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Love Sees No Borders Founder: Who are the Illegals?

by Marta Donayre

The recent immigration debate has stirred up a lot of emotions in this country. Not too long ago, the same emotions rose around the issue of same-sex marriage. As a Latina lesbian immigrant, I can’t help but feel continually targeted. On the one hand my immigrant brothers and sisters call me “immoral.” On the other hand my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer brothers and sisters call me “illegal.” In the end, both only perpetuate the “otherness” stigma that affects immigrants and LGBTQ people. Sadly, both groups fail to see that they have more similarities than differences.

Both LGBTQ people and immigrants are accused of breaking “the law.” To some these are sodomy laws (repealed only as recently as 2003), to others immigration law. Yet powerful people wrote both legal codes to enforce their personal biases on those deemed “other.” In the heat of the argument, the humanity of people like me is completely lost since the “other” is less deserving, or needs to be eliminated somehow.

Unfortunately, both groups also advocate for justice and equality, but only for themselves. During immigration protests I vigorously chant, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” But this chant really means “just us,” since the LGBTQ community is never included. The assumption is that all immigrants are heterosexual. As an immigrant, my own movement leaves me behind.

Likewise, I also vigorously chant along to “What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!” at LGBTQ rallies and protests. But the LGBTQ community has made it very clear that there are some that are more equal than others through their citizenship rhetoric. The argument is that citizens are more deserving than non-citizens. The immigration debate in the LGBTQ community is only limited to partnership recognition. Most times, this is muddled in with marriage. Unless I, as an immigrant, am the appendix of an American citizen whose rights are violated I do not count at all. The assumption is that all LGBTQ people are citizens. As a lesbian, my own movement leaves me behind.

Ironically, both groups put forward the same arguments. “If they only understood how we suffer,” the logic goes, “they would change their hearts and minds and support us.” So both camps go out to the public to do just that: share their stories of how they are being wronged. Yet, when it comes time to hearing the other side, for instance for the immigrants to hear the LGBTQ plight or vice versa, something funny happens. The openness that is asked of others is refused when it is their turn. We allow in ourselves the same bigotry we point to in others. No matter what the speaker may have to present, heterosexual immigrants and LGBTQ citizens can only see and listen through the filter of bias. The immigrant will always be the undeserving “illegal,” the LGBTQ person will always be the undeserving “immoral.”

Then, I ask, how can either movement really achieve justice and equality? Aren’t we, as people, giving back the exact thing we don’t want for ourselves? Aren’t both communities victims of the same oppressive bias and bigotry? Are we not perpetuating the myth of the “other” onto each other? To this I say, “Do onto others as you would wish them do onto you.”

I am ashamed to say that a few years ago I did not understand this. At the time I was caught up in the cycle of creating hierarchies of oppression. I too thought that citizens should come first, even though I myself am an immigrant. But I was fortunate to learn that all forms of oppression are the same. They are rooted in the notion that group A is better than group B based on a label. Because group A is inherently better, then this group deserves something more and better, and that they deserve it before group B. The label could be that of citizenship status, gender, sexual orientation, income level, skin color, religion, disability, class, etc. Now I understand that no advocate for justice and/or equality can see the fruits of the tree of oppression as being different. When a person advocates for equality, he or she must not see people as unequal. When a person advocates for justice, they cannot advocate for “just us.” I hope that my brothers and sisters on both sides of this argument can also learn this lesson and that we can all work together against all forms of oppression.

Marta Donayre is the co-founder of Love Sees No Borders, an organization that advocates for LGBT immigrants and their families. You can reach her though or


Originally published on Tuesday April 11, 2006.

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