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Love
Stories: Jay Mendes and Van Sao

Love
Stories: Jay Mendes and Van Sao

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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?"

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!' "

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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