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Scar-Crossed Lovers: Donita Ganzon (left) and Jiffy Javanella met in the Philippines in 2000. In 2001, they married in Las Vegas. But they ran into trouble with the U.S. government after Ganzon mentioned to a Department of Homeland Security official that she was transsexual.

Gender Bender

ANNIE SAYO had no idea that stepping into a grungy gay bar in San Francisco would change her life. But her trip to the city that November night in 2003 would lead her far astray from the expectations of her traditional Filipino family—and put her in contact with a story that could set a federal precedent for the queer community.

Sayo was 21 years old, in the midst of her college years at San Jose State University, and exploring her attraction to women. When she walked through the doors of the Lexington, her eyes immediately fell on a woman with ebony skin and well-defined cheekbones. A. (name withheld by request), a 28-year-old African American artist, felt her jaw drop when she spotted the bright-eyed, full-lipped Asian woman. "I was like, ooh, her energy just lit up the room," she remembers. The two smiled at each other, and Sayo thought, "Oh shit, she's really hot." Both were too shy to approach the other, but were totally distracted from their drinks. One of A.'s friends got fed up with their gawking and acted as a go-between. Chemistry took over from there.

It didn't take long before A. sensed she wouldn't be moving back to New York in two days. She delayed her trip that night, and two weeks later, she decided to stay in the Bay Area for good. For the next six months, Sayo was caught between the exhilaration of her new relationship and the suspicion of her parents. The hostility in her San Jose household grew as she lied about A., and one morning in May, she came out with the truth. It wasn't any easier than she feared. Her parents told her she had made a stupid decision, and if that's the life she wanted then she would have to leave. "Just get out," they told her.

So Sayo hopped on her bike, sobbing, and rode 15 minutes to A.'s place. Her partner wasn't surprised. The two would support each other from then on, eking out a living from part-time jobs and somehow managing to pay Sayo's university tuition. "God, do I know the value of things now," Sayo says, her normally cheery disposition momentarily dampened by the financial and emotional weight of being cut off from her family.

At the same time, these obstacles have pushed Sayo to begin working for a Filipino community organization while studying social work at school. About six months ago, she launched an activist group, Embracing the Movement for Pinays [Filipinas] and Queers (EMPAQu), with five other Filipina lesbians. It is the only one of its kind in the South Bay.

In December of 2004, one of Sayo's co-workers showed her an article in Philippines News about a Filipina transsexual woman who was trying to keep her immigrant husband in the country. Donita Ganzon's story immediately piqued Sayo's interest; the Los Angeles woman had filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for rejecting her husband's green card application when they found out she used to be a man, 25 years ago.

Sayo decided this woman's cause would be EMPAQu's first campaign. Her timing couldn't have been better. Just last week, a Superior Court judge ruled that California's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and reeks of sex discrimination because it limits the legal union based on gender.

Sayo was throwing herself in the middle of this national debate with a woman who no longer considers herself gay and, until now, never even supported same-sex marriage.


You'll Be a Woman Soon

In the summer of 1976, Donita Ganzon was living in Chicago as a petite gay man, working as a full-time nurse (she had also served as one in the Vietnam War about 10 years earlier). "Oh, my God!" she exclaims as she remembers the days when she used hide her bony boyish frame behind baggy, unisex fashions that she had to buy from the women's department. Most of her lovers were straight men, and one of them broke her heart when he left without explanation.

"I was praying every day to get this pain out of my chest," she says. It didn't make it any easier that she came from a strong Catholic tradition. Finally she heard her calling; in the sunlit hallways of the hospital where she worked, a voice told her, "Go be a woman."

She introduced herself to a doctor at her hospital who did sex-reassignment surgery for people who suffered from gender dysphoria, also known as "gender identity disorder." He told her she would have to live like a woman for one year to make sure the lifestyle suited her. So she started wearing skirts and dresses. She changed her name from Don to Donita. Over the course of five years, she went through psychological tests, hormonal therapy and electrolysis.

