Friday, June 24, 2011

LGBT Immigrants and the Search for Home

Marriage and family are central themes at the Tenement Museum, just as they are for immigrant communities at large. Finding a partner, having children and making a home help us feel sense of belonging in our communities--whether we're immigrants or native born citizens.

However, for immigrants who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) questions of marriage and family tend to be more complicated. Since June is LGBT Pride Month, it's a perfect time to take a closer look at these issues.

As LGBT people have become more visible in the U.S., so have their struggles as immigrants. The most obvious of these is that without legal recognition of their partnerships, LGBT immigrants can't apply for citizenship through marriage. This was formalized by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denies all federal benefits, including spousal immigration preferences, to same-sex couples. Even couples who have been legally married at the state level are denied this benefit.

Bi-National couple Henry Velandia, left, and Josh Vandiver
Image Courtesy the New York Times
As the New York Times reported in March, married couples like Henry Velandia and Josh Vandiver are in legal limbo while immigration officials determine their fate. Velandia, a Venezuelan citizen, and Vandiver, an American, were married in Conneticut in 2010.  Their application for a green card for Velandia was denied and he may be forced to leave the U.S. as a result.

On a related note, thousands of LGBT immigrants seek asylum in the United States every year for fear that they'll be persecuted in their countries of origin.  In dozens of countries around the world including Iran, Pakistan and Uganda, homosexuality itself is a crime--in some cases, punishable by death.

In January of this year, Brenda Namiggade, a Ugandan woman, was granted asylum by the United Kingdom. Namiggade's case became more well known after the brutal murder of gay Ugandan activist David Kato. Just months before Kato's death, a local newspaper named him among 100 of “Uganda’s Top Homos,” advocating their murder. Kato's subsequent murder has been cited as proof that Namiggade's life would be in danger if she were to return to Uganda.

Ugandan Brenda Namiggade was granted asylum by the U.K. in January 2011

The legal status of LGBT people is changing rapidly, however. Just one week ago today the United Nations endorsed LGBT equality for the first time in the institution's history, passing a resolution supporting equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation. As part of this resolution, a report will be commissioned to explore the challenges that LGBT communities face around the globe.

While the families of 97 Orchard were incredibly diverse--coexisting in close quarters despite different languages, beliefs and cultures--their most pressing concerns were universal. LGBT immigrants share these same concerns today as they seek safe homes and families of their own.

To read more about these issues visit:

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