Friday, August 31, 2007

Gays Discuss Immigration, U.S. HIV Ban

More than 150 activists and LGBT New Yorkers gathered at the LGBT Community Center in Lower Manhattan earlier this week to discuss immigration and other-related issues which continue to effect LGBT people and LGBT bi-national couples. The movement for LGBT rights loves to hold these forums as a way to show their constituency that they remain focused on any given issue. I covered this forum for the Blade and for EDGE and the panelists discussed this issue from their various point of expertise. The challenge remains, however, how to move beyond the choir who clearly understands the importance of rectifying problematic policies and laws against their brothers and sisters. Good sound bites, talking points and public appearances are simply not enough in many peoples' perspectives. The movement arguably needs to acknowledge this discontentment as it continues to struggle how to reach beyond the LGBT choir.

As immigration continues to emerge as a hot button issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, it also remains a principal concern of the country’s LGBT community.

During a local forum about same-sex immigration rights, the United State’s ban on HIV-positive immigrants garnered much discussion. And Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced his continuing support of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). The bill allows gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-national partners for green cards.

“Unfortunately same-sex couples who are committed to spend their lives together are not recognized as families under current federal law,” Nadler said. “The law should never be unnecessarily or gratuitously cruel. I am confident that we will succeed because this is a matter of basic fairness and compassion.” Nadler first introduced the bill in 2000, then reintroduced it in May of this year. It has 84 co-sponsors; the sponsor in the Senate is Patrick Lahey (D-Vt.).

About 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples live in the U.S. today, according to a Human Rights Watch report titled “Family Values.” This number represents about 6 percent of all gay couples in the country, according to Immigration Equality.

The immigration forum was held Tuesday, Aug. 18, at The LGBT Center on West 13th Street. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Immigration Equality sponsored the event. In addition to Nadler, panelists included representatives from Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Asian American Justice Center and Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).

In the audience was Argentina-born filmmaker Sebastian Cordoba, who filmed a documentary “Through Thick & Thin,” which chronicles seven bi-national couples tackling the immigration system.

“This is something Americans should be fighting for,” said Cordoba about the UAFA. He hopes the film sparks renewed activism among LGBT activists and everyday people.

About 20 countries allow some sort of immigration benefit for same-sex couples. All the major Democratic presidential candidates support the UAFA.

Immigration opponents contend that the UAFA is a step toward legalize marriage for same-sex couples. They also claim the UAFA provides an opportunity for undocumented immigrants to fraudulently enter the country. Both Nadler and HRC Senior Counsel Cristina Finch dismissed these claims. “It’s homophobia and not seeing our relationships as the same as heterosexual couples,” HRC’s Finch said.

The recent death of an HIV-positive Mexican transgender immigrant in a Southern California federal detention center in July has sparked renewed interest among some LGBT activists in the HIV ban.

The White House announced on World AIDS Day last December that it would review the federal government’s long-standing ban against HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the country. GMHC assistant director for research and federal affairs Nancy Ordover, who also co-chairs the Lift the Ban coalition, said the administration has failed to act on its own proposal.

“It didn’t do anything for HIV-positive immigrants,” she said. “Nor did it promise to.”

Immigration Equality remains at the forefront for many LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants. But not everyone within the LGBT movement thinks this is a priority.

Blogger Jasmyne Cannick sparked widespread outrage last April after she suggested in a column published in The Advocate that LGBT Americans should receive equality before immigrants. George Wu of the Washington-based Asian American Justice Center, Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund Legislative Staff Attorney Eric M. GutiƩrrez and other panelists disagreed.

“We need to join forces,” GutiĆ©rrez said. “Stop saying that’s us and that’s them.”

Ordover pointed to what she described as the parallels between immigration and LGBT-specific issues. “If it’s not good for immigrants, it’s not going to be good for LGBT immigrants or HIV positive immigrants,” she said.

Glenn Magpantay of the Gay and Pacific Islander Men of New York was more blunt. He criticized the LGBT movement for what he described as its continued inaction on behalf of immigrants.

“Our community has done squat on immigrants,” Magpantay told The Blade after the forum. “Gay immigrants are at the door of our community [and] we need to stand up and speak out.”

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