"There was never a moment that I changed my decision," she says. "I was in euphoria. Everything on my body just rounded out." Then the final step came in 1981, when she underwent sex-reassignment surgery. The procedure, called a vaginoplasty for male-to-female changes, includes removing the male sex organs and fashioning a vagina from the skin of the genitalia. Some surgeries may also include shaving the Adam's apple and reconstructing facial features.

After a painful recovery, Ganzon fully embraced the world as a woman. "I was glowing from the inside," she says, her eyes wide. "Men were drooling over me." To prove her emotional strength, Ganzon remained in the same neighborhood and workplace before, during and after the transition. She noticed bewildered looks from people searching for a flaw. "But they couldn't find any," she adds smugly.

Ganzon sits upright at the breakfast table in a San Jose hotel, slowly mixing her yogurt with a plastic spoon. Her curly brown hair is tightly pulled back from her round face and smooth cheekbones. Her thin eyebrows arch over her amber-colored eyes; her painted, heart-shaped lips shimmer pink. A mauve turtleneck circles the coffee-colored skin of her long neck and hangs over her narrow shoulders.

With an expressive voice, she recounts the remarkable physical transformation that made her an elegant woman, who, even at 60, draws men like a magnet. The faint lines around her eyes and slightly sagging skin at her jaw are the only noticeable signs of age, making it hard to believe that she is more than 45. For two decades, no one would ever question Ganzon's gender. She received her U.S. citizenship papers and passport in 1987 as a female. Her driver's license and nursing license both reflected her new identity. She even took up show business on the side and earned the nickname, Donita Ganzon "Gold."

During this time, Ganzon lived comfortably as a heterosexual woman, never aligning herself with the gay movement. She didn't even think of herself as "queer." But that would change when she ran into a snag—with none other than the Department of Homeland Security.

In 2000, Ganzon went to the Philippines to visit her mother for Christmas. She was 55 years old and single, but she certainly wasn't expecting to meet her future husband, let alone fall in love with a man who was 30 years her junior. Jiffy Javanella was a 25-year-old struggling mechanic who shared a house with her nephew. Ganzon noticed he had clean feet and didn't act silly like the rest of the young men. When he followed her outside the karaoke club the next night after she got sick, she knew he was special. "He just stood by while I threw up, making sure I was OK," Ganzon says. "He was so sweet."

Ganzon had her doubts about the age difference, but their mutual attraction became obvious, to the point that kids in the family started teasing them. So their relationship continued with long-distance phone calls after Ganzon returned to the United States. Two more trips to the Philippines that year and they knew it was going to last. In 2001, just a week before Sept. 11, Javanella flew to the United States on a fiance visa. A couple months later, the couple married in Las Vegas and began Javanella's green card application process.

Everything seemed to go smoothly until the final interview in July of 2004. Ganzon and Javanella had been speaking with an immigration officer for nearly four hours; they were tired and ready to wrap things up. Ganzon felt so confident with the meeting that before they were about to leave, she added, "You know, one of the reasons I love Jiffy is that he knew I was a transsexual from the beginning."

"Oh," the DHS officer said, pausing. She started typing something on the computer and produced a form, which she asked Ganzon to sign, telling her it was a formal declaration that she was a transsexual. Ganzon did so without reading the text carefully. Her lawyer, Phillip Abramowitz, would later find out that the officer actually had her sign a withdrawal of her petition, which was an attempt to "sweep it under the rug."

However, Abramowitz points out, the withdrawal was null because Ganzon's petition had already been accepted when she brought Javanella here on a fiance visa. That immigration officer didn't fully understand the law, he says. Neither, it seems, did other DHS officials when they rejected Javanella's application under the Defense of Marriage Act, which only recognizes a legal union between a man and woman.


