By Victoria A. Brownworth
Originally published on Advocate.com May 24 2013 12:35 PM ET
When will the Democrats be our allies in more than name only?
It’s a reasonable question.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in every Congress but one since 1994, but it has yet to pass, even when both the House and Senate has Democratic majorities, as recently as 2010.
There are several Democratic senators who still refuse to support marriage equality, even though several states have legalized same-sex marriage in the past month.
The Uniting American Families Act would have allowed American citizens to apply for green cards for their foreign same-sex spouses. Current immigration law allows heterosexual married couples to apply for green cards for their spouses. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, that same rule does not apply to lesbian and gay couples.
But Senate Democrats refused to put it to a vote.
The UAFA amendment to the immigration reform bill was withdrawn by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, the same day he sponsored it. Leahy said the UAFA would put the "fragile" coalition between Republicans and Democrats on immigration reform at risk, because Republicans were against the LGBT amendment.
Other Democratic supporters of the amendment, notably Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Charles Schumer of New York, all stated their "regret" over not being able to sign on to the amendment, but each urged Leahy to withdraw it.
Leahy said he withdrew the amendment with "a heavy heart."
Here’s a heavy heart for you, Senator Leahy: Let’s take Marcelle, your wife of 51 years, and toss her in another country. Let’s leave her there until someone in the Senate has the guts to proffer a bill that will allow her to join you in America.
Then you will understand heavy heart.
Leahy has been quoted as saying about his wife, "We hate it when we are apart from each other."
What makes him think lesbian and gay couples don’t feel the same thing?
What makes any of these married heterosexual senators think we don’t feel the same way about our partners as they do about theirs?
Anyone who has been partnered with someone in another country has experienced those gut-wrenching airport farewells. I did it years ago; I know how it feels. Every time you visit for an extended period you get grilled by customs: You here again? As a journalist, I had better access than most. But customs was always uncomfortable and leaving was always painful. As was waiting for the next visit.
Because your partner is there and you are here.
LGBT Americans are the Democrats’ house Negroes. I’m sorry if that comparison offends anyone, but it’s the most accurate societal comparison I can make. The Democrats let us come right up close and then remind us we are really just there to serve them with our votes and campaign contributions.
I’m not sure what it was about the immigration amendment vote that made me so angry — it’s not like being thrown under the political bus hasn’t become a commonplace for LGBT Americans. Maybe it was because I know what those airport farewells are like. Or maybe it was just the cumulative effect of the Democrats screwing me and every other LGBT person in America over time and again. Or maybe it felt racist in addition to homophobic.
At present over 50,000 lesbian and gay couples would be impacted by the amendment being withdrawn. That’s a lot of tears in a lot of airports around the world.
But immigration reform for LGBT people isn’t just about lesbian and gay married couples. It’s also about LGBT people who either want to come here or need to come here because where they live, they could be beaten, raped, imprisoned, or killed for being queer. That includes a plethora of countries around the world — as far away as Africa, Asia, and Russia and as close as Cuba, Jamaica, and Barbados. There are 82 countries worldwide with laws making just being queer illegal.
Immigration reform that includes LGBT people is important for women and men from all those countries as well as the ones where marriages are forced on lesbians or coercive rape is used against lesbians, as it is in South Africa and Jamaica.
Approval of asylum because of sexual orientation has become more difficult under the Obama administration. Undocumented immigrants seeking asylum must be interviewed by immigration officers. These officers can approve the application for asylum or the case can go to an immigration judge.
But LGBT people asking for asylum based on sexual orientation have to prove they are queer — and that their queerness will mean persecution if they are returned to their country of origin. "Proof" is stringent: affidavits from same-sex partners, police reports indicating violent attacks, hospital records of attacks.
Immigration rights groups working with undocumented persons seeking asylum note, however, that proving someone is lesbian or gay can be very difficult, especially if the person seeking asylum isn’t flagrantly open because in their country of origin they were forced to hide their sexual orientation or face extreme consequences.
So a Ugandan gay man who might be killed if he is deported has to prove he’s really gay to straight immigration officers?
But queer undocumented immigrants aren’t just asylum seekers — they are also just people who want to live here, not there.
How many are there?
If there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., somewhere around 10% of them are likely to be queer. Of those 11 million, how many undocumented parents have LGBT children?
An estimated 8% of California’s population is undocumented immigrants. New York and Illinois have about 5% each. That’s a lot of people for Feinstein, Schumer, and Durbin to throw under the bus.
But it’s not just congressional Democrats saying one thing and doing another with regard to LGBT people and immigration reform.
According to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, President Obama has deported more undocumented people per month than any other president — nearly twice as many per month as George W. Bush, with nearly 1.7 million deportees since he took office.
Among those deportees have been LGBT people, including those in long-term relationships and even those with children.
Last year a San Francisco couple who had been married in Massachusetts in 2004 and had been together for 19 years lost their highly publicized immigration battle when Anthony Makk, a native Australian, was deported. Makk had applied for U.S. citizenship to stay with his spouse, Bradford Wells, but was denied, despite meeting the criteria set by the Obama administration that is supposed to allow for discretion with regard to families.
At the rate of deportation — a half million people were deported last year — will LGBT people even be able to apply for citizenship or asylum before they are deported?
The public hand-wringing by Leahy, Feinstein, Schumer, and Durbin as each asserted their support for LGBT people is utterly meaningless when they then do nothing.There is no excuse for jettisoning the civil rights of one group in the hope of gaining some for another. There is no excuse for saying "now is not the time" to argue for equality.
Last month marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
I wish the president and Democrats in Congress (and Republicans, but I have even less hope for them) would read it.
As King explains why he cannot sit back and ignore injustice in Alabama, he notes, "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’"
That is where queer Americans stand with the Democrats: We are told perpetually to wait and we are being denied justice. We have waited 20 years for ENDA — for the privilege to keep our jobs. Yet just last month a lesbian teacher was fired from her job when her employer read she was a lesbian in her mother’s obituary.
That case made the news. How many other LGBT people lost their jobs and we didn’t hear about it? How long must we continue to wait for the most basic of civil rights? How long must we continue to listen to the well-meaning "allies" who are really covert bigots as they assert that some of their best friends are, but really, please, not now, just wait?
Senator Durbin said that UAFA was "the right and just thing," but then said, "this is the wrong moment."
How can there be a wrong moment to do what is right and just?
We queers call the Republicans our enemies and the Democrats our allies. Republicans are blatant about their homophobia. But if the Democrats refuse to stand up for us, if they hold our rights hostage, how are they our allies?
There is no wrong moment for equality. And anyone who thinks so is not a true ally.
VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and winner of several NLGJA and SPJ awards for her investigative series on LGBT issues. She is the author/editor of more than 30 books, including the award-winning Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life and Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic. @VABVOX