Tag Archives: Queer

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice

I recently joined the board of directors at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. My growing concern for the lack of philanthropic efforts to address the needs of queer people of color was the prime impetus behind this decision.

I can proudly say that I am drawn to Astraea because as a public foundation, Astraea helps to fund the grassroots work of organizations such as Black Lives Matter and many queer POC groups, who are at the forefront of movement-building and social change in the United States. I am also thrilled at the opportunity to be part of a foundation that is defining lesbian feminism in the most inclusive terms, and advancing global LGBT human rights without advancing colonialism.

I am truly glad to have added it as an organization that goes in my yearly giving portfolio, and hope that many more of my friends and followers can do the same. As a public foundation with a 4/4 Charity Navigator rating, you’ll get the maximum bang for your buck.

Check out our work and let me know if you’ve any questions about the organization!

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Community Voices: “The Good Fight”

I was honored to be on Episode 2 of The Good Fight with Ben Wickler, a progressive show about people changing the world.

Friend of this blog, Professor Allegra McLeod at Georgetown Law, had her research on immigrant and criminal convictions covered extensively in an article by The Atlantic on Why Are Immigrants Being Deported for Minor Crimes?

Allegra McLeod, an associate Professor of Law at Georgetown, examined cases like Sylvain’s in a position paper last year for the American Criminal Law Review. She writes that between 1990 and 2010, immigration offenses became the most common federally prosecuted crimes in the U.S. After 1996, when the new laws took affect, approximately one million immigrants were been deported as a result of criminal convictions. Moreover, McLeod estimates that 20 percent of those removed were longtime legal residents, and the majority of their crimes were minor, non-violent offenses.

[…]

What’s more, McLeod writes, “a criminal conviction is not necessarily a reliable indicator of undesirability or dangerousness.” For that reason, the heightened attention on immigrants like Sylvain and Khoy would not seem to be in the public’s best interest. McLeod cites Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson, who found that increases in immigration normally are “associated with reduced crime rates,” and that “the diversion of resources to criminally prosecuting undocumented immigrants may be particularly misguided from a public safety standpoint.”

The Atlantic delves into why the U.S. is deporting long-time legal permanent residents:

Sylvain is one of thousands of immigrants who have been charged with “aggravated felonies” by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The term, first introduced in the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, applies specifically to immigrants and asylum-seekers: If they’re convicted of any of the crimes in this category, they can be deported and prohibited from reentering the U.S. for 20 years. In 1988, the list of aggravated felonies was limited to serious crimes such as murder and drug trafficking. But Congress expanded the definition over the years, most extensively in 1996.

The two 1996 laws—the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA—came in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when Congress felt pressured to streamline new immigration reform. The measures made more than 20 new crimes into aggravated felonies, including counterfeit, perjury, and obstruction of justice. They also reduced threshold requirements from five years to one, meaning that any immigrant issued a one-year prison sentence could be instantly deportable.

Immigrant rights organizers continued to partake in shutdown ICE actions by trying to stop deportation buses even as Congress tip-toed around the question of immigration reform. In Illinois, undocumented organizers and supporters formed human chains to stop their third deportation bus. In Atlanta, more than a dozen persons locked themselves to the gates of the downtown Atlanta ICE office to protest deportations. After partaking in the action, Caitlin Breedlove, Co-director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), wrote an excellent piece on Queer, Immigrants, All of Us: Not 1 More.

This is not a surprise for most of us but a recently released GAO report on sexual abuse in detention found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under-reported sexual abuse and assault in detention. A staggering 20 percent of detainees who reported sexual assault or abuse are transgender, showcasing the need for direct services for this population.

The Nation carried an excellent article on the ever-expanding U.S.-surveillance and border regime:

In many cases, the US is also training border forces in the use of sophisticated surveillance systems, drones, and the construction of fences and barriers of various kinds, largely in attempts to clamp down on the movement of people between poorer and richer countries. More than 15,000 foreign participants in more than 100 countries have taken part in CBP training sessions since October 2002. It is little wonder, then, that an L-3 Communications sales rep would shrug off the constraints of a shrinking domestic national security budget.

Meanwhile, US borders are functionally being stretched in all sorts of complex ways, even across the waters. As Michael Schmidt wrote in the New York Times in 2012, for example, “An ocean away from the United States, travelers flying out of the international airport here on the west coast of Ireland are confronting one of the newest lines of defense in the war on terrorism: the United States border.” There, at Shannon International Airport, Department of Homeland Security officials set up the equivalent of a prescreening border checkpoint for air travelers.