Battlefield San Jose

Sayo knew she wanted to help Ganzon, but the trick was finding her. She started with the phone book and online directories. Then she checked Los Angeles County voter registration records. No leads, until she found a family friend who used to work with Ganzon at Kaiser Hospital. Sayo called the medical facility and discovered that Ganzon was no longer there. Desperate, she told the receptionist that she was a long lost relative and had to get this woman's home phone number. The emotional plea didn't work. After three weeks of playing detective, Sayo was starting to get discouraged. Then, just after Christmas, another co-worker at FOCUS suggested she contact Ganzon's lawyer. "Ohhh," she said, slapping her round forehead. She easily found Phillip Abramowitz listed in Southern California, and three days later, Sayo was on the phone with Ganzon. Her first words were, "Do you know how long I've been trying to get ahold of you?"

On the other end of the line, Ganzon listened with a cautious ear. Activist organizations and media people had recently been calling her about her case, but after what she'd gone through with the United States government, she didn't know who to trust. Sometimes she hung up on prying callers. But Sayo's youthful voice touched her, and she kept the receiver in her hand. After hearing about EMPAQu's purpose, Ganzon decided to "go along for the ride."

In February, the group brought Ganzon to San Jose, a place where both immigration and homosexuality are hot topics. Nearly 35 percent of the population in Santa Clara County is foreign-born. Many Filipinos are protesting the increase in deportations by the DHS, and a local collective of academics and activists recently published the report "Resisting Homeland Security: Organizing Against the Unjust Removals of U.S. Filipinos."

There are also many in the queer population who struggle with living in one of the Bay Area's more conservative cities. Patrick Soricone, director of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Center in San Jose, says it's not uncommon for people to drive by his facility yelling some sort of anti-gay epithet.

Both of these communities collide in cases like Ganzon's and that of a Sunnyvale woman named Leslie Bulbuk who fought to keep her Brazilian wife in the United States. Bulbuk has expanded her personal struggle by forming an educational activist group called Love Sees No Borders. She supports the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, which, if moved forward by Congress, would give same-sex partners the ability to sponsor one another for immigration purposes.

Bulbuk says the root of anti-queer sentiment is how people express their gender; gays and lesbians are often criticized for not sticking to traditional male and female roles. Transsexuals, then, are on the forefront of that controversy because of the significant ways they veer from their biological sex.

Still, transsexuals may not always face the same issues that gays and lesbians do if they are able to live like Ganzon: very obviously female and heterosexual. Wiggsy Sivertsen, a sociology lecturer at San Jose State University, points out: "If a transsexual person can enjoy being safe, why would they cuddle up to people who have so much discrimination?"


Is She or Isn't She?

Abramowitz argues that the Defense of Marriage Act doesn't apply in Ganzon's case, because her marriage isn't same-sex. In the state of California, she is legally considered female. She presented a certificate from her operating physician to a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles, who gave her a court order that declared her female. "The federal court has to recognize the same," Abramowitz says. The DHS has recently decided to reopen the case and reissue Javanella's work permit. Since they retracted the denial of his application, however, they are asking the federal judge to dismiss Ganzon's lawsuit. But Abramowitz has amended the lawsuit to demand an immediate decision. The judge will hear both sides on March 28.

DHS spokesperson Sharon Rummery says she can't comment on the case because it's pending litigation, but she did share her interpretation of the Defense of Marriage Act: gender at the time of birth is what matters.

However, Rummery admits she has never read the text of the law. If she did, she would discover that it says no such thing. "They have no right to put that caveat on it because it's not in the original legislation," Sivertsen of SJSU says. "This is another example of what it's like to be in George Bush's America. We can change the rules any way we see fit." Chris Daley, director of the Transgender Law Center based in San Francisco, says the immigration service has "changed dramatically" during the Bush administration. Ganzon's case is one in about a dozen that have surfaced since 2001. Before then, transsexual couples had far fewer problems marrying legally as long as the state in which they lived recognized the right to change gender. California requires some form of medical evidence that shows one has undergone surgery to change his/her sex characteristics.

"The tenor in Washington," Daley adds, "is that bias against queer people is more permissible. In this case, the DHS simply decided not to respect her gender identity."


