We’re Queer And Here For Now: On Being LGBTQ and Undocumented

· Updated on May 28, 2018

When I was 15 and I’d discovered I was gay, the brand new Gay & Lesbian Alliance Club in my high school was a huge deal. I breathed a sigh of relief because it felt like security, like there was backup now, because there was a group of us and a group is a lot louder than just one little newly out lesbian voice. We were going to fight for marriage equality, we were going to stand up against injustice and prejudice, and we were going to sport cute rainbow gear while doing so.

But as I got older and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Club was far behind me, it became starkly clear that there was a line drawn between the LGBTQ community and the undocumented LGBTQ community.

When my friends and I turned 16, we all learned to drive, except they all got Driver’s Permits, and I didn’t. I wasn’t allowed.

When we turned 21 and wanted to go bar hopping, they got to just show up and walk right in while I risked the embarrassment of being turned down at the door because my ID was not state issued but instead from the Mexican Consulate. It was green and unfamiliar, and most of the time it wasn’t worth the confused look on the door guy’s face trying to find my birth date before inevitably informing me I wasn’t allowed in without a valid form of I.D.

When marriage equality finally happened, I felt validated because I’d marched the marches; I’d protested in every protest; I’d held up the signs. It was so gratifying I never even noticed that the same faces from the protests for LGBTQ rights were missing at the ones for immigration reform.

But DACA eventually came into effect and it seemed like progress. Some of us were allowed work permits and a Driver’s License for the low, low price of $500 every two yearsnot including attorney fees. Well, that was nice while it lasted.

My time in this country has been limited to two final years by a tiny laminated card, and a man with even smaller principles. When President Obama signed DACA eight years ago, it was if not a light at the end of the tunnel, a very shiny, bright glimmer. For a moment there was security on some level, though not without its restrictions.

Traveling, for example, is limited to work or school related trips, and there is a petition to be made beforehand, along with a hefty additional fee. In addition, DACA does not provide a pathway toward citizenship, in effect locking its applicants within a status of illegality with a very slight exception. There are approximately 800,000 of us working and contributing to the economy daily, and everyday thousands of us are being stripped of our status and have been left with nothing but uncertainty in its place–I myself have renewed my work permit for what is potentially the last time in late November.

Still, little is said in mainstream media, and even less amongst the LGBTQ community.

I can count on one hand specific recollections I have of Mexico, where I was born, and some of those are only half memories. I was nine when I left; I’m 32 now and I haven’t been back since, so I can’t begin to imagine I’ll feel at home there if I’m forced to return.

My Spanish is great, but it’s not perfect. How exactly does an introverted lesbian go about starting all over again in a small, traditional, deeply Catholic Mexican town? I don’t know, but I liked it when my daily struggles consisted of getting control of my slight accent while being careful to not roll my Rs when speaking in English.

Here’s one thing I’d like people to understand: Getting rid of DACA isn’t about safety, or conserving some American ideal, or even about immigration at the end of the day, because getting rid of DACA kicks Americans out of their home and drops them into an environment that hasn’t been familiar in a long time, if ever. It goes without saying that it’s been a rough year for everyone in the U.S. that is not a white, heterosexual male. I am sympathetic. But as I stand at the tipping point, I look around and realize that my LGBTQ family, for the most part, have no idea or don’t care enough to fight for those of us who have been left out of the equation because of our legal status.

When the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Club was founded in my high school, there was no support group for undocumented students, no outreach programs, nor were we ever even acknowledged, not in the alliance clubs, not in known gay clubsthe hub of the underdog where our Matriculas weren’t even recognized as valid I.D. We were turned away from the places that were supposed to be havens. They were not havens, not safe placesnot for us, because we were practically non-existent. Now, as we face the end of what we had once taken as a small beginning, the LGBTQ community still remains relatively silent on immigration issues, save for the occasional murmur when it’s a trending topic.

I will admit we are a silent group ourselves, because silence has been the norm in our upbringing due to fear of exposure and extraction, of deportation. Being gay and undocumented is a closet within a closet, but we have been out and loud for years now and still, our issues are solely our own.

Before DACA, I worked illegally, I went to school without financial aid, and I drove without a license. I know what it’s like to live in fear and to have paranoia sewed into the fabric of my upbringing. Simple things caused anxiety, like being carded at a concert and getting that look from the bouncer, deciding whether or not he’s going to give me a stupid wristband so I can get a beer at the bar. I don’t think I’ll ever not automatically begin to sweat when I see a cop car with its siren on approaching behind me, even if I’m doing nothing wrong.

Knowing I may very well return to that in just two years’ time is frightening because I no longer have the luxury of anonymity. Before DACA I wasn’t in the systemthere was no real way of tracking meand now I, along with hundreds of thousands more will be a hell of a lot more vulnerable because eight years ago we were made a promise that we would be protected. And now that promise is practically irrelevant.

I was in a couple of relationships before DACA with women to whom I felt I had to disclose my status once they became serious, because I couldn’t do certain things, like take an impromptu trip to Mexico, cheap as it may be to vacation there, and I came to dread that talk. It was difficult for them to grasp the concept that their X-Files obsessed, U2-loving, tattooed girlfriend was the job stealing immigrant Republicans warned them about.

We need to end that stereotype, and we need to call out our people when they make light of it. We’re not a joke, and we’re not a hypothetical. We were in the shadows, and now we are being shoved back. We need the support of the LGBTQ community because we are a part of it. The laissez-faire attitude toward issues on immigration reform progress and lack thereof is troubling, and for a while made me feel resentful toward the queer community, because my voice was appreciated only when it benefited those without worries of deportation.

My only hope is that it doesn’t remain that way forever and that immigration reform comes to the forefront of the fight for queer rights because a lot of us might not be here much longer, an estimated 75,000 of us that include artists, Doctors, attorneys, and activists like Catalina Velasquez, who in 2008 was the first Undocumented Trans person to attend Georgetown, and 2013 became the first Immigrant Trans Latina appointed as commissioner for the Office of Latino Affairs in D.C.

We love our queer celebrities and politicians. We love seeing them thrive because they represent us. When they move up, we move up. Queer DREAMers are thriving in every field. And if we are gone, our representation is shortened by 75,000. That’s support none of us can afford afford to lose.

Image via Getty

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