Whether it is in your airports or, as in Haiti’s case, in the international waters around your country, the US border is on its way to scrutinize you, to make sure that you are not a threat to the “homeland.” If you don’t meet Washington’s criteria for whatever reason, you will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, from entering the United States, or even in many cases from traveling anywhere at all.

[…]

With this in mind, the experimental border control technologies being tested along the US-Mexican boundary line and the border-industrial complex that has grown up around it are heading abroad in a major way. If Congress finally passes a new multi-billion dollar border-policing package, its effects will be felt not only along US borders, but also at the edges of its empire.

The frontier isn’t coming down anytime soon. The USCIS released a policy memo re-stating that it would continue to deny priority date retention to age-outs until the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) issue is resolved by the Supreme Court. It also added that any applications filed for adjustment of status from now on, seeking retention of priority date, would be rejected as improperly filed, and not even held in abeyance. This memo is suspiciously well-timed for the litigation at the Supreme Court, and a post-ad hoc justification for not giving full meaning to the CSPA.

For those of us who watched the Hunger Games today, here is some food for thought on the revolution that the U.S. refuses to start.

I’m Team Haymitch. I think we are just about appropriately jaded, no?

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How Queer Undocumented Youth Built the Immigrant Rights Movement

I don’t usually give a damn to what DC immigration groups do because ain’t nobody got time for that. That is true until someone tries to re-write my history. And that is precisely what straight, white, cisgender and clueless male Frank Sharry, who is best known for running several failed political campaigns, does in his racist Washington Post column.

The columm is racist because it marginalizes the existence and work of queer undocumented youth. The column is also racist because Sharry is essentially implying that the people of color immigrant rights movement learned tactics from the white gay movement, which is highly problematic and inaccurate. And as a straight male, Frank should shy away from ever using phrases like “It is time to go gay on their ass” because that is just plain old heterosexism (and inappropriate).

Now, the Washington Post was willing to post his 1800-word vile and depraved white racist ignorance, but unwilling to post our response, which was written with the input of over a dozen past and present immigrant youth leaders. The beauty of the massive social media network and presence that we’ve built is that we don’t need racism-enabling networks such as the Washington Post to respond with truth.

This column was initially titled “Frank Sharry Didn’t Build That.” But he isn’t important enough to be a title in anything I write so the response is how queer undocumented youth built the immigrant rights movement.

Because we did.

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Guest Lecturing at Swarthmore

I turned up at Swarthmore College on Saturday afternoon, just in time for my lecture workshop on “Regulating Bodies: Queerness, Immigration and the State.”

A live blog is here. I particularly wanted to move beyond talking about our lives in “intersections” and focus more on how the regulation of queer bodies relates to controls on immigration and how it is part of the same bio-power — in more simplified terms.

So I spoke about words that hurt, how certain immigrants have moved from undesirable to desirable (and sometimes back to undesirable) depending on what best serves the state interest, regulation of queer bodies interspersed with actions taken by (queer) undocumented youth today.

I also took the opportunity to address the privilege that comes with being an undocumented student in higher education or as part of a same-sex bi-national couple. These are increasingly desirable traits and it is becoming increasingly difficult (and unpopular) for the state to control our bodies by keeping us in legal limbo. The state of limbo can also be seen as a “waiting room” and when people in a waiting room are made to wait for too long, they realize that they have a common interest against the state, which is keeping them out. Sooner or later, the state has to make a carefully calculated decision on opening the gates and pacifying the loudest, as well as the most desirable occupants.

Stuck in limbo, unable to move forward or reverse course, what are you going to be loud about?

The students were absolutely wonderful and engaged, with really intelligent questions. I was also delighted to meet some parents who were showing support of their queer sons/daughters by attending the conference. And someone asked for an autograph — embarrassingly enough. At dinner with Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr students, we discussed ways in which we could make the colleges more open and accessible to undocumented youth. Then, it was time for me to come home and do homework.

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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.

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Emerging Issues for LGBT Immigrants, Asylees and Refugee Seekers CLE

I’ve been working on this for quite a while and will also have a practical comprehensive “know your rights” guide for everyone who attends the CLE, which focuses more on transgender issues. I worry that discourse around LGBT immigrants, refugee and asylum seekers is so U.S.-centric, so we’ll also speak to how other jurisdictions deal with this issue. On a related note, I’m working on a paper that articulates how queer migrant bodies and violence against potential LGBT asylum seekers is used to propel a particular civilizational discourse that functions as a way to justify and extend U.S. colonialism.

