In 2001 I landed in Miami after an eight-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The night before, I gave my mother a warm hug before she whispered in my ear, "If anyone asks, you are going to Disney World." I cried the entire way to Miami, because I was overcome by fear of being away from the woman who had taken care of me since birth. My mother was never able to move to the U.S.A., and we are still apart from each other. She has missed Christmases, birthdays and even my wedding. When I speak to her on the phone, she still treats me as a 14-year-old. I can't blame her; she didn't see me grow up.
When I hit puberty I realized that I was attracted to other men, and my journey as an immigrant and a queer person began. All at the same time, I was in a foreign land, away from my mother and trying to figure out what to do about my sexual orientation. I was afraid of coming out and getting kicked out of my house, then having to deal with the pain of being rejected from a homeless shelter because of my lack of a Florida ID. I share this with you because my immigrant experience can never be divided from my queer experience. I'm an undocumented queer man in a Southern state. When I go out into the world and people notice my accent, they treat me differently. When I hold my husband's hand in public, they stare at me with prejudice. In public demonstrations passers-by don't separate those identities when they simultaneously yell, "Go back to Mexico!" and, "Faggot!"
Even the way I'm affected by DOMA is a lot different from the experience of most married gay people in the country. Others may be concerned about their wills and their taxes, but I'm fighting tooth and nail so that my husband can sponsor me for immigration purposes so that we can stay together and are not separated by deportation. But I'm not the only LGBTQ undocumented immigrant; there are actually more than 250,000 people in the same boat. Immigration reform is an equality issue as much as any other pertinent issue in our community.
What I love about the LGBTQ community is our diversity of experiences, and our stories, but the different ways that discrimination touches our lives creates a special challenge for leaders in our movement, a challenge we need to meet head-on. Recently two incidents that occurred during the marriage equality rallies in Washington, D.C., have deeply hurt individuals, but those incidents also hurt our movement's ability to reach out and address issues hurting the immigrant and trans* communities. One of the greatest realizations I had over the last few days is how far we have come as a community. Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case, said in an interview that her wife gave her a button because 44 years ago it was too dangerous for them to wear rings. The Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 are more than just legal rights for our community; it's about being recognized as human beings, and it's about being free from the darkness of the closet. It's morally and ethically wrong to force anyone to hide any part of who they are.
For many years I thought I would never have a place in the LGBTQ movement; I didn't feel fully respected or that my voice was fully heard until the day GetEQUAL reached out to a few queer undocumented youth back in 2010. They asked us what we could do together to push for both the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the passage of the DREAM Act. We created points of unity and did joint rallies in Miami and Chicago in order to show Congress that we weren't going to choose between one issue or the other. When the DREAM Act failed, I was distraught and tired, but a new type of hope had arisen in me because of the partnership forged between the DREAM movement and GetEQUAL. In 2011 undocumented youth trained GetEQUAL's organizers in Memphis, Tenn., and I became even more drawn to the commitment GetEQUAL has to social justice. Two years later GetEQUAL once again made history by becoming the first national LGBTQ organization to be co-directed by an undocumented immigrant and a woman.Working in coalitions presents both benefits and challenges. As one of the members of the coordinating committee that led the efforts around the country and in D.C., GetEQUAL wants to reaffirm our commitment to being radically inclusive. Our commitment to inclusiveness is deep, and it is reflected in our campaigns, our organizational culture and our leadership. We have deliberately debated how to respond to the issues that happened on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. We have decided to go beyond just an apology and create a few organizational commitments -- commitments that we expect that the community will hold us accountable to:
- We are committed to making sure that the voices of trans people and people of color are part of our leadership bodies, such as the board directors and our organizing structures.
- We will push like hell for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, because we will not let more than 250,000 LGBTQ immigrants live under the constant threat of deportation.
- We will continue pressuring President Obama to sign the executive order that can protect 25 percent of the labor force in this country against workplace discrimination. We will also push Congress to pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), one that would protect our trans* sisters and brothers, so that all of our people can thrive in this tough economy.
- We will continue highlighting and honoring, through our local and national organizing, the beauty in the diversity of experiences in our community.
We deserve real leadership on issues that hurt the most marginalized members of our community. We concede that, as human beings, we are bound to face shortcomings at some points along the way, but in those moments of failure, we hope that the commitments above will guide our response, and that the community will hold us accountable to them. We will never stop fighting so that every voice and every experience is honored through our advocacy and organizing, and until we are all fully equal under the law.