Janice Langbehn Reflects on Washington Marriages, Her Own Activism

In 2007, Janice Langbehn and her three children were denied access to her dying partner and the children’s other mother, Lisa Pond—a tragedy that helped motivate President Obama to revise hospital visitation rules to allow same-sex partners. She also lives in Washington State—and in a new blog post, “My Missteps,” reflects on the state’s new marriage equality law and her own path to activism.

What may surprise readers is her concern that she didn’t do enough soon enough for our community—striking words from the woman who in 2011 received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor.

She writes:

My heart is overjoyed as I see all the pictures of couples getting legal marriage licenses in Washington last night and from here on out.  I feel some amount of guilt because I didn’t fight hard for equality and sooner in my life. . . .

She tells of how she and Pond started their family, and how readily they were accepted by family, friends, and community, and ponders:

So here it is 16 years AFTER our first adoption and we have marriage equality in WA state.  I wonder if all my missed opportunities played into my decision to speak up when Lisa died.  As I try continually process my decision to go public – my guess is that I am trying very hard to make up for all the times Lisa and I could have stood up for our community.  We lived in such a bubble – besides being denied to buy a car together 24 years ago, we didn’t face direct discrimination for our relationship.

“Why didn’t we ever think to go and apply for a marriage license and push the issue socially,” she asks, and replies, “I have no good answer and definitely feel I let our community down as I look back.”

Speaking for myself (and without knowing Janice personally), I’ll say: Janice, you didn’t let us down at all and you shouldn’t feel guilty. Each of us takes our own path to activism and our own way within it. Yes, one can make the “First they came for the…” argument, but one can also drive oneself crazy thinking of all the many things one could have done. I would venture to say that every activist has a point in time when they realized they needed to take action, and that point is not the same for everyone. You stepped up when it was your moment, even in the midst of personal tragedy, and you made (and continue to make) a tremendous difference in many lives. Thank you.

One further example of Langbehn’s influence is the new film Quiet, which tells the story of a lesbian couple who are kept apart in a hospital. It is inspired by her life, although the circumstances of the fictional characters are somewhat different. (The fictional women don’t appear to have children, for example.) The film has been screening at festivals and gotten a few awards. Here’s a trailer: