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

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid