Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Walking with Integrity: Why People of Faith Should Welcome Immigrants

Originally posted on Integrity USA's blog.

At the March for America rally in DC, earlier this year, members of the LGBT and religious communities joined immigrant and minority groups calling for immigration reform. I stood alongside other LGBT activists who support an overhaul of the immigration system and demand that LGBT families be included in any reform effort.

It was a defiant, electric and hopeful moment but I was dismayed to hear a gay man emphasize – without being prompted – “I’m not here to support these illegals, I’m here for my husband.” His husband is a foreign national whom he cannot sponsor for legal permanent residency because the federal government does not recognize lesbian and gay unions.

Aside from the fact that most immigrants are NOT undocumented, the man does not realize that he should protest not only for his husband and for the inclusion of binational couples in immigration reform legislation but for all immigrants.

I would argue that one does not even have to have a foreign-born spouse or partner to support an inclusive and truly comprehensive immigration legislation.

Strategically, it is makes sense for minority groups such as LGBTs and immigrants to support each other - strength in numbers. By showing up for other minorities, they will also show up for us. And it is an effective way to gain visibility and challenge prejudice within ethnic communities.

But I believe that there are more profound reasons to welcome strangers.

As Americans, we need to remember that this nation was founded by immigrants and continues to thrive because of newcomers who only want to better their families’ lives. We should recall our core principles of equality, freedom and justice not for a select few but for all.

As people of faith, we believe that all people are created in the image of God and that we are all called to love one another. Let us not forget our mandate to welcome the stranger – LGBT, of color, immigrant.

I urge my fellow Episcopalians – gay, straight, native-born, foreign-born – to live up to our ideals as citizens and as Christians. Please support comprehensive immigration reform which includes LGBT families.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon .

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why Asian Americans should care about Immigration Reform

Bill Ong Hing, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco writes an essay arguing for the support of progressive immigration reform by Asian American Pacific Islanders. The abstract of the article which can be downloaded from the Social Science Research Network website reads:
Asian Americans have a lot to gain from progressive immigration reform. Today, our relatives abroad make up the bulk of those who are on a waiting list that can last almost two decades in some categories. Many young men and women from our communities face deportation even though they have grown up in the United States. Some are subjected to harsh Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and detention policies. Of the estimated twelve million undocumented immigrants in the country, demographers tell us that more than 10 percent are from Asian or Pacific countries. Many undocumented Asian Americans are college or college-bound students who have been praying for the passage of the DREAM Act so that they can get legalized and contribute more fully to U.S. society.

Perhaps most importantly, Asian Americans should care about immigration policies because even the most cursory review of Asian American history informs us that immigration laws and enforcement have shaped and reshaped our communities since the 1800s. Today, every Asian American subgroup, with the exception of Japanese Americans, remains predominately foreign-born. And when anti-immigrant restrictionists wage attacks on newcomers, it should not take much to realize that the targets could be us, because in fact, the target is us.

In this essay, I first review a handful of policies that relate directly to issues affecting Asian immigration. Then I turn to other big immigration policy questions that all Americans, including Asian Americans, should contemplate. Addressing those questions directly and without delay is an important step in resolving the tension over immigration that affects all communities of color in the United States.
You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Image from LIFE.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mr. Ratzinger, this is what a secular society is all about

Evan Harris, a former UK member of parliament, shared his secularist manifesto on the Guardian, a response to the pope's warning against "aggressive" secularism. It is an excellent rejoinder of what a secular society is.
Secularism is unfairly characterised and attacked by religious leaders as a way of seeking to protect their privileges.

Secularism is not atheism (lack of belief in God) and nor is it humanism (a nonreligious belief system). It is a political movement seeking specific policy end-points. Many secularists are religious and many religious people – recognising the value of keeping government and religion separate – are secular.

