Monday, April 10, 2006

An open letter to the LGBT community on "Gays First, then Illegals"

April 10, 2006

An Open Letter to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community:

We are a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people of color who work in the LGBT movement. We are writing to you in response to Jasmyne Cannick’s article "Gays First, Then Illegals”, which ran in The Advocate, in which she, a black lesbian, argues that she cannot support the current battle for immigrant rights because LGBT people have not yet won the right to marry. We are writing to express our profound disagreement with her, and to offer alternative LGBT perspectives to the current immigration battles happening across the country.

To begin with, Cannick fails to realize an obvious fact – the LGBT community and the immigrant community are not mutually exclusive. There are thousands of LGBT immigrants in this country. There are thousands of black immigrants. And there are thousands of black LGBT immigrants. To put forward an argument that says "we should get ours first" makes us question who exactly is the "we" in that analysis. In addition, we recognize the historically interconnected nature of the immigrant and LGBT struggles — such as the ban on “homosexual immigrants” that extended into the 1990’s, and the present HIV ban, which disproportionately impacts LGBT people — and we believe that only by understanding these connections and building coalition can we ensure real social change for all.

And we ask those who share the destructive views of this article to remember the immortal words of Audre Lorde when she said that “There is no hierarchy of oppression”. We reject any attempts to pit the struggle of multiple communities against each other and firmly believe that "Rights" are not in limited supply. We condemn the “scarcity of rights” perspective espoused by Cannick and other members of the LGBT movement, and are surprised to see members of our community trafficking in such ugliness. But then, one reason why it has always been so hard to shift power in this country is because the ruling class has successfully made us believe that there are only a few deserving groups to whom rights can be given. This strategy has always been used to divide oppressed groups from coming together to work in coalition.

We are painfully aware that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities still lack many basic protections under the law in this country, including the right to care for and support all of our families, in the various ways in which we construct family and kinship. Nevertheless, supporting immigrant rights, while we continue to work for LGBT liberation, does nothing to hurt our cause. In fact, we believe the opposite to be true, and want to work towards building powerful coalitions between immigrant and LGBT movements to work together for social justice.

We are also aware that many immigrant right advocates have (intentionally or not) used anti-black rhetoric to move their agenda forward. Arguments such as “Don’t treat us like ‘criminals’” or “We are doing work that ‘other’ Americans won’t do” have the effect of positioning immigrant narratives as subtly juxtaposed with American stereotypes of non-immigrant black communities. They leave native-born black Americans as among the only people who do not have access to the immigrant narrative, and so are in a permanent position of subordination, as the state consistently negotiates and redefines citizenship and “American-ness” for almost everyone but blacks. Nevertheless, the solution to this problem is not to abandon support for the struggle of immigrant communities. Rather, we call on immigrant movements and (non-immigrant) black organizations to work together for real racial and economic justice in this country. Together these movements can work to end the exploitation and targeting of both communities, and to ensure that black folks and immigrants do not end up having to choose between competing for low-paying jobs, or being targeted for detainment or imprisonment.

As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color, we support the current immigrant rights marches and rallies happening across the country this month, and we march too. We march because immigrants are among the most politically vulnerable, underpaid and exploited communities in the country, and are asking for basic human rights, including the right to live free from torture and exploitation, and the right to work. We march because we recognize the connections between the state attacks on immigrant and LGBT communities, and that LGBT immigrants in particular are disproportionately affected by much anti-immigrant legislation. We march because we oppose the heightened policing and criminalization of immigrant communities, including the increased militarization of the border, as mandated by HR 4437 and Senate bills. We march because we oppose indefinite and mandatory detention of noncitizens—as well as the mass incarceration of people-of-color-communities in the U.S. more broadly—and envision a society that ensures the safety and self-determination of all people, regardless of national origin, race, class, gender or sexuality. We march because we oppose the guestworker proposals, which would continue the exploitation of many low-wage workers. We march because we demand the repeal of the HIV ban. We march because our sexualities have been historically criminalized by this country, and we understand that “law” and “justice” are not the same thing.

