Our Common Struggles: the Immigrant and LGBT Equality Movements

by Hale Thompson, Guest Blogger for the Network for LGBT Health Equity at Netroots Nation 2011 LGBT Pre-Conference Connect

This afternoon’s ‘Immigration Reform Through A Queer Lens’ session highlighted the intersections of queer and undocumented struggles for civil rights and equality in the U.S. Four remarkable young, queer, undocumented panelists shared their stories of suffering in silence, enduring multiple stigmas, and the challenges and affirmations that came with coming out of the shadows as an undocumented person and with coming out as queer and providing leadership in the immigrants rights movement. The reasons for being undocumented are varied and complex; coming to the U.S. often is not a choice but a matter of a family or individual’s survival in the face of economic, social and political upheaval in the aftermath of NAFTA, war, or the installation of conservative dictators in countries of origin. These social forces can make coming out as queer especially challenging and often drive one to choose between familial acceptance/support or a queer identity without one’s family. Coming out as queer and potentially losing one’s family leaves an undocumented young person particularly vulnerable–to poverty, isolation, homelessness, arrest, and deportation to a country of origin where one may know nobody anymore.

This panel was audiotaped, by the way, and I encourage you to listen. For now, I will say that in the face of massive anti-immigration legislation in different parts of the country (not to mention widespread anti-marriage equality legislation which also impacts undocumented queer immigrants) it is imperative that LGBT communities reach out and support this movement for civil rights. Sign and circulate petitions, use inclusive language in your blogs and in your everyday conversations (e.g. people are not and cannot be “illegal”), call out media representations that criminalize and stigmatize undocumented persons and communities, build friendships, alliances, collaborations, and create spaces to give voice to the immigration rights movement. This panel underscored how our movements intersect in many ways we don’t consider because we can be so silo’d. The Dream Act is a queer issue and marriage equality is an immigration issue.

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