Pride and Prejudice

At the Filipino community center in San Jose, a crowd ranging from teenagers to senior citizens has gathered to hear the personal testimony of a transsexual woman. Many of the older listeners come from conservative Catholic backgrounds, and Ganzon wonders if they will be sympathetic to her situation. But today their ethnicity serves as common ground, and this room full of people is ready to hear what Ganzon and EMPAQu have to say.

EMPAQu has flown Ganzon to the Bay Area for a speaking tour this weekend in February. The day before, she appeared before a crowd of students and media at the University of San Francisco, for which nearly 100 people showed up. She has drawn a similar audience in San Jose this afternoon.

Wearing a long black skirt and fat gray pearls on her earlobes, Ganzon gracefully takes the microphone. She speaks in a mixture of English and Tagalog, appealing to the crowd with comments like, "I am proud of being a Filipina" and "Filipino men are still the best men I have ever had in my life."

Ganzon continues with a nod to the queer community: "We are in this together. I think everybody should be allowed to have a partner and legitimize that union through marriage."

Although her lawyer has picked a safe strategy by not challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, Ganzon has stepped forward as a spokesperson for queer rights. Ganzon sees that she is also affected by the "sexual hang-ups" of American society. A victory in her case would set a precedent for other transsexuals and force the federal government to recognize an alternative lifestyle, which, Abramowitz points out, it has not done before.

Meanwhile, EMPAQu is spreading the word, sending out press releases and speaking on radio talk shows. They hosted a house party to raise funds for Ganzon's campaign, and so far they've collected 500 petition signatures. In the process, the group is creating a platform on which to challenge what it calls racist and homophobic immigration policies. Their next project is to bring Ganzon back to speak for gay pride festivities in June.

The group also plans to expand the local support network for queer women of color. The Filipino community in general, they say, is pretty "open" about homosexuality, until it gets too close to home. Dealing with unaccepting Filipino families and facing discriminatory practices at work or at school are all things they can talk about in an informal, nonjudgmental atmosphere.

Among the 10 young women in Sayo's living room one weekday night, the general consensus is that the South Bay needs this kind of unity. "San Jose is so fucking homophobic," Sayo says. "How many gay people do you see walking downtown, holding hands?"

ANNIE SAYO had no idea that stepping into a grungy gay bar in San Francisco would change her life. But her trip to the city that November night in 2003 would lead her far astray from the expectations of her traditional Filipino family—and put her in contact with a story that could set a federal precedent for the queer community.

Sayo was 21 years old, in the midst of her college years at San Jose State University, and exploring her attraction to women. When she walked through the doors of the Lexington, her eyes immediately fell on a woman with ebony skin and well-defined cheekbones. A. (name withheld by request), a 28-year-old African American artist, felt her jaw drop when she spotted the bright-eyed, full-lipped Asian woman. "I was like, ooh, her energy just lit up the room," she remembers. The two smiled at each other, and Sayo thought, "Oh shit, she's really hot." Both were too shy to approach the other, but were totally distracted from their drinks. One of A.'s friends got fed up with their gawking and acted as a go-between. Chemistry took over from there.

It didn't take long before A. sensed she wouldn't be moving back to New York in two days. She delayed her trip that night, and two weeks later, she decided to stay in the Bay Area for good. For the next six months, Sayo was caught between the exhilaration of her new relationship and the suspicion of her parents. The hostility in her San Jose household grew as she lied about A., and one morning in May, she came out with the truth. It wasn't any easier than she feared. Her parents told her she had made a stupid decision, and if that's the life she wanted then she would have to leave. "Just get out," they told her.

So Sayo hopped on her bike, sobbing, and rode 15 minutes to A.'s place. Her partner wasn't surprised. The two would support each other from then on, eking out a living from part-time jobs and somehow managing to pay Sayo's university tuition. "God, do I know the value of things now," Sayo says, her normally cheery disposition momentarily dampened by the financial and emotional weight of being cut off from her family.

