Close your eyes.
I want you to imagine the person of your dreams. Maybe you’ve already met them, maybe you haven’t. This is the person who makes your heart skip a beat when you walk into a room. This is the person you never want to be apart from. This is the person that you live your life for, your soul mate.
Now, imagine your life with them. Imagine doing all of the things a couple does; movies, dinner, lazy, Sunday mornings. You go on vacations, you visit family and you come home together and do all of your laundry. You take turns doing the dishes. You snuggle up and watch television together. You make a home.
But, what if one of you is sick? Then you don’t leave their side. You sleep in hospital chairs. You hold their hand and you comfort them. You become their advocate. You take your own strength and you give it to them. You become their rock. Because that’s what you do for the person of your dreams. You live, breathe and sleep for them.
So, why is this not universally understood? Maybe it’s because most of the world would automatically picture this as a man and a woman. That’s not unusual, considering most of the world is straight. But, what if I were to say that for one woman (actually, many women) the person of her dreams was another woman? How would you react? Would you just say “Oh, okay” and go on your way? Or would you keep her from the person she loves?
Would you force her to wait in the chair outside the ER? Would you make her keep checking back in to find out the admitting status of her loved one? Would you ignore any information she gave you and do the opposite? How, exactly, would you treat her?
Teresa and Kristin are a couple who had become active in the fight for equal rights. This was a newfound passion to them. Their experiences as a couple had actually been pretty positive, for the most part. They were not involved in any of the equality organizations and hadn’t really grasped the magnitude of what was going on in the country concerning LGBT rights. They had been a quiet couple, simply living their lives together.
Then one morning, while driving to work, Teresa encountered a group carrying “Yes on 8” signs. One young girl approached her car to give her a flyer explaining why her church was encouraging people to vote yes. Teresa turned to the girl’s mother and asked why she really believed that God would want them to discriminate against others. She was told "We are not against them, we are against their marriage."
Teresa replied, “I’m them and if you are against MY ability to have the same rights in caring for my family that you have for yours, then you are against ME.”
This action placed them on the battleground. “That was it, from that day forward we knew we could no longer sit in silence and watch the world go by," Teresa told me. "We knew for the first time how important the battle for equality was and enlisted as love warriors the very next day”.
So, on May 30th, Teresa and Kristin were in Selma to join in the Meet In The Middle march to Fresno, which, protested the State Supreme court’s ruling to uphold Prop 8 as unfair and discriminatory. While Teresa would need to drop out, due to a sprained ankle, Kristin would finish at Fresno City Hall. They never expected to become symbols of the very discrimination they were there to fight.
Kristin suffers from numerous health issues, epilepsy being one of them. After a long day of marching in the heat, she had a seizure. Teresa, being a little nervous about dealing with a seizure in public (not something that often comes up), was grateful for the help and kindness of the MITM staff. She had also lost her cell phone during the march and they called an ambulance for her. “Words could not have begun to describe the kindness and generosity I felt in that moment at the event, and when this is all over that is the one feeling I would like to hold on to forever from that day,” Teresa told me.
But, when they arrived at the hospital, it would all go downhill.
Teresa is often Kristin’s caregiver and always accompanies her on her not-so-seldom hospital visits. She had never been denied access to Kristin and had even set up an advanced health care directive, as suggested by one of Kristin’s doctors. (Does the phrase “in sickness and in health” strike anyone else as poignant?) In fact, the summer before, Kristin spent a large portion of it in the hospital, gravely ill and Teresa never left her side.
However, on this visit, Teresa was denied access to Kristin. She was told Kristin was in a “no-visitor” zone and made to wait in the lobby. Teresa tried to give information about Kristin, to explain that she had an advanced medical directive, her insurance cards, and most importantly, NOT to give Kristin a certain drug. She was told all of this was “unnecessary” by the woman at the front desk. The woman also claimed that Kristin was awake and had spoken to her. Teresa sat back down, upset, but calm.
Meanwhile, two women (“angels”, Teresa calls them) managed to get one of their cell phones to Kristin, in the back, and gave another one to Teresa. This is when she found out that the medical staff had given Kristin the very drug she had specifically asked them not to give her. Kristin had also never spoken to the woman who claimed she’d spoken with her earlier, and told Teresa that everyone in her immediate area had visitors. Kristin also had questioned why she couldn’t have a visitor and was told she was in a “no-visitor zone”. When she asked why all of those around her had visitors, the nurse told her “those people are different.”
Okay, well maybe some things are different. How many of us have a partner in life who would stick around when things were tough? How many of us have a “in sickness and in health” relationship? How many of us have that person that makes our heart skip a beat, that we would give it all up for? But, somehow, I don’t think that’s what that nurse meant when she said that.
I think that instead of celebrating our common humanity, she was focusing on one little difference, an insignificant one at that. Instead of letting an ill woman have her comfort, her rock, to hold her hand, she kept them apart. Instead of focusing on what was best for the patient, she could only focus on one little part of the patient and ignored the rest of her. The truth is, the staff ignored medical information, denied Kristin visitors and lied about interaction with her. The saddest part is that the hospital, when informed of what its staff did, backed up the staff’s actions as appropriate and defended them.
This may have been Kristin and Teresa’s first real experience with discrimination, but sadly, it’s all too common to some I speak to. Sadly, too many people experience this every day, for a variety of reasons. All because someone else has labeled you as “different”.
Are your eyes still closed? Now open them. Look around. Be a witness, be a whistle blower. Is it happening at your job? Your kid’s school? Anywhere? Even if it’s not happening to you, you have a duty, a moral obligation to stand up for those it does happen to. You cannot just look at prejudice and feel badly about it. Someone needs to stand up in front of it, block its way, and say, “That’s NOT okay.”
Use your voice and use it loudly.
(Kristin and Teresa have filed a suit against the hospital and their case is pending.)