Of Border Gays and Trans Migrants: Where Next?

Jose Antonio Vargas is perhaps the best known border gay.

But there is much larger community of border gays and trans* migrants who don’t necessarily bask in the mainstream limelight.

Queer immigrants have been around for quite a while and involved in every civil rights struggle. The undocumented youth movement is just the latest reincarnation. From the earliest days of the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) to Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER) to the LGBT Caucus at DreamActivist and the March 10 Coming Out Day marked by Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL), we’ve long been active and at the forefront of securing more rights for immigrant communities while not leaving our queer allegiances behind. If and when the DREAM Act is passed, it would be in large part due to the unrelenting efforts of queer youth and women.

But it has not been easy to navigate the complex world of immigration politics. Different forces have always tried to divide us. We’ve been told to leave spaces because we are queer. We’ve been left out of conversations because we speak our minds. We’ve been told to suppress or hide one part of ourselves in favor of another. We’ve been cast in the binary of good gays and bad queers by white professional anti-racists. We’ve been told to speak out against each other to protect certain heterosexual privileging. We’ve been told that our lives and truths need to be filtered and watered down for the comfort of our more privileged allies. Our gender-queer and trans* compadres have not been treated with the same love and respect. Over and over again.

More often than not and in somewhat mainstream LGBT circles, I’m told that immigration is simply not an LGBT issue. “The DREAM Act only tangentially affects gays.” That may be a fair criticism but I’d like to point out that marriage also tangentially affects gays. It certainly does nothing for those of us who are young, single and ready to mingle, who do not believe in the institution and who have no interest in coupledom. And since marriage is a hetero-normative institution, gay marriage is not even a queer issue. Yet I’ve seen millions getting poured into the movement for marriage equality and to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which serves to mainly benefit those who assimilate to white, heterosexual normative assumptions of the family.

Personally, as a queer immigrant youth, marriage is a major turn-off because it is precisely what most of our own immigrant families want us to do from the moment we turn 18. They start telling us to “find a good American boy” or “find a good American girl” and the coercion continues for years till we can somehow leave our home or persuade them otherwise or succumb to their desires while hiding our own or kill ourselves. No thanks, I’d much rather pursue higher education as a way to get us out of poverty.

If we are concerned about fighting for issues that affect the largest number of queers, why isn’t the LGBT movement all about securing universal healthcare for everyone and making sure that both reproductive rights and gender re-assignment surgery is part of the package? And in case you forgot, we can still get fired for being queer and trans* because the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) remains a non-priority. It’s just not an issue that is on the radar of the gay white boys club and hence, not important. Gay is not the new black; it is the old white.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is not to come down hard on marriage equality proponents. It’s to talk about how to serve the interests of queer immigrant youth in an increasingly hostile environment. And I’ve come up with a small laundry list.

We need to support Nico Gonzalez as he walks across the continental United States for his dream.

We need to help our queer compadres in New York pass the New York Dream Act, to provide financial assistance for long-time New York residents.

We need to pour massive amounts of time and energy into defending the Maryland DREAM Act, which grants instate tuition for everyone who attended high school in Maryland for three or more years.

We need to win on the Child Status Protection Act. After all, it is queer immigrant youth who disproportionately need to keep their original priority date to immigrate through their parents.

We need to join IYJL in celebrating the Third Annual National Coming Out Day and making the effort truly national in character.

We need to fight against the increasing archipelago of detention that disproportionately impacts our queer and trans* compadres, ranging from immigrant detention facilities to police surveillance.

We need to connect the dots between anti-immigrant fervor and good old racism whenever possible and stop people from hiding behind the word “illegal.”

That’s just a few things we need to do immediately. And we don’t have the luxury of waiting for the right time.

Who is more 'undesirable ?' The 'illegal alien' or homosexual ?

Over the weekend, I was reading some pro-migrant news at a Catholic site that I had stumbled on via Google News Alert service. And on the sidebar, the very site was spewing hatred about same-sex marriage in California. The churches and religious ‘right’ who first established ‘sanctuary’ and are very pro-migrant, are also the ones who are very wrong on LGBT issues. So what happens when we have a gay undocumented migrant??

This post has been in my mind for quite some time because lets face it, those of us in the pro-migrant community know undocumented persons who are also gay, lesbian, transgender. This intersectionality is further complicated by our homophobic and heterosexist immigration laws that do not recognize ‘marriage’ or partnership between people of the same-sex, and hence we have undocumented partners who are forced to live in the shadows, break off their relationships or move to another country.

It is utterly discriminatory to single out a ‘particular group of people’ and deny them equal rights and protections under the law–that is not debatable.

The sheer increase in the hate mail on my pro-migrant/pro-gay Youtube videos since the marriage equality ruling has prompted me to finally say something. To some extent, I can understand arguments against ‘undocumented migrants.’ I can understand working class fears of migrants taking their jobs, respect for the ‘rule of law’ and those who apply legally etc. even while refuting them. But marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people? NOT even debatable, which is often why the comments I receive are hilarious:

“…California will face the wrath of Sodom and Gomorrah…Now that gays are destroying marriage, there will be a huge earthquake in California… violence, perversion, lawlessness …Sodom and Gomorroh II. The U.S. will come to an end soon…Thank god you people cannot pass on your impaired genes by reproducing…What is next–legalizing sex with animals?…Why aren’t real lesbians hot like the ones in TV sitcoms?…”

What is this –the new Comedy Central Online???? It reminds me of this one scene in The L word when Kate Moening (Shane, the poster child of androgyny) waves her hands in the air saying “Where do you live, ________? It’s entirely possible” when her ignorant straight male housemate says that lesbians can’t fuck. But we are going off on a tangent.

The point is that as an out and proud lesbian, I haven’t dedicated my time to the gay rights movement precisely because I cannot begin to wrap my mind around the egregious fallacies, inaccuracies, lies, misrepresentation and sheer IGNORANCE of a vast majority of people. But that will change in the next 6 months as I am not about to sit around and watch California voters dash the hopes and dreams of people in my community, some of whom are our idols, since we so lack representation of ‘healthy, stable and loving’ same-sex families.

So where does the church stand on undocumented gays and lesbians? Who do you think is more undesirable in the current political climate of immigrant crackdowns and constitutional amendments for marriage discrimination? And how can we support our undocumented gay/lesbian students who have to deal with both anti-migrant and anti-gay sentiments?

The biggest lesson from this post is that social and political rights cannot be ‘divided’ and given to people on the basis of binary categories and identities. It is not enough for some of us to push for just pro-migrant rights because even when some of us become legal citizens, we would be SECOND-CLASS citizens who pay taxes but don’t have our lives affirmed by the state. Likewise, it is not enough to exercise ‘federalism’ when it comes to LGBT rights since state laws do not affect homophobic federal immigration laws and the lives of our bi-national couples, who are torn apart by their countries for the crime of love. This struggle is not just about selective rights for a select group of people; it is a small step forward in the bigger fight against global inequity.

I hate identity politics. But it does matter.

Quote of the day:

“Gay haters just can’t get enough news about gay sex and gay everything.” jerrydoubleu