June 2007 – Olympia Pride Festival (speaker)
July 2007 – Panel member on Rfamily Cruise at the request of Family Equality Council
October 2007 – Family Equality Council Media Awards (Jamie Lee Curtis- recipient) I was keynote speaker
February 2008 – “In the Life” feature montage of our family story, filmed in NYC
May 2008 – GLAAD media award, San Fran – story Highlighted by then President Neil g.
June 2008 – Interviews with all local Media stations in Miami of filing of Lawsuit
June 2008 – St. Petersburg, FL Pride Parade Grand Marshall
July 2008 – Photo shoot and story for People Mag
October 2008 – Panelist and speaker at Gay/Lesbian Medical Association annual meeting – Seattle, WA
January 2009 – filmed spot for Lambda Legal with “In the Life”
March 2009 – Keynote speaker – Lambda Legal Liberty Circle get together – Fl Lauderdale
May 2009 – Keynote speaker – Lambda Legal Liberty Award – NYC
August 2009 – Lambda Legal Seattle Garden Party Speaker
September 2009 – GLAAD 2 days of filming
October 2009 – Spoke at Law and Justice Week at Seattle U Law School
November 2009 – Town Hall Meeting Panel member in Miami
April 15, 2010 – Personal phone call from President Obama from Air Force One
April 15, 2010 – Live East Coast coverage on Anderson 360
April 16, 2010 – Live East Coast on MSNBC – Peter Alexander, Live East Coast for CNN – Live East Coast for ABC – Diane Sawyer
Taped piece for Local NBC affiliate – KING5
June 22, 2010 – White House invitation to meet with President Obama one on one
June 22, 2010 – Meeting with Secretary of HHS – Kathleen Sebelius (present Beth Littrell, Lambda Legal)
June 25/26 2010 – Chicago: DVD release Party of Hannah Free: staring Sharon Gless, produced by Tracy Baim
Also International Law Enforcement Gay/Lesbian Conference, Keynote speaker
September 25, 2010: Seattle – Awarded the Human Rights Campaign National Equality Award
October 17, 2010: Westport, CT – Lambda Legal Connecticut Cares gathering – Keynote speaker
November 19,2010: National conference call with the WH, HHS, myself and Charlene Strong
March 15, 2011: Testified in support of Wa State HB 149
March 19, 2011: 22nd Annual GLAAD media awards, NYC – Featured speaker
April 5, 2011: signing of HB1649 at Governor Gregoire’s officer
April 10, 2011: 22nd Annual GLAAD media Awards, Los Angeles – Featured Speaker
April 16/17 2011: Lambda Legal in the Desert – Palm Springs, guest speaker
May 2, 2011: Lambda Legal NYC Lambda Legal Liberty Awards – Liberty Award Reciepent
May 14, 2011: 22 Annual GLAAD media award, San Francisco – featured speaker
June 15, 2011: State of WA, DSHS – Diversity/Pride month, featured speaker
October 12, 2011: NBC, ABC – Announcement of Presidential Citizens Medal
October 20, 2011: Numerous DC, national affiliates: Receiving second highest Civilian Honor from President Barack Obama
November 2011: Honored by Capital City Pride (Olympia, WA)
November 2011: Honored on the Floor of the US House of Representatives by Adam Smith for receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal
November 14, 2011: Guest Speaker at High School Alma Mater, Spokane
November 14, 2011: Guest Speaker on Panel for MSW program at Eastern Washington University
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Text of some Speeches follow ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
FAMILY EQUALITY COUNCIL – MEDIA AWARDS – HOLLYWOOD – 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.
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.
LAMBDA LEGAL, FT. LAUDERDALE MARCH 29, 2009
Hello, I am Janice Langbehn. I know that many of you here tonight have heard the story of our family and the horrible treatment our family received at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
On February 18, 2007, Lisa Pond, my partner of nearly 18 years and 3 of our 4 adopted children: Danielle, David and Katie were on board the Rfamily cruise preparing to set sail. Before leaving port, Lisa suddenly collapsed while watching the children play basketball. 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.
As Lisa was put into the ambulance I had no idea when she signed “I love you” to the kids and I it would be the last time I would see her beautiful blue eyes. We arrived at the trauma center minutes before her ambulance. I tried to follow her gurney into the trauma area and was stopped by the trauma team and told to go to the waiting room. The kids and I did as we were told.