Monday, August 8 · 5:00pm – 7:30pm

Location: Room 3211 at Golden Gate University in San Francisco
By National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
2 Hours California MCLE credit will be provided. $40 for nonmembers; $20 for members (No one turned away for lack of funds). Free for non-credit seekers.
Register Online: http://crm.nlgsf.org/civic?rm/event/register?reset=1&?id=9

Co-Sponsors: Immigrant Legal Resource Center, South Asian Bar Association – Bay Area, Asian Law Caucus, Immigration Equality, Asylum Access, Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom.

About the CLE: Speakers will present on a multitude of issues regarding LGBT immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including the progress made in adjudicating claims by same-sex bi-national couples, the impact of DOMA litigation or repeal of DOMA on LGBT immigrants. Speakers will also present on how LGBTI asylum cases would be handled in a variety of the jurisdictions outside the U.S. context and on the UNHCR refugee status determination process.

Speakers

Zachary M. Nightingale is partner at Partner at Van Der Hout, Brigagliano and Nightingale. His practice focuses on deportation defense and federal court litigation, with an emphasis on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. Other specialties include asylum, naturalization, and family-based adjustment of status. A significant part of his practice includes advising non-citizens and their attorneys as to the immigration consequences of pending criminal charges, and how to minimize those consequences.

Emily E. Arnold-Fernández, Esq., the founder and executive director of Asylum Access, is a lawyer who has advocated nationally and internationally for the human rights of women, children, and other vulnerable individuals, Emily first became involved in refugee rights in 2002, when she represented refugees in United Nations proceedings in Cairo, Egypt. Emily’s legal advocacy won her client protection and safety in Egypt until his eventual resettlement in the U.S. Recognizing that refugees throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America – some of whom flee with nothing more than the clothes on their backs – were almost always unequipped to go into a legal proceeding in a foreign country, alone, and explain why they should not be deported, Emily founded Asylum Access to advocate on behalf of refugees seeking to assert their rights.

Chelsea Haley-Nelson is the EOIR liaison at American Immigration Lawyers Association of Northern California, a Co-Chair at BALIF and a Co-Chair with the Immigration Committee at National Lawyer’s Guild-San Francisco Chapter.

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Queer Contemporary Bollywood: A Work In Progress

Lets get one thing straight (pun unintended): Bollywood is going to appear super-queer to the Western eye with the extravagant musicals, vibrant colors and exaggerated acting. There are generations of homoeroticism, repressed and alternative sexualities and I am no expert, especially when it comes to anything made before 1990. For anyone interested, you can read so much queer subtext into male duos like Jai-Veeru or Shahrukh Khan’s queer masculinity that we can write a book about it.

Most of Bollywood is full of clichés, conservative and contrived melo-drama. Sexuality is so taboo that the narrative is almost a metaphor for repressed sexualities. The usual gay-themed movies like Dostana, Girlfriend, and Men Not Allowed are actually quite heteronormative. From my perspective, the queer part of Dostana was actually Bobby Deol’s straight-acting character and Priyanka Chopra’s “desi girl” rendition rather than the pathetic straight leads trying to act gay. The only thing worth watching about Girlfriend is Isha Koppikar’s gender-bending transformation into a kick-boxer mixed-gender figher and even that is stereotypical. I’m not even going into Men Not Allowed since I watched the movie in a record 20 minutes. My point is that a movie doesn’t have to contain a “gay storyline” to be necessarily queer especially when I take queer to mean transgressive sexualities, non-heteronormative portrayals of sexuality, homo-eroticism, and “alternative” sexual imaginations.

Everyone knows or should know about Fire, Mango Souffle, Pink Mirror, Tamanna, Touch of Pink, Bombay Boys, Bend It Like Beckham, The Journey and East is East. This is not meant to be a list of queer Bollywood movies and I am far from an expert on cinema. I just happen to read or identify queerness in these movies.

