There is a series of opinion pieces in today’s NY times asking the question if Coming Out as undocumented is a good idea? The writers are debating the No Papers No Fear Bus that left Phoenix, AZ on Sunday and will spend the next several weeks visiting and challenging states through out the south on SB 1070’s copy cat laws. One of those stops will be Tuscaloosa, AL where I serve as minister. My congregation will be welcoming their presence and service to bring to light the impact of these laws on our neighbors. (you can read more about this bus here)
The comments this article received from the LGBTQ community are fascinating. Those writing feel the term Coming Out is somehow owned by the LGBTQ community and therefore should not be co-opted by the immigrant community. One writer wrote: “What LGBTA people do has never been wrong, unfair or immoral and it has never hurt others. That gay sex has been made a crime in the past was due simply to blatant discrimination.” Oh the irony! Tell that to Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A or to the Salvation Army which recently affirmed that gays deserve to be put to death. I am sure they would enjoy the chuckle.
The journey to come out as gay is a journey of re-claiming one’s dignity and integrity after years of enduring hostile environments filled with subtle micro-aggressions and blatant violence and discrimination; not to mention laws that criminalize behavior, deny hospital visitations, survivors benefits, child rearing, etc.; all of which demean one’s life to insignificance. There are families of gay couples who have lost their children because some judge determined that the biological and gay parent was not fit to raise their children.There are parents told that the only way they could see their children is if they hid their primary identity from view. There are laws in states where families are separated by laws that prohibit gay parents to raise their children. There is a move to legally declare the act of raising a child in a gay household as child abuse.
How are these painful experiences different from the experiences of undocumented people having their families split up because of laws that determine an undocumented parent cannot remain in the States but cannot take their US born children with them? There is no difference in the experience of pain suffered.
The argument that the undocumented chose to be undocumented and gay people do not choose to be gay does not justify the pain experienced. It is insulting and dehumanizing to make such a claim. It is a shallow argument.
It’s shallow because it is the same argument used against the LGBTQ community. Dan Cathy and his ilk say the same about LGBTQ’s: They say gays choose to live this life. Gays deserve no special rights to reduce their pain because it is the consequence of their choice.
Coming out of the closet was an effective means to let the Dan Cathy’s know that we are everywhere, including in your own family. It brought the pain home to the family. The American Family needs to know the pain that immigrants endure. Coming out of the shadows may also be an effective means to letting the American people know the story of pain endured by our convoluted and corrupt (corrupt as in a computer file corruption) immigration system.
Many people migrate here not because they chose to but because there was no other choice available to them. And every citizen in this country have known families that moved because they were forced to move not because they chose to move. They moved because their place of employment was closed down by merger or went bankrupt. They moved because their loved one needed to be closer to better medical facilities. That is the reality of our global community. People in desperate situations are sometimes forced to move.
Why would anyone knowing the risks involved come out as undocumented? Maybe because they like those of us who are LGBTQ want to re-claim their dignity and integrity after years of being of living in the shadows as Americans but undocumented. But don’t take my word for it, let’s ask those who did last Tuesday in Phoenix before we start judging their decisions. We might learn we would do the same thing if living in their shoes.