Immigration reform tops key issues at LGBT Creating Change.
Activists: LGBT communities must ally with others to ensure equality for all
When President Barack Obama announced Tuesday in Las Vegas that now is the time for “common-sense comprehensive immigration reform,” he echoed a crucial portion of the national LGBT Creating Change conference in Atlanta.
Now is the time for immigration reform and now is the time for LGBT people to accept that immigration reform is part of their movement as well, said numerous activists throughout the Creating Change conference, held Jan. 23-27 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Atlanta. The 25th annual conference, which is held in a different city each year, drew more than 3,000 activists from across the country as well as China and Taiwan.
While President Obama didn’t speak publicly about LGBT families during his Jan. 29 speech on immigration reform, he included provisions for bi-national gay and lesbian couples in his framework for reform, as well as the principles of the DREAM Act — “legislation that provides a streamlined path to citizenship for young people who came to the country as children and are going to school or serving their country.”
Jose Antonio Vargas, a gay Pulitzer-winning journalist who “came out of a second closet” when he revealed to in a 2011 New York Times Magazine essay that he was an undocumented immigrant, was presented the Creating Change Award during the Jan. 25 plenary. He urged attendees to pay attention to the issue and to stand up for their friends and allies in the movement.
“As immigration reform becomes the key issue of this year, we must advocate for each other so no one is left out of the conversation,”Vargas said.
There are approximately 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. and in the past four years, the Obama administration has deported more than 1.5 million undocumented people — including LGBT people.
Rea Carey, executive director of The Task Force, gave a State of the Movement speech on Jan. 24, and said while we can embrace recent victories on the marriage front as well as the reelection of President Obama, there is still much to be done to ensure all of those within the LGBT family are not left behind.
“If there is one message we can take away from Election Night 2012, it is that we are not alone. We are not alone as a movement, as a people, and we need to make sure no one else is alone either.
“Yes, this is our moment — an LGBT movement moment. But, if we are to be truly transfor- mational as a movement, we must use this moment to not only benefit LGBT people but the country as a whole. That is our leadership challenge as a movement,” she said.
Carey also sat in on a panel that discussed national LGBT political strategy under the next four years of the Obama administration with other top leaders: Jamie Ensley, vice chair of the Log Cabin Republicans, who lives in Atlanta and is also a board member of Georgia Equality; Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality; Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition; and Kirk Fordham, executive director of Gill Action, a organization founded by philanthropist Tim Gill which funds state-focused campaigns to defeat anti-gay measures as well as help pro-LGBT candidates and policies.
The Task Force runs a coalition of 27 organizations, most LGBT but not all, and before President Obama was elected in 2008 the coalition conducted an inventory of the federal government to determine where discrimination exists, Carey explained.
“We looked for things that did not need Congressional approval and started out with 80 policies and made them user-friendly for the administration,” she said, noting this can work at the state level as well.
“We’ve been able to change seven to 10 policies a year. One of the most notable is getting the Department of Commerce to count our mar- riages,” Carey said.
The coalition was also a force in getting the administration to implement a policy that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people who apply for public housing.
For the second term, one of the challenges is that the policies being addressed by the coalition are not as high profile but will have a huge impact on LGBT lives, she said. For example, ensuring LGBT questions are included on every federal survey given.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of federal surveys that collect data but LGBT people are not there at all. We want to make sure our lives are represented,” Carey said.
Collecting this data will allow for LGBT groups to apply for funding and direct programs to the LGBT community, she said.
Keisling said transgender policies have progressed at “lightening speeds” under the first term of the Obama administration.
“What I love as a good government person and ideological person … is [the Obama administration] hasn’t turned the keys over to the left wing. We’ve been saying here’s a problem, here’s how to fix it, and we usually win it,” she said, adding that the gay movement is now generally trans inclusive.
More than marriage
But in the future the LGBT movement has to understand it cannot be a one-issue movement — that one issue being gay marriage.
Having Obama recognize marriage equality in his inaugural speech was a great feat, but it also sends the message that the LGBT movement had reached full maturity even though there are still so many other issues to work on, Keisling said.
Ensley said that with a second term, there typically comes a nine or 10 month span when real legislation can get passed — and this is the year to finally pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The National Black Justice Coalition wants people to be mindful that it is a black president that has been the most LGBT-supportive president ever and that it is time to undo the “black versus gay narrative” that has played out for years.
“Gay people, you need to understand black people and listen to them and reach out to them,” Lettman-Hicks said, adding that black LGBT people have a 36 percent unemployment rate compared to the national 8 percent.
Meaningful justice recognizes cultural differences, she added.
“When dealing with race and culture and LGBT identities we are multiple minorities. Where is that in the scheme of things?” she asked. “Everyone has the data that is showing people of color who are LGBT are more out, poorer, and live in the South. But who is listening to it?”
Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas (far right), who made popular the term ‘undocumented American,’ leads a panel on immigration reform with DREAM activists at this year’s Creating Change conference. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)