Secularism seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, seeks to maximise freedom of religious and other expression and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge disproportionately on the rights and freedoms of others. This is essentially a summary of article 9 of the European convention on human rights. In addition secularism aims to end religious privileges or persecutions and to fully separate the state from religion which is a necessary means to that end.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Image by Inez Templeton.

Religious leader responds to Post article

In response to the Washington Post's September 13 front-page article "Gay couples seeking immigration rights", Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, wrote the editors:
While I appreciate The Post's coverage of the need to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] immigrant families, it was disappointing that this story did not include more supportive voices from the faith community. The article failed to represent the people of various faiths -- including my own -- who believe that all families must be included in any reform if it is truly to be called comprehensive.

United Methodist, Episcopalian, Jewish, Unitarian and other denominations have wholeheartedly embraced reform that leaves no family behind. Our belief that we must "love thy neighbor as thyself" compels us to speak out for our LGBT neighbors.

This echoes my last post.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What was missing in today's Post

On the cover of today's Washington Post is an article about the immigration challenge faced by thousands of binational same-sex couples. My husband and I were interviewed for the piece and I find it for the most part balanced and matter of fact. However, there are a few things I need to address.

First, too much weight is placed on the opposition and power of Roman Catholic bishops and Evangelical leaders. Fact of the matter is, there are many other faith leaders who have spoken out in support of the inclusion of gay families in any immigration reform effort.

The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which seeks to eliminate discrimination in immigration laws by allowing lesbian and gay Americans to sponsor their loved ones for legal permanent residency, has been endorsed by numerous faith organizations, including African American Ministers in Action; Call to Action; Catholics for Equality; Church World Service, Immigration and Refugee Program; Clergy United; The Episcopal Church; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Standing on the Side of Love; the United Methodist Church; and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

Secondly, there are Roman Catholics who oppose their bishops' stance.

Catholics for Equality was founded by Fr. Joseph Palacios, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, to empower pro-equality Catholics to put their faith into political action on behalf of the LGBT community and their families.

An article in Religion Dispatches quotes Palacios pointing out that “Catholics as a religious body are the most progressive in terms of LGBT issues and we want to be the contrary voice to the official church and to help these Catholics see their social justice tradition and family life as [being] as important as anything coming from the bishops."

In the same piece, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the national coordinator for the National Coalition of American Nuns, didn't mince words.
I find their arguments specious and I think their stand, personally I find it scandalous ... I am proud to be a Catholic ... I’m a lifelong Catholic. I spend my life hopefully working for justice so that people can look and see there are Catholic people who at least try to be just and try to follow the Gospel. But frankly the US bishops continually embarrass me. They are an embarrassment to the Catholic Church at this point, particularly with the stand they are taking.
Palacios and Gramick appear to have a better sense of the laity's pulse than the bishops. A recent poll the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that a "solid majority of Latino Catholics and white mainline Protestants (in California) say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Moreover, the next generation of Evangelicals are far more welcoming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people than their elders. According to a recent report, young white evangelicals under the age of 35 are more likely than older evangelicals to be more supportive of legal recognitions for gay and lesbian couples.

Finally, I can not reiterate and stress enough that this issue has nothing to do with religious beliefs and everything to do with equality and civil rights.

In order for any immigration reform effort to be truly comprehensive, no one group, no matter how small, can be left out. In order for this country and its citizens to live up to its core values of freedom, equality and justice, LGBT Americans and their families should not be thrown under the bus. Again.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Place for Islam, Muslims & Queer Muslims in America

Anti-Muslim rhetoric is reaching fever pitch as we mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11. Irrationality, raw emotion and political opportunism have taken over discourse on the place of Islam and Muslims in American life.

I can understand why many are swayed by those who would purport to take us back to prelapsarian days which never were. As a gay man, I share the discomfort with a religion – any religion – that treats women as inferior to men and LGBT people as pariah scorned and worthy of death. The facts are however that Islam, like its sibling faiths Christianity and Judaism, is not monolithic, that Muslim Americans come in all stripes, and that there are queer Muslims.