We arrived shortly after 3:30 in the afternoon, around 4pm, a social worker came out and introduced himself as Garnet Frederick and said, “you are in an anti-gay city and state. And without a health care proxy you will not see Lisa nor know of her condition”. He then turned to leave; I stopped him and asked for his fax number because I said “we had legal Durable Powers of Attorney” and would get him the documents. Within a short time of meeting this social worker, I contacted friends in Lacey, WA, our hometown, who went to our house and faxed the legal documents required for me to make medical decisions for Lisa.
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 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 (on a Sunday afternoon at home) 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. 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 then promised by the doctors that I would be brought to see Lisa as “soon as she was cleaned up”. At that point all life saving measures ceased and I asked that she be prepared for organ donation.
Yet, the children and I continued to wait and wait. A Hospital Chaplain appeared and asked if I wanted to pray and I looked at her dumbfounded as if I hadn’t already been doing that for over four hours. I immediately asked for a Catholic Priest to perform Lisa’s Last rites. A short time later, A Catholic priest escorted me back to recite the Last Rites and it was my first time in nearly 5hrs of seeing Lisa. After seeing her I knew the children needed to see her immediately and be able to say their goodbyes and begin the grieving process. Yet the priest escorted me back out to the waiting room. Where I was faced with the young faces of our beautiful children to explain “other mommy” was going to heaven.
I continued to assert my self over the ensuing hours again that we needed to be with Lisa. I even showed the Admitting clerk the children’s birth certificates with both Lisa and my name on them… and said if you won’t let me back, let her children be with her. I was told they were “too young”. I thought how old do you need to be to say goodbye to your mother?
In nearly eight hours, Lisa lay at Ryder Trauma Center moving toward brain death – completely alone and I continue to this day to feel like a failure for not being there to hold her hand to tell her how much we loved her, to comfort her and to sign in her hand “I love you”. All my pleas fell on deaf ears.
Lisa’s sister arrived driving straight from Jacksonville as soon as I knew Lisa would not survive. She announced who she was and I was at her side staring at the same person who had been denying me access all those hours. It was only then that I was told Lisa had been moved almost an hour earlier to ICU… and the hospital just kept the children and I waiting in the same waiting room, where Lisa was not even at.
On Monday February 19, 2007 at 10:45am, Lisa was officially declared Brain Dead. It was then that individuals from individuals from the Organ Donation Agency became involved (who I must point out are completely separate professionals from Jackson Memorial Hospital) that I finally was validated as Lisa’s spouse. They asked me which organs she wanted donated. And through this tragedy Lisa saved 4 lives and those at the gathering last night met Jerry, the keeper of Lisa’s heart. Her heart could not be in better hands and I am so grateful and humbled to have met him in person.
Please let me tell you about our Lisa. She and I met in 1988, became a couple in June 1989 and had a holy union in 1991. We were foster parents for the state of Washington since 1992 – fostering 25 children and eventually adopting 4 children. Lisa chose to quit her state position as a social worker to devote all her time and energy to our foster and adoptive children because of their special needs. Lisa was involved in every aspect of our children’s lives from volunteering in their classrooms every week and even sitting on PTSA for 2 years. She became our daughters GS Troop leader and her troop swelled to almost 30 girls because she was so popular. She taught our children community service through delivery of meals at the holidays to those that were not able to leave their homes. She taught first communion classes at our church and taught children’s Mass on Sundays. Many grief books say we often canonize those that have died, but I don’t need to because Lisa was a Saint among us.
For nearly 7 months after Lisa’s death, I contacted Jackson Memorial and asked for an apology and it also fell on deaf ears and it was only then that I contacted LAMBDA legal.
Making the call to LAMBDA legal in Atlanta has been a life changing experience for the children and I. I am so grateful that Greg Nevins and Beth Littrell in the Atlanta office had the wisdom to see the injustice of what happened to our family. I am beyond grateful to Lambda staff and donors for helping our case move forward in the courts. Without Lambda legal, our story may have been only a one-time headline and likely little would have changed. Already, my own health plan in WA state – Group Health Cooperative, has written a letter to our family saying they reviewed all their internal policies to make sure that what happened to our family in Miami would never happen in a Group Health Facility. Many other municipalities and County facilities have see how inhumane we were treated and taken it upon themselves to review and change policies.
As I close tonight, I want to thank our wonderful children who have come along this difficult journey with me: Danielle, David and Katie. I want to personally thank Beth Littrell and Don Hayden of Baker and McKenzie who are the lead attorneys on our case and all their associates. I know our case is in the best of hands.