At the same time, these obstacles have pushed Sayo to begin working for a Filipino community organization while studying social work at school. About six months ago, she launched an activist group, Embracing the Movement for Pinays [Filipinas] and Queers (EMPAQu), with five other Filipina lesbians. It is the only one of its kind in the South Bay.

In December of 2004, one of Sayo's co-workers showed her an article in Philippines News about a Filipina transsexual woman who was trying to keep her immigrant husband in the country. Donita Ganzon's story immediately piqued Sayo's interest; the Los Angeles woman had filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for rejecting her husband's green card application when they found out she used to be a man, 25 years ago.

Sayo decided this woman's cause would be EMPAQu's first campaign. Her timing couldn't have been better. Just last week, a Superior Court judge ruled that California's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and reeks of sex discrimination because it limits the legal union based on gender.

Sayo was throwing herself in the middle of this national debate with a woman who no longer considers herself gay and, until now, never even supported same-sex marriage.


You'll Be a Woman Soon

In the summer of 1976, Donita Ganzon was living in Chicago as a petite gay man, working as a full-time nurse (she had also served as one in the Vietnam War about 10 years earlier). "Oh, my God!" she exclaims as she remembers the days when she used hide her bony boyish frame behind baggy, unisex fashions that she had to buy from the women's department. Most of her lovers were straight men, and one of them broke her heart when he left without explanation.

"I was praying every day to get this pain out of my chest," she says. It didn't make it any easier that she came from a strong Catholic tradition. Finally she heard her calling; in the sunlit hallways of the hospital where she worked, a voice told her, "Go be a woman."

She introduced herself to a doctor at her hospital who did sex-reassignment surgery for people who suffered from gender dysphoria, also known as "gender identity disorder." He told her she would have to live like a woman for one year to make sure the lifestyle suited her. So she started wearing skirts and dresses. She changed her name from Don to Donita. Over the course of five years, she went through psychological tests, hormonal therapy and electrolysis.

"There was never a moment that I changed my decision," she says. "I was in euphoria. Everything on my body just rounded out." Then the final step came in 1981, when she underwent sex-reassignment surgery. The procedure, called a vaginoplasty for male-to-female changes, includes removing the male sex organs and fashioning a vagina from the skin of the genitalia. Some surgeries may also include shaving the Adam's apple and reconstructing facial features.

After a painful recovery, Ganzon fully embraced the world as a woman. "I was glowing from the inside," she says, her eyes wide. "Men were drooling over me." To prove her emotional strength, Ganzon remained in the same neighborhood and workplace before, during and after the transition. She noticed bewildered looks from people searching for a flaw. "But they couldn't find any," she adds smugly.

Ganzon sits upright at the breakfast table in a San Jose hotel, slowly mixing her yogurt with a plastic spoon. Her curly brown hair is tightly pulled back from her round face and smooth cheekbones. Her thin eyebrows arch over her amber-colored eyes; her painted, heart-shaped lips shimmer pink. A mauve turtleneck circles the coffee-colored skin of her long neck and hangs over her narrow shoulders.

With an expressive voice, she recounts the remarkable physical transformation that made her an elegant woman, who, even at 60, draws men like a magnet. The faint lines around her eyes and slightly sagging skin at her jaw are the only noticeable signs of age, making it hard to believe that she is more than 45. For two decades, no one would ever question Ganzon's gender. She received her U.S. citizenship papers and passport in 1987 as a female. Her driver's license and nursing license both reflected her new identity. She even took up show business on the side and earned the nickname, Donita Ganzon "Gold."

During this time, Ganzon lived comfortably as a heterosexual woman, never aligning herself with the gay movement. She didn't even think of herself as "queer." But that would change when she ran into a snag—with none other than the Department of Homeland Security.

In 2000, Ganzon went to the Philippines to visit her mother for Christmas. She was 55 years old and single, but she certainly wasn't expecting to meet her future husband, let alone fall in love with a man who was 30 years her junior. Jiffy Javanella was a 25-year-old struggling mechanic who shared a house with her nephew. Ganzon noticed he had clean feet and didn't act silly like the rest of the young men. When he followed her outside the karaoke club the next night after she got sick, she knew he was special. "He just stood by while I threw up, making sure I was OK," Ganzon says. "He was so sweet."

