Sunday, December 14, 2008

Human Rights Campaign stands up for straight immigrant killed in gay bashing

Last night when I was updating the blog with the unfortunate news of José Sucuzhañay's passing, I spent some time looking for related news regarding today's scheduled vigils and I have to say that something that came up made me do a triple-take: The DC-based Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest gay rights organization in the country, announced that they would "participate" in the main vigil and released the following comments from HRC President Joe Solmonese:
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Sucuzhanay family during this tragedy. The attack on Jose Sucuzhanay was an act of senseless violence that, sadly, takes place all too often in this nation. HRC stands in solidarity with the groups that have put together Sunday’s vigil, march, and press conference, particularly the New York City Anti-Violence Project. We are pleased to lend our support to all the groups’ heroic efforts on behalf of vulnerable communities in New York City and across America.

I encourage all who care about equality and who dream of a nation free from hate violence to participate in Sunday’s events.

A nice gesture you might say. Yay for the gays you might say. Unprecedented, as far as I know, is what I say.

For some of us who have done work in on immigration rights over the last decade - with a focus on LGBT immigrant communities - some frustration has come from the fact that the national LGBT organizations have been less than willing to show leadership on immigration issues even as immigration laws have a tremendous impact on thousands of LGBT individuals living in the United States.

The Human Rights Campaign, in collaboration with Immigration Equality, has done some key work in DC to advance the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would allow citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States to sponsor their same-sex partner for immigration to the US (as married heterosexual couples do) but, other than UAFA, they have been notoriously slow to move on other immigration rights issues such as political asylum for LGBT individuals persecuted in other countries.

On that last point I particularly remember a January 2007 article by Doug Ireland at Gay City News in which he wrote about the woeful state of adequate legal representation in the US for LGBT immigrants seeking asylum for persecution based on sexual orientation in their home countries ("Since 9/11, a blind eye to persecution").

Doug, who has been a long time HRC critic, called HRC to ask about any recent actions by the agency on behalf of LGBT immigrants seeking political asylum and noted that an unnamed 'press spokesperson' simply responded "That's just not something we do" (Doug also got a similar response from someone at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force).

Online, HRC does have a link to what they call "International Rights & Immigration" issues but the content is skimpy and the only agency-specific action that they mention is "The Human Rights Campaign is working with its allies in Congress to amend current immigration law to cover same-sex relationships." Period.

True, the murder of José Sucuzhañay is not necessarily an immigration-rights case and HRC seems to be approaching it from the same angle as other LGBT rights organizations: Reportedly, it was an anti-gay hate-crime.

Nevertheless it is the first time I remember that the Human Rights Campaign has become this visibly involved with a case that is also so strongly tied to the immigration rights movement and the way that the Sucuzhañay murder has roiled immigrant communities in New York and elsewhere. Might it be a new paradigm for the national organizations as they try to make inroads with certain communities in the wake of the passage of Prop. 8 in California?

Or perhaps I am reading way too much into a single press statement and it simply reflects this divide between those who are approaching this murder from a anti-gay hate crime perspective and those who are approaching it from an anti-Latino hate crime / immigration rights perspective.

As I said before, there are opportunities to build some bridges here. But only if there are efforts to do so.


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