Ending a seemingly unbreakable deadlock, the U.S. Congress has made tremendous inroads toward passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Several weeks ago, a bipartisan group of senators popularly known as the “Gang of Eight” released their highly anticipated reform proposal. Days later, tens of thousands descended upon Capitol Hill in a “Rally for Citizenship,” demanding a legal framework for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Public support is at an all-time high, with bipartisan polls showing as many as 77 percent of Americans in favor of a path to citizenship.
Despite tremendous advancements, divisive tensions have persisted around a series of proposals to ensure that the legislation is inclusive of all immigrants. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced an amendment last week to extend existing citizenship and residency benefits to binational same-sex couples. Inspired by the proposed United American Families Act (UAFA), the measure seeks to benefit an estimated 24,700 couples by granting foreign-born same-sex partners access to legal permanent residency through green cards. Although it is a seemingly sensible measure to ensure that the comprehensive reform bill serves all immigrants, conservative opponents have said it would threaten Republican support and derail hopes for bipartisan consensus.
Opposition against UAFA stems from a moral objection to marriage equality for same-sex couples. Pundits have labeled it a “wedge issue” and prominent reform advocates such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have said it would cost their support. Yet despite this rhetoric, the bill makes no change to existing definitions of marriage, which are decided by states and are currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court as they pertain to same-sex couples. Furthermore, UAFA boasts bipartisan support from numerous Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Susan Collins of Maine and former Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona. During a recent visit to Costa Rica, President Obama joined a chorus of supporters and called the measure “the right thing to do” in guaranteeing equality for all Americans.
In a historic gathering in Salvador, Bahia, nearly 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Afro-Brazilian activists participated last month in the country’s first-ever National Black LGBT Conference (Primeiro Seminário Nacional de Negras e Negros LGBT).
Given the rare opportunity to be recognized as a unique group that suffers from discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and gender identities, attendees provided passionate accounts of their daily struggles for survival and acceptance. Embodying a collective sentiment of fear, exhaustion and frustration, black lesbian activist Joelma Cezário said, "I’m not afraid of losing my job. I’m afraid of being killed." Her feelings were echoed by countless others.
Tragically, Joelma’s story is not an anomaly: LGBT Afro-Brazilians are frequently subject to violent hate crimes, police abuse, educational and health disparities, and above all, invisibility. Their needs are often ignored by leading Afro-Brazilian and LGBT advocates, who overlook the presence of LGBT Afro-Brazilians in both groups.
Absent from the collective conscience, almost no data has been collected to understand the hardships of LGBT Afro-Brazilians, and no efforts have been made to help them overcome the challenges they face. Upon presenting their demands to government representatives at the national conference—such as calling for racial indicators to be included in anti-LGBT violence data collection and for racial equality programs to account for the Afro-LGBT population—they were pushed back-and-forth between LGBT and racial discrimination experts who avoided answering their questions and directed responsibility to each other.
Meanwhile, the mounting violence against the Black LGBT population in Brazil isn’t even being counted in official statistics. A recent report found that the number of homicides against Afro-Brazilians increased by 5.6 percent in the last decade, compared to a 24.8-percent reduction in homicides among Whites. These figures did not distinguish which victims were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, a government report issued earlier this year recorded nearly 300 anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2011, more than half of which were targeted against the estimated 10 percent of LGBT Brazilians who identify as transgender. The report failed to provide any information regarding the victims’ racial identity.
Despite an increasingly evident correlation, public institutions continue to fail to take action against the pervasive violence and discrimination that is specific to the Afro-LGBT population.
Any piece of legislation that addresses the issue of sex is bound to be met with controversy. This is only magnified in countries that promote policies that run against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members of their population. Stakeholders like the Church, for instance, police morality by prohibiting any form of same-sex intimacy.
Today, terms like “sex” and “rape” are only viewed in the heterosexual prism—that is, only men and women legally engage in sexual activity. When these definitions were conceptualized, our awareness of the many ways in which people exercise their sexual freedom was perhaps very limited. But in 2012, despite cultural awareness to the contrary, much legislation does not deviate from conventional paradigms.
Beginning in 1927 in the United States, rape was defined as the “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.” The Obama administration, however, expanded that definition to include more forms of sexual assault such as rape of men and oral or anal sex. According to Vice President Biden, "this long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years."
Gay rights activist Colin Robinson, from the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) in Trinidad & Tobago, talks about advocating for greater lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the Caribbean.
From any objective point of view, Chandler Burr would have been rendered fit to be a father. A successful journalist and author, Burr has written for The New York Times since 2010. He is regarded as a decent man with no criminal record. Earlier this year, the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (Colombian Family Welfare Institute, or ICBF), Colombia’s social services bureau, had approved Burr’s request to adopt two neglected children, ages 10 and 13. Burr filed for parental guardianship because according to him, these children were “abandoned at birth [and] they were starving.”
Then the nightmare began.
Burr, now a happy adoptive father (as of yesterday), was preparing to travel to the United States with the children. But after casually mentioning to an ICBF official that he is gay, the ICBF suddenly decided to step in again. According to Burr, the children were interrogated separately by an official, who asked them if they know their new father was a homosexual. Both children responded that yes, they knew, but that they didn’t care. Still, the ICBF decided to prevent Burr from keeping the children as a “protective measure.”
The case became national news when Burr was interviewed on W Radio, one of Colombia’s most influential media outlets. Diego Molano, the ICBF’s new director who was unaware of the Burr case, had to rush to the media to explain a decision that he had not made. After some initial stumbling, Molano came up with an explanation that stuck: the ICBF decision was undertaken because Burr had “omitted information” during the adoption process. That is, Burr’s children were being returned to the orphanage because he had never revealed his sexual orientation.
Was this a case of discrimination? First, a working definition of the concept: discrimination exists when a person is deprived of a certain right granted by the Constitution or by the Law, only on the basis of particular personal features, such as race, religion or sexual orientation. If Burr was denied adoption solely because of his sexual orientation—after originally being granted parenthood in due legal process—discrimination is the only logical conclusion.
“Let’s Go For More” was this year’s theme at Argentina’s 19th annual gay pride march on Saturday in Buenos Aires. The LGBT community called for allowing people to change the gender on their birth certificates and for the issuance of national identity cards that can help to prevent the legal difficulties that many transgender Argentines encounter when official documents do not match their professed gender.
Argentina, which in July was the first country in Latin America to recognize same-sex marriage, has witnessed a surge in LGBT tourism in the wake of the passage of gay marriage legislation. “It's the same kind of [tourism] increase that happened in South Africa, Canada, and Madrid after they legalized gay marriage," says Pablo De Luca, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Buenos Aires. He added, people “want to travel to a country where we don't feel like we have to hide our sexuality."
Since the law was passed 500 couples have walked down the aisle and Mr. De Luca estimates that 100,000 LGBT couples have visited Argentina.
Read more on why Argentina legalized gay marriage. http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1753
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.