News / USA

Gay Rights, Immigration Reform Closely Linked for Some

Students Irvis Orozco, left, and Jorge Gutierrez hug outside the US Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Federal Building in Los Angeles Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012.
Students Irvis Orozco, left, and Jorge Gutierrez hug outside the US Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Federal Building in Los Angeles Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012.
— Immigration and gay rights activists in the United States are both fighting for greater freedoms and protections, but what they don’t often see, advocates say, is that the two causes are intertwined.

There are an estimated 904,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adult immigrants in the U.S. today, 30 percent of whom are undocumented, according to a new study published this week by the California-based Williams Institute.

Mexican-born Jorge Gutierrez, an organizer with the immigrant youth network United We Dream, says building coalitions between the gay rights and immigration reform movements is crucial.

“Equal rights doesn't mean just equal rights for same sex partners. It means standing up for queer immigrant workers,” he said at a forum discussing the new report at the Center for American Progress in Washington. 

Gutierrez, who came to the U.S. illegally when he was 10 years old, said he was fortunate enough to have a mother who supported him after he came out as gay, but not everyone is as lucky.

“What happens when an LGBT undocumented youth comes out to their parents and he or she gets thrown out of the house?” he asked, suggesting the immigration and gay rights movements could work together to propose a new pathway to legalization for this group.

Changing the game

Undocumented immigrants under the age of 31, like Gutierrez, got a boost when U.S. President Barack Obama passed a memorandum last year deferring the deportation of some individuals who immigrated illegally to the U.S. as children.

Gutierrez and other activists now want that two-year reprieve to become a path to citizenship, and to include further protections for LGBT immigrants.

It’s a controversial movement with strong opposition from critics who say granting anything like amnesty will only encourage more illegal immigration.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who came out as undocumented in an essay published in The New York Times two years ago, says the LGBT community, especially the “big money” groups in Washington, needs to be more visible addressing issues of immigration.

“You don't have to be gay to care about gay issues. You don't have to be undocumented to care about undocumented issues,” said Vargas, who is gay. “We're living in this fascinating age of intersectionality … where ethnicity, sexual orientation, immigration status are all coming to a head.”

A vulnerable class

Immigration lawyer Michael Jarecki said he hopes that crossroads will help the undocumented LGBT immigrants in the U.S., which he described as an extremely vulnerable class.

“When they suffer sexual violence, they don’t have a place to report this,” Jarecki said, adding that if these individuals are detained for immigration violations, for example, their gender identity often is not respected or understood.

“Prisons want to jail according to birth gender instead of gender identity,” he said.

In that situation, Jarecki noted, a transgender individual will often need protection from other inmates, so they will be put in solitary confinement.

Undocumented LGBT immigrants face other challenges, including discrimination in the workplace, poor access to reproductive healthcare, and an often confusing asylum application process, which has to be completed within a year of arrival in the U.S.

Jarecki said people who flee persecution for their sexuality in their home country might not be able to learn about the U.S. asylum provisions or be able to come out to themselves that quickly.

“They might have been beaten, traumatized,” he said. “This could be a lifelong process, if not a one year process.”

Making them count

Gary Gates, who authored the Williams Institute study, says the actual number of undocumented LGBT immigrants in the U.S. is probably higher than the quarter-million he recorded.

He said people living illegally in the U.S., or who have not publicly identified their sexuality, are less likely to report their status. But he said someone needed to start the tally so that their issues could begin to be addressed.

“I have a very strong belief that in this country, a lot of things don't count unless people are counted,” Gates said.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid