Editors' Note: Guest blogger J. Todd (Tif) Fernandez is a volunteer activist with a Masters of Law in Human Rights from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and a JD and BA from Boston University. With a past career in state government and as a composer and writer, he's now pushing the Public Whip Count at ActOnPrinciples.org, and "Comprehensive=Inclusive Immigration Reform" with Out4Immigration.org.
Here's the premise: It's quite possible that a full-out LGBT movement effort to directly support immigration reform could be the turning point in the conversation about human rights and religion in America.
Here's the strategy rub: The bottom line is that the immigration reform situation calls for a direct engagement with our main opposition: the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Finally, they are trapped in a perfect storm, if only our movement will act.
Here's the set up (for the uninitiated): There's no question but that 2010 is the year for the immigration reform movement, and there are huge coalitions at work. The key one: Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) is very active, and has serious groups at the top, like the American Civil Liberties Union. When it has organizing conference calls, 7000 people are on them.
The LGBT groups have a pending federal bill to allow Americans in bi-national couples to sponsor their foreign-born partner for citizenship, like straight people can. Effectively, it's domestic partnership for immigration ONLY. There's a lot of support for that bill in Congress and among immigration players and faith-based groups. It's called UAFA, The Uniting American Families Act, and the current push is to include UAFA in a long-promised, big ole' comprehensive bill to deal with the horrible inhumane immigration situation in America, still being drafted by Senator Schumer of NY.
All would be fine, except the chief fly in this ointment is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which is aggressively flaunting its power, blocking our inclusion in any so-called comprehensive bill, with unabashed gall. Bowing to this pressure, Senator Schumer told me personally that we'd not be in the bill, but that he hoped to slide us in later like some dirty secret. Barf.
Fortunately, the LGBT community is awakening to this stand-off and there seems to be a big effort to get everyone involved. The Task Force featured this topic for the key note at Creating Change in Dallas (a conference of 2000+ LGBT activists), HRC is hosting local organizing meetings in key states like Texas, GLAD is hosting meetings in Boston, Immigration Equality.org is in full swing, and grassroots efforts through Out4Immigration.org and C=IIR are in play; people are noticing.
It's also pretty clear the mainstream immigration campaign is reaching out, or at least being very welcoming, and the LGBT community is too. Frosting the grassroots efforts, there is a group of 4 student immigration reform activists walking from Miami to D.C. for the March 21st Rally, 2 of whom are a gay couple, in what's called the "Trail of Dreams;" and there was a caravan called "Road Trip for Our Future" organized by RIFA and NY Immigration Coalition, which had 3 very welcomed gay and lesbian riders, including your's truly.
All seemed to be humming along until this past Saturday when the Four Freedoms Fund hosted a meeting of experts and bloggers in NY to present the case on immigration reform - and why it is an LGBT & bloggable issue. Although reports are limited, that meeting got immediate flack from one of the only undocumented people in the room, for a variety of reasons but mostly because evidently a key presenter suggested that the national coalition, RIFA, will never support our inclusion.
Personally, while I'm not convinced that's the case, I see this whole event as the beginning of that conversation, not the end.
Regardless, here's some analysis that I bet didn't get vetted at the meeting as to why we should still care:
It's USCCB Response Time
This whole situation is presenting a rather perfect storm twisting US Catholic Leadership into a no-win situation of overlapping causes, problematic messaging, and limited options. Beyond these complications, there's an apparent disconnect from other major Catholic countries that suggests that anti-gay advocacy is not Catholic sacrament after all.
First of all, unlike any other LGBT cause, there is unusual exposure for USCCB in this matter because they are clearly and widely out-of-touch with the trend among major Catholic countries around the world that allow immigration domestic partnership, most of which have much larger Catholic percentages than the US.
To demonstrate this, here is a list of countries with LGBT Domestic Partnership Immigration Rights and their Catholic population percentages. By way of comparison - the US Catholic population is 23.9%, Protestant 51.3%.
- 1. Australia - 25.8%
- 2. Belgium - 75% - (gay marriage also legal)
- 3. Brazil - 73.6%
- 4. Canada - 42.6% (gay marriage too)
- 5. Czech Repu. - 26.8%
- 6. Austria - 73.6%
- 7. France - 83-88%
- 8. Germany - 34%
- 9. Netherlands - 30% (gay marriage too)
- 10. Spain - 94% (gay marriage too)
Soon to be added:
- Ireland - 87.4%
- Portugal - 84.5%
At this odd moment, interestingly, the USCCB also appears to be somewhat aggressively looking to engage us.
Here in NYC, Arch Bishop Dolan seems too eager to make his mark on our backs, and has been regularly gay-baiting, most recently gratuitously chiming in on the St. Patrick' Day parade's exclusion of Irish LGBT, and expressing his happiness that gay marriage failed in NY state.
Likewise, there's yet another storm brewing in Maryland where the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Archbishop of Baltimore, the Archbishop of Washington and the Bishop of Wilmington have been extremely outspoken in their opposition to this advance in equality. There, faith groups are responding.
Not surprisingly, street activists are increasingly ready to take direct action on this front.
But in deliberate fashion, Queer Rising-NY is just starting the conversation about how to carefully consider and construct a full civil disobedience campaign to engage on this front. The idea behind creating a full campaign, as opposed to a hasty one-off action, or a purely responsive-defensive action, is to actually persuade the Catholic people who are more fair minded and open, and to bring about a real change in position from their out-of-touch leadership.
Strategically, the Catholic church hierarchy is in a classic conundrum. In this storm, the Catholics are threatening to walk away from the coalitions if they support our inclusion. But this time they have no where to go and they have a horrible position to maintain in doing so because the immigration reform messaging is all about "fairness and family cohesion" - "coalitions and human rights" - and "comprehensive" reform. People instantly understand that it is messed up when the USCCB says "fairness for everyone but THEM" - "coalitions of everyone but THEM" and "family unification for everyone but THEM". Simply put, we win this argument because it exposes the injustice so clearly.
They are also caught because they are heavily invested in helping the immigration community and dedicated to this cause, and we are part of the story. We have over 600,000 LGBT youth and singles uniquely suffering in the current system, and over 36,000 bi-national couples who live the same fear and uncertainty.
We also have a lot of support among grassroots activists in the immigration cause. On the "Road Trip for America," all around New York state, every where we stopped there were LGBT people involved in this cause, as regional RIFA field directors, local ACLU workers, elected officials, and volunteers. RIFA organizers offered me a key platform addressing a crowd of 150 in Ithaca, and as mentioned, 2 of the 4 "Trail of Dream" walkers are a gay bi-national couple, risking their lives for this cause.
The Perfect Opportunity
Essentially, there is a not-so-sleeping giant waiting for the rallying cry and plenty of fodder for the conversation that a loud public engagement on this topic would create. Happily, non-gay activists are quick to understand, and one admitted to me that they were ashamed it hadn't occurred to them before that for immigration reform to be truly comprehensive it had to include us. Whatever the higher-thinking, by gathering with our bloggers, they seem to be inviting our controversy to the dance.
All in all, it is the perfect opportunity to force the broader human rights community to call the USCCB's bluff. The RIFA "Management Team" reportedly has lots of allies we can work with to force this conversation from the Center for Community Change to the American Civil Liberties Union. It also has one very exposed opponent of our human dignity: the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Arch Bishop Wester, USCCB Immigration Committee, Salt Lake City.
One thing I realized on the "Road Trip for Our Future" -- hearing the stories of how 12 million undocumented people essentially live in the closet, blending in invisibly, afraid of who they tell what, always waiting for one piece of information about their "status" to destroy their lives and families -- there is another closet in this country created by inhumane laws and human rights violations.
We all know what that feels like, and if for no other reason, we have to help end that bullshit.
Here's what we can do now:
- Get LGBT groups to call upon all of our LGBT Washington D.C. community to MARCH on Sunday 21st - with the LGBT immigration organizations (Immigration Equality, Out4Immigration, Make the Road, the C=IIR Campaign, and many others). Meeting spot will be announced later.
- Get involved in the discussions about how to engage the USCCB on this front, using all tactics from letter writing to direct action and civil disobedience, constructively. (Contact Queer Rising. A demand letter to AB Wester is in the works).
- Blog about the human rights connections and other political and strategic reasons we should care about this cause.
If you live anywhere in America, you can work on a municipal resolution for CIR & UAFA, help lobby on this, or otherwise join the mainstream immigration campaigns in your states. Email for guidance and support, examples of other resolutions and names of target elected officials. No city or town is too small to speak up for this voiceless community. Check out the full plan. Grassroots activists wanted.
The USCCB sees immigration domestic partnership as the camel's nose under the tent, and for good reason. It's time we did too.