September 12, 2012 at 8:45 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT advocacy groups join the immigration debate

Equality Maryland and CASA de Maryland unveil the Familia es Familia Maryland campaign on Aug. 28 (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Are there parallels between the LGBT and immigrants’ rights movements?

A new campaign that Equality Maryland and CASA de Maryland unveiled late last month that seeks to garner additional support for the state’s same-sex marriage law among Latinos and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants among LGBT voters ahead of two referenda on the issues suggests that these issues share common threads. Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, noted during the Aug. 28 press conference where she and other advocates formally unveiled the Familia es Familia Maryland initiative that her organization “must speak up for what is right and what is fair.”

“A majority of Latinos in Maryland support marriage equality for same-sex couples,” she told the Blade in a follow-up interview. A Hart Research Associates survey in July that shows 54 percent of Marylanders would vote for the same-sex marriage law in Novembers mirrors an April poll that the National Council of La Raza commissioned that indicates 54 percent of Latinos support nuptials for gays and lesbians. A Gonzales Research and Marketing survey in January noted that 48 percent of Maryland voters also support the state’s Dream Act. “Equality Maryland is working to ensure that a majority of LGBT communities of Maryland support Question 4.”

The long-standing partnership between Basic Rights Oregon and Causa, a statewide immigrant advocacy group, provided the blueprint upon which Equality Maryland and CASA de Maryland collaborated with the Latino GLBT History Project and other organizations to launch the Familia es Familia Maryland campaign. Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, told the Blade that her organization’s work with Causa stems from campaigns against anti-gay, anti-immigrant and anti-choice ballot initiatives in the Beaver State.

“Pretty early on the communities were put in a position to rely on one another, to share lessons learned and provide mutual support,” she said.

Frazzini noted that what she described as strong relationships between staffers at the two organizations have subsequently grown into “broader commitments in our missions and in our programmatic work.” This includes her group’s participation in the campaign against two anti-immigrant ballot initiatives in Columbia County in 2008.

“For an LGBT rights organization like Basic Rights Oregon, we need to have an understanding of the impact of immigrant policies on our own community in order to create the space for LGBT immigrants to find support and to feel as though they have a place in the LGBT movement as well as in the immigrant rights movement seeking to highlight the impact of policies on their LGBT members,” said Frazzini.

Causa is among the organizations that continue to advise Basic Rights Oregon on how to pursue marriage rights for same-sex couples in the state. Francisco Lopez, the group’s executive director, told the Blade that nuptials for gays and lesbians has become one of Causa’s core organizational values.

“We support each other politically. We support each other in terms of mobilization. We support each other’s attempts for fundraising. So what we did is to include marriage equality as a value of our organization,” he said. “More than just basing our issues, We decided that we needed to move into what are some of those common values we have — the value of justice, hope, dignity, family and we know family is a family and that’s when we decided this is something that we value as important.”


National LGBT organizations weigh in on immigration-related issues

The Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Immigration Equality are among the national LGBT advocacy groups that have spoken out in support of the inclusion of a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their foreign-born partners and children for immigration under a comprehensive immigration reform package. These groups have also spoken out against Arizona’s controversial Senate Bill 1070 designed to deter undocumented immigrants from entering the state from Mexico.

The Gill Foundation has also backed public education campaigns on these issues through the Four Freedoms Fund.

“While our opponents try to drive wedges between communities, the truth is that LGBT people are not a monolith. Rather, we are racial and ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities, and people of faith. The issues that impact these communities also impact us as LGBT people – because they are us, too,” said HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz. “HRC stands with the coalition on comprehensive immigration reform for example, because same-sex couples are still deeply disadvantaged by our nation’s immigrations laws, and because undocumented LGBT people are incredibly vulnerable, with neither legal status nor protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, echoed Cole-Schwartz. She pointed out that her organization not only spoke out against SB 1070, but similar measures in Alabama and Georgia. Nipper further stressed that the Task Force continues to advocate for an LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform bill on Capitol Hill.

“We have this position of being both clearly a national LGBT organization but also one that is concerned about issues of racial justice, economic justice,” she said. “For us, immigration issues are central to our values in the organization so it’s easy for us to chime in on those.”











Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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