BRIGHT.LIFE

Love Over Bias: My journey moving from the U.K. to the U.S.A.

new york city// This post was sponsored by P&G as part of their Love Over Bias campaign; all views, as always, are my own.

I can’t quite believe it, but November marks my third year living in America with my heartmate. In some ways it feels like just yesterday we sold most of our belongings in our London apartment, packed up what was left, and boarded a plane from London’s Heathrow Airport with a one-way ticket to New York’s JFK airport. And at other times it feels like a lifetime ago. So much has happened since then: we were granted our green cards, my husband joined the business, I published my second book, we bought a house, moved apartments twice and so much more. Yikes, I feel equal parts exhilarated and exhausted just writing that. Ha-ha! Still, it’s been the most incredible ride and we both feel incredibly fortunate to be living in a city we adore. However, the journey of getting here was far from smooth. After the jump, I’m sharing the story of how I moved from England to America. I was inspired to share this story after hearing about P&G’s Love Over Bias campaign. It addresses the biases that athletes face and highlights our mothers’ roles in supporting us in overcoming these hurdles. Obstacles stemming from what they look like, who they love or where they come from on their journey to the Olympic stage are highlighted.

Back in 2008 I bought my heartmate, Toby, a return ticket to NYC for his 21st birthday. The moment we stepped out of Grand Central Station and looked up to see the soaring skyscrapers for the first time, I knew that one day I wanted to live and work here. It may sound cliché but in that moment I knew that I would eventually call the city home. And I ended up being able to call New York City just that – home – but not for seven years after I first stepped foot in the city.

Later in 2008 I was back in the U.K., had graduated with my degree in Journalism and decided to start this very blog you are reading now. I remember being embarrassed about it at first: blogs were very new in the U.K. back then. Scrap that, on the whole they were virtually unheard of amongst most people. Plus, I was writing about interior design and my own internalized (and completely irrational) bias made me feel that I should be embarrassed about focusing my blog on a traditionally female and gay male dominated industry.londonYou see, I was still fighting against years of being told that vocational and creative endeavors weren’t worth pursuing: they weren’t secure enough, I didn’t have the talent for them and so on. While I was grateful to have the opportunity to study at a well-respected grammar school, the institution’s highly academic nature meant none of my creative leanings were encouraged or nurtured. I still remember the headmaster of the school sneering disapprovingly when I told him that I was going to study Journalism at university. There I was, after two years of really hard work and a great A-Level exam results, heading off to study at a well-respected redbrick university. Yet, my interaction with him left feeling a sense of emptiness, lack of self-confidence and self-worth. I was still young and impressionable and thanks to years of similar encounters with other teachers, I was questioning all the choices I had made. I was worrying about whether I was foolish not to listen to my elders and their disparaging actions towards the choices I was making for my future. I hope that despite his disapproval of my choices that he would now reconsider given that my “useless” degree led to a job at the BBC; to start my own blog which now has over 2.5 million followers on social media; to write and style two interior design books that have been published in eleven different languages around the world; and to have the opportunity to move my life to work in a new country and city that I adore.londonBut it was more than just the academic bias of my teachers that presented mental roadblocks to the path I wished to walk. This was also when I realized that the hurdles that came with being gay were greater than I had first thought. At school there was the name calling by my peers, the rumors that were spread, the taunts that would be shouted from the other end of the corridor as I walked between classes. I was ridiculed for my interest in drama and design, it was linked to my sexuality, and it was made clear that I should be embarrassed of both.

