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What Does Solidarity Look Like in 2011?

December 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Back in July, I wrote about then recent observations of the relationship between the Latino and the LGBT communities. The observations were made while attending Netroots Nation and I was feeling especially hopeful that both communities were genuinely interested in building a bridge to each other, especially since this was the first real overture I had ever witnessed from the LGBT movement to address its abysmal record on diversity and outreach to people of color.  At a day-long LGBT pre-conference event, immigration was a breakout subject all its own and many of the attendees talked at length about the need for the LGBT rights movement to stand in solidarity with the fight for fair and just immigration reform. Recognizing the secret life and the kind of closet undocumented immigrants live in seemed to resonate with the largely white, gay male bloggers who were in attendance.  Witnessing these activists having robust conversations about how both movements can join forces in order to affect greater and more positive change was an encouraging sign that things were about to change going forward.

Of course, this was months before the devastating mid-term elections and the historic lame-duck Congressional work session that had everyone biting their nails in anticipation. This was before political maneuvering cast doubt on the passage of the DREAM Act (important to the Latino community) and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (important to the LGBT community). And, it was before the U.S. Senate dashed any hopes that these two communities could work together, as it did when the august body scheduled both DREAM and DADT repeal for votes in the last remaining weeks of the session. In a Congress that was as politically charged and partisan as this one, it seemed nearly impossible to ask the Senate to consider (gasp!) two difficult votes that would mean a great deal to both communities fighting for them. Suffice it to say that all that talk of building bridges and standing strong together went out the window as both communities galvanized their networks for the fight that lay before them.

We all know what has happened since then. The DREAM Act and Latinos got the shaft and DADT repeal passed and was subsequently signed into law just days later. The president says he is confident repeal will happen in a matter of months, not years, and before long the United States will join the rest of the developed world in its attitude toward LGB men and women in the armed forces. This is fantastic news and, while I’m still a vocal critic of the military who has many reservations about a standing army, I recognize what this means in the name of advancing equality and I wholeheartedly welcome the change.

Now that repeal has happened, however, I’m wondering if there is still interest in the LGBT community to restart that conversation that was started last July. It is pretty clear now that the LGBT rights movement is not going to have any other legislative victories akin to the repeal of DADT anytime soon. True, the president has said that he wants to see DOMA repealed but that’s a two to four year time frame we’re talking about and the reality is that the movement shouldn’t really expect to see the White House or the Congress do much to advance its issues in the next two years.

Given that reality, I humbly suggest that the LGBT rights movement do everything it can to continue that show of solidarity with the Latino community and pour energy into getting the next Congress to make the DREAM Act a reality. Now, I don’t think that we should rest on our laurels with the DADT repeal. We should continue the fight for equality, but we should also take the opportunity to show to the world just how inclusive and thoughtful the LGBT movement can be. Now is the chance to show Latinos, and indeed all LGBT people of color, that the movement cares about them and values them enough to help them take up arms in the fight against bigotry, racism and xenophobia even if its a fight that will help only a very select group of people. Indeed, the repeal of DADT has no effect on me whatsoever, but I supported the fight nonetheless. So did thousands of the DREAMers (many of which happen to be gay, I might add) who thought it was an unjust law.

Now is the time for the LGBT movement to get involved in the immigration struggle. Just this week, the White House announced an all-out grassroots campaign to get Congress to act on DREAM.

From HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel:

On a conference call with journalists Wednesday (12/22/2010), White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the President is willing to “wage a very public campaign” to push the DREAM Act, which would grant undocumented students who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents a path to citizenship through higher education or military service. He added that grassroots activism will be essential to success.

The emphasis on the last sentence is mine. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years is that LGBT activism is a force to be reckoned with. I’ve seen the intense lobbying, fundraising, and activism efforts the LGBT movement mobilizes when it needs to, and together with the Latino community, we could expose the worst of our national legislators and present a united front in the call for justice and equality. If the LGBT movement really wants to make inroads with the Latino community, it will heed this call and begin to lay the groundwork for the coming fight. And, for all you partisan Dems out there, imagine how the party could capitalize on a united effort between LGBT’s and Latinos working together to fight for immigration reform.