It is our understanding that Jasmyne Cannick was writing as an individual, and not as a representative of either the National Black Justice Coalition (on whose Board of Directors she serves) or The Stonewall Democrats (for whose Black Caucus she serves as Co-Chair). As LGBT people of color, we call upon both of those organizations to publicly clarify their own positions in this ongoing civil rights discussion.

We also call upon our community to imagine how much more progress we could make if we all stopped thinking of social justice as a zero-sum game.


Katherine Acey
Executive Director, the Astraea Lesbian Action Fund

Faisal Alam
Founder & Former Director, Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBTIQ Muslims

Samiya Bashir
Board Member, National Black Justice Coalition
Communications Director, Freedom to Marry
Board Member, Fire & Ink

Noemi Calonje
Immigration Project Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)

Noran J. Camp
Office Administrator, Freedom to Marry

Chris Chen
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
immigrant from Taiwan 1997

Alain Dang
Policy Analyst, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Debanuj Dasgupta
Board of Directors, Queer Immigrant Rights Project

Carlos Ulises Decena, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Joseph N. DeFilippis
Executive Director, Queers for Economic Justice

Marta Donayre
Co-Founder, Love Sees No Borders

Andres Duque
Coordinator, Mano A Mano

Monroe France
Educational Training Manager, Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network
Board of Directors, Queers for Economic Justice

Eddie Gutierrez
Rep. for Christine Chavez, granddaughter of labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez

Priscilla A. Hale, LMSW
Executive Director, ALLGO

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano
Director of Arts and Community Building, ALLGO

Kemi Ilesanmi

Surina Khan
Interim Vice President of Programs, The Women's Foundation of California
former Executive Director, International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Lee Che Leong
Director of Teen Health Initiative, New York Civil Liberties Union

Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins
Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center
Board of Directors, Queers for Economic Justice

Yoseñio Vicente Lewis
Board Member, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Latino, Trans Social Justice Activist, first generation U.S. Citizen

Glenn Magpantay
Steering Committee Member, Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York

Rickke Mananzala
Campaign Coordinator, FIERCE!

Gloria Nieto
National Latino Justice Coalition

Doyin Ola
Welfare Organizer, Queers for Economic Justice

Jesús Ortega-Weffe
Director of Community Organizing, ALLGO

Emiko Otsubo
former Board member, Queers for Economic Justice

Clarence Patton
Executive Director, NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project

Donna Payne
Senior Diversity Organizer, Human Rights Campaign

Earl L. Plante
Development Director, National Minority AIDS Council
President-Elect, Board of Directors, National Black Justice Coalition

Aurora Pineda
Co-Founder/Facilitator of Entre Familia: PFLAG en Espanol
Board Member of Amigas Latinas

Achebe Powell
Betty Powell Associates

Lorraine Ramirez
Public Policy Committee, Queers for Economic Justice

Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera
Convener, the National Latino Coalition for Justice

Ignacio Gilberto Rivera
Founder, Poly Patao Productions
Board of Directors, Queers for Economic Justice

Russell D. Roybal
Director of Movement Building, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Shay Sellars
Major Gifts and Events Administrator, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Pedro Julio Serrano
Communications Associate, Freedom to Marry
President, Puerto Rico Para Tod@s

Sarah Sohn
New Voices Legal Fellow, Immigration Equality
Board of Directors, Queers for Economic Justice

Mónica Taher
People of Color Media Director, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

Sandra Telep
Marriage Organizer
Pride At Work, AFL-CIO

Lisa Thomas-Adeyemo
Co-Coordinator, National People of Color Organizing Institute, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Director of Counseling, San Francisco Women Against Rape

Carmen Vazquez
Deputy Executive Director, Empire State Pride Agenda

Robert Vazquez-Pacheco
former Program Manager, Funders for Gay and Lesbian Issues

Pat Washington, Phd
Chair, Lambda Letters Project
Education Chair, San Diego Branch NAACP
Executive Board Member, CA NAACP
President, San Diego Democratic Women's Club
Co-Chair WAGE (We Advocate Gender Equity)

Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz
Capacity Building Project Director, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Andy Shie Kee Wong
Coalition Manager, Asian Equality

Lancy Woo and Cristy Chung
lead Plaintiffs in the Woo vs Lockyer, marriage rights case

Miriam Yeung
Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, the LGBT Community Center

-- Organizational affiliation listed for identification purposes only --

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