Guest Opinion: LGBTs must stand with immigrants

  • by Jim Mitulski
  • Wednesday November 16, 2011
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Immigrant solidarity deserves to be at the top of LGBT liberation issues. I never expected to live long enough to see so many of the causes for which our entire movement has worked for generations see vindication to the extent that we have seen in recent years. I have seen the place of social stigma long occupied by people of color, once occupied by gays and lesbians in the 1970s and 80s, occupied by people with HIV in the 1980s and 1990s, occupied subsequently by the poor, now give way to a scapegoating of immigrants, particularly Latino/a immigrants, and have been disappointed by the lack of solidarity exhibited by our collective movement as this population integral to our society has been increasingly marginalized and now persecuted to an unprecedented degree by our laws.

While so much attention has been focused on local mayoral races, and so much of our movement's attention has been focused on marriage equality and on the full integration of gays into the military, other issues and races have been unfolding that merit our collective focus. I was so heartened to see that Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce was recalled in the recent elections there, because it may signal a sea change in public awareness of the virulent anti-immigrant hysteria that is unfolding in our midst. Pearce was the force behind Arizona's harsh anti-immigrant statute SB 1070, some of which has been declared unconstitutional but much of which has been retained. Apparently Pearce went too far even for those who support restrictions on immigration, and even his past supporters characterized him as going too far.

While our community celebrated last December the toppling of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," in the same weekend the Dream Act went down to defeat in Congress, with the help of some Democrats. Our cries of joy at the one victory should have been muted with cries of outrage over the quiet defeat of this national legislation that was thinly disguised anti-Latino/a hysteria. California's version of the Dream Act, AB 31 did recently pass, but it still is counter to the national trend. Meanwhile the state of Alabama has continued a long tradition of anti-civil rights legislation with HB 56, signed into law in June and facing constitutional tests that makes Arizona's laws look tame. It is illegal to be without status in Alabama, to rent an apartment or provide utilities to non-citizens, to give rides, or to educate the children of immigrants without papers. Many of these workers provide essential employment to Alabama's agricultural industry. Since the beginning of the school year over 2,000 students have been taken out of public school, nearly all of who are Hispanic. So strong is the anti-Hispanic prejudice in Alabama that even the negative economic implications of such a severe set of restrictions on undocumented workers is not able to mitigate the hatred of perceived foreigners. The word for this is xenophobia, not part of our vocabulary at this time in the United States, but alive and well nevertheless in our society. If once we knew how to identify and challenge homophobia, it is now morally incumbent on us to identify xenophobia with the same challenge and to make it an issue primarily associated with our community's agenda to overturn.

The reasons for this are many. We who have experienced the negative effects of homophobia ought to be quick to identify when others experience a similar irrational hatred, and to put to use our political organizing skills in challenging the laws and structures which help reinforce it. Also those affected by laws like those in Alabama and Arizona are part of our LGBT constituency. Only our own racism prevents us from recognizing the extent to which this is true. The simplistic notion that immigration is not a gay issue reveals this insidious internal shortsightedness.

I remember Proposition 64. In 1986, Lyndon LaRouche and his allies managed to put on the California state ballot a measure that if passed and found constitutional would have forced people with HIV from their jobs and into mandatory quarantine. I remember the fear that went through our community in the Castro when we speculated about what would happen if we were rounded up and put in isolation camps in Alameda. We wondered if our non-gay neighbors would stand in solidarity with us, or in tradition of silent bystanders exhibited by Californians during the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans in 1942. Having just read Julie Otsuka's current bestselling novel, The Buddha in the Attic, which recounts this very narrative, it caused me to reflect on the LGBT community's relative silence around the xenophobia in our midst.

I hope that in the upcoming year, people will say of our community that we are steadfast, unrelenting, and unflinching allies of undocumented immigrants, that the passion, which has resulted in so many victories for us, has translated into passion for challenging unjust laws and racism without and outside of our community. Let Russell Pearce's defeat be a clarion call to our community, that whatever reluctance we have evidenced in the past, let us now say no – to presidential candidates who make light of electrified fences, and to laws like SB 1070 and HB 56. Let LGBT rights be interchangeable with immigrant rights in our pursuit of justice.

The Reverend Jim Mitulski is pastor of New Spirit Community Church at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley ( He has been a gay activist since 1976.