop swelled to almost 30 girls because she was so popular. She taught our children community service through delivery of meals at the holidays to those that were not able to leave their homes. She taught first communion classes at our church and taught children’s Mass on Sundays. Many grief books say we often canonize those that have died, but I don’t need to because Lisa was a Saint among us.

For nearly 7 months after Lisa’s death, I contacted Jackson Memorial and asked for an apology and it also fell on deaf ears and it was only then that I contacted LAMBDA legal.

And contact she did. A lawsuit was filed. The result?

U.S. District Adalberto Jordan dismissed a lawsuit yesterday, essentially finding that the Jackson Memorial Hospital was within its rights to leave a dying woman alone while denying her present and immediate family to visit her, be updated on her condition, or even to provide the hospital with medically necessary information.

I Can't effing believe this...the uter callousness on the part of the hospital workers and the judge. Whatever happened to the Hypocratic oath..."do no harm"? This story makes my furious beyond words. Where is the justice in this? Just because it may by codified in a lawbook does not make this justice. This is none other than a direct breach of everything the U.S. constitution was meant to defend and states rights be damned!

And the response of the hospital?

"We have always believed and known that the staff at Jackson treats everyone equally, and that their main concern is the well-being of the patients in their care," Jackson spokeswoman Jennifer Piedra said in a news release. "At Jackson Health System, we believe in a culture of inclusion. For more than 90 years, the institution has taken great pride in serving everyone who enters its doors, regardless of race, creed, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. We also employ a very diverse workforce, one that mirrors the community we serve."

Added Piedra: "Jackson will continue to work with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to ensure that everyone knows they are welcome at all of our facilities, where they will receive the highest quality of medical care."

Whatever...no one believes this crap for a second. I am at the point where I don't want anything to do with Florida whatsoever. I will no longer consider taking my family there for any reason.

So to everyone out there, gay and straight, who doesn't think we need the word "marriage"...THINK AGAIN. this is yet one more example of how anything less than that full recognition is deemed as an excuse to continue to discriminate in the most horrible ways.

Here in California during the State Supreme Court hearings, a few justices could be heard to make the point that prop 8 should be upheld because it was really just about the "label" marriage. Justice Kennard being a large proponent of that viewpoint. To afraid to upset the voters by doing the right thing they voted to uphold mob sponsered discrimination and told us so in a leaflett pushed out into the crowd...kind of like breaking up with someone in by text. classy

And more than a few gays have expressed the opinion "why do we need to call it marriage? Isnt civil partnership enough?". Elton John being a very high profile example of that attitude. Well...stories like these are why. And its funny that now Elton was denied the ability to adopt a child because his "civil union" was not a "marriage". I Guess he gets that those handy little civil unions really are the separate drinking fountain we all warned they would be.

Stories like Lisa and Janice's are utterly tragic...but not unique. Whether its denial of rights to visit your dying loved one...or LGBT seniors who are denied rights to be acknowledged as a spouse. They are denied there spouses belongings, holdings, and life momentos..or even the home they both lived in together for years and often everything they shared together ends up in the hands of family members that had little connection to the deceased while the one they loved ends up with nothing but what they can spirit away. Nowhere is that made more personal than in this video about marriage found on LOGO. In it you will find the story of another lesbian couple denied the rights due to a "married" couple and a Gay senior who's life, home, and belongings are stripped from him when his partner passes. The only things he takes from the life they shared together is what he could hide in an old water resevoir.

This ladies and gentleman...could be you or me. THIS is why the "label" marriage is important. This is why I will not stop sounding the call. All of us need to speak up because this continues to happen EVERYDAY to families like yours and mine.

This post written in honor of Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn and their family. Their blogg detailing their very personal fight can be found here..may sharing your story mean no one else has to tell a similar one...


  1. This is the crap that really get in my nerves. I´m a pretty phisical guy, everyime I think about that, I can only think of myself punching the hell out of any who in my way.
    Sometimes I think Like mr. Elton but I always think about this, what the word marriage means in the outside world, and i just get mad as hel.

