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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Family Equality - National Media Awards

In my post yesterday, I mentioned Janice would be speaking that night and that I'd post her speech.

Janice is a quiet, unassuming person who wanted only to be allowed to live her life. Until this occurred, she was non-political and was fortunate enough to live in a community where she and her partner were just one of many sets of parents.

Her life changed in an instant.

She recounts the circumstances surrounding Lisa's death (see my earlier post) and then talks more about their life together.

I think the reason her story saddened and angered me so greatly is that these two women exemplified the very best this country has to offer. Instead, she was treated as an "untouchable".

She spoke out for the far too many "untouchables" in this country. I hope that she can make a difference. Sometimes it just takes one determined person to begin the change of hearts and minds.

Click here for the photos on the sidebar.

(Added Sunday night. Tonya, from Canada, thank you for your comment. This is not my story though but the story of a woman I've come to consider a friend. Sorry if it was confusing).



National Media Awards

Family Equality Council

Janice Langbehn - October 13, 2007

Invited to speak about our horrible experience in Florida in February 2007 - Family Equality Council (previously Family Pride) - this is the speech I gave on 10/13/07 at the Hollywood Roosevelt when Jamie Lee Curtis received her award along with Growing Generations.

as promised, i have just gotten back to our room - here is my speech. 10:40pm

Good evening, I am Janice Langbehn. In trying to prepare for tonight’s speech and express to you how family equality is essential I am saddened to think the only reason I am up here is because my partner died. Some of you may have heard our story. In February 2007, my partner, Lisa Pond, and I arrived in Miami, Florida with three of our adopted children to realize a family dream – a weeklong vacation on RFamily Cruises. As we boarded the Norwegian Jewel, Kelli O’Donnell greeted us and had our picture taken. None of us realized it would be one of our last family photographs. We also did not anticipate the unimaginable homophobia and inhumane treatment we would be faced with just a few hours later. While I unpacked in our cabin, Lisa, my partner of 18 years took our kids Danielle, David and Katie up to the top deck to play basketball. Just a short time later 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. The kids and I, hauling a week’s worth of luggage for five, arrived just before the ambulance carrying Lisa. I tried to follow the gurney into the trauma bay but was stopped by the trauma team meeting Lisa and told to go to the waiting area. I did as I was told and a short while later a social worker appeared to inform me that I was - and I quote – “in an anti-gay city and state.” He explained that this meant that I would not be allowed to see Lisa or make decisions about her care without a Health Care Proxy. I asked for his name and fax number and within 20 minutes I had contacted close friends in Olympia, WA who raced to our house, found all our legal documents including our Durable Power of Attorney, Living Wills and Advance Directives and fax them to the hospital. 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 their 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 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. The surgeon asked me for consent to place a pressure monitor in her brain. It was only then, hours after the documents had been faxed, that I knew that they had been received by the hospital. 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 promised by the doctors that I would be brought to see Lisa. Yet I was still waiting when a hospital chaplain appeared. I politely requested a Catholic Priest be brought in to administer Lisa’s Last Rites. The chaplain offered to pray with me, and I remember staring at her wondering – what did she think I had been doing for the last several hours but praying? The true tragedy really came over the next five hours. With the priest, I recited the ritual of the Last Rites and prayed for Lisa and held her hand for the first time since she arrived at Ryder Trauma Center. Following my few minutes with Lisa, the priest ushered me out to the waiting room again. After finally seeing Lisa, I knew our children and I needed to be with her and I asked over and over if we could go back again and was repeatedly told by hospital staff, “No”. In those five hours, Lisa lay at Ryder Trauma Center moving toward brain death and yet no one was there to hold her hand and talk to her and tell her how much she was loved. Jackson Memorial Hospital, in their inability or unwillingness to recognize us as a family with legally adopted children, forced Lisa to be alone in her last moments of life. I used every tactic I could think of to be with her, to bring our children to her yet five hours after they stopped life-saving measures we still sat in that small waiting room. I showed hospital staff our children’s birth certificates with Lisa’s name on them and was told they were “too young to visit”. I thought to myself “how old do you need to be to say goodbye to your mother”? In those hours of waiting and trying to calm our children, explaining to them that their “other” mom was dying and would go to Heaven, I felt like a failure. It wasn’t until Lisa was officially declared brain dead on Monday February 19, 2007 at 10:45am and individuals from the Organ Donation Agency became involved did I finally feel validated as a spouse and partner. They talked directly with me and allowed me to choose which organs would be donated and allowed me to sign all the consent forms. It is only now, eight months after Lisa’s death that I can gain more perspective and with that insight has come anger at how we were treated. Lisa and I were together 18 years, had become foster parents for the State of Washington when we were just 24 and 25 years old. After being guardians to a teenager until she graduated from high school, taking in 22 foster children and then adopting four children, I realized that we were fortunate in our life together. We had each other; we lived in a community where our adopted children were never harassed for having two moms. Lisa was a “stay-at-home mom” and very involved in our children’s lives from teaching all our children’s first communion classes to volunteering at their schools, sitting on the PTSA for 2 years and serving as our daughters’ Girl Scout leader for the past 8 years. Her troop was so popular it swelled to 26 girls at one point. Lisa never turned anyone away. When we did face inequality, we just found other ways to meet our children’s needs. Truly until February 18, 2007, I can only think of a handful of times when I felt out of place as a family. However, I now believe that a family – however they may define themselves (GLBTQ) – has the human right to be together is at the time of death. Yet, in our situation not only were we not validated as family we were actually shunned. All because, as the social worker made very clear, I was in an anti-gay state, as if I should just accept that. Yet I had no choice. He and the hospital held the power to allow or not allow our children and me the basic human right to hold Lisa’s hand while she was still alive. They stole that time from Lisa, our children and me, and that time can never be given back. So as I move through my grief and help our children through theirs, I speak out for family equality and basic human rights. I believe with all my heart, that at the hour of Lisa’s death, no one should have been able to deny our children and myself the ability to say goodbye to Lisa and let her know – if only be holding her hand – that she was so loved. That should not be a privilege in our country but a basic human right of every family regardless of how they define themselves. If you remember nothing else from tonight, I hope you have come to understand that even with legal paperwork it is a reality that someone can leave this earth completely alone even though their loved ones are just 20 feet away. No family should have endured what we did that night in Miami at Jackson Memorial Hospital. It was wrong, insensitive and a defining moment for my family that can never be replaced or forgiven. Lisa Pond was a wonderful caring person who gave endlessly to others. She took care of countless children when they were abused or neglected. She nurtured even more through her community service and as a Girl Scout Leader. Through organ donation, four people received another chance at life when they received her kidneys, liver and heart.