Also the entire Lambda staff from Rick Hill, who has been so gentle and caring to our family’s needs and made possible the meeting between Jerry, the keeper of Lisa’s heart, and our family. That was time that I will always cherish – thank you Rick.
Thank you to Lambda Board Members, Donors and Sponsors because if it wasn’t for your commitment to support our family, I wouldn’t have known were to turn to seek Justice so that no other family has to go through what we did. I have said since the beginning that saying goodbye to Lisa is not a “gay right” but a human right – and JMH stole that from our children, Lisa and I and we can never get that back. Hopefully through your wonderful work, we can make sure this doesn’t ever happen again.
You are always welcome to follow our family on our blog to watch our beautiful children grow and keep up with our fight for justice and change. Thank you for your time and listening.
MIAMI TOWN HALL, NOVEMBER 19, 2009
Tonight I took part in a community forum with Equality Florida, Save Dade and Lambda Legal. For the first time individuals from Jackson Memorial employees were present to here our story first hand. It is never easy to speak of Lisa’s death. But as I always do, here is the remarks I gave tonight. Thank you to all the wonderful participates, panel members and community members for turning out and hearing what happened to our family and how we move to improve policies and the like at JMH.
Good evening, I am Janice Langbehn and I want to thank Equality Florida, Save Dade and of course Lambda Legal for inviting me to speak tonight.
Some of you may have heard our story, In February 2007, my partner Lisa Pond and I arrived here in Miami with three of our adopted children to celebrate our 18 years together and realize a family dream with a week long vacation on Rfamily Cruise to the Bahamas.
As we boarded the Norwegian Jewel – we took a beautiful picture of the kids with Kelli O’Donnell. We also took a family picture; little did I know that would be our last family photo.
Lisa took Katie, David and Danielle to the Basketball court and I unpacked our stateroom and only 20 minutes later, the kids were banging on the stateroom door – “mommy was hurt” and I thought to myself – “she must have sprained her ankle -she can be such a clutz”. I opened the door and took one look at Lisa and knew it was very serious. Having been a hospital and ER social worker, I knew my partner was gravely ill. As the ship was about to leave, we had no choice but to seek medical help in an unfamiliar city.
Lisa was transported to Ryder Trauma Center at JMH while the kids and I followed in a cab. We arrived at Ryder at about the same time around 3:30 on that Sunday afternoon. I tried following Lisa’s gurney to the trauma bay but was stopped by the trauma team and told to go to the waiting room, which we did.
Around 4pm, Mr. Garnett Frederick appeared saying he was a social worker and then warned me I was in an “anti-gay city and state and would not get to see Lisa nor know of her condition without a health care proxy” and turned to leave. I called him back and said I have those documents and that I wanted his fax number. I still have the small piece of paper he ripped out of his notebook where he wrote his name and fax number.
I immediately reached close friend in Olympia, WA who raced to our house and found all our legal documents including our durable power of attorney, Living Will and Advanced Directives and faxed them to the hospital with in minutes of my conversation with Mr. Frederick.
I never imaged 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 sneak back into the trauma bay but all the doors 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 to see their loved ones.
A little after 5pm, after waiting almost 2 hours and not even knowing what was wrong with Lisa, I finally called our family doctor back in Olympia that Sunday afternoon. I reached Dr. Ball at her home and explained that I was told I was an anti gay city and state and didn’t know what was happening and begged her to call the hospital to find out something. As I was talking to her, a doctor appeared and told me that Lisa, just 39 years old and healthy, had suffered a massive cerebral aneurysm. He turned and left – not waiting to see if I had any questions. It was Dr. Ball who explained to me what was occurred as I stood there in shock.
Around 6pm, 2 more doctors appeared and brought me into a quiet room and explained that the massive and fast bleed in Lisa’s brain gave her little chance to survive and if she did it would be in a persistive vegetative state. Lisa had made me promise to her over and over in our 18 years together to never allow his to happen to her. I let the surgeons know Lisa wishes, which were also spelled out in her living will. I then pleaded with the 2 doctors to let me see Lisa and they said I could once she was “cleaned up”. They left me and never spoke to me again. I then had to face our children and as I was preparing to tell them about their “other mom” a
a female pastor saw me and asked if I wanted to pray – and I looked at as if she were her crazy – thinking “what the hell did she think I had been doing for nearly 3 hours” I immediately asked for a priest to do Lisa’s last Rites. Not too much time later a priest appeared and escorted me back to the Trauma area – to where Lisa was lying, restrained to her gurney, with tubes, monitors, and IV’s everywhere. I recited the litany of saints and watched over as Lisa’s Last Rites were performed and the priest escorted directly back to the waiting room. After performing the last rights, I knew I had to do the hardest thing I would be called upon as a mother and tell our children that other mom was going to heaven.
