iOS app Android app More

Jorge Gutierrez, Undocumented Queer Activist Works To Bring LGBT And Pro-Immigration Groups Together

First Posted: 02/14/2012 12:24 pm Updated: 02/14/2012 4:11 pm

Jorge By Julio Salgado
Jorge, by Julio Salgado

Jorge Gutiérrez, 27, was addressing a hall packed with almost 200 young people in Memphis, Tennessee.

Like him, they were brought to the United States as children. Like him, they grew up as Americans. Although they were bilingual, English was their first language.

Their parents came illegally, so they too, are undocumented.

Then, he told them that he is not only undocumented, but also gay. He asked the pro-immigrant organizations represented there to be inclusive. If there were others who, like him, were undocumented and LGBT, he asked them to stand up and come down to the front.

One by one, more than 20 activists stood up and approached. Some of them were revealing their sexual identity for the first time. Some were well known activists in the DREAMers movement.

Gutiérrez, currently lives in Santa Ana, California. At the age of 10, he arrived illegally from El Cora, Nayarit, Mexico, with his mother, two brothers and two sisters. In 2008 he graduated from Cal State University - Fullerton with a BA in English.

He is undocumented and queer, one of many.

"Some of the most recognized leaders of the DREAMer movement, who never talked about it, are now out of the closet, and are calling on others to do the same," he told The Huffington Post in a series of phone calls.

Increasingly, scores of undocumented students are joining the ranks of the DREAM Act movement, in support of a federal law -- the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) -- which would grant legal status to many of them under certain strict conditions. They do this openly -- "undocumented and unafraid," they say.

Opponents label the DREAM Act as "amnesty" and argue that granting legal status to 2 million "illegals" would reward undocumented immigration to the detriment of those who came here legally.

But for Jorge and others who are also gay, the experience of working in an organization fighting for the DREAM Act and which openly challenges current laws may have opened the path to express themselves. For many, this has been a liberating experience because they see it as one struggle: Undocumented and Unafraid; Queer and Unashamed.

Over the last few years, the fight for the DREAM Act has created a new type of legal rights' activist: primarily undocumented Latino students who are resolute in revealing their immigrant status. In some cases, these activists are openly gay and have taken upon an added mission alongside their DREAM Act advocacy.

"In a year, we want to organize a meeting between the main LGBT organizations and the main pro-immigrant organizations" so they can work as allies, said Gutiérrez.

He is one of the founders of DeColores Queer Orange County, a group created in 2009 that "focuses on narrowing the gap of needs of Latino/a Queer individuals."

"They are no longer afraid," they state.

Jorge also seems unafraid, and even combative, in a new video released today by the civil rights organization Cuentame, or "Tell Me" in Spanish, part of the non-profit Brave New Foundation.

"Cuéntame is a production and documentary campaign organization for Latinos, by Latinos," says Axel Caballero, the Mexican-born founding director of the group, in an interview with The Huffington Post.

The video, says Caballero, is part of a series that "as a whole breaks a taboo within the Latino community, as it is often the case that things like that go unspoken, hidden.”

As for Jorge Gutierrez, these days he is busy working on the board of directors of United We Dream, a network which identifies itself as "the nation's largest immigrant youth-led organization," as well as on collaborative projects with the UCLA Labor Center.

Recently, said Gutierrez, "in United We Dream we pushed for the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project" or QUIP. A United We Dream statement Gutiérrez sent to The Huffington Post states: "The Dream Movement has begun to intentionally acknowledge and praise the contribution of Queer undocumented immigrant youth to the movement."

"Faggot, illegal, dyke, wetback, pervert and alien," are some of the insults directed at both "the LGBTQ and the immigrant communities," states the document. The project aims to "engage Queer Undocumented immigrant youth in intentional dialogue with allies in the LGBTQ and Immigrant Rights Movements.

While the quest for immigration reform is an issue which has generated confrontation between the Latino community and external groups, the individual path which persons traverse in recognizing their own sexuality is an inward one, and confrontation around it can occur within a family.

Jorge describes repeatedly struggling to be accepted with dignity since he was six years old and still living in Mexico, stating how he was rejected by his own father. "I knew I was different from my brothers, but I didn't know how to explain it; but for my father, everything was clear. Society told him that people like me go to Hell. He was very repressive: don't walk like this, don't play like this, don't speak like this... and then severed all relations with me, like I didn't exist. He used to take my brothers to the country, or the city, without me. I felt ashamed and bad, and even considered suicide."

"I am alive thanks to my mom."

A constant presence in Jorge's life is his mother.

"I was around 15 years old and she was driving me somewhere. Suddenly she stopped and asked me if I liked girls. I was afraid I was going to lose her love like I lost my dad's and I almost lied to her. But I told her the truth because I remembered just then that she always told me to be myself." His mother, Amelia Cortez, who works cleaning houses, is now an important ally and talked to The Huffington Post.

"I already knew, but I wanted to be sure. It was a critical moment," stated Mrs. Cortez in a phone interview in Spanish. "I wanted to protect him, even though I am not a schooled person; I knew that there is a lot of hatred against them, like they are not normal, although they are. Like his father felt."

And she added: "Men in our culture are such machistas."

"It was like in a telenovela", said Jorge, remembering his coming out to his mother. "She told me to leave the car and followed me. We hugged. She recognized that she may not understand everything, but she will always, always love me. From that moment I became able to explore my identity as a gay man."