As for me, and our wonderful children, we are left with a hole in our hearts that will never be filled.

Thank you

COMMENTS:

Ingrid said...

That is heartbreaking. How unimaginably frustrating it is to think that this country is still soo extremely backwards about these issues. What do we need, another reformation??
thanks for posting Ann,
hugs
Ingrid

Sunday, October 14, 2007 1:38:PM


Tonya said...

Dear Ann,

Thank you for having the courage to share your story. I am writing to you from Canada to say that human rights violations are regularly committed against LGBTQ-identified persons in both Canada and the US despite the fact that these two countries are respected the world over as models of democracy and upholders of human rights. It is important to speak out against these types of human rights violations so that our two governments will start to see that basic democratic rights still need to be respected and protected at home before looking abroad to solve other countries' problems with democracy. It is amazing that during your time of crisis you were able to get your friends to fax your legal documents to the hospital and it is truly astounding that these documents were not respected. It is one thing to change the laws and legislation, but it is entirely another to change the hearts and minds of the people. The stand you took is one step forward in building empathy and understanding in the minds of others who cannot comprehend our lives and the ways we live them. Bravo to you for speaking out and my sincerest condolences to you on the sudden loss of your partner.

Sincerely,

Tonya Callaghan
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Sunday, October 14, 2007 11:34:00 PM



2 Comments:

  • At Sunday, October 14, 2007 1:38:00 PM , Blogger Ingrid said...

    That is heartbreaking. How unimaginably frustrating it is to think that this country is still soo extremely backwards about these issues. What do we need, another reformation??
    thanks for posting Ann,
    hugs
    Ingrid

     
  • At Sunday, October 14, 2007 11:34:00 PM , Blogger Tonya said...

    Dear Ann,

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story. I am writing to you from Canada to say that human rights violations are regularly committed against LGBTQ-identified persons in both Canada and the US despite the fact that these two countries are respected the world over as models of democracy and upholders of human rights. It is important to speak out against these types of human rights violations so that our two governments will start to see that basic democratic rights still need to be respected and protected at home before looking abroad to solve other countries' problems with democracy. It is amazing that during your time of crisis you were able to get your friends to fax your legal documents to the hospital and it is truly astounding that these documents were not respected. It is one thing to change the laws and legislation, but it is entirely another to change the hearts and minds of the people. The stand you took is one step forward in building empathy and understanding in the minds of others who cannot comprehend our lives and the ways we live them. Bravo to you for speaking out and my sincerest condolences to you on the sudden loss of your partner.

    Sincerely,

    Tonya Callaghan
    Calgary, Alberta, Canada

     

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