Prof. David Rayside of the University of Toronto presented a paper which highlight these themes at last week’s annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Washington, D.C.

He points out that there is a “wide range of Muslim religious practice, including not only a large number of African American Muslims, but also significant numbers of Sufis and Ismailis” that suffuses various Muslim communities in the United States. These groups speak many languages and represent various ethnicities and countries of origin – African Americans, South and South East Asians, Middle Easterners and Africans. Most of these communities do not mix much socially, religiously or culturally.

He argues that Muslim Americans “are comparatively well integrated into the social and political mainstream, and hold to moderate or progressive beliefs on a wide range of policy issues” but does admit that on questions of sexual diversity, “they are significantly more conservative than the average American,” holding views akin to evangelical Protestants.

There are a handful of courageous and forward-looking Muslim Americans though who strive for sexual diversity, respect and equality, and who are educating and advocating within their communities.

Muslims for Progressive Values for example, upholds ten principles “rooted in Islam, including social equality, separation of religion and state, freedom of speech, women's rights, gay rights, and critical analysis and interpretation.”

Prof. Rayside also notes a crucial trend, the intergenerational shift among Muslim Americans. He believes that “a longer history in North America means that more Muslims will recognize that there are family members, work associates, fellow students who are queer Muslims, and over time this will bring their views on homosexuality into closer alignment with other social views.”

He adds that “queer visibility within broader Muslim communities will eventually come from the growing numbers of queer Muslim networks, as well as from increased social and political restiveness among sexual minorities in South Asian, Southeast Asian, North African and Middle Eastern countries of origin.”

Al-Fatiha is one such network. It is a safe space for queer Muslims and their families, friends and allies which began as an internet listserv and now has 14 chapters in the United States and offices in England, Canada, Spain, Turkey and Africa. Al-Fatiha promotes “the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice” and envisions “a world that is free from prejudice, injustice and discrimination, where all people are fully embraced and accepted into their families, faith and communities.”

I suspect most of us share Al-Fatiha’s dream of a more equitable, tolerant and welcoming society. We can start working towards this vision by challenging our own prejudices and preconceived notions about Islam and Muslim Americans. We can reach out to fellow citizens who practice a different faith. We can support queer Muslims who sacrifice much by choosing to live openly and with integrity.

As we mark a devastating moment in American history, let us remember that e pluribus unum – out of many, one.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Image from

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Being trans in Europe

Last Wednesday, the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights and the Greens/European Free Alliance co-hosted a conference on transgender* rights in the European Union. The Greens/European Free Alliance is a European parliamentary group made up of members of the European Green Party and representatives of stateless nations and disadvantaged minorities.

Transgender Europeans are a particularly vulnerable group. Seventy nine percent have reported negative comments, verbal, physical or sexual abuse or threatening behavior in public. Thirty three trans women and men have been murdered in Europe in the last 30 months.

European transgenders face extreme prejudice and disadvantage much like anywhere else. They face direct discrimination through hate crimes and lack of access to goods and services, the labor market, and resources such as vocational training and education.

They also suffer indirect and institutionalized discrimination through the absence of laws in European member states recognizing gender identity. Trans individuals are unable to formally change their name and gender due to unreasonable conditions imposed by most member states such as sterilization, permanent infertility and sex reassignment surgery.

These draconian conditions violate basic human rights of transgender Europeans – the rights to freedom of movement, physical integrity and choice of medical interventions.

Participants of the conference started a much needed conversation about the state of transgender people in Europe. They acknowledged the necessity of mandating the recognition of gender identity and protection of transgender citizens in all member states. This conversation should be had everywhere.

*A transgender or trans person is someone whose gender identity does not correspond to the gender with which he or she was born. This includes transsexual, transgender, gender variant and genderqueer people, transvestites, crossdressers and no gender people.