As you can imagine, the Latino community has been working feverishly to plan for the next Congress and it is working with the White House to explore the administrative courses of action available to the president.

As the New York Times put it:

Mr. Obama doesn’t need Congress to curb the Department of Homeland Security, which is deporting at a record pace many of the very people he says deserve a chance to stay. That means reforming Secure Communities, a fingerprinting program that will soon turn every local police department in the country into an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – a looming disaster for public safety and good policing. He can tell border agents to stop harassing and scaring innocent people.

He can halt deportations of students who would have qualified for the Dream Act, under the time-honored practice of deferred action for those who pose no threat. He can have the Labor Department redouble efforts to expose wage-and-hour violations endemic in the immigrant workplace.

Perhaps most important, he can stop enabling the Republicans who are itching to make things worse. He can defend against the propaganda that all illegal immigrants are by definition a class of criminals instead of people trapped in a web of bad laws, misguided policies and squandered potential. And he can repudiate the myth that all America’s immigration problems will be solved at the Mexican border.

Communities of color, especially LGBT’s, are paying close attention to what the LGBT rights movement does next. Its leaders would do well to show their commitment to communities of color by getting on board with this fight and doing what is right in the name of equality for all.

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Americans Can Learn from Africans in the Fight for Sexual Freedom

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment

(This was posted originally September 20, 2010 at The Bilerico Project.)

Recent polling suggests that Americans are becoming increasingly accepting of same-sex couples and their families. The second poll in as many months shows that.
This is a remarkable statistic and is no doubt a result of all the work that thousands of gay rights activists and allies have done in laying the groundwork to change hearts and minds. The fight for equality, however, should be examined through the lens of the larger fight for sexual freedom in general.

We as LGBT people are a sexual minority and as we help this country’s citizens progress in their view of the definition of what love means, we are also exceptionally poised to help them acknowledge their own sexuality and that sexual freedom is a fundamental human right.

For Kushaba Moses Mworeko, or Moses, as his friends call him, the struggle for sexual freedom has meant having to leave his home country or face potential deadly consequences. Moses’ remarkable story was first told earlier this year when he was featured as a panelist at the American Prayer Hour press conference. The American Prayer Hour was an alternative interfaith service held in protest on the day of The Family’s National Prayer Breakfast. Moses, who hails from Uganda, talked about his experience as a closeted gay man in Africa. His story was especially significant as Uganda’s legislature was, and still is, considering passage of the homophobic Anti-Homesexuality Bill of 2009.

The pictures of Moses speaking with a paper bag over his head to hide his identity while he spoke at the National Press Club have become iconic images.

Since then, Moses has officially come out to the world revealing his face on the cover of Washington’s Metro Weekly. His story has also served as a rallying call in the international fight for equality as evidenced by a recent blog post at Truth Wins Out. In it, Moses called on Anglican leaders to denounce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

It is time for Christian leaders in Africa to start promoting peace and stop persecuting LGBT people,” said Kushaba Moses Mworeko, who recently escaped to the United States. “I call on the Anglican Church to speak out forcefully against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and to support decriminalizing gay relationships across the continent. As the church grows in Africa it must choose to be a force for good and not intolerance.

To honor all this work, this week (September 23, 2010) Moses will be awarded with the Victoria Woodhull Sexual Freedom Award, the “Vicki,” for his bravery and for embodying the mission and vision of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, which works to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. Moses plans to work with the Woodhull Freedom Foundation to help them establish an Internet platform for global rights, which he will use to continue his advocacy and work.

The award ceremony is part of Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Day, a day long event taking place at the National Press Club this Thursday. The day will be capped with the release of Woodhull’s new report, “The State of Sexual Freedom in the US” at a 3 p.m. press conference. Bilerico’s very own Bil Browning is a also a featured panelist.

