LGBT Undocumented Latino Groups Need More than Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Carolina Drake, November 4, NYC- Apparently gay people are fairing better than their non-gay counterparts in the Latino Community, but how does citizenship play into this equation? And where do the undocumented LGBT Latinos fit in?

The legal status of Latino immigrants in the LGBT communities is a structural difference to be highlighted when bringing up projects for effective coalitions within a group. In this case, same-sex marriage laws do not solve the needs of undocumented queer Latinos and are rather covering the specific problems of these groups.

While sometimes less visible in popular representations of LGBT people and families, Latinos make up a sizable portion of the LGBT population. A new report by the UCLA Williams Institute found that an estimated 1.4 million – or 4.3 percent – of U.S. Hispanic adults consider themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). From this percentage, it was found that most LGBT Latinos live in areas with a high concentration of Hispanics, rather than a high concentration of the broader LGBT population.

Although this new study explores differences between same-sex vs. different sex couples in the Latino community, it did not report on differences between undocumented and documented LGBT. Regarding the Latino LGBT economic progress, the study shows how: “Overall, Latino/a individuals in same-sex couples are faring better than their different-sex counterparts. They are more likely to be employed, more likely to have health insurance and more likely to have completed a college degree.”

What is interesting about this study is the correlation between those who are “fairing better” in the LGBT community and those who have citizenship, as is stated: “Latino/a individuals in same-sex couples are more likely to be a U.S. citizen than their counterparts in different-sex couples (80% vs. 62%).”

This percentage speaks to acculturation. From the perspective of this study, Hispanics will continue to become more tolerant as they associate with other segments in society and themselves become exposed to issues of LGBT acceptance. But it also remarks that more LGBT individuals are born in the United States and have citizenship status.

Also, in correlation to citizenship status and higher education,“an estimated 15% of both LGBT and non-LGBT Latino/a adults have completed a college degree. 26% of Latino/a individuals in same-sex couples have completed a college degree or more, compared to 14% in different-sex couples.”

Looking at the Mexican population which is the largest in the United States, 20.9% of Latino/a ‘s of Mexican decent in same-sex couples have completed their college degree vs. 8.3% of those in different sex couples. But citizenship plays an important role, given that Latino/a individuals in same-sex couples are much more likely to be born in the United States than Latino/a individuals in different-sex couples (59% vs. 36%)

Overall, the report reveals inequalities between documented vs. undocumented Latinos, but it does not give much needed information about undocumented LGBT Latinos. So, highlighting their specific problems might be a good start. For example, although same-sex marriage is legal in many states, those who benefit from it are legal residents. In the case of couples where one partner is undocumented, DOMA does not recognize same-sex couples to get immigration rights, so although legally married, undocumented LGBT are still excluded from benefits. Another problem for undocumented LGBT Latinos is their access to higher education and their limited employment options dependent on “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies, with no discrimination and harassment laws protecting them.

One solution does not fit every group in the LGBT community and such inequalities suggest further reasons why activism is important to protect the most marginalized groups within a community. Jacobin Magazine highlighted this issue here, exploring the social class gap between same-sex couples who are fairing well, and LGBT youth who is being ignored when gay rights activism only rally's around gay marriage:

Looked at from this vantage point, the chief beneficiaries of gay marriage will be Crate & Barrel, not the queer folks with the most desperate needs. There is an obvious disconnect between the desires of politically connected, wealthy gay people and the needs of queer youth, and yet the major gay rights organizations have all rallied around gay marriage as if it will solve the problems of gay people everywhere, regardless of race or class.

When same sex marriage laws do not help LGBT undocumented Latinos gain citizenship, like marriage laws do with different sex couples, then there might have to be a change of focus when it comes to political interests.

Last year, the Huff Post shared the story of Jorge Gutierrez, an undocumented queer Latino activist, in the Latino Voices blog. Gutierrez, who advocates for equal rights to higher education is involved in projects to engage Queer Undocumented immigrant youth in intentional dialogue with allies in the LGBTQ and Immigrant Rights Movements. His biography reveals a constant negotiation between identity categories such as his race, sexual orientation, and legal status that define his opportunities for socio-economic progress:

As a child, Jorge Gutierrez was brought across the U.S.-Mexico border by his parents illegally. Today, he works as an undocumented queer activist, trying to bridge the gap between LGBT and pro-immigration groups. His efforts have been focused primarily on the DREAM Act movement. Gutierrez currently serves on the board of directors of United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization with a focus on equal access to higher education for all.

Gutierrez is one of many who are bringing forth his experience to organize more effective political coalitions that cross exist identity categories within a group such as the Latino LGBT population in the United States. For those undocumented and gay, rather than same-sex marriage being a priority, bridging the gap between LGBT and pro-immigration groups is central for economic and social progress. Same-Sex marriage law, in this case, functions as equalizer that hides inequalities for Latinos who are undocumented.