I brought our 3 wonderful children into the quiet room, alone because the priest and chaplain had also disappeared. I told them that other mommy was dying and she would go to heaven but before she went, I wanted to donate her organs so she could help other people like she wanted. I told them I would get them back to see their “other mom”. I think our kids knew on some level what had been happening for the past 3.5 hours. Katie curled up in the corner and began sucking her thumb and David just held my hand and Danielle stared numbly at the floor.
The real tragedy began at about 7pm that night as we continued to wait for someone to bring us back to be with Lisa. I knew she was alone, with no active traumas in the trauma bays I would ask the clerk who repeatedly brushed me off and told me to go sit down. Finally in desperation I showed her the kids birth certificates and showed them that Lisa was their mother. I told her the kids needed to say goodbye before their mother died and I was told “no” they were too young. I was dumbfounded and thought how old do you need to be to say goodbye to your dying mother who is 20 feet away. In those ensuing hours Lisa lay at Ryder trauma center, not being actively worked on, in a curtained area restrained, alone and moving towards brain death. And we were not there to hold her hand and tell her how much she was loved.
Jackson memorial and it’s staff that night 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. In those hours of waiting and trying to calm our children I felt like a failure than and still do today for not getting to be with Lisa or bring our children to her to hold her hand.
Finally around 11:30 that night – 8 hours after the kids and I arrived at Ryder, Lisa’s sister arrived from Jacksonville – driving straight to Miami when I called her 7 hours earlier. When she arrived at Ryder trauma center – I brought her in like a trophy I admit this now – saying here is Lisa’s sister. And the admitting clerk then said – oh Lisa Pond – we moved her an hour ago to the ICU. As if the mistreatment we received as a family couldn’t get worst – they moved Lisa to another part of the hospital and keep us in wrong waiting room for over an hour.
This nurse at the ICU was reluctant to allow us to visit but Lisa’s sister was insistent and she was successful to get us in for a short amount of time along with the kids, by this time the restraints were off and Lisa was in a deep coma.
My partner, my soul mate, the love of my life died officially the next morning at 10:45am on February 19, 2007. The doctors who pronounced her brain dead, never came to speak to me or answer my questions.
It was only after the individuals from LAORA became involved that I was validated as a spouse and partner. They talked directly with me and allowed me to sign all documents and choose which organs and tissues to donate. From Lisa’s death – 4 people’s lives were saved. And I have to tell you we have been so fortunate to meet Jerry who received Lisa’s heart a I can say her heart is in the best of hands.
Today 2 yrs and 9 months ago after Lisa’ death that I am gaining perspective and with that insight has come anger and disbelieve for how we were treated by the social worker and staff at JMH. Lisa and I had become foster parents for the state of WA at just 22 and 23 years old. We fostered 25 children and adopted 4 special needs children. Lisa became the stay at home mom and threw herself in to the lives of our children from being on PTSA, teach their 1stcommunion classes to being our girls Girls Scout Leader for 8 years. Often grief books say we canonize those that die, but I don’t need to Lisa was truly a Saint among us.
I so believe that any family – however they define themselves has the HUMAN right to be together at time of death. Yet in our situation not only were we not validated but also we were shunned. All because as Mr. Frederick made it very clear I was in an anti gay city/state.
The pain does not end there, more salt that JMH has rubbed into our family wounds was the day I returned back to WA for Lisa Memorial Mass, I received noticed that JMH filed a lien against her property since we were out of state residents – despite the fact our health plan paid for all her care until she became a organ donor, which was then covered by UNOS. JMH has never lifted that lien. I cannot get a death certificate from the State of Florida. I also filed a compliant specifically with JMH against mr. Frederick in March 07 which was lost until july 07 which to today has never been addressed or resolved.
So through my helplessness and my pleas for an apology fell on deaf ears at JMH for 6 month I turned to Lambda Legal. Making that call was a life changing experience and through their wisdom they saw the injustice done to our family and proceeded to file the lawsuit against JMH seeking change so this situation would never happen to another family.
