By Kelly Jean Cogswell
The lead story in Le Monde and El País Saturday was the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as President of Brazil. Apparently power can be handed over in one of the biggest, most dynamic countries in the world, with the new leader remarkably a woman. Nevertheless, the New York Times has no choice but to feature the latest college bowl game.
That's pretty much par for the national course. I wonder about this sometimes. All the time, actually. How little vision there seems to be. Since the outside world intruded ten years ago on September 11, and despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we seem to be more insular than ever, less inclined to see how we fit into the universe we're grudgingly part of. Like little children, we squeeze our eyes shut and persuade ourselves everything else is gone.
For a moment, I considered insisting we see the world using some kind of mechanical metaphor with gears and cogs and things representing different countries, and inside the countries different classes and races, the wheels within wheels, all interconnected and driving each other, but it seems too neat. Too clear. Better imagery from the natural world where the wind can carry pollen to fertilize plants hundreds and thousands of miles away. Or blow pollution and acid rain. The best you can do is watch the trends, and batten down the hatches when a storm roars in. Like now. With the Birthers, Tea Partiers, and simmering poor.
In this regard, us queers are not much smarter than the rest of the country. We shut our eyes and define our issues as narrowly and separately as possible. As if the question of homos in the military, for instance, has nothing whatsoever to do with immigrant rights. We even miss the irony that the same legislature that overturned Don't Ask, Don't Tell on December 18th also nixed the Dream Act that would have allowed kids without papers to take steps to become citizens like enrolling in college or joining the military.
There are tens of thousands of Americans that were brought to the U.S. as children, have grown up here, gone to school, rotted their brains with TV and internet, listened to our music, spoken the language, worn the same clothes as the other kids in their school, and yet have zero rights. Many didn't even realize they weren't citizens until they've needed a birth certificate to apply for a passport or driver's license. They only thought they were Americans.
That sudden excluding shock is not so different really, than expecting to be able to go to the prom, find an apartment, find a job, get married like everyone else, then having the door slammed in your face because your partner is the same gender as you. You're not really one of us. Not a full citizen. Not even a full adult, a full human.
The growing "us" and "them" mentality should have the LGBT community on high alert, and not just because there are queer immigrants who are going to get screwed by this xenophobic wave like their hetero peers. Hate and fear have a way of persisting, and expanding like wind-caught spores. That is why we, as out queers, should join the fight against anti-immigrant bills. Half a dozen states are planning not only to block paths to citizenship, but strip away current rights of undocumented immigrants including schooling, health care, and even automatic citizenship for children born in this country--guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Most of the legislature is based on Arizona's earlier legislation, even though many of the measures were stuck down. In Oklahoma, where they're calling their efforts "Arizona plus," they are even including provisions that would allow cops to seize any vehicles and property that transported or "harbored" undocumented immigrants. Which means somebody could work, pay taxes, buy a car or house, and have it stolen out from under them. Laws don't apply. An attitude that can be habit forming.
Do you really think that legislators, or cops for that matter, who perceive every brown-skinned person as probably outside the law, are really going to care if a fag gets beaten up in front of a bar or in a schoolyard? Or if a dyke gets raped or loses her job? If a tranny gets killed? When the circle of people acceptable to the law gets smaller and smaller, do you really think they'll let us in?
As long as we persist in seeing LGBT rights as a separate entity, a potted plant, that we can keep separate from the rest of the ecosystem, we may make limited progress, but not real change. We need an entire society that values human rights and liberation. Sure, queers have to keep working on queer issues. But it's time we do it with our eyes open. Paying attention. Remembering the whole that we're only one part of.