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Suyapa Portillo

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The Los Angeles May Day 'Queer Contingent' and the Politics of Inclusion

Posted: 05/05/2012 5:27 am

"I love a queer immigrant!" The words, amidst colorful rainbow flags, were part of the 2012 May Day immigration march in downtown Los Angeles, and emphasize the intersection of immigrant and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) organized groups, communities and their issues. The LGBTQ community, still entrenched in a civil rights struggle that began well before Proposition 8 won at the ballot box, is also demanding legalization for all immigrants.

In 2008, the "May Day Queer Contingent" was organized to provide a space for LGBTQ immigrants to stake their claims in the larger May Day march for immigrant rights. Although the first efforts began in 2007 and 2008, the largest turnout came in 2010 on the eve of the passage of SB1070 in Arizona, when over 500 LGBTQ community members demonstrated and ultimately became 'out and proud' immigrants. Red shirts, rainbow pride flags, and bilingual chants caught the attention of the larger immigration movement and the mainstream LGBTQ movement alike. This year, as the May Day immigrant workers' mobilization took to the streets, 32 LGBTQ immigrant organizations again united as the "May Day Queer Contingent," and demanded attention for the intersectionality of the issues they face.

LGBTQ immigrants are conceivably the most invisible and ignored group within what has become an extremely heteronormative immigration movement; given the state of the LGBTQ community within the larger civil rights movement, this is no surprise. Transgender immigrants are vulnerable in detention centers and often face peril if deported to their country of origin. The United States isn't the Mecca of safety LGBTQ immigrants expected when they came. However, they are a little safer here than back home. LGBTQ immigrants marching with the Queer Contingent challenge mainstream LGBTQ organizations to engage in the fight for rights of their LGBTQ members who are also members of the immigrant population. The strength of the LGBTQ immigrants' demands lie in their visibility.

Immigration reform is not a priority for the Obama administration; increasing deportations, long term detentions without trial, and the sharing of information between local law enforcement, federal agencies and immigration customs agencies are now commonplace. We know the right-wing logic behind Arizona-style copy cat laws: to create conditions so cruel and harsh that immigrants will be forced to leave...What is Obama's logic?

For LGBTQ, particularly transgender, immigrants, the partnership between local law enforcement, federal agencies and Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) inevitably lead to violence. Besides discrimination by the local police, transgender immigrants also face such peril in detention that Colorado Congressman Jared Polis recently said that "LGBTQ migrants appear to be special targets for abuse" and called for a government investigation. In 2007, 67% of inmates who identified as LGBT were assaulted. Additionally, "sexual assault is 13 times more prevalent among transgender inmates, with 59% reporting being sexually assaulted." The US Government estimates over 216,660 sexual abuse cases are reported every year. Among LGBTQ immigrant inmates, many more likely remain unreported.

An LGBTQ immigrant in detention faces potential rape or being housed in isolation - up to 23 hours a day - a punishment that is usually reserved for violent criminals. This is bad enough, but deportation is the real fear. "Out" members of the LGBTQ community in the United States face hardship, to be sure. But in an immigrant's home country intolerance, abandonment, workplace, school, and public discrimination, violence, and death are additional and real threats. In Honduras alone there have been over 41 unsolved murders of transgender individuals and gay men since the 2009 coup d'état. The murders aren't investigated, their perpetrators aren't caught, and the coroner's office won't conduct autopsies, sometimes citing HIV/AIDS as the official cause of death when there is clear violent trauma caused by guns and knives.

For those LGBTQ immigrants who remain in the United States, their families are marginalized and their reunification needs are not recognized by state or federal policies. Marriage is not an option for family reunification under the current DOMA federal law, and one partner cannot petition for the other's legalization.

Why is there is such silence around LGBTQ immigration, despite compelling cases of civil rights violations in detention and family reunification limitations? Are religious institutions, who provide funding for many immigration campaigns tied to the silence? Or is it related to larger forces of homophobia and stigma which inevitably spill over into immigrant organizing work? The intersectionality (of race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and immigration status) makes the LGBTQ communities' claims compelling. This also keeps the issue on the margins of the larger immigration movements' agenda which seeks to integrate immigrants into the fabric of a problematic (and heteronormative) America.

 
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