"Coming Out" as Queer and Undocumented

A New Strategy for the Immigrant and LGBTQ Rights Movements

From the June 2012 PNL # 815

Jorge Gutierrez

On May 4-6, 2012 the United We Dream Network brought together about 60 Queer Undocumented leaders and allies from 10 different states to present the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP) at the UCLA Labor Center in downtown Los Angeles. This convening was intentional in creating a space to have Queer Undocumented youth come together to address their intersecting identities and realities, share their stories with each other and for each other, and to strategize innovative ways to utilize QUIP to bridge the immigrant and LGBTQ rights movements. The Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project Convening was the first of its kind nationally and thus historic.

QUIP and Queer Undocumented organizing work underscores the significance of the “coming out” experience as it pertains to Queer Undocumented youth and Queer people of color. Throughout Queer US history, “coming out” experiences have more often than not been framed and restricted to reflect only the experiences of upper class, white, gay men. If we seek to utilize “coming out” narratives as a tool for inspiration, hope, education and advocacy, we must then redefine their meaning and purpose to include identities and realities of Queer people of color in this country and across borders. But maybe the expression “coming out” is not necessarily sufficient for those of us who identify as Queer and Undocumented. What we do know and have learned very early in our lives is storytelling: telling our Queer testimonials to survive, build community and create alliances from our multi-oppressed sites. For us, the Queer Undocumented youth community cannot negotiate one identity at a time while “coming out.” We cannot speak of being Queer without speaking of our Undocumented status, and we cannot be visible about our Undocumented status without creating Queer visibility. So, to us “coming out” is about acknowledging the many identities that intersect in our everyday lives.

In efforts to inspire Undocumented youth to publicly share their stories in the hopes of advancing advocacy efforts to pass the DREAM Act, immigrant youth embraced the “coming out” experience from the LGBTQ movement. For many of the DREAM Act movement leaders at the forefront, such a “coming out” experience came from the soil of their own experience. These same leaders identify as Queer and Undocumented or UndocuQueers. My own “coming out” storytelling couldn’t just be about me. I had to make very painful negotiations with myself when I only shared my Undocumented story or only my Queer story. I would walk into a meeting, rally or an action, and I would tell myself “today I am only wearing my Undocumented or Queer hat.” Ultimately, my Queer testimonial needed to be not just about myself; it needed to connect me with my UndocuQueer brothers and sisters, and my community. In a way, I stopped “coming out.” Instead, I engaged in sharing my Queer testimony, which allowed me to understand my oppressions and link them to the oppressions of my community. It is no coincidence that UndocuQueers have been some of the most visible in leading the work within the immigrant youth movement since the introduction of the DREAM Act in 2001. We are youth who are all too familiar with the pain, separation, racism and homophobia inflicted upon our communities. Our visibility and work is rooted in urgency and resiliency.

The new UndocuQueer “coming out”/testimonial narratives are providing a strategy for alliance building between the immigrant and LGBTQ rights movements. But it must be UndocuQueers who get to primarily create the vision for this new framework.  The vision has been taking shape and form for years now through the organizing of UndocuQueers. Both movements are beginning to gather momentum and realize the potential transformational force that these Queer Undocumented “coming out” narratives possess.

Queer Undocumented intersectional organizing between the immigrant and LGBTQ rights communities is taking root through initiatives like the QUIP Project in California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, Washington DC, New York and other parts of the country. “Coming out” narratives are being redefined by queer undocumented youth. They no longer serve to just depict a singular, monochromatic experience but rather address the many intersecting identities that exist in all communities. UndocuQueers are reminding both movements that our efforts need to be collective, address multiple issues and that all of our work must be about a love that can allow us to transform our movements. We are UndocuQueers. We are FIERCE and we’re onto something.

Jorge is a proud UndocuQueer organizer.