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We 55
respectfully disagree

We 55
respectfully disagree


In an "open letter" to The Advocate and to LGBT people everywhere, more than four dozen prominent activists of color take issue with Jasmyne Cannick's commentary calling for LGBT equality to take priority over rights for illegal immigrants. Quoting Audre Lorde, they remind us, "There is no hierarchy of oppression."

An Open Letter to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community:

We are a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of color who work in the LGBT movement. We are writing to you in response to Jasmyne Cannick's article "Gays First, Then Illegals," in which she, a black lesbian, argues that she cannot support the current battle for immigrant rights because LGBT people have not yet won the right to marry. We are writing to express our profound disagreement with her and to offer alternative LGBT perspectives to the current immigration battles happening across the country.

To begin with, Cannick fails to realize an obvious fact that the LGBT community and the immigrant community are not mutually exclusive. There are thousands of LGBT immigrants in this country. There are thousands of black immigrants. And there are thousands of black LGBT immigrants. To put forward an argument that says "we should get ours first" makes us question who exactly is the "we" in that analysis. In addition, we recognize the historically interconnected nature of the immigrant and LGBT struggles--such as the ban on "homosexual immigrants" that extended into the 1990s and the present HIV ban, which disproportionately impacts LGBT people--and we believe that only by understanding these connections and building coalitions can we ensure real social change for all.

And we ask those who share the destructive views of this article to remember the immortal words of Audre Lorde when she said that "there is no hierarchy of oppression." We reject any attempts to pit the struggle of multiple communities against each other and firmly believe that rights are not in limited supply. We condemn the "scarcity of rights" perspective espoused by Cannick and other members of the LGBT movement and are surprised to see members of our community trafficking in such ugliness. But then one reason why it has always been so hard to shift power in this country is because the ruling class has successfully made us believe that there are only a few deserving groups to whom rights can be given. This strategy has always been used to divide oppressed groups from coming together to work in coalition.

We are painfully aware that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities still lack many basic protections under the law in this country, including the right to care for and support all of our families in the various ways in which we construct family and kinship. Nevertheless, supporting immigrant rights, while we continue to work for LGBT liberation, does nothing to hurt our cause. In fact, we believe the opposite to be true and want to work towards building powerful coalitions between immigrant and LGBT movements to work together for social justice.

We are also aware that many immigrant rights advocates have (intentionally or not) used antiblack rhetoric to move their agenda forward. Arguments such as "Don't treat us like criminal" or "We are doing work that other Americans won't do" have the effect of positioning immigrant narratives as subtly juxtaposed with American stereotypes of nonimmigrant black communities. They leave native-born black Americans as among the only people who do not have access to the immigrant narrative and so are in a permanent position of subordination, as the state consistently negotiates and redefines citizenship and "American-ness" for almost everyone but blacks.

Nevertheless, the solution to this problem is not to abandon support for the struggle of immigrant communities. Rather, we call on immigrant movements and (nonimmigrant) black organizations to work together for real racial and economic justice in this country. Together these movements can work to end the exploitation and targeting of both communities and to ensure that black folks and immigrants do not end up having to choose between competing for low-paying jobs, or being targeted for detainment or imprisonment.

As lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of color, we support the current immigrant rights marches and rallies happening across the country this month, and we march too.

We march because immigrants are among the most politically vulnerable, underpaid, and exploited communities in the country and are asking for basic human rights, including the right to live free from torture and exploitation, and the right to work.

We march because we recognize the connections between the state attacks on immigrant and LGBT communities, and that LGBT immigrants in particular are disproportionately affected by much anti-immigrant legislation.

We march because we oppose the heightened policing and criminalization of immigrant communities, including the increased militarization of the border, as mandated by HR 4437 and Senate bills.

We march because we oppose indefinite and mandatory detention of noncitizens--as well as the mass incarceration of people-of-color communities in the U.S. more broadly--and envision a society that ensures the safety and self-determination of all people, regardless of national origin, race, class, gender, or sexuality.

We march because we oppose the guest worker proposals, which would continue the exploitation of many low-wage workers. We march because we demand the repeal of the HIV ban.

We march because our sexualities have been historically criminalized by this country, and we understand that law and justice are not the same thing.

