Op-ed: Coming Out as Gay And Undocumented

Nearly 10 years after coming to the U.S. as an undocumented child, and two years after coming out as gay to his family, Juan Pedro Garcia Machado is fighting for his rights on many fronts.



Although I was busy trying to convince everyone else that I was still worthy of their respect and love, I still really wasn’t sure myself that I was a decent person. I didn’t have any personal role models or mentors who were gay, and I was struggling with what kind of man I was going to become. Then I met several members of the LGBT community from different backgrounds who changed my life, and who have become my family. From them, I’ve learned that gay men can be respected individuals who can achieve their personal and professional goals.

It took some time, but with their love and support, and that of the other allies I’m lucky to have in my life, I feel like the jury found in my favor. I’m confident that I’m a worthy human being, and that if my new role models are OK being gay, then I will be OK, too. Though I do recognize that discrimination and violence against the LGBT community still exist, it feels like things are getting better. I know that one day I will not be viewed as less because of my sexual orientation. Except there’s one area in which I feel I’ll always be judged harshly. In addition to being gay, I am still an undocumented immigrant, or what is sometimes referred to as undoqueer.

I don’t reveal my status because detention, deportation, or vigilante violence are real risks for undocumented immigrants. But I’m ready to come out about being undocumented now. I’m ready to face the jury and present my evidence that I deserve a chance. Thanks to the new policy established by the Obama administration, the thousands of other young undocumented immigrants living in America now have the chance to stop looking over their shoulders for immigration authorities.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 15, and who fulfill certain other criteria, to apply to remain and work legally in the U.S. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. I will still have to make the case every two years that I deserve to exist in the United States. And though the way has been smoothed a bit, I’m still essentially at an immigration dead end. Immigrants granted the chance to remain in the U.S. under DACA still do not have a path to citizenship, or even legal residency.

Even with the DACA protections, I’m afraid this coming out trial is going to be much harder than the first one for several reasons. Though a segment of America still does not accept the LGBT community, probably no one believes they are poor, uneducated, drains on the U.S. economy. But much of the country still views undocumented immigrants as the reason for the recent economic downturn, the decline of public education, and the health insurance crisis. I’m afraid I will always have to struggle to prove that I’m paying my way.

Also, we undoqueer don’t have many role models to guide and reassure us that we are going to survive this trial. So far, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas is one of the only openly gay undocumented public figures we can look to for inspiration. And since we undoqueer don’t have a strong community supporting us, it feels like I’m facing the jury by myself. If we are to win over the jury in this case, we need the full support — organizational, financial, and political — of the LGBT community, who must embrace the idea of equality for its members at all levels.


JUAN PEDRO GARCIA-MACHADO is a graduate of San Diego State University. MARY JEWELL, Ed.D., is a teacher and immigrant rights advocate in San Diego.

Tags: Commentary