Immigration advocates to gays: We’re just not that into you

I can’t shake the feeling that the gay community is about to be bait-and-switched by immigration advocates.

There is now open talk of throwing gay binational couples under the immigration reform bus in order to “save” immigration reform for Latinos and a small percentage of Asians.

You see, gays are just too controversial – they give politicians cooties. So, it’s best not to touch our issues in immigration reform.  Though immigration groups are still happy to ask gay rights groups and advocates to spend their money, time, and political chits helping to pass legislation that specifically excludes us, as a gesture of “solidarity.”  Solidarity with people who may be ready to throw us under a bus.

An interesting definition of solidarity.

Gay rights are immigration rights!

I started getting the feeling that something was amiss several months ago, when a clearly-coordinated chorus of “gay rights are immigration rights, and immigration rights are gay rights!” erupted from a number of blogs and organizations, at the same time the national gay rights groups suddenly became the biggest-supporters-ever of immigration reform.

It just struck me as odd, that out of nowhere, in concert, a small chorus of everyone had suddenly decided that immigration reform was the GAYEST THING EVER, even though it didn’t include the one immigration provision that gay advocates had been pushing for years.

Gay groups have been bought off before

It got me wondering if the large gay groups hadn’t been yet again bought off by a large donor, in this case one that gives immigration grants.  It’s happened before to both GLAAD and NLGTF.  And it also got me worrying that immigration groups had perhaps too-well copied the successful strategies and tactics that gay rights advocates had used to pressure the Obama administration and Congress into action these past few years.  But rather than simply copying our strategies and tactics, I started wondering if immigration advocates had instead stolen our mantle, but dropped our substance.

It was a difficult notion to dispel.  A lead DREAM activist recent takes over one of the lead gay grassroots groups at the same time a unified chorus starts claiming, out of nowhere, with no real scientific substantiation, that immigration reform will help nearly a quarter of a million gay people.

The magical 267,000 and the magical immigration donor

If you wondered how they came up with this magical number of gay people helped by immigration reform, you’re not alone.  In short, there is no real data.  It’s a guess.  An educated one, but still a guess. (And, imagine that – the “institute” that just came up with this magical number of gay undocumented immigrants has received funding from the same immigration donor, Haas, as the top gay groups who also only recently, and magically, became emphatic supporters of immigration reform.)

At its core, they started with polls showing the percent of LGBT people in the American population and then extrapolated out to immigrants, with a few adjustments.  So since there are around 3% gay, bi, lesbian and trans people in the US, by some conservative polls, there must be the same number among undocumented immigrants.

Uh, maybe.  Maybe not.  Even the institute that came up with the number admits, “data that directly assess the number of these undocumented immigrants who identify as LGBT do not exist.”

Are the Bush tax cuts now “gay”?

But let’s pretend for a moment that the numbers do exist, and are correct. And that, in essence, gays are represented in undocumented immigration populations in the same proportion that they are represented in American society at large (a pretty mighty assumption).  Does that make immigration reform gay?

As much as it makes the Bush tax cuts “gay” since 3% of US taxpayers are likely LGBT.

It’s a safe bet that pretty much every piece of legislation affecting Americans will affect gay Americans too.  Tax cuts? Gay. Entitlement reform? Gay. Sequester?  Gay. National Ice Cream day? Really gay.

Less gay is more, losing is winning

But there’s something far more troubling than simply watering down what it means for legislation to be “gay.”  This new, all-encompassing definition of “gay” – i.e., any legislation that impacts gay Americans to the same percentage, or more, than they exist in the US population at large – is being used to actually make legislation LESS gay.

Think about it.  If immigration reform is “already” gay because it allegedly helps a quarter of a million gay undocumented immigrants, then how much of the gayness of bill is diminished by chucking 28,500 binational gay couples?  That’s still another quarter of a million gays being helped, so whoopee, we won!

Let me walk you through this, because it really is ingenious – evil ingenious, but ingenious nonethless.

1. Gay groups for years have been fighting to pass immigration reform legislation, called UAFA, that would help 28,500 binational couples, where one partner is American and the other is not, thus the non-American partner is not permitted to stay in the US as even if they get “married” it’s not recognized by the federal government.

2. Now, suddenly, we’re told that immigration reform might not only help 28,500 gays, it will help an additional 267,000 gays.  Wow, that’s even better – it’s ten times better!

3. But, oh – wait a minute.  There’s a bit of a glitch.  You see, we need to drop the 28,500 gays because they’re too toxic, and they make the Republicans cry.  But hey, no harm no foul, we’ve still got 267,000 gays being helped by the bill, nearly ten times the number of gays being dropped.  So that’s still pretty darn good, right?

Well, it depends how you define “good.”

Up until a few months ago, “the” gay immigration goal was to pass UAFA, helping the 28,500 binational couples.  But now, we’re currently heading in the direction of UAFA being toast, along with the 28,500 couples it’s intended to help.

So, while immigration advocates are suddenly claiming that immigration reform is gayer-than-ever, even without UAFA, in fact, we are about to lose everything we’ve been fighting for, as gay rights advocates, in this legislation.  But, by moving the goal posts, suddenly a 100% loss becomes a 90% victory!