  2. That story is so sad, and made me furious. I think that NOBODY deserves to die alone. The hospital's staff must have lacked the smallest degree of humanity. F the laws and restrictions. When a person is about to leave his/her life they deserve to be with the ones who love them and care for them.
    I feel for the children who never got to say goodbye to their mother.
    I don't understand how there can be people so heartless :( Monika

  3. I don't understand the reason for them not letting them see the dying lady, genuinely. I can see that the law would prevent them from taking care instructions from the woman's partner but why prevent a visit. I can think of no viable reason. It must just be homophobia right? Am I missing something? What were their reasons?

    Also on the whole Elton John issue in the UK civil partnerships confer all the rights of marriage so he would be able to adopt in the UK. He was denied adoption in the Ukraine on grounds he was not married under their definition. Not surprising really, it is a pretty conservative ex-soviet state.

    In the UK there has been quiet a bit of talk about how the civil partnership act is not fair to heterosexual people. England is no longer a very religious place and many heterosexual people want the rights and responsibilities of a marriage without any religious connotations.

    Personally I don't see what difference the word marriage makes to it. To me it doesn't mean religion or an opposite sex couple.

  4. I do think it funny how many mental hoops conservative extremists will jump through to disassociate themselves from gay people. Even when they are ready to concede equal rights they still want those rights called something else. As if sharing a noun with a gay couple contaminates them.

  5. I'm glad you wrote about this and I'm glad I sent you the link..the more people who are aware of unfairness like this, the better...

  6. I don't blame you for not wanting to go to florida by the way, why would you want to in case god forbid something happened after all.

    I agree with you about Elton, just because he's gay doesn't mean his opinion on civil unions/marriage is more valid than the opinions of thousands of other gay people. Just because he feels okay living with discrimination doesn't mean everyone is willing to take it sitting down.

    Elton's loaded with money so maybe he can more easily shrug discrimination off but the rest of us can't. Even elton has to see the bias at some point

  7. Wow.. This is soo horrible! I cant even express how angry this makes me..... >.<

  8. Bryan, thank you so much for sharing this tragic story with us. It is terrible and I will pray that this kind of heartless treatment will stop. I'm Kim from mykiskoart by the way.

  9. Worst thing is it isn't even just heartless. It is actually harmful to the patient. Imagine the psycholocial harm you would suffer knowing you were dying and being prevented from seeing your loved ones. I honestly can't understand how the hospital has a legal leg to stand on. Just came on here again to show everyone at work about it and they were all truly shocked.

  10. Thanks for sharing this Bryan. I have seen this in the mainstream media too. At least the woman was able to tell the world. You know my story..my partner and I are in a similar boat..and so are most gay couples across the USA.

  11. As orangegoblin82 said, in Britain it is written into every section of law that civil partnerships HAVE to be treated as equal to marriage (of course religious institutions are exempt). It really is just a name, which personally I find slightly ridiculous, not least because in normal conversation I only ever hear gay couples referred to as married. As I recall, after Elton John made the comments you mentioned, he recanted them, saying that he had not realised civil unions were not equal to marriage in the US. He was ineligable to adopted in the Ukraine because they don't have gay marriage laws (well, and his age). This is similar to someone being married in Mass. and then trying to adopt in Utah - all of a sudden you become strangers. Within one country this is very strange, but between countries, especially when one of them is still developing, its more understandable. Ukraine is sadly not where western Europe and the US are.

    This story is absolutely appauling. If I ever encountered this during my medical practice you can bet your behind I'd be marching that poor family into the ICU. There is no excuse, ever, for denying a dying woman the opportunity to be surrounded by the people she loves the most. It is disgusting not only that this has happened, but that no one is willing to acknowledge anything was done wrong. It is enough to make anyone afraid - who knows what could get thrown out next at the worst moment - 'I know you're this little child's parents, but you're an interracial couple so if you'd please wait in the waiting room...' The staff at the hospital should be ashamed, and the court attornies even more so.