Gay Silver Spring resident Edwin came to the United States from Guatemala in 2004 when he was 14. His family initially told him after he came out at 19 that he was going to go to hell because of his sexual orientation. Edwin, now 22, only recently disclosed his undocumented status after a friend criticized President Obama’s immigration policy.
“I was never asked to come to the U.S.,” Edwin, who declined to provide his last name, told the Washington Blade during an interview last month. “It was my mom’s decision. I was 14. I couldn’t say yes or no. Knowing you’re in the community but you’re different; it made me seem like I’m less than everybody else.”
Edwin is among those profiled in the Familia es Familia Maryland campaign that Equality Maryland and CASA de Maryland formally launched in August to garner additional support for laws that provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and marriage rights for same-sex couples ahead of Election Day.
A Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies poll last month shows that 58 percent of Maryland voters would vote for the Dream Act in Question 4, compared with 34 percent who oppose it. The same survey finds that 51 percent of Marylanders would vote for the same-sex marriage law in Question 6, compared to 43 percent who said they oppose it.
JJ from Panamá, who asked the Blade not to use his real name because his parents are Pentecostal ministers, came out to his family last year because he said it “became harder and harder to hide who he is.” He also testified in support of the Dream Act in Annapolis before Maryland lawmakers passed it in 2011.
“Being from Montgomery County, it’s never been an issue to come out as undocumented,” JJ told the Blade before filming a pro-Question 4 ad at CASA de Maryland’s Langley Park headquarters. “It’s something everybody knew. When I was doing advocacy around it, everybody was really proud of me and know that I’ve started doing this.”
Silver Spring resident Ivette Roman, who came to the United States from Perú with her brother when she was 10, said during the August press conference at which Equality Maryland and CASA de Maryland officially launched the Familia es Familia Maryland initiative that her immigration status prevents her from receiving financial aid to attend college. She told the Blade that her friends and family remain proud of her activism on both issues, even though she said her mother did not speak to her for months after she came out to her as a lesbian.
“Some of them kind of moved away — they are kind of ashamed about the way that I am,” said Roman, 20. “My mother has been very supportive. She’s been with me on everything I’ve done.”
“Equality Maryland is pleased with the responses we are getting from the LGBT communities on our work with these LGBT youth and the issues impacting them,” said Carrie Evans, the group’s executive director. “People recognize these youth as part of our community in need of support.”
Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, again stressed to the Blade that his group remains committed to ensuring marriage rights for same-sex couples in the state.
“CASA de Maryland’s work in support of marriage equality flows from values and love,” he said. “As an organization with a mission that seeks to create a more just society by building power and improving the quality of life in low-income immigrant communities, we believe that a more just society includes mutual respect for all human rights, including equality for LGBT communities. And, we do this work out of love for our Latino LGBT brothers and sisters in our families, among our members and staff, and in our communities.”
The intersection of these two issues was the subject of a Sept. 25 panel that Torres moderated during the fifth annual National Immigrant Integration Conference in Baltimore.
Michael Crawford, director of online programs at Freedom to Marry, noted that the plight of bi-national same-sex couples “really connects the immigration and LGBTQ movements and serves as a really stark example of how the Defense of Marriage Act hurts families.” Former Equality North Carolina executive director Ian Palmquist, who is now the director of regional and program support at the Equality Federation, stressed what he described as the need to engage the women’s and other progressive social movements in the fight for LGBT equality.
“Different organizations have gone in different directions with that,” he said, referring to Equality Utah’s work with the Mormon Church to support Salt Lake City’s gay-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance that took effect in 2010. Palmquist further noted the New York Republicans who supported their state’s same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed last year. “It’s something that we all are constantly re-evaluating and trying to figure out how we are going to be true to our values and also how to develop all the programs that we need to win.”
Back in Montgomery County, Roman remains optimistic that Maryland voters will support both the Dream Act and the state’s same-sex marriage law on Nov. 6.
“I’m very positive about it,” she said. “People who are against it [the Dream Act and same-sex marriage] are going to change their minds once they hear the stories about it. Living as a lesbian and undocumented has been very hard for me to achieve my goals. I know there’s many others who are afraid. I’m just trying to help them out because I know how it feels.”
Edwin shared a similar perspective.
“I’m pretty sure there’s a large group of people who support the Dream Act. I’m pretty sure it’s going to pass,” he said. “I think people realize we shouldn’t decide who we should be married to. It should be up to us.”