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Photo courtesy of Julio Salgado
“The immigrant youth movement is on point. There’s a commitment for LGBT folks to be represented at every level of our movement,” says Project Coordinator of the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), a project of the United We Dream Network based in California, Jorge Gutierrez. He speaks of creating a platform where LGBT families are included within the larger immigration policy reform discourse and the need to uplift the stories of undocumented LGBT immigrants in addition to same sex couples where one is a citizen and other is not (also known as bi-national couples) which have received some mainstream media attention.
There is very little research into how the intersection of gender, sexual orientation, and immigration registers in the minds of people in the United States. In response to this need, The Opportunity Agenda reviewed mainstream and niche media coverage and public opinion research to find the overarching story being told in mainstream media about immigrant women. The findings provide some insight about the representation of LGBT immigrants as well.
LGBT immigrants were the focus of two pieces in the scan of articles in 20 national, regional, and local print outlets. One reported on attacks on gay and transgender immigrants while in federal detention facilities. The second article was a piece about “pumpers” – people who illegally inject silicone to modify clients’ bodies – and their low-income, largely immigrant transgender clientele.
It is clear from this research that the US is not yet receiving a balanced picture of the lives, contributions, aspirations and challenges of LGBT immigrants. “We don’t want to make mistakes that the general immigration policy reform movement has made,” states Jorge. When asked what those mistakes were and where they stem from, he mentions homophobia and transphobia. “It stems from straight males at the national leadership level making decisions. Women and LGBT people are left out of the conversation.”
He sees the representation of LGBT immigrants in the media as limited, focused solely on bi-national couples. “We always talk about bi-national couples. I feel we only focus on that, especially couples from European countries. We don’t see couples from Latin America. We completely forget about the huge undocumented immigrant community. There isn’t a lot people of color representation in mainstream media except as tokens.”
Jorge Gutierrez was born in the state of Nayarit in Mexico. At the age of 10, he crossed the border north to California with his family. The outspoken, friendly, and curious ten year-old became a New American without immigration status. “It was so different here. I grew up in a small ‘rancho’ [town]. There was a lot of violence in my home. My mother is the foundation of the family. When my dad didn’t go to work, my mom always hustled so we had a plate on the table. My mother left for the United States first. She left my father. We were looking for something bigger and better then what we had.”
Jorge Gutierrez (above) at age 10, during Outdoor Ed week in California
Jorge talks about swinging his hips left and right at a young age and being told by his father not to walk, not to speak in “that” way. His father decided that he was not going to have a relationship with him and focused his attention on his other sons. When Jorge and his siblings crossed the border to join their mother, they left their father behind. They didn’t know anything about him for a while until he showed up in California trying to reconnect with his family. Jorge currently has no relationship with his father.
His coming out happened at the age of 15 in his mother’s car while they waited for a red light. His mother had picked him up from his shift at a pizza place. “It was scary at the beginning. I wanted to suppress it. I love my mother. She’s the one who asked me. She was like, ‘I have a questions for you, ¿Te gustan los niños o las niñas? [Do you like boys or girls?] I told her I like boys. It was the longest red light of my life.”
Jorge’s mother pulled over at a nearby parking lot and asked him to step out of the car. He was afraid to lose her like he’d lost his father because of his sexual orientation. “This woman with a second grade education was able to tap into her heart and tell me, her son, ‘I don’t understand what this means, but I love you.’ She gave me the biggest hug.” Jorge’s mother told the rest of her children that the family was to love and protect him. She also didn’t want to hear the words “maricón” or “joto” [variations of the term “fag”] in her house.
Soon after, a dear friend of his took him to a Dreamer meeting, just when he was about to give up on his education. He started molding his story, his undocumented story. “I realized I was only sharing my undocumented story and my queer identity was being left back. It was creating a lot of tension. I started sharing what it meant to be undocumented and queer.” It was a turning point for him.
“I want to remind queer undocumented youth across the country to share our stories so we can be fierce on the dance floor and outside the dance floor,” says Jorge. He talks about our current political climate as a historic moment for both the immigrant and LGBT equal rights movements. He wants to see a roadmap to citizenship, families together, fair labor standards, marriage equality and full inclusion of the transgender community.
Jorge Gutierrez’s story and The Opportunity Agenda’s research is a call to all advocates, policymakers, journalists, and others to promote a more informed public discourse that provides a balanced picture of the lives, contributions, aspirations and challenges of LGBT immigrants.
Jorge Gutierrez during the "Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project" convening.
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The Opportunity Agenda is a project of Tides Center