The award is named after the group’s namesake, Victoria Woodhull, a progressive suffragist who advocated for sexual freedom and who was the first woman to run for President of the United States.
Moses is humbled to be receiving the award and the attention he’s received in the last year has bolstered his belief that what he is doing is right.When it comes to his own thoughts on sexual freedom, Moses is very clear about what he feels is most important.

“It is okay for people to do whatever they want to do, provided the sex is consensual and safe,” he said.

Moses quoted Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and early champion of birth control, to help explain his view: “Through sex mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise.”

Getting to this earthly paradise is something he is confident will happen for the U.S., Africa and the world in general.

“In Uganda, internet usage isn’t as prolific there as it is in the West. They do use it, but they don’t do much research,” he said. “My story has opened their minds and their view of the Internet, so if I keep speaking about it folks will slowly start to understand.”

Though he is 31, he says that he has never felt more free than he has since going public with his true identity this past summer.

“I look at myself as a person who is now free and empowered to do whatever I want to do with my life and I think that also encompasses the sexual side of myself,” he says. “I feel like I am now out of the closet and I think I am the happiest person around. I can function more normally now that I am free.”

Despite this newly found freedom and the attention he has received in this country, Moses is quick to note that he does not consider himself to be the new face of the fight for equality. Rather, this humble man feels he’s most effective when he’s working behind the scenes of the movement.

“I’ll always speak out about injustice. That’s all I can do. If I’ve been of any help through my words then that is a good thing,” he said. “I thrive on feedback when talking with the other side and I don’t mind their responses to me, but the whole issue is that if I communicate with the other side that’s a good thing. We have to be able to engage them.”

Moses acknowledges very frankly that coming out has caused some pain for him and his family and friends, who have only recently learned of his activities here in the States. The calls from home have been endless and most are in disbelief that it is true. While he is disheartened at some of the negative reactions he has encountered, he is determined to keeping up the fight for equality here and at home in Uganda.

Moses is currently living in San Francisco where his case for asylum has been moved and he’s looking forward to working with local LGBT groups there when he returns later this week as he waits for his case to be decided.

He’s also working on his plans for the future which include a return to graduate school. His studies were cut short in Uganda when he had to leave and his application was positively received at Johns Hopkins University, where he hopes to soon matriculate in order to work on his other passions: social work and public health.

And, through this all, Moses says he will continue to do his part to ensure sexual freedom and equality for all. His core set of values is based on a simple yet profound idea that gets to the heart of the equality movement and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s mission.

“All I care about is having people free to express themselves the way they want to.”

Learn more about the work the Woodhull Freedom Foundation is doing and read their recent report on the  State of Sexual Freedom in the United States.

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Prop 8 D-Day Coming Down the Pike

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

There will be a decision in the Prop 8 case tomorrow. http://tinyurl.com/28j4wfq

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Encouraging Signs

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I am a proud gay man. I am a proud Latino. I’ve spent my adult life working on behalf of both of those communities.

Sadly, those two communities have not always embraced each other. The gay rights movement has for too long been lacking in diversity and has been slow to address that issue.

The Latino community, with its heavy Catholic influence and family dynamics that are often rooted in traditionalism is wary of what gay rights could mean for them.

This has been a source of frustration for me and I’ve often racked my brains over how to bridge that divide. After the first couple of days at Netroots Nation, though, I am seeing some very good signs of encouragement.

It seems that everywhere I go at this conference, everyone is talking about immigration, including progressives in the gay community. Indeed, Kate Kendall of National Center for Lesbian Rights, made a compelling case for how the gay community must embrace and support the Latino community, and minority communities in general. This is a significant move for the gay rights movement as it is finally starting to realize that immigration affects them, too. I see much collaboration between the two communities in the coming years, and I think the conservative right should be scared.

I have been delighted to hear that gay bloggers want to make our leaders accountable on immigration reform, not only where it concerns UAFA, which would directly affect bi-national LGBT couples but on immigration reform in general.

