During the past week, our collective attention has been on the health care reform bills. Leading into last weekend, most Americans wondered whether the House Democrats would have the 216 votes needed to pass the historic legislation. In the meantime, the forces gathering for the next big battle were mostly ignored.
Last Sunday, tens of thousands of demonstrators — including members of the LGBT community — congregated at the National Mall for the March for America, a rally demanding comprehensive immigration reform. Although not one LGBT organization or leader was included in the roster of speakers, we chose to join and support immigration reform, partly due to our stake in the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow American citizens to sponsor their foreign partner or spouse for legal permanent residency. This piece of legislation is one we would like to be included in any immigration reform effort. I also suspect, though, that many LGBT people who attended the rally realize the importance of minority groups sticking together and advocating for one another.
It was quite a sight to see a gigantic rainbow flag above the crowd and, nearby, a bright spot of red made by the large contingent of Immigration Equality supporters wearing red t-shirts. Close by were teams from Asian/Pacific Islander Queers United for Action, Equality Illinois, Full Equality NOW! DC, GetEqual.org, Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Out4Immigration and others.
Although the crowd was energized, defiant and determined to see the change promised by President Obama, the experience reminded me of a similar gathering five months ago, when tens of thousands of LGBT people and allies demanded change at the National Equality March. This makes me ask whether these marches will take us anywhere?
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is stalled in Congress while “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is undergoing an unnecessary, yearlong review. There’s no point in even dreaming yet of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. The plain and simple fact is that legislators see the mid-term elections on the horizon and are keenly aware of the toll the healh care reform battle will take. They are not about to take up our cause anytime soon.
Even Iin the unlikely event that congressional Democrats decide to pursue immigration reform this year, I’m willing to bet that despite the assurances of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that bi-national same-sex couples will not be left out, they will be. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security & Prosperity Act introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) in December blatantly leaves out LGBT families. Although the Illinois congressman had been supportive of the LGBT community in the past, he has not committed to our inclusion in any immigration reform initiative. This is not altogether surprising, since he needs the support of social conservatives, especially the Catholic and Evangelical Latino churches.
So why do we march? We do so out of solidarity and a strong belief in democracy. Our voices are heard and our numbers seen even though change doesn’t come fast enough. But so long as we keep it up — whether by demonstrating, e-mailing or calling our elected officials, writing letters to the editor or blogging, supporting advocacy groups or proven pro-LGBT politicians, or even chaining ourselves to the White House fence — we will prevail. Until we all are truly equal, we keep on marching.
You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon