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Arizona's Undocumented Queers are Ready for Trump

Dago Bailon, Trans Queer Pueblo, Arizona

With a long history of fighting discrimination from all sides, this close community is well-prepared for whatever the president-elect might bring.


PHOENIX -- This city is known for its dry heat, but to some activists, it's known as "dry hate." So for activists like Dago Bailon of Trans Queer Pueblo, an organization that advocates for the rights of LGBT undocumented immigrants, Donald Trump's upset win in the presidential election didn't come as a shock.

Bailon spoke with The Advocate at the Trans Queer Pueblo office, which doubles as his home, in Phoenix's Garfield neighborhood. Bailon wasn't stupefied by Trump's win because he said it revealed something he already knew: "America is racist, and that's what we've been saying."

That's not a foreign idea to anyone who has grown up in Maricopa County, home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Actually, while the rest of the country was mourning Trump's election as the 45th president of the United States, Arizona had pulled off a cause for celebration. Activists in the red state worked relentlessly for years to try unseating Arpaio, the man who branded himself "America's Toughest Sheriff." It wasn't until the 2016 election that voters in Arizona finally ousted him after six terms in Maricopa County.

But on a Friday afternoon in Phoenix, Trans Queer Pueblo's wasn't celebrating Arpaio's defeat. Several of the members, who live together, were gathered to put together last minute details for a drag show that doubles as their annual fundraiser. "We're going to celebrate all our successes for the last year," said Bailon. "This year for us has been very great."

Sheriff Arpaio, a Trump supporter, terrorized immigrants in Arizona by raiding workplaces and using the police force to double as an immigrations enforcement agency.

"Arizona is the state of hate, and so as the state of hate, we have seen a lot of anti-LGBT and migrant legislation coming our way, and we have always been resisting and working on our survival," Bailon said.

It was last Friday, the afternoon before Bailon was going to be emceeing Drag for a Dream, Trans Queer Pueblo's annual fundraiser, at Karamba, a gay Latino club in Phoenix. That afternoon he was Dago, but later that evening he would transform into the Cuban queen of salsa, Celia Cruz.

Arizona is notorious for Senate Bill 1070, aklso known as the "papers please" law, which granted police officers the right to ask people to present their immigration status during routine traffic stops. The American Civil Liberties Union has called this law "unconstitutional." Arpaio was formally charged this year with criminal contempt in a racial profiling case brought against him in response to SB 1070.

It is also notorious for Senate Bill 1062, a 2014 "religious freedom" bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and others who offend the owners' religious beliefs. The state faced intense pressure from businesses such as Apple, which lobbied the governor to veto the bill. At the time, Apple had plans to open a new facility in the state, but that came under threat when the bill was announced. The NFL also threatened to move the Super Bowl, which was to be held in the state the next year, if the bill was signed into law. Gov. Jan Brewer ended up vetoing the bill.

Activists for LGBT people and other marginalized populations will likely draw on lessons learned from the SB 1062 fight as they face a Donald Trump presidency. Bailon and others reflected on the struggle ahead.

Bailon is roommates with Karina Jaramillo, an undocumented trans woman who works as the defense coordinator for Trans Queer Pueblo. Jaramillo works to provide moral and legal support for LGBT undocumented people held at nearby detention centers, such as Eloy Detention Center, the deadliest such center in the country. A Guatemalan woman recently became the 15th person to die at the facility, reports The Arizona Republic.


Jaramillo, who has been detained at Eloy Detention Center previously, performed at Drag for a Dream. She lit up the room with a performance of the Spanish pop hit "Dejare" by Karina. As a Juan Gabriel bioking performed on stage, Jaramillo spoke to The Advocate from the Karamba dressing room, where she reflected on what resisting Trump's bigoted plans for America will look like.

Jaramillo, who has lived in the U.S. for 27 years, explained that living under the fear of SB 1070 prepared her for this moment. "I am still processing, trying to process this," said Jaramillo, "and it's difficult because the community comes to me and asks, 'What do we do?'"

While a Juan Gabriel bioking had clubgoers entranced with a performance of the beloved song, "Querida," Jaramillo described the fear community members have expressed to her, and what she tells them in return. "Frightened, crying, with anguish, despair, what are we going to do? I think this is a time for reunion, a time to regain strength again of freedom, to unite as a community, as we have always done. Our people were sleeping, our people were acting like 'nothing will happen' until they saw how this situation turned out is when they mobilized."

"It's going to be difficult, but not impossible. I have always said to my people: stay strong because the strength is in us, as a community, and we can counter this problem. There is nothing or nobody who will discriminate against us again, nor is there nothing or nobody who will scare us," said Jaramillo.

Jaramillo said activists in Arizona were so focused on organizing to get Arpaio out of office that they lost track of Trump. "We achieved a goal, and it was great, right? But now the work will be double because we forgot about Trump, who will take power soon."

But moving forward, activists such as Bailon feel confident that they can confront Trump's America, because Trans Queer Pueblo has been here before, having to confront racist and anti-LGBT rhetoric and the consequences of it in his home state of Arizona.

"One thing that Arizona has and continues to have is a strong sense of community and unity," he said. "We've been through so much, SB 1062 [the so-called religious freedom bill], SB 1070, and we have always come together to support each other, but I think it looks like far more than just protesting and mobilizing people to protest."

The resistance has to embrace more than public protest, added Bailon, who is working with Trans Queer Pueblo on an emergency plan before Trump officially takes office on January 20.

"It has to be about educating our community about issues, and we need to go deeper, because the reality is that with 28 percent of Latinos voted for Trump, right? People of color are voting for these racist people, so that means even within our own communities there's still a lot of work to do, so we need to make sure we're educating people and having hard conversations with the communtiy."

Part of the organization's "emergency plan" is hosting "Know Your Rights" forums, starting in December and going up to Inauguration Day. The forums will teach community members about their rights as undocumented people, what to do if they are victims of a hate crime, how to interact with the police, and what to do if they are picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, among other topics.

This story is part of The Advocate's#TheResistanceseries. If you want to receive email updates from The Resistance, such as this article, subscribe to our newsletter below.

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Yezmin Villarreal

Yezmin Villarreal is the former news editor for The Advocate. Her work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Mic, LA Weekly, Out Magazine and The Fader.
Yezmin Villarreal is the former news editor for The Advocate. Her work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Mic, LA Weekly, Out Magazine and The Fader.