Ganzon had her doubts about the age difference, but their mutual attraction became obvious, to the point that kids in the family started teasing them. So their relationship continued with long-distance phone calls after Ganzon returned to the United States. Two more trips to the Philippines that year and they knew it was going to last. In 2001, just a week before Sept. 11, Javanella flew to the United States on a fiance visa. A couple months later, the couple married in Las Vegas and began Javanella's green card application process.

Everything seemed to go smoothly until the final interview in July of 2004. Ganzon and Javanella had been speaking with an immigration officer for nearly four hours; they were tired and ready to wrap things up. Ganzon felt so confident with the meeting that before they were about to leave, she added, "You know, one of the reasons I love Jiffy is that he knew I was a transsexual from the beginning."

"Oh," the DHS officer said, pausing. She started typing something on the computer and produced a form, which she asked Ganzon to sign, telling her it was a formal declaration that she was a transsexual. Ganzon did so without reading the text carefully. Her lawyer, Phillip Abramowitz, would later find out that the officer actually had her sign a withdrawal of her petition, which was an attempt to "sweep it under the rug."

However, Abramowitz points out, the withdrawal was null because Ganzon's petition had already been accepted when she brought Javanella here on a fiance visa. That immigration officer didn't fully understand the law, he says. Neither, it seems, did other DHS officials when they rejected Javanella's application under the Defense of Marriage Act, which only recognizes a legal union between a man and woman.


Battlefield San Jose

Sayo knew she wanted to help Ganzon, but the trick was finding her. She started with the phone book and online directories. Then she checked Los Angeles County voter registration records. No leads, until she found a family friend who used to work with Ganzon at Kaiser Hospital. Sayo called the medical facility and discovered that Ganzon was no longer there. Desperate, she told the receptionist that she was a long lost relative and had to get this woman's home phone number. The emotional plea didn't work. After three weeks of playing detective, Sayo was starting to get discouraged. Then, just after Christmas, another co-worker at FOCUS suggested she contact Ganzon's lawyer. "Ohhh," she said, slapping her round forehead. She easily found Phillip Abramowitz listed in Southern California, and three days later, Sayo was on the phone with Ganzon. Her first words were, "Do you know how long I've been trying to get ahold of you?"

On the other end of the line, Ganzon listened with a cautious ear. Activist organizations and media people had recently been calling her about her case, but after what she'd gone through with the United States government, she didn't know who to trust. Sometimes she hung up on prying callers. But Sayo's youthful voice touched her, and she kept the receiver in her hand. After hearing about EMPAQu's purpose, Ganzon decided to "go along for the ride."

In February, the group brought Ganzon to San Jose, a place where both immigration and homosexuality are hot topics. Nearly 35 percent of the population in Santa Clara County is foreign-born. Many Filipinos are protesting the increase in deportations by the DHS, and a local collective of academics and activists recently published the report "Resisting Homeland Security: Organizing Against the Unjust Removals of U.S. Filipinos."

There are also many in the queer population who struggle with living in one of the Bay Area's more conservative cities. Patrick Soricone, director of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Center in San Jose, says it's not uncommon for people to drive by his facility yelling some sort of anti-gay epithet.

Both of these communities collide in cases like Ganzon's and that of a Sunnyvale woman named Leslie Bulbuk who fought to keep her Brazilian wife in the United States. Bulbuk has expanded her personal struggle by forming an educational activist group called Love Sees No Borders. She supports the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, which, if moved forward by Congress, would give same-sex partners the ability to sponsor one another for immigration purposes.

Bulbuk says the root of anti-queer sentiment is how people express their gender; gays and lesbians are often criticized for not sticking to traditional male and female roles. Transsexuals, then, are on the forefront of that controversy because of the significant ways they veer from their biological sex.

