When Immigration and LGBT Rights Come Together, Which One Wins?

At first glance, you might not think there’s a lot of commonality between the fight for immigration reform and the fight for gay rights, and a lot of people, including some advocates in both communities, might agree with you. However, with almost one million immigrants in the U.S. identifying as LGBQT, it’s clear that there’s a lot of overlap here. Some of us, in other words, live at the intersections.

Of that one million, an estimated 267,00 undocumented immigrants are LGBQT. Among them, the fight for immigration reform has been paired with a fight for their rights to live safely with their chosen families, their loved ones and their communities. And some of them have risen up, identifying themselves as “undocuqueer.”

“We are told that Immigrant Rights and LGBTIQ rights are separate issues but, it is here, at the intersection of our lives, where our UndocuQueer identity brings a new perspective. Being UndocuQueer, we live under laws that treat us as less human, we are scapegoats to society’s problems, are misrepresented, and feel unsafe or vulnerable due to policies, institutions, and attitudes that keep us on the margins.”

With both immigration reform and gay rights a hot topic in the U.S., uniting forces behind both causes seems like a natural fit, but as always in politics, it’s a little more complicated than that. These activists are being faced with a tough and unenviable choice: should they compromise on their advocacy in order to achieve a larger win, and hope that in time, they can make up for that compromise?

As Congress debates comprehensive immigration reform, including proposals to keep families together by creating paths to citizenship or legal documentation, some undocuqueers are pressing for the inclusion of same-sex couples in this legislation. And rightly so: they are families and loved ones too, and the wrenching pain of deportation is no different whether you’re a pair of gay men or a heterosexual couple. Recognizing same-sex partnerships would also be a key gay rights victory, reinforcing the fact that LGBQT people form marriages and families, and that they deserve full human rights.

The problem is that the government is still dealing with the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex partnerships for the purpose of receiving benefits — such as immigration documentation. Also, some advocates fear attaching a rider demanding recognition to the larger bill might just kill the whole thing after years of delicate negotiation. The question becomes whether an amendment recognizing LGBQT couples should be brought to the floor of the Senate in the hopes of attaching it to the bill even though the amendment might tank the bill, or whether the issue should be set aside in the larger interest of comprehensive immigration reform.

For those not personally affected by the issue, the choice might seem natural, even if they sympathize with their LGBQT brothers and sisters. Given the protracted battle over immigration reform, passing a bill of this magnitude could be key to addressing some of the dysfunctional components of the immigration system. Some undocuqueers agree, even though it pains them to do so, but others are resistant. The mainstream LGBQT movement is pushing hard for the amendment because their primary interest is LGBQT rights, even though they in turn may have sympathy with their undocumented peers.

It’s a difficult decision to make, and one that could have important long-term ramifications, given the glacial rate of sociopolitical change in the United States. On the one hand, sometimes it’s easier to build on existing progress than it is to do everything at once, but on the other, it’s deeply dehumanizing to be told to wait in line for your rights. Or to feel like you have to give up part of your rights and identity in the interest of the greater good.

At least we know how Congress feels about the issue. Here’s John McCain: “Which is more important: LGBT or border security? I’ll tell you what my priorities are. If you’re going to load it up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it, in my view.”

Image credit: Karyme Lozano at San Francisco pride (please note that the use of her photo in this article is not a reflection on her immigration status), by Cary Bass.


Wendy Kobylarz

And yeah, I'd just like to add that we are doing everything legally - she's not even here right now. Which is why I spend so much time online.

Wendy Kobylarz

Shari R, no, LGBTQ people cannot get married federally. We can go to various states, but because they are state laws, they do not apply to issues surrounding green cards. I can marry my girlfriend somewhere in the EU or in NY, Vermont or wherever, but that would not make us legally married on a federal level to grant her US citizenship.

Wendy Kobylarz

Terri Lynn, your comment is appalling. Maybe you need to get a grip on the political situation and the concept that your ancestors for the most part, if not all part, came from another country too. Also, immigrants don't just come from Latin America.

Wendy Kobylarz

Allan, they are not always separate issues, as in gay marriages and green cards. And in the whole big scheme of things, human rights are not separate no matter what the specific issues are.

Wendy Kobylarz

It's so freaking annoying when the mainstream LGBT groups decide that granting marriage benefits to gays shouldn't include immigration reform. As someone involved in a bi-national relationship (we've only just begun exploring this world of immigration), I have to admit that I am also someone who used to scorn this LGBT fixation on gay marriage alone, until the idea that I might be able to stay with my girlfriend became possibly reliant on granting her a green card through marriage. It's really goddamn annoying that I can't marry her, and even if could marry her in one of the states that allows it, it would still not be enough to keep her here legally. Pfft.

Thank you for this article.

John B.
John B3 years ago

Thanks Ms. Smith for the excellent article.

Roxanne F.
Roxanne Fand3 years ago

An easy way to include gay couples in immigration reform is to AVOID SPECIFIC MENTION OF THEM in the bill, and simply INCLUDE ALL COUPLES WHOSE MARRIAGES ARE LEGALLY RECOGNIZED in any state or national jurisdiction to gain a path to citizenship. Only unwed couples or polygamous marriages would be eliminated by definition.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

All current laws need to be enforced or repealed before passing new ones. The current laws are NOT being enforced by this administration.

Sheila Swan L.
Sheila Swan L3 years ago

It seems that one's sexual orientation is simply that or should be so simple. What everyone does with consenting adults or their own bodies should be their own business and not their employers or the government's. Immigration is a different matter and should not be mixed up. It is difficult enough when people are just trying to live here and families are shattered by the government.

Angelene B.
Angelene B3 years ago

They're both equally important to me.