Why the "Gay Rights Movement" is Anti-Immigrant Rights

The "gay rights" movement has rarely shared a table with the immigrant rights movement. Focused on the right to marry and rights of citizens, it leaves behind much needed coalition building between the movements.

On July 11th, 2005 in Tres Cantos, Spain, Emilio Menendez and Carlos Baturin walked out of town hall as the first proudly married gay couple of Spain. Earlier, on July 3rd, Spain passed a law that allowed same-sex marriages, bestowing on gay couples the same rights as heterosexuals, including adopting children and inheriting each other's property. While this legal change in Spain is being celebrated as a landmark victory in the gay rights struggle, in a much less publicized event, the High Court of Justice in Spain's Catalonia region decided on July 6th that citizens of other countries cannot marry a same-sex partner in Spain unless the other country allows same-sex marriage. The case involved a Spanish man and his Indian partner. The couple, Vipul Dutt, 33, and Enric Baucells, 45, may appeal to the Ministry of justice.

This contrast of victory and loss evinces the inequality perpetuated between "citizens" and "immigrants" within the "gay rights movement" in North America and most parts of Western Europe. The "gay rights movement" has been absent in the struggles of immigrants. In the United States, where I have spent the last ten years organizing around immigrant rights, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) and HIV/AIDS issues, the "gay rights movement" and immigrant rights movement have rarely shared the table with each other. As a result, both movements have severely suffered in developing a vision, larger base and political power.

The "gay rights movement" is largely dominated by an analysis that is rooted in the premises of citizenship and LGBT identity. LGBT movements demand equality for every citizen within the nation-state structure. Sadly, in the US, citizenship status is a site of major oppression and social control. Historically, citizenship was granted only to white men. The history of the US has been a history of struggle by women and communities of color to gain citizenship. Immigration laws in this country are based on the labor and military needs of the US. Immigrants are allowed legal entry whenever there is a need for labor, as evident in the Bracero Program, and are the first to be thrown out in economically hard times, as evident in the anti-immigrant laws that are now being passed. The US has been and is being built upon immigrant labor. Next time you get laundry done, or take a cab, or call moviefone for cinema tickets, ask for the country of origin for the person serving you!

The LGBT rights movement has been largely silent around anti-immigrant rights legislations that have recently passed, including the Real ID Act. Large national LGBT organizations are busy fighting for "gay marriage"—once again, a set of rights that is based upon citizenship status. In choosing to struggle for the rights of citizens, most LGBT organizations have alienated immigrants from the debate. This is a prime example of how the LGBT rights movement is a movement of privileged citizens of this nation. In centralizing the "right to marry" in its debate, the LGBT movement has failed to build bridges with the immigrant rights movement, which has long been fighting for the rights of immigrant families to reunite with each other. Almost as an afterthought, some "gay rights" organizations have advocated for the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA) that would allow LGBT citizens to sponsor their immigrant partners. The imagining of LGBT immigrants is limited only as partners of citizens.

The inherently anti-immigrant nature of the LGBT movement is further evidenced in the way dollars are being invested in this movement. While millions of dollars are being spent on "gay marriage" and organizations working around "gay marriage" have profited and grown, LGBT immigrant rights groups have struggled and often closed their doors.

The "gay rights movement " is losing an ally by turning a deaf ear to the immigrant rights movement. LGBT people and immigrants are the most targeted by the right wing in this country. While immigrants are being framed as "terrorists" and "job stealers", LGBT people are being painted as "immoral" and "sexual perverts." The biggest message that immigrants give to the nation is "We are not terrorists! We are people seeking opportunities and a better life!" LGBT organizations need to learn how to ally themselves with the immigrant rights movement and organizations.

How can LGBT organizations be allies to immigrant rights movements?

  1. Broaden your analysis: do not frame your message around "equality for all citizens," frame it around equality and justice for all. Support legalization for all immigrants.
  2. Get active in fighting anti-immigrant bills: LGBT people are immigrants too, are being detained and deported everyday. Spend staff time and programming budget on immigrant rights advocacy. Pair up with immigrant rights organizations to send out joint press statements.
  3. Proactively fight for immigrant rights: support access to healthcare and voting rights for immigrants.
  4. LGBT foundations need to support LGBT immigrant rights organizations.

For more information on current struggles for LGBT immigrants visit http://www.quir.org

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