Jorge's father lives somewhere in California with his daughters. He is not in touch with his son. But Jorge continues his activism: for rights; recognition and dignity. And he continues to dream. "I want to pursue a Master’s degree or a doctorate to study the LGBT Latino youth community, so as a professional I'll be able to contribute." Shooting the video for Cuentame was part of this path.

"With this video and this series," said Axel Caballero, "we want to create an honest conversation on a nationwide basis, one that can engage families at the dinner table in real, although often uncomfortable, discussions about Latino youth."

"Because if not us, then who?"

Illustration by Julio Salgado

Loading Slideshow...
  • Activists Organize March And Rally Against Police Stop And Frisks

    NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27: Opponents of the New York Police Department’s controversial 'stop-and-frisk' policy rally on January 27, 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The NYPD says the stops assist crime prevention while opponents say they involve racial profiling and civil rights abuses. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, during the first nine months of 2011 514,461 city residents were stopped by the NYPD. 451,469 were innocent (88 percent), while 54 percent were black, 31 percent Latino and 9 percent white. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Workers And Activists Protest Outside Of Trader Joe's Store Demanding Fair Farm Labor Standards

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 28: Members and supporters of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) protest outside a Trader Joes store in Manhattan February 28, 2011 in New York City. The Florida farmworkers pick tomatoes for Trader Joes and other companies and are asking for workplace conditions to improve and for wages, which havent been raised since 1978, to be increased. The workers say Trader Joes has refused to sign a food pledge to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators Protest Wells Fargo's Banking Practices

    DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 25: Immigrant rights activist Judith Marquez chants with fellow protesters outside a Wells Fargo bank branch on October 25, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. Demonstrators say Wells Fargo is a major shareholder in the private prison company GEO Group, Inc, which houses thousands of undocumented immigrants, many scheduled for deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Several of the demonstrators closed their bank accounts Tuesday as part of the protest and presented bank officials with a document listing hundreds more clients who plan to withdraw their accounts because of the bank's policies. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Activists Across U.S. March For Immigration Reform

    NEW YORK - MAY 01: Hundreds of activists, supporters of illegal immigrants and members of the Latino community rally against a new Arizona law in Union Square on May Day on May 1, 2010 in New York City. Following the state of Arizona's passage of a new immigration law which requires individuals suspected of being illegal immigrants to show proof of legal residence when asked by law enforcement, immigration supporters have been protesting across the country. The law has become increasingly divisive, with Mexico's president issuing a travel warning to Mexican citizens in Arizona. Thousands of people are taking part in similar protests around the country on May Day, a traditional day of protest around the world. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • East Haven Mayor And Police Department Embroiled In Controversy Over Treatment Of Hispanic Community

    EAST HAVEN, CT - FEBRUARY 01: East Haven clergy members and local parishioners attend a news conference to show their solidarity with the towns Latino community following arrests of local police officers on February 1, 2012 in East Haven, Connecticut. Following an investigation by the FBI, four East Haven police officers were arrested last week and accused of abusing Latinos in the working class community of 28,000 people which was predominately white a generation ago. A recent civil rights investigation which was released last month revealed a pattern of discriminatory policing East Haven and the town has been warned by the U.S. Justice Department to make reforms. The arrested officers have been accused of subjecting Hispanics to beatings and false arrests among other things. Currently East Haven's Latino population is around 10 percent. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Immigrant Mother Of American Children Attends Deportation Hearing

    DENVER, CO - JULY 13: Supporters of undocumented Mexican immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra show their support during Vizguerra's immigration hearing in federal court on July 13, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. At the hearing, the court said it would not release a verdict on her possible deportation until October, leaving her and her family in continued uncertainty. Vizguerra is a mother of four children, three of whom were born in the U.S. as American citizens. If Vizguerra is deported back to Mexico, she says her husband and children will stay on in the United States. Just one of millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., Vizguerra first came to Colorado from Mexico City with her husband and first child 14 years before. Now an activist for the immigration advocate group Rights For All People, she also owns a janitorial service and says she has always paid state and federal taxes on her income. Some two years ago she was stopped by a traffic policemen for driving with expired tags and taken to jail when she could not prove her legal immigration status. Out on bail during court proceedings, she now faces the real possibility that she will be deported to Mexico and separated from her family in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

  • Workers And Activists Protest Outside Of Trader Joe's Store Demanding Fair Farm Labor Standards

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 28: Members and supporters of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) protest outside a Trader Joes store in Manhattan February 28, 2011 in New York City. The Florida farmworkers pick tomatoes for Trader Joes and other companies and are asking for workplace conditions to improve and for wages, which havent been raised since 1978, to be increased. The workers say Trader Joes has refused to sign a food pledge to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Immigration-rights activists stage a rally calling for immigration legislation

    Immigration-rights activists stage a rally calling for the government to act on immigration legislation, outside the venue of President Barack Obama's Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser in Los Angeles on August 16, 2010. President Barack Obama recently signed a bill that tightens security at the Mexico border, hoping to address the hot issue of illegal immigration in the run-up to November congressional elections. The 600-million-dollar legislation hikes visa fees for some IT workers entering the United States, and has had been slammed by Indian industry. The fee increases pay for 1,000 new US Border Patrol agents to form a 'strike force' for quick deployment, 250 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as well as 250 new Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry. It also boosts communications among law-enforcement officials. AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Counter-Protesting A National Socialist Movement Anti-Immigration Rally

    RIVERSIDE, CA - OCTOBER 24: Counter-protesters chant at members of the white supremacist group, the National Socialist Movement, from behind a line police officers at the NSM