"So... dude... I'm undocumented," Caeser said, rocking nervously. Although Caeser and I would later become close friends, packed into a car for weeks at a time burning the candle at both ends in a profound way, at the time, we were just two guys in a library still just getting to know each other. I was fully ignorant of immigration law and all that being undocumented meant then, but I could not help but notice how much Caeser reminded me of one my LGBT friends coming out to me in high school back in the '90s: his narrative had a same desperate, "I have something to tell you about myself and I hope you don't think less of me because of it" to it.
A revelation like this can inspire an ordinarily articulate individual to condense an entire biography into a few blurted-out sentences. This is only one of many similarities between the LGBT community and the undocumented community, and one of many reasons these two communities have grown so close. With the DOMA decision expected any day now, fighting in the Senate over an LGBT amendment to the Gang of 8 bill and all the ugliness same-sex marriage can drag out of our political process, it bears reminding that this is a debate about families, about our culture and about the foundation both economically and values-wise of our American society: civil rights.
Caeser's nerves in the library of our law school reminded me of Gina, a friend of mine from high school who came out to of the closet to me for the first time. This is not the first mention of this parallel, however.
At an undocuqueer meeting in Arizona, LGBT DREAMers explained how they felt that they came out of the closet twice, and both times with similar consequences: their friends that were not LGBT would treat them differently and make nervous jokes about them being gay, while their LGBT friends would often be similarly uncomfortable and insensitive about them being undocumented.
There were a lot of difficult stories to share that were told in that room: the young man who promised himself every birthday that he would come out of the closet to his family; another young man talked of how his religious parents didn't accept him being gay, saying that God would not make a gay person, why do you choose to be gay?; another spoke of fellow DREAMers within the movement who were at first uncomfortable when he came out, and how he would have to "tone down the gay" while working in the immigrant rights movement.
When asked what was a harder coming out, a gay DREAMer answered:
"They're both very different: it's harder to come out as gay, because people have more of an emotional reaction to that; some people who you considered close friends are just outright disgusted by you, or treat you completely differently from now on. Being undocumented is harder though: as a gay man I could get a job and support myself comparatively easily than as an undocumented man, and there's still a strong stigma."
Another DREAMer tearfully remembered how he could not see his grandfather in Mexico; even on his deathbed the man would not see him because he knew that his grandson would have to take a dangerous trip across the border again if he did. When the funeral was a few months later, he had to miss that as well.
These undocuqueer issues are not restricted to just the stories in that room in Arizona, nor are they confined to single people. LGBT families have come out more and more in our society, and have found a large measure of acceptance. People like the very eloquent Zack Wahls has spoken to Congress, sharing his experience of being raised by a lesbian couple a la Heather Has Two Mommies, and one of Michelle Bachmanns many low points was being confronted and rhetorically beaten by an 8-year-old boy, Elijah, who said, "my mom is gay but she doesn't need any fixing." These same families exist within immigrant community, but face even more obstacles.
For a good example, look no further than Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, a DREAMer who married Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez. Because of the archaic immigration system and discrimination against LGBT families, Felipe can not apply for status through his marriage. Felipe and Isabel took a young man into their home, whose story before he met them makes one wonder where Child Protective Services was. When asked about the men who called him "son," he had this to say:
"Man, these folks gave me the meaning to the word family. I never understood what it meant to have a family until they opened their hearts, and stretched their arms out for me. It's beautiful how our struggles intertwined with each others,' and we intersected to find stability and unity alongside each other. I used to hesitantly laugh it off when they would call me their son, but then I realized that it was real. That there souls cared for mine. And that's how I came to recognize them as my parents."
Does any of this really need to be fought against? Unfortunately, there are senators willing to jump ship on the Gang of 8 bill if it includes LGBT rights that would help people like Felipe, Zack Wahls and Elijah keep their loving families together.
It seems obvious that young American voters are more and more in favor of LGBT rights, even on the Republican side: those who speak out against gay marriage are quickly becoming analogous to the last guys in Congress using the "N-Word," and a legislator would not want to be the last one to get that memo.