It is our understanding that Jasmyne Cannick was writing as an individual and not as a representative of either the National Black Justice Coalition (on whose board of directors she serves) or the Stonewall Democrats (for whose Black Caucus she serves as cochair). As LGBT people of color, we call upon both of those organizations to publicly clarify their own positions in this ongoing civil rights discussion.

We also call upon our community to imagine how much more progress we could make if we all stopped thinking of social justice as a zero-sum game.

Sincerely, [signed as individuals; titles and affiliations provided for identification purposes only]

Katherine Acey Executive Director, Astraea Lesbian Action Fund

Faisal Alam Founder & Former Director, Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBTIQ Muslims

Samiya Bashir Board member, National Black Justice Coalition Communications Director, Freedom to Marry Board member, Fire & Ink

Noemi Calonje Immigration Project Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)

Noran J. Camp Office Administrator, Freedom to Marry

Chris Chen National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, immigrant from Taiwan in 1997

Cristy Chung and Lancy Woo Lead plaintiffs in the Woo v. Lockyer marriage rights case

Alain Dang Policy Analyst, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Debanuj Dasgupta Board of Directors, Queer Immigrant Rights Project

Carlos Ulises Decena, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Joseph N. DeFilippis Executive Director, Queers for Economic Justice

Marta Donayre Cofounder, Love Sees No Borders

Andres Duque Coordinator, Mano A Mano

Monroe France Educational Training Manager, Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network Board of Directors, Queers for Economic Justice

Glen Francis Associate Executive Director, GRIOT Circle

Eddie Gutierrez Representative for Christine Chavez, granddaughter of labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez

Priscilla A. Hale, LMSW Executive Director, ALLGO

Teresa Haynes Creating Change Associate, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano Director of Arts and Community Building, ALLGO

Kemi Ilesanmi

Joo-Hyun Kang Director of Programs, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice Former Executive Director, Audre Lorde Project

Surina Khan Interim Vice President of Programs, The Women's Foundation of California Former Executive Director, International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Jane Kim President, San Francisco People's Organization

ManChui Leung HIV Program Director, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Lee Che Leong Director of Teen Health Initiative, New York Civil Liberties Union

Yosenio Vicente Lewis Board member, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Latino and transgender social justice activist, first-generation U.S. Citizen

Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center Board of Directors, Queers for Economic Justice

Glenn Magpantay Steering committee member, Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York

Rickke Mananzala Campaign Coordinator, FIERCE!

Andy Marra President of the Board, National Center for Transgender Equality

Gloria Nieto National Latino Justice Coalition

Doyin Ola Welfare Organizer, Queers for Economic Justice

Jesu;s Ortega-Weffe Director of Community Organizing, ALLGO

Emiko Otsubo Former board member, Queers for Economic Justice

Clarence Patton Executive Director, NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project

Donna Payne Senior Diversity Organizer, Human Rights Campaign

Earl L. Plante Development Director, National Minority AIDS Council President-Elect, Board of Directors, National Black Justice Coalition

Achebe Powell Betty Powell Associates

Lorraine Ramirez Public Policy Committee, Queers for Economic Justice

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera Convener, the National Latino Coalition for Justice

Ignacio Gilberto Rivera Founder, Poly Patao Productions Board of Directors, Queers for Economic Justice

Elias Rojas e-Philanthropy and Community Campaigns Manager, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Russell D. Roybal Director of Movement Building, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Rebecca Sawyer Chair for Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning Issues, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, DC-Chapter

Shay Sellars Major Gifts and Events Administrator, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Pedro Julio Serrano Communications Associate, Freedom to Marry President, Puerto Rico Para Tod@s

Regina Shavers Executive Director, GRIOT Circle

Nicholas Shigeru Sakurai Program Coordinator, GLBTA Resource Center at American University

Sarah Sohn New Voices Legal Fellow, Immigration Equality Board of Directors, Queers for Economic Justice

Monica Taher Directora de Medios de Comunicacion, Alianza Gay y Lesbica Contra la Difamacion (GLAAD)

Lisa Thomas-Adeyemo Cocoordinator, National People of Color Organizing Institute, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Director of Counseling, San Francisco Women Against Rape

Carmen Vazquez Deputy Executive Director, Empire State Pride Agenda

Robert Vazquez-Pacheco Former Program Manager, Funders for Gay and Lesbian Issues

Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz Capacity Building Project Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Andy Shie Kee Wong Coalition Manager, Asian Equality

Miriam Yeung Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, the LGBT Community Center

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