I picked up on some disdain towards same-sex binational couples work in some queer desi spaces this weekend. I was amused but not surprised by it.
I would like to take several steps back and note that I do get nasty emails and tweets from privileged white gheys who are annoyed by my support and work for undocumented youth. In queer spaces, I get questioning glares and nudges from people of color for supporting what is perceived as a white mainstream issue. It’s static noise. Usually, I navigate around it and keep my eyes on the actual target.
The fact that U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents in a same-sex relationship cannot sponsor their spouse or partner for immigration is unquestionably and irrevocably a matter of discrimination. Just because the more visible case of discrimination involve a vast majority of white gay (fe)males citizens does not make it alright to support the status quo or question the importance of the issue or question the work that people are doing on it.
One could oppose DADT repeal (and the DREAM Act!) because the idea of fighting for the rights of young queers to join the military to kill brown people is deplorable. But one can also support the repeal of DADT because it is a simple matter of employment discrimination. Obviously, opposing the repeal would not deconstruct the military industrial complex so it is a calculated decision to make sure people are not fired from their jobs for being gay, lesbian or bisexual (sorry, the military still disallows transgender persons from serving). Similarly, opposing Uniting American Families Act or the rights of same-sex bi-national couples to stay together in this country won’t dismantle the institution of marriage or white privilege. That’s just how I look at it. It’s my bottom-line, underlined in bold and all-caps, and it’s not about to change.
(Note: UAFA concerns partners, not spouses. If the bill ever passes, it may actually go some way in allowing people to stay in relationships without marriage. There’s also the question of whether it is permissible to allow same-sex partners to gain immigration rights but not straight ones, but we just aren’t that legally evolved yet).
However, it is true that LGBT immigrants need much more than just legislation like UAFA or administrative relief from the Obama Administration. LGBT immigrant youth have their own set of unique needs ranging from homelessness to anti-bullying legislation to the DREAM Act. I believe that we must put more effort and emphasis on asylum and detention reform for the mere fact that these are more vulnerable populations who may not have the resources to advocate for themselves.
While the categories are often not rigid and intersect quite a lot, most same-sex bi-national couples are educated and resourceful enough to advocate for their own rights. Honestly, if a dozen undocumented youth can run a national movement without any institutional support and funding, I don’t see why a more privileged set of people cannot fight the system more effectively.
It is painful to be separated from the person(s) you love. Period. However, the criticisms levied against organizations that focus primarily on bi-national couples are fair and valid in their place. At the same time, unless you are working on a better plan or policy to combat institutionalized discrimination, I’m not sure why it really matters.
We probably need to entirely deconstruct citizenship and the privileges that go with it. We can do that academic exercise but it is not about to change the lives of thousands of immigrants. I could have sat around and deconstructed the DREAM Act for the way it plays into the awful good immigrant versus bad immigrant construct or I could have helped build the infrastructure for a national movement of undocumented youth while others used their privilege to engage in such academic exercise.
I’m sure it is fruitful on some level. I can offer to throw people into the same room to duel it out. I’m just not interested in playing referee or being in the same space to witness the duel. There’s bigger fish to fry.