Documenting Same-Sex Couples and the Defense of Marriage Act

TLSP in the Press

OCTOBER 2012

Charlie and Karen Morgan talk to CNN on Oct. 7, 2012 about DOMA and The Legal Stranger Project:

AUGUST 2012

The Legal Stranger Project is featured on the LA Times Framework “Best of the Web”

By Albert Lee

The Internet and social media are having great impact for filmmakers. Independent filmmaking and journalism can now leverage an interested audience to help finance stories that need to be told.  Through our photojournalist Amanda Lucidon’s career, she has focused on stories about stereotypes within communities — race, gender, ability, culture, class and sexual orientation. While a staffer at Press-Enterprise, it was much easier for her to find an outlet for long-term documentary projects.  As the industry changed and old print advertising models began losing their reach, budgets shrank and it became more of a challenge to support the costs of long-term projects.  In 2008 Lucidon took a buyout from a staff photographer position at the newspaper; finding support for long-term projects as a freelancer would be even more challenging.

While on assignment photographing a dozen same-sex couples simultaneously exchanging vows, she dug deeper into the story. Lucidon discovered that under the 1996 U.S Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), married same-sex couples are considered legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government and therefore not entitled to 1,138 federal rights, benefits and entitlements.  As a married person, she had no idea that she and her husband were entitled to more than a 1,000 rights that same-sex couples were denied. And in conversations she found it was a rarely known fact. This would spur Lucidon to launch The Legal Stranger Project, breaking down the complexities of DOMA though the stories of those who have been personally impacted.

Lucidon  realized that if she wanted to produce long-term multimedia projects, she would have to find creative ways to fund it.  She created a website, cut a trailer and built a following on Facebook and Twitter.  In the beginning, the fundraising efforts were constant, hours a day researching grants, posting to social media, linking articles, managing Facebook and Twitter, basically keeping up the conversations that were happening online.  Schedules packed with meetings, postcards to pass out, speaking engagements…. anything to get the message out there.

When the project was ready for crowd funding, she went with IndieGoGo because it did not need to meet a minimum goal to get the funds and every donation is available immediately. “Crowd funding is scary.  It’s like standing on the edge of the high diving board as a kid.  Eventually you jump just to prove your not a chicken.” Lucidon dove in. She posted a trailer and reached out to her Facebook and Twitter follower. People rallied to get the project funded; some of the largest donations came from people she has never met.  Those who couldn’t afford to donate helped by spreading the word about the project.  In the end it wasn’t just about fundraising, it was also raising awareness.  The project still has a long way to go, but Lucidon feels social media has really allowed independent multimedia producers to create their own outlets with limited resources, reaching the audience on multiple platforms.  As Lucidon says, “ It is challenging… but it’s possible.”

To see the full article, visit Framework

JUNE 2012

Amanda Lucidon, director/producer, presents the stories of The Legal Stranger Project to one hundred soldiers at Ft. Meade, MD. (Photo by Abby Greenawalt)

APRIL 2012

Pres. Obama greets Amanda Lucidon, director/producer of the Legal Stranger Project, and the WHNPA “Eyes of History” award winners in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Legal Stranger Project Wins Best Multimedia Innovation Award in the
White House News Photographers Association’s
The Eyes of History™ 2012 Contest

Washington, D.C. – Photojournalist and filmmaker Amanda Lucidon has won the Best Multimedia Innovation first place award in White House News Photographers Association’s annual “The Eyes of History™” competition for The Legal Stranger Project, a multimedia website which through personal stories documents the denial 1,138 federal rights and benefits for legally married same-sex couples under the Defense of Marriage Act.

The top winners of the WHNPA’s still, video and new media contests will be honored at the annual “Eyes of History” Gala on May 5, 2012, at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington. The black-tie event celebrates all the winning photojournalists and the President of the United States. Nearly 1,000 guests, including government dignitaries and industry celebrities, attend.
Lucidon and her fellow honorees were invited to the White House to meet President Obama on Wednesday, April 11, where they were photographed with the president in the Oval Office.

When the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, Lucidon covered the exchange of vows by a dozen or so couples at the Andrew W. Mellon Building to symbolize marriage equality in the nation’s capital. Initially inspired to follow one of those couples through the first year of marriage, Lucidon evolved the wider-reaching Legal Stranger Project when her research uncovered that under the 1996 U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), married same-sex couples are considered legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government and therefore are not entitled to 1,138 federal rights, benefits and entitlements.
Using a variety of media – film, video, still photographs written journals and interactive conversations – The Legal Stranger Project conveys the great disparities in parental rights, immigration status, inheritance, health care, survivor benefits and other rights arising from DOMA, through personal stories that producer/director Lucidon, co-producer Scott Anger and their team are continuing to collect and showcase through the website and an in-production documentary film.