Here’s the thing: it worked. Even years later when I had come out and was growing into a young adult who felt more confident in himself, I still felt like I should be doing something more ‘manly’ than interior design. I’d worked in visual merchandising a design store to help pay my way through university. I’d started writing articles for newspapers and magazines about design. My fledgling design blog was slowly starting to grow and gain traction. Yet, still, I hadn’t overcome my internalized bias and embarrassment that I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing. Despite a wonderful group of friends and a supportive family, the taunts and disapproving words towards my sexuality and interests in my early and impressionable years had led me to think that I should be ashamed of what I loved, and who I loved.londonAs the years passed the blog continued to go from strength-to-strength and I thought to myself: I can do this. I signed my first book deal and went on an American book tour – what a dream! My audience grew in America (the majority of my following has always been based in the US) and so did the business, which was great because I felt this could be my opportunity to get a visa to live and work in America. I was right: I spoke with an immigration attorney in 2012 and they said I had a strong case to present for an O-1 Visa, which would grant me the right to live and work in America for up to three years. For this visa you have to prove you have an exceptional and outstanding talent in your field of work.

However, I soon discovered that simply because I was gay I wouldn’t be able to get a partner visa for my soon-to-be husband. This stemmed from the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits to married same-sex couples. If I’d been married to a woman then there would have been no issue. Isn’t that crazy, that simply because of who I loved I wasn’t able to take the opportunity to move to the country I’d always dreamed of living and working in? Not only that, but a country that I loved, wanted to pay my taxes to and become a part of. Both my heartmate and I were crushed with disappointment.new york cityThen, in 2013, DOMA was ruled by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. By 2014, Bright.Bazaar had grown even more and so after my husband and I married, I got back in touch with our immigration attorney. After 18 months of compiling evidence of my work and having meetings and screenings at the US embassy, I was granted an O-1 Visa. I was euphoric and so was my husband because now that DOMA was unconstitutional, it meant he was able to come and study and live in the US with me. I always remember being so nervous at our final embassy meeting before they granted us the visa. We lucked out with a super friendly immigration agent who after hearing our story, had tears in her eyes. She told us that we were one of many couples who’d faced such a roadblock because of who they loved, and how she was finding so much joy in finally being able to grant same-sex couples the visas she had spent years only giving to straight couples.

We spent another year evidence gathering, which included countless letters from companies attesting to the value of my involvement and work on their on projects, all of my press coverage, more embassy meetings and interviews and so much more. Our lawyer said the pile of paperwork they submitted for the green card application was the record for the highest pile in their long career as an immigration attorney! We eventually received our green cards in the fall of 2016, and it was a relief and happiness like no other. We finally had security and didn’t feel like we were in limbo. Knowing we both had the right to live and work in the city and country we’d fallen in love with was an indescribable joy. We could put roots down and build a life and home without a ticking clock on when we’d need to leave.new york cityThe reason I wanted to share these experiences, from what happened at school and after university, through to the more recent visa process is because I hope it will inspire you to persevere in the face of adversity. Whether someone tells you that you can’t or shouldn’t do something, or you aren’t valuable or ‘valid’ because of the color of your skin, what you look like, who you love or anything else – you are valuable, you are important and you can do it. If I hadn’t persisted with following my dream of working in interior design, or hadn’t fought back against the internalized bias in my head about my own sexuality thanks to the bullying that happened at school, I would have never started and continued to grow Bright.Bazaar. And if I hadn’t started Bright.Bazaar all those years ago from my bedroom, I wouldn’t be sitting here in the NYC apartment I share with my heartmate, with a green card and a path to American citizenship. Take the jump. Push back on people who tell you can’t. Lean into those that say you can. It’s not always easy – far from it – but embracing love over bias has carried me far. And it can for you, too.

You can watch the moving Love Over Bias film right here:

For more inspiration, check out my Instagram Story today where I’m sharing my one-on-one interviews with Michelle Kwan and Gus Kenworthy. In the interviews, both Olympians share advice on how they’ve overcome obstacles and biases, and there’s some fun games I played with them, too. Do check it out if you have time – they are super fun and insightful.new york city

54 Comments

  • Reply Sarah November 3, 2017 at 7:46 am

    This is a lovely post, but there’s something I don’t understand; when you first mention the O-1 visa you said it would give you the right to live and work in the US for up to 3 years. Then when you say it was granted, you describe the relief at having no ticking time clock hanging over your stay in America. Does the visa you were issued grant you permanent leave to stay or is it renewable in 3 years? Or might you have to move back in 3 years? I’m interested in the process so it’s nice to get some insight from someone who’s been through it. Thanks.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 9:04 am

