At Chicago's May 1 immigration march and rally. Photo by Marie-Jo Proulx
Being born in this country does not give you full citizenship rights—nor does being born in this country guarantee you life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
People who enter this country without proper documentation are called illegal aliens. But those of us who are born here and are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, women or people of color are all treated as resident aliens.
America has always maintained a separate and unequal society for its denizens and there is no greater moment for the LGBTQ civil-rights movement to shed light on America's hypocrisy concerning full U.S. citizenship rights than the issue of immigration.
Very little separates these two communities when it comes to issues of marriage equality, adoption rights, housing, health and labor. And there is no greater example for the LGBTQ community to see our plight inextricably tied to the plight of our immigrant brothers and sisters than the immigration challenges faced by LGBTQ couples.
Full citizenship rights have always escaped marginal and disenfranchised groups in this country, and full citizenship rights have always been the litmus test of how invested America is in having a multicultural democracy.
And America's investment has always been anemic when it comes to its LGBTQ citizens.
Take marriage, for example. Just as federal laws in this country do not recognize same-sex unions between LGBTQ U.S. citizens and their non-citizen partners, neither do these laws recognize the union of two queer U.S. citizens unless you reside in Massachusetts, and then it's only recognized by the state.
But Massachusetts has its own borderline when it comes to same-sex unions. With the recent reaffirmation of a 1913 law originally intended as a color line to prohibit interracial couples from coming into Massachusetts to get married, those same-sex couples who do not reside, or have no plans to reside, in the Bay State cannot come here to get legally married.
And then there is the issue of LGBTQ housing and the 'there goes the neighborhood' syndrome. While America cries out that it will not house illegal aliens from outside of its borders, it must be told that America has never been invested in housing its changing demographics inside its borders.
We are all too familiar with classic tales of Negrophobia—past and present—when one Black family moves into the neighborhood and white flight invariably takes hold.
America has always feared the browning of America. So, too, does this country fear the gaying of America.
It's one thing to have gay bookstores, gay nightclubs, gay neighborhoods and even a couple of gay families worshiping in straight churches and attending seminaries, but for many the boundaries were pushed too far and borders had to be erected when the Episcopal Church consecrated a gay bishop, Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Moreover, the Catholic Church would rather shut its doors, like it did to gay adoption, than allow an openly gay pope to emerge from under its homophobic vestments.
While it is clear that our country's investment is neither in illegal immigrants nor its LGBTQ citizens, it is, however, not so clear whether both communities will work together in getting America to dismantle its borders against them.
It is also clear that both communities are not mutually exclusive, as evidenced by the recent report released by Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality entitled 'Family Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial and the Fate of Binational Same-Sex Couples Under U.S. Law.' But it is not so clear if the larger LGBTQ community sees this as their issue.
And I worry that if the larger LGBTQ community does not see immigration reform as part of its larger struggle for full citizenship rights in this country, then the larger LGBTQ community will once again confront similar struggles as it did when pushing its marriage equality agenda until it got on the bandwagon with communities of color.
The marriage equality debate did not have people of color in its initial struggle, but not because we did not see its importance in our communities or within the larger context of queer civil rights. Our lack of involvement in the initial struggle was because the larger LGBTQ community did not see it.
The larger LGBTQ community historically has not done well in the area of coalition building among different marginal populations inside and outside of its geographical and ideological borders. And its efforts to reach out to communities of color have either been anemic or nonexistent.
There is no better time than now to create a wider support base in our struggle for full citizenship rights than on the issue of immigration reform.
And if we don't embrace this issue, then we will have become the border to our own civil rights.