Organizers from a massive coalition that included LGBT groups estimated that about 30,000 people turned out for the May Day march on Monday, May 1, in downtown Los Angeles, though 100,000 people had been expected. The alt-right site Breitbart headlined that 85 percent shortfall, with no consideration of why there might have been fewer demonstrators, no mention of the rampant fear gripping the immigrant communities that for so long have bolstered the ranks of those commemorating International Workers Day.
The fear is not just the election of Donald Trump as president. After all, President Barack Obama deported 2.5 million people, earning him the nickname “deporter-in-chief.” The fear is that Obama-era restrictions have been lifted or loosened so even designated DREAMers are being detained and deported, with ICE routinely sweeping up more people than their intended target. Additionally, as happened to Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, the father of four who was arrested last February after dropping off his 12- year old daughter at her Lincoln Heights school, ICE officers wear jackets emblazed with the word “POLICE,” instilling confusion and fear of the LAPD, which has publicly stressed it will not comply with ICE, unless necessary.
ICE says it is going after criminals, raising the specter of the Mexican rapists, drug dealers, and murderers Trump talked about when announcing his campaign. But the two criminal convictions for which Avelica-Gonzalez, who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years, was arrested and now faces deportation and the breakup of his family were misdemeanor DUI and driving without a license in 2008 and buying a stolen non-DMV-issued vehicle registration tag in 1998, also a misdemeanor. He ended up with a deportation order in 2013 for trusting a fake lawyer who ran off with his money and paperwork.
Undocumented immigrants in California have been able to get driver’s licenses since 2015.
It is no wonder, then, that thousands of undocumented workers and their families who might have proudly marched in the May Day celebrations of the past were too afraid to march this year, especially with such a strong police presence.
But despite the numbers, there may have been a turning point in the call for unity in defiance of the Trump administration’s efforts to take away basic civil rights.
This year, the May Day Coalition of Los Angeles, a network of more than 115 organizations led by Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, was intentionally inclusive. Rainbow flags dotted the march from MacArthur Park to L.A. City Hall with transgender communications spokesperson Rachael Rose Luckey of Stonewall Democrats speaking before the march and trans activist Bamby Salcedo of TransLatin@ Coalition speaking at City Hall. Among the LGBT groups represented were: Equality California, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, Latino Equality Alliance, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Stonewall Democratic Club, and St John’s Well Child & Family Center, which has a significant trans program.
“On May Day, when WE resist together, we honor the intersection of our identity as immigrants and descendants of immigrants and we honor the diversity of our communities,” says Ari Gutiérrez, Co-Founder and Advisory Board President of the Latino Equality Alliance. “The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer identified community includes immigrants, survivors, dreamers, college students, professionals and entrepreneurs. The LGBTQ community supports labor, immigrant and racial justice because those issues affect us too!” The safety and dignity of our LGBTQ community in our advocacy for immigration, employment and other policies must be a priority in our common struggle for equality, equity and justice. We must RESIST together and ALL of us for each other!”
It is a point CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas underscored in an interview with the Los Angeles Blade. “It is not just the responsibility for the immigrant community to stand up for Africa American and LGBTQ rights. It is our responsibility to change the country,” she said at Stonewall Democratic Club’s Stoney Awards on Sunday, where CHIRLA was honored.
Salas also noted that CHIRLA’s efforts at unity and coalition-building required some intense internal struggle and preparation. In 2008, for instance, the leadership recognized that the anti-gay marriage Prop 8 was the equivalent in the gay community to the horrific anti-immigrant Prop 187 was in the Latino community. Though they were in the middle of the grant process with the LA Catholic Archdioceses, CHIRLA decided to return the money to the church—which caused considerable internal consternation, rather than bow to church pressure over their opposition to Prop 8. Of more importance was not equivocating on their principles of fairness and equality, she said.
CHIRLA is also extremely aware of the issues and challenges faced by LGBT immigrants and worked hard on behalf of DREAMer Yordi Cancino, a gay youth leader for his high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, who wound up in an ICE detention facility facing deportation. CHIRLA is also advocating for LGBT asylum seekers.
LGBT people having been marching in the May Day march for years, starting with six brave staffers and volunteers from Bienestar. When gays were eventually acknowledged and included, the representative was often the last speaker on stage. This year, with so much at stake, the need for diversity in unity itself became a message for #ResistLA—even in the logo for the May Day flier.