LGBTQ community converges with immigration reform movement

Trey Allen rallies LGBTQ protesters as he waves his flag in front of the Out 4 Immigration Association that is marching down Mission Street for May Day on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Photo by Frank Leal/Xpress
Trey Allen rallies LGBTQ protesters as he waves his flag in front of the Out 4 Immigration Association that is marching down Mission Street for May Day Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Photo by Frank Leal / Xpress

Rosario Castro had to come out twice in her life. The first time, she came out as a lesbian when she was 15. Nine years later she came out of the shadows as an undocumented person.

She didn’t officially reveal her immigration status on any particular day, but instead slowly started being unashamed of being in the country illegally.

“I felt 10 times more shame about being undocumented than I did about being gay,” Castro said. “Because as far as being gay, I felt I can do nothing about it. But being undocumented solely was identified by being poor, by being Latino, which later I found out is not true at all.”

Castro is now one of many who push for comprehensive immigration reform, a movement that is being driven by numerous forces and the LGBTQ community has clandestinely been on the forefront.

Openly gay immigrant activists include artist Julio Salgado, known for his political illustrations which became a staple of the DREAM Act movement, and Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder of Define American. Many organizers from networks like United We Dream and are also LGBTQ.

“I say it’s a similar struggle,” Castro said, who is part of the East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition. “It’s people being prejudiced towards you. People being homophobic; people being racist. “

Castro was one of the 1.4 million immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act until last year when she was approved for a green card after proving her life was at risk — for being lesbian — if she returned to her pueblo in Sinaloa, Mexico. Yet, she still identifies as being “undocuqueer,” a term used by mostly young, queer, undocumented immigrants.

The term and identity, she said, creates a safe space for LGBTQ immigrants to participate in the immigration debate, giving double meaning to the slogan chanted by DREAMers: undocumented and unafraid.

A double meaning that also calls for a double struggle: the call for queer rights.

SF State senior Fernando Cázares said although he follows the immigration debate, he was unaware of the LGBTQ community’s involvement.

“The first thing I think of when you say immigration is Latino or Asian people, but it doesn’t surprise me that they are involved at all,” he said. “I feel, at least in my personal experience with my friends and people I know that are in the LGBT community, they’re in general more active socially, than I guess non-LGBT; probably because they are discriminated against so they have to be more active.”

Out4Immigration, an organization that lobbies politicians to allow gay and lesbian couples to petition for their partners legal residency also participates in rallies.

“I think the LGBT community has been trying more and more to really address who’s been excluded from the conversation about our rights,” said Eric Shwabel, an organizer for Out4Immigraiton whose partner of more than nine years became unauthorized after his work visa expired.

Currently the U.S. does not allow citizens to petition for a same-sex spouse or domestic partner because it does not recognize same-sex marriage. Shwabel said they have considered many options to resolve his partner’s legal predicament, even if it meant he would move to his partner’s homeland, the Philippines, or another country that does recognize their union, but emigration would prove a lot more difficult.

“We looked into every possibility and the only possibility was for us to stay here,” Shwabel said. “And he’s someone who’s never broken a law in his life, but my partner was willing to break the law for us to stay together.”