Nearly four years ago the U.S. Supreme Court made a historic ruling on marriage equality that changed my life. Not only did my wife and I gain the freedom to marry, but we also won the right to live together and create a family in America, a country where we felt safe to live and love.
Before that day, we were one of many binational same-sex couples trying to figure out how to stay together despite the fact that neither of us could apply for permanent residence in each other’s country. As President Trump’s new travel ban was announced, I realized that LGBT people around the world who had that same dream to live and love fearlessly by immigrating to the U.S. would have their hopes dashed. Many will have no choice other than to continue experiencing violence, abuse, discrimination, and — in some cases — torture in their countries of origin because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.
President Trump’s new travel ban suspends the entry of nationals from six countries that are predominantly Muslim (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) for 90 days. The order suspends the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and restricts the total number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to 50,000 per year. The fact is that this new executive order will bar thousands of LGBT and HIV-positive people from seeking refuge in the United States.
This order and the political climate regarding immigration has dashed the hopes of LGBT people fleeing persecution in some of the countries in which they face the worst abuse and discrimination. Also distressing, the order instructs federal authorities to publicize regular statistics related to crimes committed by immigrants. Just the simple fact of publishing crime data, a move highlighted in the president’s joint address to Congress, unfairly strengthens the myth that immigrants are also criminals.
We should call it like it is: This order is aimed at agitating public perception of Muslims and opening yet another door to hate crimes and other crimes at a time when mosques throughout the country are the target of vandals and Muslim people the target of hate violence. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s most recent report on hate crimes, there was an “enormous leap in anti-Muslim hate groups, from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year — a 197% increase.” FBI statistics show “that hate crimes against Muslims grew by 67 percent in 2015, the year in which Trump launched his campaign.” Let’s not forget that federal and local authorities are currently investigating the recent shooting of two engineers from India — one man died — as possible hate crimes related to the climate of hostility toward foreigners in the United States.
Unfortunately, the travel ban is not only concerning for Muslims and nationals of the six countries specified, but for most ethnic minorities. Since President Trump’s inauguration, many of us have worn our identities with trepidation. As the administration’s policies oppress our identities one by one, it sometimes feels like the travel ban is another clear and unapologetic command to accept bigotry.
As a Latina immigrant and LGBT woman, I have felt encouraged by listening to the voices of civil rights leaders across America representing different causes, creeds, races, sexes, gender identities, and sexual orientations who say in unison: “I am Muslim, I am a woman, I am an immigrant, I am LGBT, I am black.”
It’s been almost four years since the historic advances in marriage equality created immigration benefits for binational same-sex couples. Today I am reminded more than ever how fortunate my wife and I are—and how fragile our rights still are. I believe the LGBT community has been called upon to condemn the many faces of discrimination. Sadly, being targeted simply for who we are is nothing new. This travel ban is no exception.
MARIA MELO is the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Policy and Operations Manager.