Why Immigration Reform is an LGBTQ+ Issue


“In the midst of a tremendously historic week for our community, two unfortunate incidents at the United for Marriage event at the Supreme Court last week have caused pain in the community. In one case, a trans activist was asked to remove the trans pride flag from behind the podium, and in another, a queer undocumented speaker was asked to remove reference to his immigration status in his remarks.”

So begins the apology issued by Human Rights Campaign representative and VP of Communications and Marketing, Fred Sainz, whose remarks reference two incidents which occurred during rallies for marriage equality held outside of the Supreme Court at the end of last month. The apology goes on to assure the HRC’s unwavering commitment to trans* equality and promises that the organization will do better in the future – a promise which the HRC has failed to live up to so far in the eyes of many in the queer community. For an organization whose mission statement claims that the HRC “strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all,” it is clear why this incident, which seems to affirm the criticism the HRC has received in the past for not adequately representing LGBTQ people, is in discord with whom the HRC claims to represent. However, while the HRC did reiterate their “commitment to make transgender equality a reality,” in the recently issued apology, they failed to mention the previously mentioned undocumented speaker…until just a few days ago.

On April 4, the HRC put out a press release in which they state that immigration reform will now be an “organizational priority” within the HRC, joining other progressive organizations in linking immigration reform to LGBTQ+ issues. Other examples include the Center for American Progress’ subsidiary, out4citizenship.org, which urges visitors to pledge to support undocumented people who fall on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, along with the activist group, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which months ago made clear their support of President Obama’s announcement of inclusive immigration reform.

However, there have been some questions and resistance to LGBT groups’ inclusion of immigration reform as a priority within their organizations. For example, in his article “Is undocumented immigration a gay issue?“, John Aravosis of AMERICAblog critiques the characterization of immigration reform as a “gay issue,” commenting:

If the simple definition of a gay issue is any issue that has L, G, B and T people impacted by it, then every issue is a gay issue, because gay people are quite literally everywhere.  For example, funding for Multiple Sclerosis affects the percentage of gay people that have Multiple Sclerosis, or know someone with it.  Military funding affects gay people in the military.  Farm subsidies affect gay farmers. Tax reform affects all gay people, since we all pay taxes.

But, immigration reform is different than Multiple Sclerosis or military funding in this respect. There are many aspects and policy implications of the issue that DO make it a “gay issue:”

First, which Mr. Aravosis mentioned, is the issue of marriage equality. The article doesn’t dispute this:

…the issue of foreign-born gays marrying American gays and not having their marriages recognized by the US government, thus the foreign-born spouse gets deported, is clearly a ‘gay’ issue.”

This is undoubtedly true: even if a same-sex couple gets married in one of the few states in which marriage equality exists, since marriage equality is not nationally recognized, that could still lead to deportation for the undocumented spouse and they would be unable to obtain a “green card,” separating couples and families and making the difficult process of becoming documented even more difficult simply because their relationship is not nationally recognized as being equal to a heterosexual marriage. Furthermore, while President Obama has made clear that he wants gay couples to be treated equally under any immigration reform laws, there has been pushback from the GOP, and so it is necessary for LGBTQ groups to get involved with immigration reform in order to live up to their ideals of representing queer people living in the United States, as well as globally.

There is also the issue of people seeking asylum because they face persecution in their countries for being on the LGBTQ spectrum, and that they are unable to gain entry into the United States because of the current asylum laws which require people to prove their homosexuality, or that there is a threat of danger at home. Since 2011, the United States has mandated that in order for someone to gain asylum from persecution, the “applicant’s homosexuality must be socially visible.” This not only relies on extreme stereotyping and is horrifically unfair to the many multitude of people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum who do not fit in to the mold of traditional stereotypes, but also leaves incredible room for interpretation and the opportunity for inconsistent rulings on who is eligible for asylum. Further, in the United States, “Gay applicants must marshal evidence of their sexual orientation and their risk of persecution, like affidavits from same-sex partners or police and medical reports of abuse.” Requiring someone to provide evidence of their sexual orientation not only places an incredibly difficult burden on asylum-seeking individuals, but could also realistically be impossible in countries where homosexuality is illegal, and sometimes punishable by death. While there certainly must be some form of screening process for those seeking asylum in the United States, this current procedure is unreasonable and unsatisfactory, and further suggests the need for the LGBTQ+ community to be involved in the process of immigration reform.

Additionally, I would like to suggest that there is an inherent difference between, say, funding for Multiple Sclerosis, and issues like immigration reform. Social justice issues such as LGBTQ+ rights and immigration reform have the same component of social identification and marginalization and are intrinsically linked to each other. “Gay rights” does not exist inside a bubble, and the combined discrimination that a person faces because of their queer status in addition to their undocumented status, or their gender, class, race, ethnicity, etc. are not separable, and should be recognized and addressed as such within LGBTQ+ activist organizations. It makes sense that these groups, which are first and foremost fighting for human and civil rights, would also support immigration reform, which is an issue of human and civil rights.

There are many issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community, but only so much energy and so many voices to go round. What’s wrong with activist organizations choosing to get behind specific causes which are inherently linked to queer issues, particularly ones such as immigration reform which are so time-sensitive, and so incredibly important, right now?

People are deeply affected by both of these issues, and organizations like the HRC have a wide support base and access to funding that would allow them to assist those members of the queer community who are at the most vulnerable right now. And, when the mission of an organization is to serve as a representative for the larger LGBTQ+ community, and work towards achieving equality for all of the individuals within that community, that organization has a responsibility to give the opportunity to speak to those whose voices are too often silenced and ignored.

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