      @Sarah – Thank you for reading! Sure thing, so the O-1 visa only lasts for up to three years, from there you need to apply for one year extensions if you wish to stay. This is because O-1 visas are for temporary work projects only. So, when we came to the US originally I had an O-1 visa and spent my first year living here going through additional evidence gathering and screening in order to secure a Green Card, which I now have and gives both myself and my husband the right to live and Work here without any time limit – hence the sense of relief and security! It’s kinda like being granted indefinite leave to remain in the U.K., if that makes sense. I’d recommend getting expert advice from an immigration attorney as they will be able to advise you on the latest legal standing as it’s such complex arena. Hope this helps and good luck!

  • Reply Michael Shoales November 3, 2017 at 8:40 am

    Very inspsiring Will. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 9:06 am

      @Michael – Of course, thank you for taking the time to read and leave a note. Happy Friday, Michael!

  • Reply Suzanne November 3, 2017 at 8:43 am

    The second time this week I’ve cried reading your blog 😭😭😭 what a story. so happy you love it here in the USA. xo

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 9:09 am

      @Suzanne – Sorry for bringing you to tears but I really do appreciate you reading.

  • Reply Katie November 3, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I’ve always been fascinated about how you made the move but I read this with my mouth wide open in shock…what a process. Sorry for the issues you’ve faced but look at where you are now! An inspiring story that I know many will appreciate you sharing.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 10:41 am

      @Katie – Yeah, it was a crazy process! Thanks for the support and taking time to leave a lovely comment. Have a great weekend!

  • Reply Deena November 3, 2017 at 8:56 am

    Will – very inspiring, thank you for being so transparent about the process and what it was really like. And the video you included made me cry! Made me think of my mom and all she has and continues to do to support me.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 11:39 am

      @Deena – My pleasure, thank you for reading! And isn’t the Love Over Bias film so moving? It made me cry, too!

  • Reply Lee November 3, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Wow, this brings back a lot of memories too! I moved to London in 2015 and this month marks my 2nd year trying to pursue my dream. Now have landed my dream job in the ever so intimidating yet vibrant and diverse city. No truer words when you say, Take the jump! Resilience is what counts! As a gay man, this is inspiring. Never knew you were married though. ☺

  • Reply Joseph November 3, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Reading this was pretty inspirational. Thank you for sharing your story. I would’ve loved to see a picture of you and your husband. Sure you guys are a lovely couple. And again thank you for sharing! Love from Peru!

  • Reply Mel November 3, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Such a beautiful story Will. Thank you so much for sharing. Mel xx

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      @Mel – Thanks for the lovely comment and for taking time to read. Truly appreciate it, Mel. x

  • Reply C. Najera November 3, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Your truly an inspiration! I have never been blento be fully comfortable in my skin. I have given up my own happiness to make everyone around me happy… I’m working on it though. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      @C. Najera – I’m so sorry you have struggled with feeling comfortable in your own skin. Know that you are not alone and that there’s always someone who is willing to listen to you – don’t feel you have to bottle everything up inside. It’s OK to look after YOU. Thanks for reading and wishing you all the best.

  • Reply Victor Daniel November 3, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    Wow I didn’t know you live in USA, I like your gallery in Instagram and admire you!!! Great post

  • Reply Tyler Printess November 3, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    This post felt very personal. As a openly gay man, studying interior design, I have felt all of those bias. In fact, I chose to study business in order to avoid people questioning my sexuality. But I can proudly say that is no longer the case and I am in the process of studying interior design. Thank you for sharing and being a role model for future male designers like me.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      @Tyler – I’m so glad that you are feeling more comfortable and able to be openly proud of who you are, what you love to do and who you love. It can feel overwhelming at times, so I totally relate. Have the best weekend, Tyler, and thanks for reading!

