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.