Immigration and gay rights discussed at the University of Utah

Story and photos by CONNOR WALLACE

Immigration and gay rights are usually thought about as two separate topics. This becomes a problem when individuals are both immigrants and identify as being gay. A panel at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Oct. 4, 2012, titled “Pride Has No Borders” discussed both immigrant and gay rights during the University of Utah’s Pride Week. The panel included immigration attorney Mark Alvarez; Utah AIDS Foundation Hispanic Outreach Coordinator Alex Moya; and Mariana Ramiro-Gomez, a staff member of the U’s LGBT Resource Center. The topics of gay and immigration rights are not only pressing in this state, but also on a federal level.

According to the organization Immigration Equality, in May 2012 Pres. Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage. His administration then created a “written guidance that will extend discretionary relief to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses and partners.”

Even though important steps are being made toward immigration equality, it is still very unequal.

“Same sex couples are not able to apply for certain immigration benefits the way heterosexual couples would be able to,” Alvarez said at the panel discussion.

He said that even though the U.S. is a progressive country, other countries are farther ahead in gay rights.

“There’s sometimes a misimpression that Latinos are slow on LGBT issues. That’s not true. I lived in Spain,” Alvarez said. “Spain has marriage equality. Argentina has marriage equality. Colombia allows same-sex couples rights in immigrating.”

According to the Library of Congress, the Uniting American Families Act of 2011 hopes to “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to include a ‘permanent partner’ within the scope of such Act. Defines a ‘permanent partner’ as an individual 18 or older who: (1) is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 or older in which both individuals intend a lifelong commitment; (2) is financially interdependent with the other individual; (3) is not married to, or in a permanent partnership with, anyone other than the individual; (4) is unable to contract with the other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act; and (5) is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of the other individual.”  This act, if passed, would affect the lives of thousands of people in the U.S.

“There are 36,000 couples affected by the inability to apply for immigration benefits. This is according to the 2010 U.S. Census,” Alvarez said. “The Uniting American Families Act, which has been proposed before the Congress for a decade, would allow permanent partners to be sponsored for residence.”

Alex Moya’s main focus at the Utah AIDS Foundation is speaking with gay Spanish-speaking immigrant men about health promotion and HIV prevention. It is this kind of boundary crossing that shows the division between immigration rights and gay rights.

“I think in publications and the mainstream discourse we talk about straight immigration rights and in the gay movement we talk about white men who want marriage but we don’t talk about what happens in between,” Moya said at the panel.

In an interview with Moya, he said that gay marriage isn’t thought about the same way in the gay Hispanic immigrants as it is in the mainstream gay community.

Alex Moya sees a unique side of the gay marriage debate due to his work with gay Hispanic immigrants.

Alex Moya sees a unique side of the gay marriage debate due to his work with gay Hispanic immigrants.

“When mainstream citizens are talking about gay marriage as a right, sometimes that has a different meaning for the guys that I work with,” Moya said. “There’s the idea that yes we should care because if same-sex marriage is legal then there’s another way to gain the green card, but there are many that don’t want to get married to a citizen. So I think that the conversation about the rights of the LGBT people is sometimes a little bit different on what we’re looking for as immigrant Latino men.”

Moya, who graduated from the University of Utah, said information about the gay minority community is not taught in schools.

“I think education needs to change. I think I was here five years and most of the important learning about queer people of color I’ve done outside of this institution,” Moya said during the panel. “I think teachers who don’t decide to dedicate the last class to talk about queer issues or to talk about Latinos needs to happen. I don’t see why it is more important to teach about one culture or one race over the other. I think that it should be more balanced.”

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez works for the LGBT Resource Center at the U. She is originally from Mexico, and is a legal resident in the US. When she and her family applied for their green cards, she feared coming out to her parents would ruin her chances for legal residency.

“I didn’t know if [my mother] was going to kick me out or if she was going to disown me or if I would have a family, and ironically when I was coming out is when we were in the middle of the process of getting our green cards,” Ramiro-Gomez said. “I was afraid that they would not include me as part of the process and the paperwork to get my permanent residency.”

She hopes that laws will change to make gaining legal residency and moving from one country to another easier.

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez said that being gay and Hispanic means she has to censor her identities depending on which group she is with.

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez said that being gay and Hispanic means she has to censor her identities depending on which group she is with.

“Nature doesn’t stick to these arbitrary borders that we’ve placed upon it. So I do believe that anything and everything that’s living would freely transfer,” Ramiro-Gomez said. “Especially between Canada, US and Mexico there is NAFTA so all of our produce and all of our trade travels freely but our bodies cannot. Ideally, our bodies would be part of that transfer. Realistically, I would love to see some sort of legal path toward legalization where everyone who is here already who is undocumented would get access to a green card to at least be here temporarily, ideally permanently.”

Ramiro-Gomez said the fear of her partner being deported is ever present for her. She would have to choose between going back with her partner to Mexico, which would disqualify her from legal residency here, or she would have to stay here and hope that laws change to the point where her partner can come back to the US.

There is hope for change. The Uniting American Families Act is one such option that allows permanent partners to stay in the US. This, coupled with gay marriage being passed in nine states as well as the District of Columbia, shows signs of change coming sooner rather than later.