What precedent are we setting for future gay rights victories, and losses?

If I were suspicious by nature, I’d almost think that this effort to claim that a quarter of a million gays were being helped by immigration reform was planned in order to provide cover for dropping gays from immigration reform.

And if that happens, what other pieces of legislation will gays now be cut from, only to be told that our defeat is actually our biggest victory ever because 3% of those being helped in the bill are still LGBT?  It’s really quite a nefarious precedent.

But it’s even worse than that.  Gays are now being told that if they don’t back down, if they don’t give up on their efforts to include UAFA in immigration reform, it will be our fault that immigration reform fails. How so?  Because Marco Rubio and the Republicans hate gays so much, they’ve told Democrats they’ll just kill the bill if it’s truly comprehensive reform that helps all Americans, including gay Americans.

Marco Rubio needs us more than we need him

To the suggestion that Marco Rubio will kill immigration reform if the gay is permitted in, I say, yeah right.  The Republicans are desperate for an immigration reform bill, as they’ve only recently come to realize that they’ve so ticked off Latinos – a huge and growing voting bloc – that if they don’t pass immigration reform, they may never win the White House again.

So, when you hear a Republican say “we’ll just kill immigration reform,” keep in mind why they came to the table in the first place.  Because they’re in an electoral panic. From Jonathan Rauch writing in the Daily Beast:

Really? Republicans will deep-six the entire effort and demolish themselves with Latino voters, business interests, and young people to prevent gay people from having someone to take care of them?…

Gay-rights advocates are correct to force the issue by demanding an amendment adding partner immigration to the reform bill now moving through the Senate. They are right to expect their Democratic friends, including President Obama, to support the effort and thereby to force Republicans to announce their priorities. Just how much electoral support and moral standing does the GOP want to give up to affirm its hostility to homosexuals? The results would be, let us say, clarifying.

Not the least of the panicked is Marco Rubio himself.  Rubio wants to be president in 2016, and he’s looking for a way to convince America’s largely-Democratic Latino voters that supporting a far-right Republican is actually in their interest. Rubio needs immigration reform more than all of the Republicans put together.

KISS ME!  I’m a diseased pariah!


A famous AIDS button from the late 80s, early 90s. My friend Paul Clark had a t-shirt with this design that he used to love wearing in Billings, MT in 1991. Paul got a chuckle out of people complementing him on his “Mickey Mouse” shirt without having a clue what it actually meant.

There’s a second nefarious precedent being set by immigration advocates, Democrats, and gay groups who are all, I fear, silently on board with this strategy of throwing UAFA overboard.  They are accepting the Republican charge that gays are toxic, that our issues are too controversial, that America isn’t yet ready for our civil rights and our full equality, and worse, that our allies and elected officials – and our very civil rights groups – aren’t ready either.

If we “take one for the team” (a team, mind you, that doesn’t seem terribly interested in taking one for us) and kill UAFA in order to appease GOP hostage-takers, where will it end?

Are Republicans going to be less, or more, prone in the future to take yet another gay hostage, and another, and another, in order to force Democrats and the progressive-partner-of-the-day to throw us under the bus and further rupture the Democratic coalition that propelled Barack Obama to the presidency, twice?

If gay rights advocates accept the “fact” that we’re just too toxic for immigration reform, when will we ever not be toxic?

Not to mention, is the gay community really ready to accept in 2013 that we are still such political pariahs that our only option is to bow our heads in shame and slink to the back of class, lest our ickiness rub off on our friends?

This is a horrible precedent

I think this is a horrible precedent: Joining a coalition that doesn’t seem terribly interested in coalescing around you.  And worse yet, is outright redefining the definition of success in order to better cut you out of that success.  It’s political genius. But it’s not very gay.

I have no problem with Latinos trying to get legislation passed to permit their family and friends, who came to the US under less-than-optimal means, to stay (80% of undocumented immigrants in the US are Latin American, while 58%  alone are from Mexico).  I’ve even overlooked the fact that my foreign-national Latino friends, who came here legally – including a former flame who was a Colombian doctor doing cancer research at NIH, and even that couldn’t earn him permission to stay – didn’t get to remain in the US.

I have a harder time, however, overlooking the fact that I’m being asked to help on legislation that doesn’t help – can’t be bothered to help – me and mine.  And I’m particularly bothered by the fact that gay binational couples won’t benefit from this legislation because they made the “mistake” of coming to the US legally, and thinking that immigration reform would address their needs, when it increasingly looks like it will not, expressly because they’re “gay” and chose not to break the law.

Immigration advocates, Democrats, and gay rights groups had better hope that the Supreme Court overturns DOMA and “fixes” this problem (and there is no guarantee that will happen).  But in the mean time, if our groups and our allies capitulate to Marco Rubio’s political hostage-taking, the damage to the gay rights movement, and to relations with our progressive allies, will be harder to undo, regardless of what the Supreme Court finally decides.

UPDATE: Weak statement from the White House, which goes along with my entire point above. No one is going to fight for us.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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