GLBT rights are a short and fragile history. It was not so long ago that our actions were illegal. Men and some women were regularly arrested for being in bars, or the backseat of cars and bath houses with someone of the same gender. Today, that is shocking for some to hear, but for many, the risk of being caught came with harassment, violence, imprisionment and more.
We are right to celebrate during pride. In the United States, we have already marked the end of our status as illegal. Many in small towns are unable to celebrate – they remain in hiding.
As GLBTQ persons….we need to know the basic facts about life in the US: some people do not want to be identified according to their immigration status. This deeply affects a person’s ability to connect with a community of faith or express gender and identity!
Today, many GLBTQ immigrants may be undocumented and in hiding. Can we, who were formerally considered law breakers, be compassionate? The bigger question is: Can we stand with those who are undocumented?
To speak about immigrants, especially Spanish speaking persons, in this time and age is a hot button topic. Yet, while so many are celebrating, it is time to look around.
Let me make this a little more real and local. In Illinois the largest minority according to the 2010 census are Hispanic. These are people who responded to a census report and chose to be documented in an official government count of persons! Look at the numbers of self-identified Hispanic persons: Cook County – 24%, Lake county, IL, 20%, Will County, 15.6%. I broke out a calculator, because math is not my strong suite – but here we go – over 5 million people live in Cook County, and 24% is about 1.2 million people. Remember potentially tens of thousands, if not more, from Spanish speaking areas remain undocumented.
Let’s say that 10% of people are GLBTQ – just for fun – not as a fact. Then over 100,000 people just like many of us, plus most likely many more beyond our imagination due to lack of documentation.
GLBTQ undocuments persons face a more dangerous situation because one of the current criteria for immigration includes an official assessment of a person’s “ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.” Imagine, not being able to prove you are in a relationship because you are undocumented and afraid to walk down to the county courthouse for a civil union or marriage. Then if there is no, or little, family support, or a sponsor to assist you toward citizenship or amnesty, deportation is likely.
This year, thousands are being deported from the Chicago area. Many more are hiding. Hiding because of citizenship status – hiding because of orientation or gender – hiding from their own and others.
Over a century ago, WEB Dubois described the “tragedy of our age”:
not that [humans] are poor, — all know something of poverty;
not that [humans] are wicked, — who is good?
not that [humans] are ignorant, — what is Truth?
Nay, the fundamental problem remains:
That [humans] know so little of [humanity].
As I ponder the spirit of this decade, I hear this phrase – “show me your papers.” The demand made upon the poor, assumed to be criminals and ignorant because of language or cultural difference sounds more like the beginning of the 20th century, not the 21st.
Can you prove you belong in society? Can you declare you are not illegal? Do you hold up a Civil Union certificate or marriage licence?
If any group of people are up to the task to speak up for those in hiding, it is GLBTQ folks living in the safety of a liberated space Chicago provides.
Some of us know what it is like to be liberated. We have discovered a space where the divine enters, where justice and our bodies meet – a crossroad unlike any other. For some it is a hot, barren, dry desert. For others it is like treading water in fear of drowning. Yet the struggle is familiar.
The US is way behind the call for human rights – basic respect and dignity. GLBTQ folks know this well. Our undocumented family does too.
The debate is intense. I am very aware many of us become overwhelmed by this information and zone out. Yet, I ask you to deeply consider the fact that not so long ago, many of us were criminals according to the laws of the land. How can each of us begin the change to assist those who wish to move beyond their hiding?
I want us to explore this together. What can we as a community of faith do? Not as a token, but really do to provide hope and liberation for those hiding in fear? Pray about it. Ask others.
Small steps have been taken with Spanish speaking bible studies on homosexuality and the Christian tradition, along with conversations and social events. Yet, our broader family is struggling.
I ask you, with the same passion that you can proclaim your status as GLBTQ, step up and validate someone’s right to be living among us. Let us create a space of liberation for the undocumented among us. Let the liberated show the way!
I leave you with a passage from the book of Hebrews as a guide for the Dreams of Freedom:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Watch these YouTube videos for personal testimonials of GLBTQ persons in the US and those seeking to be with loved ones:
Also see an immigration process chart below.
Keep dreaming and watch what happens!