Still, transsexuals may not always face the same issues that gays and lesbians do if they are able to live like Ganzon: very obviously female and heterosexual. Wiggsy Sivertsen, a sociology lecturer at San Jose State University, points out: "If a transsexual person can enjoy being safe, why would they cuddle up to people who have so much discrimination?"


Is She or Isn't She?

Abramowitz argues that the Defense of Marriage Act doesn't apply in Ganzon's case, because her marriage isn't same-sex. In the state of California, she is legally considered female. She presented a certificate from her operating physician to a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles, who gave her a court order that declared her female. "The federal court has to recognize the same," Abramowitz says. The DHS has recently decided to reopen the case and reissue Javanella's work permit. Since they retracted the denial of his application, however, they are asking the federal judge to dismiss Ganzon's lawsuit. But Abramowitz has amended the lawsuit to demand an immediate decision. The judge will hear both sides on March 28.

DHS spokesperson Sharon Rummery says she can't comment on the case because it's pending litigation, but she did share her interpretation of the Defense of Marriage Act: gender at the time of birth is what matters.

However, Rummery admits she has never read the text of the law. If she did, she would discover that it says no such thing. "They have no right to put that caveat on it because it's not in the original legislation," Sivertsen of SJSU says. "This is another example of what it's like to be in George Bush's America. We can change the rules any way we see fit." Chris Daley, director of the Transgender Law Center based in San Francisco, says the immigration service has "changed dramatically" during the Bush administration. Ganzon's case is one in about a dozen that have surfaced since 2001. Before then, transsexual couples had far fewer problems marrying legally as long as the state in which they lived recognized the right to change gender. California requires some form of medical evidence that shows one has undergone surgery to change his/her sex characteristics.

"The tenor in Washington," Daley adds, "is that bias against queer people is more permissible. In this case, the DHS simply decided not to respect her gender identity."


Pride and Prejudice

At the Filipino community center in San Jose, a crowd ranging from teenagers to senior citizens has gathered to hear the personal testimony of a transsexual woman. Many of the older listeners come from conservative Catholic backgrounds, and Ganzon wonders if they will be sympathetic to her situation. But today their ethnicity serves as common ground, and this room full of people is ready to hear what Ganzon and EMPAQu have to say.

EMPAQu has flown Ganzon to the Bay Area for a speaking tour this weekend in February. The day before, she appeared before a crowd of students and media at the University of San Francisco, for which nearly 100 people showed up. She has drawn a similar audience in San Jose this afternoon.

Wearing a long black skirt and fat gray pearls on her earlobes, Ganzon gracefully takes the microphone. She speaks in a mixture of English and Tagalog, appealing to the crowd with comments like, "I am proud of being a Filipina" and "Filipino men are still the best men I have ever had in my life."

Ganzon continues with a nod to the queer community: "We are in this together. I think everybody should be allowed to have a partner and legitimize that union through marriage."

Although her lawyer has picked a safe strategy by not challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, Ganzon has stepped forward as a spokesperson for queer rights. Ganzon sees that she is also affected by the "sexual hang-ups" of American society. A victory in her case would set a precedent for other transsexuals and force the federal government to recognize an alternative lifestyle, which, Abramowitz points out, it has not done before.

Meanwhile, EMPAQu is spreading the word, sending out press releases and speaking on radio talk shows. They hosted a house party to raise funds for Ganzon's campaign, and so far they've collected 500 petition signatures. In the process, the group is creating a platform on which to challenge what it calls racist and homophobic immigration policies. Their next project is to bring Ganzon back to speak for gay pride festivities in June.

The group also plans to expand the local support network for queer women of color. The Filipino community in general, they say, is pretty "open" about homosexuality, until it gets too close to home. Dealing with unaccepting Filipino families and facing discriminatory practices at work or at school are all things they can talk about in an informal, nonjudgmental atmosphere.

Among the 10 young women in Sayo's living room one weekday night, the general consensus is that the South Bay needs this kind of unity. "San Jose is so fucking homophobic," Sayo says. "How many gay people do you see walking downtown, holding hands?"


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From the March 23-29, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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