Operating on a start-up shoestring budget, The Legal Stranger Project, is raising its still-needed funds through a variety of innovative sources including through tax-deductible donations on the project website accepted through their fiscal sponsor, Talking Eyes Media and a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo conducted earlier this year.

About The Legal Stranger Project filmmakers: Amanda Lucidon has focused on stories about stereotypes within communities based on gender, race, culture, class, disability and sexual-orientation through visual storytelling throughout her 12-year career. Her work has been recognized by the White House News Photographers Association, the National Press Photographers Association Best of Photojournalism, Pictures of the Year International among others. Co-producer Scott Anger, former director of video at the Los Angeles Times has helped produce seven films for the premiere documentary program Frontline on PBS. In addition, Anger co-produced the documentary film Witnesses to a Secret War, which was funded in part by the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund and ITVS. His work includes five other feature-length documentaries for broadcast on networks such as SHOWTIME, PBS and the BBC. For more information visit http://legalstranger.com.

About the WHNPA: The White House News Photographers Association is a 91-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the efforts of Washington’s professional photojournalists. The WHNPA aims to provide professional and educational outreach to its members and the community through scholarships, programming, an annual competition and a celebration of the industry at the annual “Eyes of History” gala.

For further information about ‘The Eyes of History™’ and to view the winning images and videos, visit the WHNPA website at http://whnpa.org

DECEMBER 2011

The Legal Stranger Project was featured in the Huffington Post. You can read the article below or on the HuffPost Gay Voices:

Documenting DOMA’s Injustice
by Erwin de Leon

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently articulated the Obama administration’s unequivocal support for the human rights of LGBT individuals while admitting that much more needs to be done in the United States.

“I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect,” she said at a Human Rights Day speech. ”We, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home.” The Secretary also made clear that gay rights and human rights are not separate and distinct, “but, in fact, they are one and the same.”

Among the civil rights America has yet to bestow on queer individuals is the freedom to marry, which brings with it over a thousand federal, state, and local benefits and privileges that straight married couples take for granted. Amanda Lucidon, a straight documentarian, hopes to put a spotlight on this injustice that is suffered by lesbian and gay couples thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Lucidon, an award-winning photojournalist, is the producer and director of The Legal Stranger Project, which documents, through a series of intimate personal stories, the great disparities encountered by lesbian and gay couples under DOMA, which, according to Lucidon, “allows the federal government to merely recognize these couples as ‘legal strangers.’”

Lucidon was inspired by what she witnessed when marriage equality was legalized in Washington, D.C. two years ago.

On the first day marriage licenses were issued, she was waiting for couples leaving the Superior Court of D.C. with their licenses when she met Rev. Bonnie Berger. Berger was marrying couples on the spot and invited the photojournalist to attend a mass wedding of gay couples the following week.

It dawned on Lucidon during the mass wedding that gay married couples are not treated equally and fairly.

“I met Amy Sokal and Alex Khalaf, a couple whose lives I’d end up documenting,” Lucidon said. “At first I thought I would follow Amy and Alex’s journey through the first year as newlyweds after D.C. legalized marriage for same-sex couples. But as I began to look deeper into the issue, I discovered that there are actually 1,138 federal rights, benefits, and entitlements associated with marriage.”

She reflected on how she and her husband, along with other married straight couples, are automatically entitled to such benefits. She began asking friends, “Did you know you’re entitled to 1,138 rights when you get married?”

Most people had no clue. Lucidon was spurred to act. “I wanted to take a closer look at the issue to see the personal impact on same-sex couples and families.”

She has since spoken to and documented stories of lesbian and gay couples. She was struck most by the story of Kelly Glossip and Dennis Englehard.

“I’ve spent time documenting Kelly Glossip, a widower whose spouse, Dennis Englehard, was killed on Christmas day while working for the Missouri highway patrol,” she recounted. “Since their 15-year relationship was not recognized, he has been denied survivor benefits. He was left out of the funeral arrangements and burial services. Kelly continues to struggle emotionally and financially with the loss of his partner. He is suing the state of Missouri for survivor benefits.”

Lucidon hopes to share these stories to a broader audience, but like so many other documentarians, funding has been a challenge.

“Until this point, all of the content for this project, including photography, video, audio, and production, has been self-funded,” she said. “It’s very expensive to shoot and produce the stories and we need help.”

Lucidon and her team of volunteers have therefore started a fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo to help offset the ongoing costs of the Legal Stranger Project.