As members of both [undocumented and LGBT] communities, we know what is like to deal with laws that foster an environment of hate toward our people. – Julio Salgado
We’ve been using the term “intersectionality” a lot around GBM lately. It’s one of those made-up words that I usually don’t like (I’m looking at you, incentivize), but the concept it embodies is essential to our work and mission. We support and advocate for human rights for all people, most particularly those who are marginalized by society, but we have to be careful not to further marginalize people by focusing on only one part of who they are. For the sake of their well-being (and ours), we must invite them to bring their whole selves to the table.
When we work for racial justice, we’re not advocating only for African-Americans but for all people of color, some of whom are immigrants. When we work for economic justice, we’re advocating for struggling people across the spectrum of racial and ethnic backgrounds. And when we work for immigrant justice, we’re advocating not only for heterosexual immigrants but also those who are LGBT.
For two years, undocumented youth have been coming out of the shadows and using their status to empower themselves and bring attention to the Development, Relief and Education for Minors Act, better known as the DREAM Act…
…There have been sit-ins, hunger strikes and countless calls to lawmakers to stop the deportations of undocumented students who have been in this country most of their lives. Oddly enough, a movement within this movement has surfaced.
You see, a lot of the young people at the forefront of this movement also happen to be gay. Not only are these students proud to scream, “Undocumented and unafraid,” but some have challenged the status quo even further by coming out as queer, undocumented and unafraid.
The DREAM Act, when it passes (notice I said when, not if), will provide a path to citizenship for undocumented young people who came to the US as children. In its current form, it would require those who qualify either to enroll in a college or university or to enlist in military service. Many DREAMers regularly put themselves at risk of deportation when they speak out, but those who are LGBT are sometimes risking their lives.
From 2010′s Trail of Dreams, where three undocumented youth and a legal U.S. resident walked from Miami, Fla. to Washington, D.C., to the first-ever civil disobedience at the Tucson, Ariz. office of Sen. John McCain, undocumented gay activists have been key movers and shakers in actions that aim to bring attention to the DREAM Act.
At times, they risk death and deportation.
This was the case when Mohammad Abdollahi, who, along with undocumented students Yahaira Carrillo, Tania Unzueta, Lizbeth Mateo and legal U.S. resident Raul Alcaraz, participated in the Tucson action.
Abdollahi, an undocumented gay student from Iran, risked deportation to a country where homosexuality is punished with death.
And at times, LGBT DREAMers have been marginalized by their own movement. I particularly appreciate the reference to Bayard Rustin, organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, who is one of my heroes.
Not all students have been openly gay from the beginning. Much like the late civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, some queer undocumented activists were asked to downplay their gay identities for the sake of their role in the movement…
…There’s a thin line between finding inspiration in past historical events, like the civil rights movement, and trying to appropriate on the experiences of black activists of the 1960s.
While their oppression was physical, ours has been systematic.
We must remember how queer folks like Rustin were pushed to the back because of their sexuality and make sure that we don’t allow that kind of history to repeat itself.
We must remember this as well. Mr. Salgado closes his piece with a vivid illustration of what that made-up word “intersectionality” really means:
“I was out as queer and undocumented long before it was cool and hip,” said Prerna Lal, a Fiji-Indian law student and blogger who is constantly challenging what it means to be undocumented in this country. “But that’s not all I am. I am also a woman; I am a Pacific Islander of South Asian descent and I have various other interests that have nothing to do with the myriad of categories I am placed in by various social and governmental forces.”
Recognizing and celebrating our diversity and our connectedness, providing a safe space for everyone who comes to our door, and struggling together to build a community that truly supports and uplifts all people — that is the work we are about. Will you join us?