One of the most encouraging talks I’ve had about what we bloggers can do to work with immigration reform advocates had to do with being in the closet. And, I think it is one of the best selling points we can make to win over the hearts and minds of those in the gay community who, at best, have been lukewarm to the idea of supporting immigration reform.

Undocumented immigrants are also in the closet and every out gay person knows what it is like to live a lie and to be in constant fear of being discovered. We have all been through it at one point or another and if for no other reason than this, we should be supporting immigration reform that would help these folks come out of their immigration closet. Our undocumented brothers and sisters live every day in fear that they may not see their families after they leave for work in the morning. They live in fear that their families will be ripped apart for an unknown amount of time. They live in fear of having to make the trek back across the border after being deported.

The gay community can make real inroads with another community that is in desperate need of the kind of advocacy the gay rights movement is famous for.

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How I Became a Home Depot Defender

June 26, 2010 Leave a comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

I’m not usually in the practice of coming to the defense of many coporations, especially a giant retailer like Home Depot, but Media Matters for America’s County Fair blog pointed out a World Net Daily report that promoted a homophobic American Family Association (AFA) email to its members. In it, Home Depot is the subject of AFA’s ire for its domestic partner benefits, which are open to domestic partners of their employees.

County Fair on the AFA:

“So, what exactly is the AFA? It certainly sounds wholesome, but a review of its past comments tells an entirely different story. Political Correction — Media Matters’ partner organization — offers some enlightening context:

Yep, you read that correctly. WND quotes an organization that thinks too many Indian-Americans are winning spelling bees and that gay sex is tantamount to domestic terrorism.”

It’s true, as County Fair’s Kyle Frisch points out, that WND is clearly on the furthest parts of the right-wing fringe, but it’s also true that they’re doing their part to spread hatred in the form of some twisted comedy to all its readers.

It’s also true that there are probably some things I would hate to know about Home Depot’s corporate business practices, but at least it does have accepting benefits policies, which include any domestic partner of an employee, which includes its LGBT staffers.

I’m glad they have a presence at Pride celebrations like the one featured in the WND story. More corporations would do well to look to Home Depot for ideas on how they can be more inclusive of their own LGBT employees.

Still, my support for Home Depot doesn’t derive from that alone. There are, thankfully, other American corporations with similar policies. It derives from how much enjoyment my father has found in working for them, especially where it concerns their inclusive policies.

Both my parents are hard-working blue-collar Latinos with not much more than a high school education. They also probably spend their time online doing less social networking than most of those reading this post right now, especially when it comes to activism. But I like to think that over the years I’ve kept them informed enough to consider the LGBT implications of those they support electorally, financially, or as potential employers.

Not too long ago, my dad took a job with a Home Depot in Texas working in the lumber department. I was a little confused when he told me left an operating room position at a local hospital to take a customer service job at Home Depot, but he told me he was happy about the decision and looking forward to not having to contend with physician egos. Understandable.

I can’t say I was really convinced that it was the best decision, but over the last year I have really come to understand more clearly than ever how important it is to attain personal happiness. My partner has been instrumental in helping me get to that point. My father, I’ve learned, is doing what he needs to do to be happy.

He’s also an outstanding carpenter so the lumber department makes perfect sense for him! He even landed an account at a river resort in the Texas hill country making deck chairs. He gets to work with his hands and he’s around 2×4’s and 3×4’s and whatever else you might find in that department. All I know is that he is in utter bliss when he’s there.

I’m very proud of him and he is also skilled at charming the pants off people when he meets them, so it’s fitting to have him on the floor talking to folks about what they need for their own projects.

Despite all that, I was still on the fence about him working there.

I became a Home Depot supporter when my dad told me what he learned after finishing orientation. He called and was very excited to tell me about Home Depot’s LGBT friendly benefits policies and how he spoke up to his supervisors to let them know that he was happy he was working there because of that policy. He told them that he had a gay son, so it was important for him to be working for such a friendly company.

