EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 1, 2008

Haverhill man's national ad campaign highlights separation from his gay partner

By Jill Harmacinski

HAVERHILL — Tim Coco has spent nearly nine months without his husband, Genesio Oliveira Jr., at his side.

Today, the Haverhill businessman is doing what he does best — launching an advertising campaign. This one focuses on his international marital plight.

"The pain has become unbearable. We need to do something to get some attention," said Coco, 46, the founder of the local advertising agency COCO + Co.

Today, an advertisement is scheduled to appear on the back page of the Washington Post's Express newspaper asking President Bush and Congress to "Make This Right!"

The ad, which includes the couple's wedding photo, is a direct appeal to the government to have Oliveira, 28, returned to the United States from Brazil.

"The executive branch has the authority to grant (Oliveira) a visa now and Congress has the power to grant relief by any number of means," the ad reads.

Oliveira, who married Coco in 2005, voluntarily went back to Brazil last August when he could not get the government to recognize him as a documented alien.

Ever since, Coco, backed by a group of Merrimack Valley supporters, has been pushing to get humanitarian parole or other clearance for Oliveira to return to the United States.

In March, the couple filed a so-called I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative — the same mechanism heterosexual couples use to gain recognition for immigrant spouses. But the couple expected the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to deny the petition based on the Defense of Marriage Act, a 12-year-old law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Coco and Oliveira also appealed to Brazilian leaders, urging officials to discuss the couple's forced separation when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited South America. Coco said the couple's situation got some coverage in the local press. But Oliveira still hasn't come home.

"It's been very difficult," Coco said. "We are not getting the attention we need, and that's why this ad is running."

An estimated 280,000 adults will see today's ad. Coco hopes that includes President Bush and 535 U.S. senators and representatives. The ad cost him roughly $2,000, which included a discount because he runs an advertising agency, he said.

"We expect more of these. My goal is to bring the ads into districts where senators and congressmen and women reside," he said. "The message is we are not going away."

The couple met in Boston six years ago when Oliveira, then a medical student in Bolivia, was visiting the United States. He later returned to the United States, marrying and intending to stay with Coco permanently.

He needed to learn English, so Oliveira enrolled at Northern Essex Community College, first attending classes in Lawrence and later at the Haverhill campus. Once he mastered the language, he also hoped to continue his medical education and apply to the University of New Hampshire.

Coco was featured in a front-page story in The Eagle-Tribune about the couple's separation in mid-March. The Merrimack Valley's response to their story has been "heartwarming," he said.

"I have received literally dozens of letters, cards and e-mails which have all been very positive," Coco said.

Some of the messages have come in foreign languages and Coco has tried to translate them. He's been in contact with a same-sex couple who fled to Germany so they could be together. He also has been told of other gay couples who "live here in secrecy with the fear they'll be discovered."

He also was concerned about the reaction some of his conservative clients would have regarding his predicament. They have been great, he said.

"I didn't know what impact that would have. ... But I think they respect the fact we tried to play by the rules," he said.

Coco said the time apart is reinforcing the couple's desire to be together.

"Our determination is much stronger," he said. "We found we are not just fighting for ourselves. We felt very alone in the beginning. But now we realize we are carrying the torch for everyone else in this position."

How to help

A Web site — www.reunitethisfamily.com — details the efforts of Tim Coco and Genesio Oliveira Jr. to be together.

Updates, media links, comments and videos are included.

Donations to offset legal costs can also be made through the Web site.