The country saw this recently in the handling of the comprehensive immigration reform package when conservative senators in the Senate Judiciary Committee claimed they could not support reform that would protect gay and lesbian families. So they blocked an amendment, the Uniting American Families Act, or UAFA, that would have allowed gay and lesbian citizens to sponsor their partner for residency.
In fact, most Americans feel that gay and lesbian US citizens should be able to keep their families together – just like anyone else. According to a recent poll by Latino Decisions, 64 percent of Latinos think that citizens who are lesbian or gay should also have the right to sponsor their partner for residency.
Republican senators like Marco Rubio (Fla.) and John McCain (Ariz.) created a false choice between benefitting all immigrants and benefiting gay and lesbian immigrants in bi-national couples along with them. They chose to pluck out one group of families —those who are LGBT—and put them, yet again, in another, lower class. What is worse is that Democrats in the Senate with pro-LGBT records went along with this false choice. Elected officials who have said they support gay and lesbian families refused to take a stand.
The senators who stood in the way of keeping gay and lesbian families together were not considering the best interests of all immigrants. Some conservatives may be hopeful that the LGBT community will now abandon our push for comprehensive immigration reform.
Hardly. It's bad enough that gay and lesbian families were left behind when UAFA was dumped. We'll not add insult to injury by letting even more LGBT people go unprotected by much needed reform.
Not only are we still hopeful that UAFA will be introduced on the floor of the Senate, but GLAAD and our partners in the LGBT community stand firm in our efforts to see reform for all undocumented immigrants in this country, including the approximately 267,000 who are also LGBT. There are many ways in which fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform legislation can impact LGBT undocumented immigrants.
LGBT undocumented immigrants face many of the same hardships as other undocumented people and sometimes worse experiences because of anti-LGBT discrimination. LGBT people are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, subjected to workplace raids, have fewer rights at work and they suffer if incarcerated and deported. They also have undocumented family members and friends who are not LGBT and who are also living in hiding, punished daily by an immigration system that unfairly criminalizes people.
GLAAD and our partners in the LGBT community will continue to support reform for all undocumented immigrants. LGBT organizations will not forget that the immigrant rights community has often stood with us in the face of adversity. Last year in Colorado the group Compañeros was threatened by the Catholic hierarchy with funding cuts for belonging to an immigrant rights coalition that supports LGBT equality. Compañeros stood firm in their beliefs, and lost nearly 50% of its operating budget because of this brave decision. Casa de Maryland threw its support behind the successful statewide marriage equality ballot measure last November. CAUSA, an immigrant rights organization in Oregon, has been working for years to ensure that all LGBT people are treated with dignity and respect.
And of course, the League of United Latin American Citizens and National Council of La Raza —national Latino organizations, that represent the largest segment of the undocumented population—voted to support marriage equality last summer.
Anti-gay leaders know that the immigrant rights and LGBT communities are stronger when we work together, and they don't like when our communities succeed together. Now more than ever, we must be united. Recently, some senators like Rubio, expressed that they may have new reasons not to support reform. First, it was inclusion of UAFA, now it's something else. You either support comprehensive immigration reform or you do not.
It's clear we have much work to do to achieve reform. We won't be swayed by the lack of leadership from a dysfunctional Congress. And we mustn't allow an ugly by-product of this debate to be that false construction of LGBT people versus immigrants: many people are both LGBT and immigrants. It's not us versus anyone. We're in this together. The United States is at its best when it's just that—united.
Dave Montez is Acting President of GLAAD.