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LGBTs part of May 1 immigration march

by Yasmin Nair

2008-04-23 Windy City Times Cover Story - LINK

The 2006 Sensenbrenner Bill ( HR 4437 ) —also known as The Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005—prompted widespread protests nationwide. In Chicago, the March 10 Movement mobilized a rally of 200,000 immigrants in downtown Chicago. Subsequently, national immigrant-rights groups began staging immigrant rights rallies on May Day ( May 1 ) to emphasize the connection between labor and immigrants.

This year, the May Day immigrant-rights march organizers in Chicago have, in a change from previous years, included an anti-war message along with a call for legalization of all undocumented people.

That's not the only change. For the first time since 2006, local Chicago queer groups have issued an open invitation for queers and queer immigrants to join in solidarity with May Day organizers. Several LGBTQ groups, including Amigas Latinas, ALMA ( Association of Latino Men for Action ) , Orgullo en Accion and Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) are participating.

So, queer immigrants will organize under a big tent—or at least a big rainbow flag. But what does a queer presence mean in an immigration reform movement that's focused on labor? Do U.S.-born queers and immigrant queers face the same issues around immigration?

This isn't the first time that immigrant queers have marched in the rallies, and many have been working in the immigrant reform movement before working for queer issues. Tania Unzueta, director of RadioArte's youth program and producer of the radio show Homofrequencia, remembers that the March 10 Movement's first rally in 2006 made her realize that she would be coming out twice—as queer to the immigrant-rights movement and as an immigrant to those who did not know about her background. She remembers numerous rainbow flags dotting the rallies.

For Aurora Pineda and fellow members of Amigas Latinas, immigration became an issue when they came into contact with immigrant Latinas who were not out. They feared coming out or getting divorced, not because of domestic-violence issues, but because they'd find themselves without legal status: Married queer immigrants face different consequences than citizens because they lose their immigration status as the spouses of citizens/permanent residents.

That raises the issue of binational couples. The mainstream gay-rights community emphasizes the issues of those who are either separated from non-citizen/non-permanent resident partners or feel compelled to leave the country to be with partners; the Uniting American Families Act ( UAFA ) is supposed to remedy that by granting the same rights of sponsorship of partners to same-sex couples that opposite-sex couples have. GLN's Andy Thayer, for one, spoke at length about the issue and refers to the “legalization of binational couples.”

However, the UAFA only benefit those already with legal status. Even straight married couples can no longer use marriage as an immigration solution. In 1996, the Clinton administration passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The penalty for undocumented people, even those married to citizens, can be severe: They can be required to return to their home country for as long as 10 years, and can only return to the U.S. after successfully petitioning to return from within said country —through a complex and often onerous process.

For Pineda, family reunification is a major issue for queer immigrants. She and her partner Karen Rothstein-Pineda have an infant, are active in creating a Spanish PFLAG ( Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays ) , and she speaks frequently about the need to recognize the legitimacy of queer families. Pineda doesn't believe that only queers within traditional families should count and is critical of moralistic overtones in LGBTQ organizing: “The reality is that once you pull those doors of your house [ shut ] behind you, you might be doing the same thing the person [ you criticized ] is doing. Who cares?”

The reality of the different social structures occupied by queer or non-queer immigrant youth resonates for Unzueta, who works with 40 immigrant youth, of whom about 15 are queer. She recalls one youth worried about her undocumented mother, who was also being harassed at work. Like many queer youth, queer immigrant youth can become homeless upon coming out. For Unzueta, access to education is, therefore, a high priority. The recent DREAM ( Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors ) Act troubles many immigration activists, because it promises access to college and legalization for undocumented youth—on the condition that they serve two years in the military. Many see this as taking advantage of already disenfranchised youth. Unzueta points out that it's especially problematic for immigrant youth who may be anti-war and for queers who must face “a homophobic institution” like the army.

There are other issues that queers are concerned about. For many years now, several groups nationwide, including advocacy groups like National Immigrant Justice Center, New York's Queers for Economic Justice and the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, as well as local activist groups like CLIA ( Chicago LGBTQ Immigrant Alliance ) , have called for an end to the ban on HIV-positive travelers and immigrants. In addition, there's a push for allowing more queer immigrants to ask for asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation. ( Then-Attorney General Janet Reno legalized the measure in 1994. )

So, there will be as many approaches to queer immigration as rainbow flags on May Day. For queers and non-queer immigrants alike, participation itself can be stressful, especially if they have prior criminal records for even minor infractions. But queer organizers are optimistic about creating a safe space as well as solidarity with the larger immigrant-rights movement. Asked about what non-immigrant queer groups ought to be mindful of at a march that's about legalization of the undocumented and organized by an immigrant rights coalition, Unzueta is cautiously optimistic: “I hope that it is with a feeling of solidarity rather than with a feeling of righteousness. Yes, it's important to fight for inclusion of LGBTQ people within immigrant rights, but the march calls for very specific things: legalization, worker's rights, education. This would be a space to create community.”

On May 1, look for the Rainbow Flags in the Union Park at 11 a.m in order to join the contingent, or call GLN at 773-209-1187 to find it.

On April 30, CLIA will hold a forum: Immigration at the Margins: Domestic Violence, Sex Work, HIV, and Trafficking at the Center on Halsted, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. See www.centeronhalsted.org .


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