Friday, April 07, 2006

On immigration, an LGBT rift?

Twice this week, I was reminded how the fact that I have immersed myself in LGBT advocacy does not mean that others who have done similar work necessarily share my views on other issues. This is not that surprising when there are clear ideological differences, but when statements that I consider offensive are made by people you admire and empathize with, the result can be a bit shocking and even disorienting.

First came comments from a United States-born gay man sent to a listserv to which I subscribe in which he took an organization to task for supporting the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill on the merits that - even if that specific bill paves the way for certain undocumented immigrants to become residents of the United States - it does nothing to allow US citizens to offer immigration benefits to their foreign-born same-sex partners (a federal right enjoyed by heterosexual couples who marry but denied to same-sex couples). An important issue to be raised by all means! But this was quickly followed by comments in which he also riled against all the 'law-breakers' who might become US residents while his partner had been forced to leave the country when his visa ran out (the man was writing from exile as he had also chosen to follow his boyfriend out of the United States).

Now, I completely understand the high level of frustration of couples who have had to leave the country because their government does not recognize their relationship as a family - and agree that challenging the United States government on a 'family reunification' immigration policy model that does not recognize same-sex couples as family is key - but unfortunately this is not the first time that I have heard a United States-born gay man rile against other immigrants while advocating for the right to bring his undocumented immigrant partner to the United States. This idea of wishful "annointment" of immigration status based ONLY on which gay immigrant you find hot (and maybe come to love) is just as offensive to me as the guy seems to find the McCain-Kennedy Bill (which would actually provide a number of LGBT individuals, partnered or not, a way to gain immigration rights in this country).

More shocking to me was an OpEd piece by Jasmyne Cannick which was posted a couple of days ago in the Advocate magazine's online website titled "Gays first, then illegals" which nearly made my jaw drop to the floor.

In her essay, Ms. Cannick argues that
"It’s a slap in the face to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to take up the debate on whether to give people who are in this country illegally additional rights when we haven’t even given the people who are here legally all of their rights" in reference to the government's denial right for same-sex couples in the United States to marry.

As an African-American lesbian woman, Ms. Cannick also invokes the name of Rosa Parks, if not her spirit: "
While I know no one wants to be viewed as a racist when it comes to immigration reform, as a lesbian I don’t want to move to the back of the bus to accommodate those who broke the law to be here."

As an advocate for the right to marry for same-sex partners, I personally was shocked by Ms. Cannick's juxtaposition of the issue of marriage vs. immigration rights. While the issues certainly intercept, as noted above, they're not necessarily exclusive of each other or an "either/or" proposition. I also wondered why The Advocate chose to post an anti-immigrant OpEd from a non-immigrant woman as guest commentary on the issue. But what truly offended me was that last line, implying that if anyone should belong to the back of the bus, it was certainly undocumented immigrants or 'those who broke the law' (hm, there are those words again: We've certainly assimilated the right's language on the issue). Ms. Cannick, as she states, might not be racist, but injecting that little bit of divisive racial polemic to the essay certainly was, at best, insensitive and polarizing.

The essay has already elicited strong responses, some of which have been posted in Jasmyne's blog. Then came an online essay / response by Richard Kim in The Nation's website in which the ever opportunistic Kim takes the Cannick essay to task if only to grandstand once again against marriage rights as something that should not be fought for (Note to Richard: There are those of us who are pro-immigrant rights and pro-marriage rights as well).

In a larger sense, I am not sure that Jasmyne herself is the issue here. I have certainly admired some of the things she has done in the past and she is certainly entitled to her opinions on the issue of immigration. But I also fear that her views on immigration might not be a single person's take but perhaps a point of view that other non-immigrant minority LGBT community members might also feel.

I've always felt that there are huge divides between the organizing done by different LGBT minority communities in this country (be it Latino, black, Asian or other) and that efforts to bridge communities might begin to address some of these disconnects - today on immigration, tomorrow on other issues - and perhaps that is the road that should be taken as we look ahead but it's painful to see though just how much work remains.

Now, on Monday, I will be joining the Empire State Pride Agenda, Immigration Equality, the Queer Immigrant Rights Project, the Audre Lorde Project and other LGBT organizations rallying at City Hall in favor of immigrant rights. I will do this in honor of my good friend, Enrique Andino (pictured above), a gay Puerto Rican man who was as tenacious a queer immigrant's rights advocate as almost anyone I have ever met who lost his life earlier this week. I remember when Enrique and I were able to organize a group of forty HIV positive undocumented immigrants under the name of CoDI+ (Coalicion de Immigrantes Positivos or Positive Immigrant Coalition). That remains one of the most enriching (and sometimes frustrating) experiences in my life but I would not have been able to do it without Enrique next to me. Condolences go to his partner Julio, his sister Mitzy, as well as the rest of his family.

Commentary from other blogs:


MadProfessah said...

Hi Andres, I also was pretty shocked by Jasmynne's position on immigration issues. I heard her on my local public radio station, KPCC, really spouting some frankly uninformed statements which reeked of xenophobia.

Andrés Duque said...

Thanks MadProfessah! I have been actually encouraged by some of the responses I have seen from other minority LGBT community leaders challenging the views in Jasmyne's essay. I believe a community statement will be released on Monday to coincide with an array of actions calling for immigrant rights. There will also be an LGBT contingent in the NYC rally outside City Hall. We will be meeting on Monday at 2pm at the corner of Church and Vessey Streets.

IndiaDragonflyGrrrl said...

I read your article and found it most intereting. I was Googling my uncle Enrique, becasue I missed him so much over the past two weeks. Its wonderful to know that this was a memory of him that I have.

Thank you.