Alex Blaze

How did the gay partners get in immigration reform?

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 04, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: comprehensive immigration reform, ENDA, full equality now, immigration, incrementalism, John Aravosis, rights, transgender, uafa

Like an ever-expanding mushroom cloud of diversity, every few years another diverse group of people want to enter the United States. It has created a complicated history in which there are many people who are different in the US.

In simpler times we were all American. But the word "American" started to mean "Anglo-Saxon," so we started referring to some people as "Irish Americans" and "Italian Americans." Latinos, who were part-time Americans, insisted on being referred to as "Mexican Americans," "Cuban Americans," and what-have-you, too, so we did (not without some protest), and by the late-20th century many Asians, latinos, and other immigrants were entering the US to look for a better life. Sometime in the past ten years, a few activists started thinking that homosexuals should have the same right to sponsor a partner as heterosexual married couples did. And that's when today's trouble started.

Some in the gay community are apoplectic over the imminent passage of a family reunification bill. The bill would make it easier for immigrants to sponsor their overseas family members for visa purposes. You'd think this would be cause for celebration, but not so much.

The bill is similar to one proposed by Senator Menendez last year, which was the culmination of years of work by the immigration reform community, but did not contain a provision for same-sex partners. This year, it's being put forward by Rep. Mike Honda in the House, and those gay provisions may be included. But it has little chance of getting necessary support to pass through Congress from religious groups if gay provisions are included, so some are suggesting letting the bill stand-alone as a heterosexual immigration bill. Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a man who's been working thanklessly to pass broad immigration reforms, said "Good luck trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform without the faith community behind you."

This has led John Aravosis to angrily demand to be kept in the bill, guaranteeing the bill's defeat. He'd rather no bill pass than one that doesn't include gay couples.

The main argument to passing the bill without homosexuals in it, which makes sense, is practical politics. Immigration legislation -- hell, all legislation -- is a series of compromises. You rarely get everything you want, nor do you get it all at once. Blacks, for example, won the right to vote in 1870. Women didn't get that same right until 1920. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided a large umbrella of rights based on race, religion, sex and national origin, but failed to mention people with disabilities. People with disabilities were finally given specific rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. If we waited until society was ready to accept each and every person who wanted to enter this country, no one would be able to enter at all. Someone is always left behind, at least temporarily. It stinks, but it's the way it's always worked, and it's the way you win.

I have a sense that gay rights were imposed on the immigration reform community from the outside, or at least above, and thus never stuck with the rank-and-file immigration activists who weren't living in liberal enclaves like San Francisco and New York. Sure, many of the rest of us accepted de facto that gay immigration rights were also important, but only because our leaders kept telling us it was so. A lot of people working for immigration reform, who support comprehensive immigration reform, have been scratching their heads for years wondering what real families separated by borders have in common with same-sex binational couples. It's a fair question, but one we dare not ask. It's not p.c. in America to question why gay and lesbian people deserve equal rights, let alone ask what we have in common with men who define themselves by the fact that they like anal sex. I'm not passing judgment, I respect gay people and sympathize with their cause, but I simply don't get how their immigration issues, like reuniting their sodomite relationships (which are rarely marriages) affect my own. Is it wrong for me to simply ask why?

The same man who's complaining about gay couples being cut from an immigration bill, if you remember, famously argued that transgender people should be cut from employment protection legislation. While he called himself "provocative and relevant," many others labeled him a bigot, a transphobe, a rich, white boy living in a big city who didn't care about anyone but himself, and worse.

Conservatives understand that cultural change is a long, gradual process of small but cumulatively deadly victories. Liberals want it all now. And that's why, in the culture wars, conservatives often win and we often lose. While conservatives spend years, if not decades, trying to convince Americans that certain judges are "activists," that immigrants "destroy" America, and that Democrats never saw an abortion they didn't like, we often come up with last-minute ideas and expect everyone to vote for them simply because we're right. Conservatives are happy with piecemeal victory, liberals with noble failure. We rarely make the necessary investment in convincing people that we're right because we consider it offensive to have to explain an obvious truth.

I support gay rights. But I'm not naive. If there are still lingering questions in the immigration reform community about gay partner recognition years after our leaders embraced gay rights -- and there are -- then imagine how conflicted Anglo, conservative, or Christian members of Congress are when asked to pass an immigration bill for people who want a visa in order to engage in anal sex. We're not talking right and wrong here, we're talking political reality. Enlightened people on the left are still grappling with the issue. Yet we expect members of Congress to welcome homosexual relationships into a bill after only one committee hearing.

I'll take that half-a-loaf any day.


Yes, this is satire. I'm making fun of this recent blog post from John Aravosis decrying the possibility that same-sex partners might not be included in an immigration rights bill. He makes a comparison to Orwell's Animal Farm, implying that, like the pigs who declared themselves "more equal" than other animals, certain members in the immigration reform community think that they're better than others, like same-sex binational couples.

