The kerfuffles over undocumented immigrants and same-sex marriage are usually competing and unresolved hot-button issues for voters heading toward the ballot box, but immigration advocates and LGBTQ rights groups have long tried to get their constituencies working together. Historically, such efforts have been abysmal, but now CASA de Maryland, a community organization advocating for undocumented immigrants, has formed an alliance with Equality Maryland and the Latino GLBT History Project. This might be the first such alliance in the country. The alliance (albeit not an uncontentious one) will allow proponents of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and proponents of same-sex marriage to pull support from each other's bases at the ballot box. Theoretically the move is brilliant. It's a strength-through-unity approach.
An April report from the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that 59 percent of Latinos accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Americans. And an April report released by the National Council of La Raza and Social Science Research Solutions found that 54 percent of Hispanics support same-sex marriage, a higher percentage than the general population, and certainly a far greater percentage than in my community.
In 2008, according to the Pew Research Center, approximately 95 percent of the African-American populace cast their ballots for Obama, but only 26 percent were in favor of same-sex marriage. In April 2012, a month before Obama publicly announced his support for marriage equality, 49 percent of African Americans opposed same-sex marriage, according to Pew results, while only 39 percent were in favor of it. And since Obama's announcement endorsing marriage equality, some African-American ministers have come out more vociferously against Obama.
Similarly, many conservative Latino religious leaders are strong opponents of marriage equality and have come out forcefully against the new alliance between CASA de Maryland, Equality Maryland and the Latino GLBT History Project. The Rev. Heber D. Paredes of Iglesia Roca de la Eternidad, a Hispanic Pentecostal church in Landover Hills, Md., espouses a typical and uninformed view of marriage. "Why does man want to redefine what God already established?" Paredes said to an approving congregation. "Man is not the inventor of marriage! God is!" Like most anti-gay religious leaders, he's a prominent cleric in conservative circles, and his influence is far-reaching. His community clout with parishioners is as strong and powerful as that of African-American ministers.
These Latino religious leaders see an alliance between immigration activists and same-sex marriage activists not only as exploitative but as a deal with the devil, and they feel deeply betrayed. Do we have to compromise our theological beliefs to gain legal documentation? they wonder. Religiously conservative families feel CASA has veered from its mission in order to promulgate a gay agenda under the guise of helping Latino immigrants. "It surprises me," Maria Delgado, 30, of Hyattsville, Md., told The Washington Post. "Because really they help people to work, they help people with families."
CASA has provided immigrant services to Latino families through the years. Founded in 1985, CASA "was created in response to the human needs of the thousands of Central Americans arriving to the D.C. area after fleeing wars and civil strife in their countries of origin." But overlooked and too often not reported are the thousands of Central Americans coming to the U.S. fleeing anti-gay persecution. These Central Americans are not only here because of the civil wars going on in their countries but because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status. Central American countries like Panama, Nicaragua, Belize and Honduras, to name just a few, do not allow their LGBTQ citizens to serve openly in the military, nor do they recognize same-sex unions, marriages or adoptions. And none of these countries has a hate crimes bill.
But attitudes and times are changing for a younger generation. Younger LGBTQ Central Americans here in the states are not only coming out to their families but are helping others in their communities come out. Because they see the intersectionality of various forms of oppression, it is easier for them to form alliances. For example, according to The Washington Post:
As a gay, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, Edwin Guil, 22, says he is used to being discriminated against. But when a gay friend recently said he was not going to vote for President Obama because of his program to stop deporting some undocumented immigrant youths, Guil, a student at Montgomery College, decided it was time for some cross-cultural education.
For disenfranchised groups to thrive, they must form alliances with each other, alliances that not only strengthen their respective causes but genuinely unite people across their differences. Latino activists in Maryland are operating, as least theoretically, within a paradigm we social justice activists espouse.
Come November, the ballot results will determine the success of the alliance forged between CASA de Maryland, Equality Maryland and Latino GLBT History Project. The proof will be in the pudding.