My hope for bringing the suit against JMH was to shed light on how our families are treated even with the proper paperwork. And often we can be treated like second-class citizen. I have tried since Lisa’s death to raise awareness that holding your loved one’s hand as they are dying in not a gay right or privilege for only some in our country but rather a basic human right for every family regardless of how they define.
In September this year our family was dealt a huge blow when Judge Jordan sided with the hospital and dismissed our lawsuit. I however found some words of encouragement in Judge Jordan’s opinion when he wrote in his opinion:
“If the plaintiffs’ allegations are true, which I assume that they are when deciding the defendants’ 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the defendants’ lack of sensitivity and attention to Ms.Langbehn, Ms. Pond, and their children caused them needless distress during a time of vulnerability. The defendants’ failure to provide Ms. Langbehn and her children frequent updates on Ms. Pond’s status, to allow Ms. Langbehn and her children to visit Ms. Pond after emergency medical care ceased; to inform Ms. Langbehn that Ms. Pond had been transferred to the intensive care unit, and to provide Ms. Langbehn Ms. Pond’s medical records as she requested, exhibited a lack of compassion and was unbecoming of a renowned trauma center like Ryder. Unfortunately, no relief
is available for these failures based on the allegations plead in the amended complaint.”
So as I refocuse and move from a Plaintiff to an activitst I want you to remember my partner Lisa and our children were forever changed by JMH and it’s staff the night that Lisa was in their care. Lisa died completely alone even with us 20 feet away, it was unhuman and demands change. It is my duty to continue to speak out that this nevery happens to another family. What they put our family through was wrong, insensitive and a defining moment for my family that can never be replaced or forgiven. And the justice we sought through our country’s legal sytstem also family failed us, so the laws in the state and the nation must change.
09/25/10 – Seattle HRC GALA Dinner
Speaker and Award recipient of National Equality Award
Thank you Joe and everyone at the Human Rights Campaign for honoring me with National Equality Award. I am humbled that my work over the past three and ½ years deserves recognition at this level.
More importantly, our family has been dubbed the acidental acivisit. Prior to our family vacation in Miami, Lisa and I were just proud parents of 25 foster children and four we adopted. However, when Lisa’s brain aneurysm burst while on vacation it became a defining moment in my family’s life. I can still hear the words that Mr. Garnet Frederick, the SW from Jackson Memeorial Hospital in Miami said that. He was blunt and said that I was “in an anti-gay city and state and would not see Lisa nor no over her condition without a health care proxy”. This professional then turned to walk away leaving me alone and I said I had those documents and I needed his fax. Within 20 minutes of meeting with that Social Worker, Lisa’ Power of Attorney was faxed and received at Jackson Memorial.
You would think that would be enough, that once Lisa was stable, the kids and I could see her but just the opposite happened. Over the next eight agonzing hours, the kids and I watched as other families were brought back to see their loved ones, while we waited. So desperate, I even called our Group Heatlh Coop family doctor, Jan Ball, at her home on that Sunday at her home. She stayed on the phone, tried to answer questions since 2 hours had passed and still had no idea what was wrong with Lisa or if she was even alive or dead.
Finally, after 6 hours of waiting, when the doctors met with me saying there was nothing that could be done to save Lisa’s life I asked again to see her. The doctors agreed there was no reason to prevent our family to be together. However the children and I continued to wait until a chaplain saw me crying and I demanded to have a Priest come to perform Lisa’s Last Rites. So for the first time in 5 hours, I was allowed to come back and see Lisa. She was restrained to the gurney and in a coma. During her Last Rites, I stood in shock, disbelief and knew I would need too tell the children their “other mom” was going to heaven. I stayed with Lisa only 5 minutes before being whisked back to the waiting room to face our children. The hospital refused to allow the children to see Lisa to say goodbye. The hospital receptionist said they were too young. It was then when clarity filled my thoughts and I believe to every core of my body that saying good bye to some at the moment of their death is not a gay right but a human right. Jackson Memorial Hospital in their ignorance or self-righteous staff on dutywhen Lisa was there – could not see past their own beliefs and see they had a family in dispair about to lose a mother yet no one could find the compassion that night for our family. And to rub more salt in our wounds, JMH keept the children and I waiting in that tiny waiting room for another 3 ½ hours without seeing Lisa despite my pleas to allow the kids to say good bye. It was only after Lisa’s sister arrived from Jacksonville 8 hours after Lisa’s admission the kids and I were allowed to see Lisa.