Most of the language is changed, paraphrased, or taken directly from Aravosis's piece a year and a half ago where he was calling for transgender people to be cut from the ENDA because of the "political reality." Apparently, coalitions should be broken to recognize political reality, so long as he isn't the one cut out.

For more info, check out the Politico article on the debate about the immigration bill.

And for the record, I support a fully inclusive ENDA only (compromise and incrementalism are OK in terms of rights and provisions and language, but not entire classes of people) and also believe that whatever immigrant sponsorship rights heterosexuals have gay people should also have. This post is less about either piece of legislation and more about a small but very vocal and powerful minority in the gay community that can't seem to see outside of the lens of sexual orientation and actually work with other people asking for the same thing.

In fact, if you read Yasmin Nair's post about UAFA advocates and their inability to support comprehensive immigration reform and the Politico article that says that the comprehensive immigration reform coalition feels little loyalty to gay partner rights, the position the Aravosises of the world took on ENDA not too long ago appears to be part of the same beast.

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John Aravosis is a bigmouthed, self-involved, hypocritical idiot.

But then, we already knew that, didn't we?

K. Trav Ballie | June 4, 2009 2:43 PM

I agree with you analysis on this issue Alex, but this is the same logic supporters of a sexual orientation ENDA followed. I would be curious to know your thoughts on a trans-inclusive ENDA and, if you are supportive, how you can integrate that stance with your above analysis on this other legislative issue.

K Trav Ballie | June 4, 2009 2:46 PM

Scratch that, COMPLETELY disregard my last post

I absolutely love love LOVE the way you wrote this post and took Aravosis to task using his sickening reasoning against him. I was never enamored with his far too partisan poltical viewpoint, but when he started his ENDA bashing I tuned him out completely.

We - none of us - need that kind of divisive, ignorant and counter productive crap in our lives or in our movement (if that is what this is...a movement). Until he recants his position on ENDA I don't care what he thinks about anything and you are right on target with his immigration charges (from what you say about his position, since I obviously haven't read it).

As for looking beyond our immediate concerns as LGBT people in an effort to build bridges with other oppressed or challenged communitites in order to create a stronger and more unified front against the right wing...I can see why we need to do it...and I'm also concerned about it.

In San Francisco some of the most vocal and reliable voices since election day have been from Socialist organizations and unions and immigration rights groups and the ANSWER coalition (anti-war).

I agree with and support most of the positions these groups have and I appreciate their interest and involvment in opposing Prop 8 and advancing LGBT rights.

How much is biting off more than we (or I) can chew at one time? In-fighting with Trans people is off the table. Is it possible - or even palatable - for us to work with immigration reform groups as a coalition building effort or are we better off on our own?

If we can't get support from them in regard to our immigration rights, why should we spend valuable time and resources on their issues?

Thanks for this, Alex.


I see your concern about immigration reform activists but... I think it's useful to remember that the reform movement as painted by the likes of Aravosis is neither as homogenous nor as homophobic as he would like us to believe (and I don't believe you're charging that they are, but I wanted to spotlight the not-too-hidden "messages" in his post, messages which are sadly quite blatant in some of the responses on his blog). I also think it's useful to remember that a lot of immigration rights activists are also queers, and that a lot of queers are immigration rights activists.

I happen to be both an immigration rights activist and a queer, and I'm by no means the only one in my activist circles. But the mainstream press and the gay press, for the most part, like to pretend that queer is never = immigrant (the drama makes for sales, I guess). I'm doing a follow-up article on the recent discussion of the Menendez and Honda bills referred to by Alex which highlights the further complexities of the issues, so I hope you'll be around for that discussion.

mixedqueer mixedqueer | June 4, 2009 11:10 PM

haha alex if you could have seen my face while i was reading; i was quite a ways into that before i couldn't believe it anymore and had to scroll ahead to check if you were kidding!!

yasmin -- i loved your uafa article and passed it on to my circle of rad queers. can't wait for the follow-up!

Thanks, mixedqueer!

And I have to thank Alex for the prod to do another one (good editor that he is :-))

Incrementalism is like the golden rule; do it unto others.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 5, 2009 9:53 AM

I am certainly glad you have all decided the issue and feel good about yourselves treating it in a lighthearted manner.

I am personally acquainted with a Thai man who has registered as a domestic partner with his partner and now lives in Sheffield England. This gave him a British passport and he went from working in export trade in Thailand to a Thai owned business in Sheffield and he and his British college student partner are very happy. Oh yes, the Thai man is both older and the breadwinner.

It is time to sell the economic COST to the United States of keeping talented people out of the country. Domestic partnerships are universal in all of the European Union, Canada and such far flung places as South Africa.

Don't talk about rights equality and justice to people because they do not care. Talk about the money they are losing by being bigots and you will have their attention.