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Letters to President-elect Obama: Rachel B. Tiven

Letters to President-elect Obama: Rachel B. Tiven

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Open letters from 26 gay men and lesbians.

Dear President-elect Obama,

Congratulations. It is a special thrill for immigrant rights activists to have one of our own in the White House -- the son of an immigrant, someone who personally embodies the energy, drive, and love for America that make immigrants America's greatest natural resource.

For lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants and the Americans who love them, your personal history holds a special promise. As the child of a binational couple who fell in love despite different citizenships and social stigma, you are uniquely able to understand the struggle of same-sex binational couples. Unlike a straight American, a gay or lesbian U.S. citizen who falls in love with a foreign national has no way to sponsor him or her for immigration benefits -- and is then forced to choose between their beloved and their country. You have said you support an end to this cruel choice, an end to forced family separation, and an end to discrimination against LGBT immigrants.

As you know, the answer to this injustice is the passage of the Uniting American Families Act. Please urge Congress to act on the bill, and insist that it be included in full, fair, and comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

There are several things you can do immediately to benefit LGBT immigrants and their families. First, fulfill the will of Congress and direct the Department of Health and Human Services to remove HIV from the list of communicable diseases that bar entry to the United States. LGBT immigrants have been unduly harmed by the ban because a same-sex partner cannot qualify for the waiver that an opposite-sex partner can. This summer, Congress repealed the statutory ban -- all that remains is for HHS to promulgate a rule removing HIV from the list. Please direct the agency to do so without delay and bring American immigration policy into line with our country's goal of erasing AIDS stigma around the world.

Second, direct the Department of Homeland Security to update its instructions on the treatment of transgender immigrants and their families. On two issues -- the granting of immigration benefits to married couples and the issuing of accurate identity documents -- the actions of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have not matched established policy. Precedent set by the Board of Immigration Appeals holds that married couples in which one person is transgender are valid for immigration purposes if the marriage was valid where performed. However, DHS has not issued instructions to its staff to abide by this precedent. On the matter of identity documents, DHS's own internal memo states that identity documents should be issued to "reflect the outward, claimed, and otherwise documented sex of the applicant," but this policy is often ignored.

Many changes in law and policy must be made for America to retain its status as the preferred destination for people around the world. LGBT immigrants and their American family members know better than most how crucial those changes are -- and they are counting on you.

Rachel B. TivenExecutive Director, Immigration Equality

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Daniel Tammet, author of Born on a Blue Day

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign

Melissa Etheridge, singer-songwriter

Michelangelo Signorile, radio host and author of Queer in America

Tammy Bruce, radio talk-show host and author of The New American Revolution

Kenji Yoshino, professor at New York University School of Law and the author of Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights

Vestal McIntyre, author of You Are Not the One and the forthcoming Lake Overturn

Jarrett Lucas, codirector of the 2008 Soulface Q Equality Ride

Michael Lowenthal, author of Charity Girl and Avoidance

Suzanne Westenhoefer, comedian and star of the documentary A Bottom on Top

Jim Buzinski, CEO and cofounder of Outsports.com

Perez Hilton, blogger, radio host, and television personality

Carole Midgen, former California state senator

Pam Spaulding, Durham, N.C.-based blogger

Lorri L. Jean, CEO, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center

Jeffrey Prang, Mayor of West Hollywood

Jorge Valencia, Executive director and CEO of Point Foundation

Mark Leno, California assemblyman

The Reverend Doctor Troy D. Perry, founder and moderator emeritus, Metropolitan Community Churches

Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality

Donna Rose, transgender activist

Peter Tatchell, LGBT human rights campaigner and spokesman for OutRage!

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