He had come out to his fellow staffers. True, he didn’t come out as a gay man, but I know many parents back home who love their gay and lesbian kids, but who would also prefer that nobody else know they have one. It’s sadly far too common.

I’m lucky enough to have parents who love me for me in private and in public and who are unafraid to say so.

Whether my dad knows it or not, he was an activist that day when he voiced his support for his company’s LGBT policies. LGBT employees at Home Depot should thank my father for his small action.

He is a true friend and ally to our community the world over.

Thanks, Dad.

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Religious Right Has No Intention of Letting Uganda Anti-gays Bill Die

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This despite reports that the Uganda Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee doubts the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will pass.

Religious extremist Lou Engle’s group The Call is planning a rally next month in Uganda and will include calls to support the legislation.

From Truth Wins Out:

“He [Warren Throckmorton] reports that The Call Uganda, an organization which has both political and religious purposes and supports Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, is preparing for a large rally on May 2.

According to Throckmorton, ‘The relative quiet in Uganda surrounding the bill could easily be broken by this event.'”

Engle is a scary guy. His intensity is unnerving and he has a penchant for using disturbing images to get his point across. His work against families and reproductive health rights is legendary. His message is one of hate and he calls on followers to become martyrs for Christ.

Just check out some of The Call’s videos for a taste.

The Call Uganda is just the kind of thing supporters of the all but dead Anti-Homosexual act need to bring it back to life.

From Throckmorton:

‘I am quite concerned that this event could have the same kind of impact that the March 2009 anti-gay conference had in Uganda. At that event, Scott Lively told his Ugandan audience that gays were behind Nazi Germany and possibly involved in the Rwandan atrocities. In general the conference reinforced the desire of some religious leaders to persuade the government to create laws which would eliminate homosexuality from the nation.”

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British Government: Kill-the-Gays Bill Sponsor Banned if Bill Passes

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Just off the heels of the last week’s Senate vote condemning the Ugandan Anti-homosexual Bill comes the news this week that the UK plans to ban the bill’s sponsor MP David Bahati from entering the country if the bill is passed.

From The Guardian:

Civil servants in the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the Borders Agency are drawing up plans to block the visa of born-again Christian MP David Bahati if he does not drop legislation that would see consenting adults who have gay sex imprisoned for life and impose the death penalty on those with HIV – which will be called “aggravated homosexuality”.

The move is the most recent rebuke from the British Parliament toward the Ugandan government. Earlier this month, 118 British MPs publicly dencounced the homophobic legislation. Speaking for the group of MPS, activist Peter Tathcell said in a statement, “Even if the death penalty is dropped, the Bill will remain unacceptable. It will still violate the equality guarantees of international human rights agreements.”

This seems to be confirmed in today’s news:

The British government is concerned by a wave of anti-gay sentiment sweeping Africa that has also put pressure on homosexual people in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nigeria.

Read about that uptick in violence here.

The issue appears to be coming to a head in the UK’s Parliament. The Guardian article also says an “unnamed” senior British official has said the issue could become a “major diplomatic incident if the Ugandans do not back down.” It goes on to report that the Ugandans seem to be using stalling tactics to delay passage of the bill until next year, especially amid the intense international pressure to kill this bill.

Box Turtle Bulletin says these “stalling tactics,” if indeed true, confirm reports that the bill is most likely not to receive a vote.

But with President Yoweri Museveni’s bid to extend his twenty-five year rule for another five years, the bill could be resurrected at any time if Museveni decides it is to his political advantage.

Dead or not, the American government should show its support for the British government’s moves.  The Senate resolution was a welcome step, but we need this vote coupled with executive action. The State Department can show solidarity with its British counterpart and give Bahati the same warning.

Let’s go one step further and issue the same warning to Museveni, too!

I’ve been told that the State Department is preparing to review the entire continent’s human rights record, a reportedly unprecedented effort. It is thought that this review should result in solutions to get various African nations to adopt more tolerant and accepting policies toward LGBT Africans. Homosexuality is currently illegal in 37 countries across the vast continent.

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