Lisa was declared brain dead the next morning, never to regain consciousness. By the actions of JMH – Lisa was forced to die alone. I knew then I had to speak out about compassion to all families at end of life. No family, regardless of how you define yourselves deserve to die alone. In the words of President Obama when our family met with him at the white house it was “cruel and wrong”. Those last hours of lisa life can never be given back. Even after President Obama called me in April this year to propose the regs for hosptial visitation he was able to apologize, our family’s health plan – Group Health – also reached out to our family apologize and proactiviely looked at their policies so this would not happen in any of their facilities.
Right after Lisa passed away, HRC’s Tom Sullivan reached out to me and asked if he could post our story on the HRC blog. It was inception year of the Health Equality Index in 2007. This years HEI 2010 is the most extensive review of facilities for inclusiveness. I am proud to have helped unveil the report in San Francision at the Kaiser Permanente offices.
The HEI index is just one program that HRC is just one of the critical programs HRC is responsible for. HRC is the largest LGBT rights group in America. Lisa and I have been members since the summer of 1990. Lisa’s parent have a house on Cape Cod, Ma – so each summer Lisa and I would go to the Ptown office in person to renew our membership with HRC. And even though Lisa can’t come with me to renew our membership when the kids and I go to the Cape for a visit I renew our membership.
Please I urge all of you here tonight, to support HRC in anyway you can. Because without organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, stories like ours will continue. Full equality is possible but only if join forces with me and the HRC.
10/17/10 – CT CARES, Lambda Legal hosted by Andrew and Isaac at Mitchell’s Fine clothing store
September 21, 2010
22nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards
Good evening, I am Janice Langbehn. In trying to prepare for tonight’s speech and express how essential it is to end the exclusion to marriage that gay and lesbian couples face 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 R-Family Cruises. We 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 banged 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. I knew that my life partner was gravely ill. Thousands of miles from home 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. I headed to the waiting room to do admission papers and begin the waiting. When I offered to fill out Lisa’s admitting forms, I was told they didn’t want my information. 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. 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 faxed them to the hospital.
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.
A short while later, two surgeons appeared and explained the bleed in Lisa’s brain had caused massive brain damage and was not survivable. After given seconds to digest that my partner was dying, I asked in desperation to see her. The doctors promised 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? I knew the children needed to see Lisa and say goodbye, and I used every tactic I could think of to be with her, yet four 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.
Lisa was declared brain dead the following day at 10:45am. As she wished, her organs were donated, saving four lives.
Over the ensuing four months, I contacted the hospital asking for an apology and complained about the way they treated our family. It fell on deaf ears. When asked to speak at my town’s pride event, I reached out to GLAAD for help and finally found someone to listen to me. Cindi Creager from GLAAD empowered me to tell my story and to tell it without shame or apologizing for Lisa and my eighteen years together.
With the help of Lambda Legal, I filed a federal suit against the hospital and those who barred the children and me from Lisa’s side and forced her to die alone. GLAAD brought me here to New York City so I could receive media training so I could respond to all the questions such as “why didn’t you say you were sisters” or “why didn’t you kick down the door.” GLAAD then worked with Lambda to get our story out there – from CNN, the Advocate, Newsweek to LGBT News show ‘In The Life’. In 2008, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts – a nominee tonight – wrote a column entitled “Joe or Janice.” In 2008 he received the GLAAD award for best syndicated columnist. Then in 2009, GLAAD got Tara Parker Pope – a writer for the New York Times – to profiled our family in the Sunday Times. That article too received the GLAAD award for outstanding newspaper article.
It was that New York Times article that was brought to President Obama which led to the call that changed hospital visitation rights in this country. Nearly a year ago, President Obama called me from Air Force One to apologize for how our family was treated at the Miami Hospital. He went on to say he ordered The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to change nation-wide rules to allow for same sex visitation just as they do for blood relatives. This rule change went into effect this year on January 18th.
So you can see from our tragedy, change occurred. However, none of this would have been possible without GLAAD. It is you here tonight and the thousands of other members who support GLAAD and their mission of sharing stories in the media of LGBT persons and families that empowered President Obama to make this courageous change once he had been made aware of the injustice to our family.
If you remember nothing else from tonight, I am asking you to please support GLAAD in its endeavors, for without GLAAD I would not have received the media attention and training that I so needed while in deep grief. Without GLAAD, our family and Lisa’s legacy would have been a one-time article in my local paper, instead of creating national change so all LGBT individuals will not die alone while their partner and children are behind locked doors.