The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Love
Stories: Jay Mendes and Van Sao

Love
            Stories: Jay Mendes and Van Sao

Married: June 17,
2008 Together: 4 years

Jay Mendes, an
independent event manager (think the Emmy Awards), was at
a club in 2004 when he noticed a sparkling young patron.
Three days later, Mendes was asking Van Sao, who was
visiting Los Angeles to attend a wedding, “Why
don’t you move out to L.A. and live with me?”
At the time Mendes was 36 and Sao was 18.

An ebullient
first-generation Cambodian-American, Sao was unfazed.
“I said, ‘Don’t tempt me.’
He said, ‘Consider yourself
tempted.’ ” Yes, they admit, it
all happened very fast. “We have inner
lesbians!” grins Sao, who now divides his time
between working with Mendes and building his own
career as a hair and makeup artist.

Coming out to his
American-identified sisters was easy, but Sao took his
time telling his mother: His Khmer is not so great, and
neither is her English. Once she understood that he
had a boyfriend, she thought he wanted to be a woman.
“She said, ‘Don’t cut it!’
” Sao says, laughing. “I told her,
‘Ma, just because I’m gay doesn’t mean
I’m transgender.’ She said,
‘I’m only telling you because once you do it,
you can’t change.’ ”

What did change
was the California law prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Days after the May 15 supreme court decision, Mendes
remembers thinking, Who else do I want to spend the
rest of my life with?
So he asked Sao,
“Will you marry me?”

Sao didn’t
believe it. “I said, ‘Shut up! Stop
joking!’ ” he recalls.
“Then I saw tears and I said, ‘Ask me
again.’ ”

They married in
West Hollywood Park on the morning of June 17. Actually,
they camped out the night before, right behind a lesbian
couple, Kate and Tori, who had staked out first place.
In the morning the boys dashed home for their tuxes --
just before the swarm of reporters descended. Mendes
remembers, “Kate and Tori called. ‘Get down
here, the media’s attacking us! And Van, bring
the makeup!’ ”

Sao recounts the
scrambling: “We got in the car and I was like,
‘I forgot the mascara! Run back!’
” Photos of the foursome looking fabulous went
out across the country.

Then Mendes and
Sao got political. They began to volunteer with
LoveHonorCherish.org, one of the advocacy groups campaigning
against California’s Proposition 8, handing out
bumper stickers, letting voters know that the
separate-but-equal world of civil unions is not equal.

“People
understand marriage,” Sao says. “We’ve
gotten more respect, more dignity, definitely more
social support.”

“We were
sitting around talking with my parents, and we’re
talking about the Jewish marriage contract, the
ketubah,” Mendes excitedly explains. “My
dad says, ‘Hang on,’ and he pulls out his
ketubah from 40 years ago.” We’ve been
domestic partners for years, but it wasn’t until we
were married that they said, ‘Hey, let us show
you our ketubah!’ ”

Tags: World, World

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