  • Reply Michael @ Mile in My Glasses November 3, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Thank-you so much for sharing this, Will. It sounds like you had quite the uphill journey, but I’m so glad for you and your heartmate that you’re both thriving permanently in the States!

    I hope you’ve had a lovely Friday!
    Michael
    https://www.mileinmyglasses.com

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      @Michael – It’s been a journey, for sure! But I wouldn’t change it for the world because I really do feel so fortunate. Thanks for all the support and have a great weekend!

  • Reply NYGO November 3, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    I agree with everyone who commented that you are an inspiration! I’m surprised that you still reply to each comment across all your social media accounts now that you are very successful. You are a very kind and humble person that is why only good things come into your life.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      @NYGO – That’s really lovely of you to say, thank you. I am very grateful to everyone who follows along and takes the time to leave a message. Happy Friday!

  • Reply Ann November 3, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Belated welcome to America. I visited NYC recently and can see why you choose to live there. So vibrant and friendly.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      @Ann – Thank you for the warm welcome! I’m so glad you had such a lovely time here in NYC. I remember people saying to me before I moved to NYC “are you ready for how unfriendly people are?” and I honestly can say that I’ve found people here to be more friendly than any other place I’ve ever lived. Happy Friday!

  • Reply Didier November 3, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    This blog post truly did tug on so many heart strings for me. Thank you so much for writing this one. Personal posts like this are not always the easiest to write but they are the most necessary ones. You are showcasing to your readers that it’s okay to go ahead and follow your dreams, no matter what people might think or say because at the end of the day, its the only way that you’ll truly be happy in life!

    -Didier
    http://www.didieryhc.com

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 3, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      @Didier – Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave a note. Grateful to have you following along with the blog!

  • Reply Mary November 3, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Wonderfully told, heartfelt story.

    When I was young (in my seventh decade now), I was told by teachers that I could not do certain things (being a female) or couldn’t take higher level classes because I had struggled with dyslexia. That I would not be successful. However, I was obstinate enough (and fortunate enough to have supportive parents) to push back against the bias and prejudice. I took the classes I wanted and did well at university–even though I was a single parent of four children at the time I attended my final years. I was successful–as a parent (most important to me)–and in business (getting ready to retire). So as you did in your blog post, I encourage others to push back against the naysayers and find your own path wherever it may lead you.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 4, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      @Mary – Thanks for your kind words and for taking time to share your story with me. Your advice to my readers is spot on and your personal experience will hopefully inspire them as much as it has me. Happy upcoming retirement – you’ve clearly earned it! 🙂

  • Reply Brooke November 3, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    This is lovely, thank you for sharing. My confidence has been a bit shaky as far as my business is concerend. It is always great to hear sucess storys and be reminded about the power of persistance. Thank you

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 4, 2017 at 6:09 pm

      @Brooke – Running your own business is always hard and it can be easy to be tough on yourself but keep at it. Starting is the hardest thing you can do and you already had the courage to do that, so you got this.

  • Reply Deb. K. November 3, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Dear Will,

    I just found your blog and Instagram page. May I say I just love you! You are such an inspiration to all! Good for you for fighting for your happiness! That’s what life’s all about! You are so talented and such a delight. May you have continued success and much happiness throughout your career and personal life. You truly deserve it. Thank you for sharing your life story with all of us. It made my heart feel good you finally found home with us in the U.S. xoxo

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 4, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      @Deb – That is such a lovely comment, thank you for taking the time to leave these encouraging and warm words. Grateful to have you following along. Happy weekend! xo

  • Reply leanne November 3, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post and learning more about your journey. I know the feeling of not feeling supported in following one’s creative pursuits and was strongly advised by family to pursue a traditional profession such as doctor,lawyer,engineer as they all had. I didn’t give in and am working happily as a photographer. I am so happy you followed your passion as your talent and kindness is a gift to us all. I can’t remember how I first found you but it was around the time your Bright Bazaar book was published, I bought it and have followed you ever since. Keep up the good work and positive messages, and I’m so happy for you and your husband that you both are living where you want to be.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 4, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      @Leanne – I’m so glad you followed the path you wanted to do in your heart as well. Thanks for all your kind support of my work, I truly appreciate it.

