by Erik Schnabel
On Wednesday, April 27, Out4Immigration and other LGBT and immigrant rights' groups were invited to stand on the steps of San Francisco City Hall with Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). Congressman Gutierrez stopped in San Francisco as part of his 20+ city tour across the United States called Change Takes Courage. The Courage tour focuses light on the impact of not having passed immigration reform in Congress, and the local significance of people facing the real life consequences in their daily lives.
[In this photo, Jay Mercado (at the mic) speaks next to Shirley Tan. Erik Schnabel is wearing his O4I t-shirt, Rep. Gutierrez is at the right. See more pics, click here.]
The Tour calls on President Obama to do what he as the President of the United States has the power to do, and grant administrative relief for people facing deportation, especially since Congress has failed in its attempt to do so. The demands of the tour are to:
1) Keep families together - stop tearing apart families through deportation.
2) Stop Turning the Police into ICE agents - Programs like S- Comm, 287g and other local collaborations with police are trapping innocent people.
3) Everyone’s help is Needed to Grow the Economy - immigration programs that go after workers are wrong.
The press conference grew out my participation as a volunteer Community Outreach Organizer with Out4Immigration. In this role I reached out to the San Francisco Bay for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (SFB4CIR) coalition, whose meetings I have attended since last year. SFB4CIR is connected to many of the national groups working on immigration reform, which Congressman Gutierrez contacted for help on his tour. As the organizing began happening, it became clear that through O4I’s long-term connection with the local coalition’s work that we could really influence the message of the press conference and bring light to the fate of LGBT immigrants and binational same-sex couples. I was able to connect through O4I’s network to members who offered testimony. Surprisingly, I was even asked to co-emcee the press conference!
The press conference was very inspirational. Testimony was offered by community members from all aspects of the immigration debate. I was able to share my own experiences as a US citizen partner in a binational same-sex relationship, and was honored to introduce Jay Mercado and Shirley Tan, the same-sex binational couple who made national news when Shirley’s deportation was stopped through intervention by a private bill in Congress. Other testimony came from Norma, a woman who was taken by immigration agents when she reported her domestic violence situation; a high school teacher who spoke out for her DREAM Act eligible students who were too afraid to speak because of their immigration status; a union organizer who has seen immigration used as a tool when workers organize and demand their rights; and a woman who came as a refugee from Iran but knows that except for the fact that she was able to qualify as a refugee she might be in the same situation as many others. Equally powerful was the closing prayer by an Episcopal priest, who talked about being an openly gay man who shares his life with two immigrants - his binational partner and their internationally-adopted son.
In addition to Congressman Gutierrez, we were also joined at the press conference by San Francisco Board of Supervisor President David Chiu, Supervisors David Campos and John Avalos, as well as representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Supervisor David Campos, as an openly gay Latino man who immigrated to the US without documents, used his speaking time to hold up the plight of LGBT immigrants and the need to push for reform that includes us. Congressman Gutierrez assured the crowd that any immigration reform measure that he introduces in Congress will include language for LGBT immigrants and same-sex binational couples and that he will fight to make sure we are included in his conversations with President Obama and anywhere else immigration is debated.
If you'd like more information on doing community outreach like this where you live, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Amos Lim at email@example.com. We need more of us to come forward and make connections in our communities that will reach to the top people in Washington who can deliver the change we so badly need.