May 16, 2013 at 8:20 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay API leaders meet with Obama
Gregory Cendana, gay news, gay politics dc

Gregory Cendana (Courtesy photo)

Two gay men and a lesbian were among 15 leaders of Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations that met with President Obama at the White House on May 8 to discuss immigration reform legislation pending in Congress.

The groups headed by the gay male and lesbian participants at the White House meeting support including language in the legislation that would provide equal immigration rights to foreign born same-sex partners of American citizens.

“I was proud to share with President Obama that I was gay and one of many LGBT Americans who supported him,” said Gregory Cendana, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance of the AFL-CIO.

“APALA members and coalition partners…will continue to mobilize so Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a fair, just and affordable roadmap to citizenship, reunites families, including siblings and same-sex partners, as well as provides worker protections for all regardless of status,” Cendana said in a statement.

But Cendana and Tom Hayashi, executive director of the Asian American group OCA National Center, were cautious about disclosing whether their respective groups would agree to drop the bi-national same-sex couple provision if they thought it would prevent the bill from passing.

Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, who also participated in the meeting with Obama, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

All three are identified as gay or lesbian on their respective organizations’ websites. Yeung is identified in her staff biography has having worked for 10 years in various positions at the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.

“I share President Obama’s commitment of keeping commonsense immigration reform a legislative priority, and he reaffirmed this during our meeting,” Cendana told the Blade in an email.

“We must remind ourselves that we are at the beginning of a longer legislative process where we have opportunities to fight for improvements that reflect the values and principles of family unity, inclusion and fairness,” he said.

Hayashi told the Blade in a separate email that while he and the organization he heads support a gay-inclusive immigration bill he understands that a “significant political challenge” may be involved in the effort to pass such a bill.

“The personal and organizational view on immigration and other social justice issues is that we must be ready for a fight in the long haul and to leverage from the incremental gains by building momentum to achieve change,” he said.

Chances for passage of a gay-inclusive immigration bill came under question earlier this week when Republican senators threatened to drop their support for a compromise immigration measure if Democrats added two proposed amendments that allow gay Americans to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency in the U.S.

Obama has expressed support for including a same-sex couple provision in the immigration bill but has hinted that it may not be possible to obtain the provision in the current legislation.

“[A]s is true with every bill, if there are things that end up being left out in this bill, or things that I want to take out of a bill, but I if it’s meeting those core criteria around a comprehensive immigration bill that I’m looking for, then we go back at it and we fix what’s not there and we continually improve what’s been presented,” he said at a news conference during his May 3 trip to Costa Rica.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the LGBT advocacy group Immigration Equality, said a vote on the bill in the full Senate was not expected to take place until the end of June.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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