  • Reply Dan Heringer November 3, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    Insipiring as I am desiring to move back to America again. I used to live in Colorado, then Germany and Switzerland. Now I want to move to Miami and I have visited the city many times and while visiting it, I fell in love with a man there.. I hope it turns out good and I get to move back soon. Cheers and thank you!

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 4, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      @Dan – Sending you all the positive vibes for your move back to Miami! Thanks for reading.

  • Reply Kate November 4, 2017 at 4:53 am

    Beautiful post my lovely! Obviously the UK misses you terribly (blub!), but I’m so happy you made the choice along the way to always push against the grain, follow your heart, persevere and never stop believing in yourself (and Tobes). You’re an inspiration and I love you both loads xx

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 4, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      @Kate – We adore you (and miss you) too! Thanks for always being such a warm voice of support. Love ya! xxx

  • Reply Harry M. Fontenot III November 4, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Will, what an incredible story…so very personal and really meaningful to me. Aside from the immigration nightmare, I can see myself in so many of your early stuggles. As a gay boy growing up in Texas I’ve delt with many of the same issues…hardest for me has always been self doubt. I too graduated (from a very conservative university in Texas) with a degree in journalism. I’ve always worked in ‘nontraditional’ fields for men…and have fought my own battles with it. I wish, in the end, I could say I’ve been as brave and resilient as you…but I guess I’m still a work in progress at this point. Thank you Will! Thank you for posting your story and always inspiring others to never give up on their dreams.❤

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 4, 2017 at 6:14 pm

      @Harry – Thanks for your kind words and sharing your story with me. I think we are all works in progress in our own way, it’s just part of growing and evolving. Sending positive vibes to you!

  • Reply Anne Doherty November 5, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Thanks for sharing your journey Will… I found you and your blog many moons ago, cannot remember when but it’s been many years.

    As a fellow Green card holder ( other family members are now citizens) I empathize with the bureaucratic, but necessary, process we all went through.

    Sad that you had to be surrounded by negativity via teaching staff but so happy that you persevered and now shine like the star ⭐️ you are.
    Annie

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 5, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      @Anne – Thank you for your loyal readership and support, I truly appreciate it!

  • Reply joel November 5, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    This was so gripping! Was getting the impression that you desperately wanted to get out of the UK. What are the main reasons and do you dislike the UK?

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      @Joel – Thanks for reading! I love the U.K. and will always be proud to be British but ever since I first came to NYC it felt like home to me. Plus, most of my business was here in America so it made sense from that perspective, too! 🙂

  • Reply Cristian Pena November 5, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    I am so extremely happy and proud of you and Toby! Words cannot express to be honest. I will treasure this post and share it with so many loved ones who feel or have felt in a similar way. You inspire me!

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 5, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      @Cristian – Thanks so much for the warm words of support, Mr, they really do mean so much to us both. Sending you hugs and so many positive vibes!

  • Reply Hélder Sena November 6, 2017 at 3:14 am

    You are a beautiful human, inside and out! Best of luck.

  • Reply Michael Toa November 6, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for sharing this story Will. I am extremely happy that everything worked out well for you and your husband. It’s an experience I could relate to and I understand the struggle. Having studied and worked in the UK for over eight years, I felt the UK was (still is) home. Unfortunately, with changes in the immigration, my then job can no longer provide myself with sponsorship and I had to leave everything 🙁 I’d still love to go back to the UK someday and settle, but it’s still a journey for me.

    • Reply Will @ Bright.Bazaar November 6, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      @Michael – Sorry to read of your struggles with UK immigration, I sincerely hope it works out and you get to return one day soon. Thanks for reading.

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