My Brother Nikhil, Bas Ek Pal, I Am

Onir is a film-maker. He happens to be queer. So are a lot of his characters and none of them are stereotypically gay or even perfect. He’s given us a sensitive portrayal of a gay athlete with HIV, prison rape, a step-father raping his step-son while his mother stays silent, queer love-making onscreen. Onir is not afraid to depict bold scenes, queer relationships, wounded protagonists and transgressive story-lines. Also, these movies have delightful melodies, especially Bas Ek Pal.

I remember actually having to fight an Indian shop-owner to rent a copy of I Am quite recently. He kept telling me it was not for kids and not for family viewing. My mother had to cut in before it escalated into a fight and tell him to give me what I wanted. It’s funny how no one gives a damn about “kids” watching violent content but queerness is somehow only for “mature” audiences.

Fashion

Madhur Bhandarkar makes movies with a lot of queer sensibility. You will find the same sort of sensibility in Page 3 and Corporate as well, which also have queer characters. With Fashion, Bhandarkar takes us into the glamorous and dark world of the Indian fashion industry. I adore Sameer Soni, who plays a closeted gay-character in this movie and even dared to share a lip-lock with his onscreen boyfriend. I also secretly enjoy the fact that he was chosen to play “Karan Johar” in I Hate Luv Storys but I digress. There are other parts of Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion that lends itself to a queer interpretation, especially the love-hate relationship between the lead female protagonists.

No One Killed Jessica

I am still swooning over this movie. There’s something to be said about the way in which Rani Mukerji and Vidya Balan went about promoting the movie with their new dostana. Yes, it is stereotypical and offensive on some level but I admire their conscious realization that the movie is queer, if only because it has two female leads and no male protagonist.

I read Vidya’s character as the repressed part of the narrative — the character that needs to take the journey of coming out. She’s queer and repressed to the point of asexuality. Her silence and quiet demeanor is a metaphor. Rani plays her complete opposite and the perfect foil to her repression: Meera Gayti. I love her gender-bending clothes in the movie, her hot-blooded, loud and overtly foul-mouthed character who embraces the word ‘Bitch,’ her non-traditional portrayal of female Indian sexuality when she tells a guy to “fly-solo” when she has to leave in the middle of sex. In some ways, she may be a caricature, but I loved her and the way the two characters play off of each other.

Dil Chahta Hai


DCH is an iconic movie about three young college friends. It re-defined Bollywood with a fresh look at relationships and male-bonding. The homoerotic brotherly love between Akshaye Khanna and Aamir Khan is worth a watch with plenty of gay subtext. You can read a lot into Akshaye’s shy and repressed character, Aamir’s “Tanhayee,” their fall-out and how they come back together. Another must-watch that follows from this genre is Rock On and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

Karan Johar makes terribly queer movies in a twisted way: his narrative overtly and offensively uses queerness as comedy and almost veils the homoeroticism in his movies such as Kal Ho Naa Ho, Break Ke Baad and I Hate Luv Storys. I’m not about to get into his sexuality. You’ve to read KANK as queer to thoroughly enjoy it. It doesn’t have your typical Bollywood ending. It destroys the heteronormative institution of traditional marriage. Rani’s character Maya is a woman who doesn’t enjoy sex with her husband and you’ve to wonder if Karan Johar is really hinting at her repressed sexuality. There’s a part in the movie where Dev, played by Shahrukh Khan, jokingly tells her that she is a lesbian. Her femme-dom scene is a complete joy even if it plays to a stereotypically straight cis male audience. Preity Zinta plays the strong, independent woman caricature who is the head of the household and you can read her as a power-dyke to enjoy her more. I actually love Preity Zinta and Rani Mukerji together but I won’t get into that right now.

At the same time, it is interesting to watch Shahrukh Khan’s Dev constantly re-assert his “lame” masculinity by being a jerk to his son who loves to play the violin. Funnily, there’s a deleted scene of him kissing a guy in the movie as he starts healing from his trauma. It is certainly not perfect but I’m not ashamed about loving this movie, which is so thoroughly hated by a large segment of the Indian population. It makes people uncomfortable. It is queer.

Note: Bollywood is just a name given to the Indian film industry based in Mumbai. There are many other movies industries within and outside India where one can access both a South Asian and queer sensibility. I admittedly don’t know much about them and that really was not the point of this post. Watch Chutney Popcorn, Finding Kamal, Chicken Tikka Masala, I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen. They aren’t Bollywood movies but they have South Asian actors or story-lines. Mira Nair’s Amelia was also quite queer and she’s working on a new movie called “Migration” that seems to have a queer outlook.

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