I don’t remember the plane ride from Medellín, but it was what made me an immigrant, and, when my family’s visas expired a few years later, undocumented. I do remember, years later, pulling my friend out of the lunch room and telling her about the boy I’d been staring at in English. These two identities, queer and undocumented, continue to shape the way that I navigate the spaces that I am a part of. I am one of an estimated 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants living in the United States today.
Navigating the college application process in high school made the limitations of my status painfully tangible. My immigration status and my family’s limited financial resources dictated my opportunities. Connecticut’s in-state tuition policy has allowed me to attend the University of Connecticut, but I still do not qualify for any financial aid or many scholarships, which makes each semester a struggle. Still, I’m fortunate that I don’t live in one of three states that bar undocumented students from attending certain institutions altogether, or in one of the many states where undocumented students must pay the much higher out-of-state tuition rate—even if that state has been their home for years.
I am also fortunate to qualify for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has granted me work authorization and temporary relief from deportation. This summer, it is up for renewal. Even with Deferred Action and the ability to pay in-state tuition, my family and I continue to face challenges. For example, undocumented immigrants are explicitly excluded from the Affordable Care Act, so my family and I have been uninsured for as long as we have been here.
While the needs at this intersection are challenging and knotted, there are also unique and powerful opportunities for collaboration, leadership, and philanthropy. Queer undocumented activists have long been at the forefront of the immigrant youth movement. We have challenged ourselves, our communities, and our movement to grapple with both inseparable identities. We have created and grown organizations that are truly intersectional and that advocate for both LGBTQ and immigrant rights. We have come out, and come out again, challenging the perceived invisibility of our communities. Finding a queer space in the immigrant rights movement — and an immigrant space in the LGBTQ movement has been crucial for my development as an activist, scholar, and person.
Foundations and other donors have provided essential support for this intersectional work. A new report from Funders for LGBTQ Issues, Pathways Forward, which I co-authored, found that foundations awarded more than $4.1 million for LGBTQ immigrant and refugee issues in 2012 — that’s up 20-fold in just one decade, from barely $150,000 in 2002. Still, 90 percent of that funding comes from just 10 foundations, indicating the opportunity and need for more foundations and donors to support the rights of LGBTQ immigrants. It is also worth noting that almost 90 percent of domestic LGBTQ immigration funding (2011-2012) went to national advocacy efforts, displaying a clear need for more funding for services and for state and local advocacy.
While much progress has been made on both LGBTQ and immigrant rights, there is still work to move forward. Activists continue fighting battles at the state level, such as in Connecticut, where we are pushing for access to financial aid for undocumented students in the higher public education system. While thousands of youth like me have benefited from the administrative relief granted through DACA, the undocumented community still faces the constant fear of deportation, especially in states with increased anti-immigrant policies and sentiments. Because federal legislation towards relief or a path to citizenship is unlikely in the next two years, it is critical that President Obama take executive action to expand administrative relief beyond the few who qualified for DACA.
It is crucial that both advocates and funders see genuine and sustained coalition building as a long-term priority. I am all too familiar with the weight of my queer and undocumented identities, with the tangles of policy and stigma. But I am also familiar with the opportunities and resilience my identities have given me, and am committed to building resilient coalitions that foster opportunities for others.
Congress’s stall on immigration reform is not stalling the immediate needs and challenges faced by thousands of LGBTQ immigrants. It is the duty of activists, funders, and organizations to recognize the importance of long-term, intersectional advocacy and coalition building for LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights — because that is the pathway forward.
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