Coming Out In Don’t Ask Don’t Tell & The DREAM Act

Gay Latinos emerge as key to promoting mutual support between immigrants rights and LGBTQ camps. Art by Hector Silva

In the midst of the national push to get Congress to vote on the DREAM Act (it has now been tentatively scheduled to be voted on November 29th in the House of Representatives and Senator Reid has said that he will bring it up for a Senate vote on as a stand-alone bill), Project Economic Refugee has been drawing parallels from the coincedental intersection in time between the DREAM Act and the other major piece of legislation that many progressive activists are trying to push: the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Most specifically, Project Economic Refugee has been arguing for mutual empathy for the purpose of promoting the idea that we have much work to do to instill a sense of compassion and respect for “the other” in both the Latino communities and in the gay community, with a special focus on the call to foster stronger support for a humane comprehensive immigration reform among the LGBTQ community.

As the vote for both Don’t Ask Don’t Tell & the DREAM Act loom closer, it has been fascinating to see the underlying similarities between the experience of being gay and the experience of being an undocumented youth in America.  Just this week, we had a couple of cases, in Fresno State and in Miami Dade College’s InterAmerican campus, that received major national attention because of college students being “outed” or “coming out” as undocumented (or as the media derisively called them, “illegal immigrants”) and subsequently finding themselves stigmatized by the larger society even though that by growing up their entire lives in this country and for all intents and purposes, these young students are as American as any other U.S. citizen.

Another source of similarities between the movement to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell & the DREAM Act is the drama that is unfolding in the courts, as judges try to address legalese questions related to policy in the face of inaction in Congress.  Most everyone has heard of the litigation in the courts unfolding regarding Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being declared unconstitutional.  Thus, with the recent unanimous decision by the California Supreme Court ruling that undocumented individuals (which are bound to be mostly youth) were eligible for in-state tuiton rates in that state’s colleges and universities, one cannot help but draw even more parallels with the judicial drama Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is undergoing. 

Going beyond Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, similarities between the larger fight to solve the humanitarian crisis going on in our borders every day and the larger fight to achieve equality for gay rights in our country are also striking and intriguing. For example, the underlying theme of a community rallying to fight intolerance and bigotry as in the “It Gets Better Campaign” could very well apply to help alleviate the discriminations immigrant teens youth sometimes face, just as I argued in this post.  The “It Gets Better Campaign” certainly applies to gay Latinos in the more immediate sense, as xQSí Magazine recently zeroed on in this recent video they produced and that was featured on HispanicLA with LGBTQ young adults telling gay Latino teens in Spanish that it does “get better” for them too.  Moreover, it seems that gay Latinos are emerging in this intersection of LGBTQ rights and immigrants’ rights as integral to foster mutual understanding between the two camps. 

Many of them are already doing outreach to the Latino community to promote more understanding regarding the experience of being gay and I wouldn’t be surprised if some are also doing outreach to non-Latino gays to promote education about why we should have comprehensive immigration reform and why it’s important that as a society we do not de-humanize the debate with words like “illegal alien” slurs that are the equivalent of calling someone a “faggot”.  In fact, we may have started to see some of the fruits of this mutual understanding, as recently we saw this inspiring gesture of kinship between the two groups; via    

RALEIGH — Gay rights and immigration reform activists used Veterans Day to remember those who have served and to speak out on behalf of those who can’t.

About 10 protesters gathered outside U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s district office in Raleigh, asking the senator to vote to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that bars homosexuals from serving openly in the military. The group also asked Hagan to support the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants through military service or college.

According to the group, Hagan has said she supports comprehensive immigration reform but not the DREAM Act.

“We wanted to show our respect first of all for those who have served and those who can’t or those who were discharged,” said Jose Rico, Raleigh representative for the NC DREAM Team, which advocates for the DREAM Act and held events around the state this week.

Rico said the group also wanted to reach out to lesbians and gays by voicing support for repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The event was organized in advance of the opening of the year’s last session of Congress, which starts Monday and provides the final opportunity to repeal the policy before a new Republican majority takes control in the House.

The DREAM Act would allow all immigrants brought to the United States before they were 16, and still younger than 35, to attend college or serve in the military to attain citizenship, Rico said.

Again, although some gay Latinos might already be doing some outreach to the non-Latinos in the LGBTQ community on an individual basis, it is imperative that institutionally, both camps start to develop a network of communications and campaigns to promote immigrants rights and gay rights among the two communities.  Otherwise, as I have argued previously, we run into the risk of right-wingers trying to take advantage of and create wedges between the two camps.  If you doubt for a moment that such education even needs to take place, just visit my previous post on this topic (scroll down to the bottom) and see the comment that a gay man left there using the term “anchor babies”. 

In light of Senator Liebermann announcing that the Senate now has the 60 votes needed to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it is imperative that the DREAM Act does not get left behind nor does it get unwittingly blacked out, once again, just like it happened before the midterm elections.  To prevent this from happening, we need to build stronger coalitions, and a starting point would be to promote mutual support and empathy between the LGBTQ & immigrants rights camps.