With immigrant and LGBT rights as key issues in the upcoming election, a lot appears to be at stake for immigrant and LGBT activists. The UndocuQueer movement addresses both of these issues head on.
Though the exact origins of the term “UndocuQueer” are uncertain, in the last year or so, the word has become well known in both immigrant and LGBT movements.
“The word UndocuQueer forces people to look at two identities at once,” Yahaira Carrillo, organizer, says. “In one breath, in one word, we can confront two things people feel very strongly about.”
With such strong parallels and intersections between both communities, the term seems like an inevitable and necessary result of the two movements.
“Since the beginning, the DREAM movement was taking steps to be inclusive,” says Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, the national field director of GetEQUAL. But even so, Sousa-Rodriguez felt that in certain spaces within the DREAM movement, being queer was seen as a problem.
In 2010, Sousa-Rodriguez and three other activists walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington D.C. in an effort to promote the DREAM Act. During their journey they often had to depend on churches for their basic necessities. “I felt that if I was to come out as queer, I would jeopardize our chances to eat or sleep.
Sousa-Rodriguez says that he had a “hell no” movement in Virginia when he and the other activists were at an event put together by a coalition of churches. “The coalition told me that Juan [his husband] and I could not even sit next to each other.”
“A lot of immigrant supporters are religious folks, so there is some difficulty there,” Carrillo says.
Activists like Carrillo often felt as if they had to choose between their undocumented identity or their LGBT identity. “Because of the climate of DADT and the DREAM Act, sometimes we were feeling like we had to choose who we were,” she says.
Because of this division within the movement, many young DREAMers began to make LGBT issues much more visible components of the overall immigrant movement.
“2010 was the year that a lot of students started coming out. A lot of people at the forefront were women or queer,” says Julio Salgado, a freelance artist. Salgado found that empowering and wanted to pay homage to these people through his art.
“I can’t speak for other folks, but for me it’s about visibility,” he says. Salgado’s popular UndocuQueer poster series depicts various activists, which helps put a name and face to the movement. The posters have been shown in galleries across the country.
Tania Unzueta, an organizer for the Immigrant Youth Justice League, says the movement is not a part of one organization, but instead various people connected through the internet and social media. Through these forms of communication, activists are able to bridge the gaps between the two movements.
“We’re making both of our worlds realize that we’re both connected,” Unzueta says.
Though a lot is at stake for this movement in the upcoming election, the activists remain skeptical about both candidates.
“We have real challenges if Romney wins because he promised to roll back some of the LGBT movement including visiting rights in hospitals.” Sousa-Rodriguez, says.
And even though the Obama Administration has decided that will longer seek the deportation of most young undocumented immigrants, many are still unconvinced that the president will push for more reform.
Salgado feels that if Obama wins, he should be held accountable. “There’s the idea that Republicans are the enemy and democrats are our friends, but the reality is that the president has deported more people than any other president.”
“Either way, we have a lot of work to do. Whether Obama or Romney wins, we’re still going to be fighting deportations,” Unzueta says.
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Madrid, Spain, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She is currently a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and a contributor for The Huffington Post, AlterNet, and Mamiverse. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Witness, Anti-, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and others. Her nonfiction has appeared in Jezebel, Ms. Magazine, and American Public Media. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or erikalsanchez.com.