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Supporting LGBT Migrants at U.S. Border

Trump is violating longstanding humanitarian protections

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Tai Sunnanon (courtesy Tai Sunnanon)

I would think that 6 trips to the U.S.-Mexico border to reunite children with their parents and to help asylum seekers find refuge here would make a difference. Three of these trips were at the Southern Texas border and three were in Tijuana. But the more I visited, the better I understood the problem. And the problem lies with the White House. 

My parents are proud immigrants. My father came from Thailand and my mother from Ecuador. I grew up with diverse foods and clothing and aromas and languages that have shaped my best thinking as a social justice advocate and strategy consultant. My parents came to this country with a few hundred dollars for a better life. The American Dream is one of our greatest exports. Anyone around the world seeking a better life for themselves knows this.

But now, President Trump has turned this hope into an “invasion” that needs protecting with a border wall.  Hey Trump: funny how your grandparents were granted the freedom to immigrate here, but you now close off our borders to grandparents of other people. Funny how the greatest threat of terrorism is homegrown, but you blame immigrants.

But this is no laughing matter.

In Nov. 2018, the first wave of migrant caravanners—from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala—were LGBT asylum seekers. They fled unimageable violence. They escaped the persecution, taunts, employer discrimination, public beatings, family ostracization, and poverty, to name a few, in pursuit of the American Dream.

As the border wall fight rages on, the Trump administration has quietly begun enforcing its Migrant Protection Protocols, forcing many asylum seekers to remain in Mexico throughout the duration of their asylum cases—a process that can take years. This is both illegal and affects the most vulnerable of populations, including unaccompanied minors and LGBT people.

Since the enactment of the 1980 Refugee Act nearly 40 years ago, U.S. law has prohibited the return of individuals to countries where they are likely to face persecution. Thus, the Migrant Protection Protocols are a violation of the humanitarian protections to which asylum seekers are entitled under U.S. and international law.

Migrant Protection Policies not only endanger migrants but also make it far more difficult for asylum seekers to pursue their claims. I witnessed this first-hand. In the 3 trips to Tijuana, Mexico, in as many months, I’ve seen the migrant campground displaced in as many times. The most recent location is deeper into the city and further away from the U.S. border, where—interesting fact—they must be present at in order to have their case heard and processed.

So, not only is the Trump administration using illegal tactics to keep vulnerable populations from entering the U.S., they are making it harder for them to even be considered for rightful asylum.

We do not have the exact numbers of unaccompanied minors or LGBT asylum seekers, but they are in the dozens. I met 2 teenagers, 2 trans women and 5 LGBT people during my visits to the various campsites in Mexico. The scars are visible on their faces and arms, masking the turmoil and fear they are valiantly hiding.

With the support of my firm, the strategic insights group, and ACLU, we supplied nearly 1,000 towels and toiletries for the migrants at the campsite by the border in Tijuana during our first trip in November 2018. As we handed these supplies over to the aid workers, the Mexican border patrol agents placed me in custody. I learned to expect anything from years of humanitarian work. But this was just another sign of how bad the situation was for these migrants who were denied international aid.

During another visit the following month, I was granted unprecedented access into the tent city where the migrants were relocated. There were limited supplies and restrooms. Artists painted rallying cries on sheets of cloth, asking for America to help. It was a tense visit, as I went from tent to tent finding the 9 asylum seekers I had met in previous trips.

“Lucy” is one of the trans women I met who shared her story of fleeing violence from her own family members in El Salvador. No job would hire her there or in neighboring countries. She sat still in front of me, exhausted from escaping one bad situation from another. We spoke in Spanish and I made sure she received legal counsel and transportation to the U.S. border, where she could present her case. She trusted me and I tried to convey that the asylum process would take awhile.

“How long?” she asked. “Possibly up to a year,” I said. I was eager to connect with her during my last visit, but forced to find work anywhere in Mexico, she permanently left the campsite. I can’t blame her. No one has the luxury of waiting a year in such conditions.

Tai Esteban Sunnanon is the Founder and CEO of the strategic insights group (tsig), the premier mission-driven consulting firm in Los Angeles. tsig helps communities by supporting social justice organizations, nonprofits and social enterprises and its leaders. For more information, go to www.strategicinsights.group

Commentary

Homophobia wins in the Puerto Rico Senate

Bill to ban conversion therapy died in committee

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[Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By Alberto J. Valentín | It is a sad day for Puerto Rico, and it is a sad day for human rights on the Caribbean island.

Last Thursday, 11 senators decided to turn their backs on children and human rights in Puerto Rico. A new Senate majority proved to be weak and on the wrong side of history, again. Eight senators from the legislative committee reviewing Senate Bill 184 to ban conversation therapy on the island voted against the bill’s report.

Today, thanks to these senators, any mental health professional can freely charge a father for “curing” his son of homosexuality or of a gender identity/expression that does not conform to social standards of “normality.” Although there has been an executive order in Puerto Rico banning conversation therapy since 2018, this order is only applicable to health institutions that have a specific connection with the government. Executive orders state mandatory requirements for the Executive Branch and have the effect of law; however, any governor can revoke them.

Senators received scientific evidence and several testimonies from LGBTQIA people who testified during public hearings. These senators also received evidence of permanent depression and suicide attempts caused by conversion therapy. However, 11 senators decided to condone hate and the intolerance towards the LGBTQIA youth on the island. One of these senators, Wanda Soto, said during one of the public hearings that “… with love anything is possible … ” in reference to her belief that kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed or cured. This senator even compared a bad personal experience with a dentist she had when she was a kid with LGBTQIA opponents’ testimonies of their experiences of going through conversion therapy.

Suicide and depression rates among LGBTQIA youth are staggering and are the highest in the entire United States compared to other reasons. These indices are a direct consequence of the intolerance, discrimination and lack of validation that our society perpetuates. LGBTQIA youth go through difficult times in their lives, including personal and family acceptance that trigger years of depression and anxiety among LGBTQIA people.

Today again, hatred wins. Today, Puerto Rico demonstrates why it is the number one jurisdiction for hate crimes in the entire United States. Today again, these 11 senators make evident why gender-based crimes continue to dominate local headlines. Today these senators are an example of the ignorance and lack of cultural competence that persist in our island. Today, these senators will be responsible for the depression and the stigma that the LGBTQIA community will continue to suffer. Today these senators are responsible for perpetuating intolerance. We take a step back as a society, demonstrating again that we cannot tolerate those who are different and who do not meet our standards of normality.

Neither the tears of Gustavo nor Elvin or Caleb, who presented their testimonies before the Puerto Rico Senate, were enough to move the hearts of these senators. The hypocritical hugs and words of support that some senators gave to these LGBTQIA people after their testimony and personally meeting them make it much harder to understand how they turned their backs on our children. Today these 11 senators are responsible for perpetuating hate crimes on the island and make our path to be a more inclusive society even harder.

Homophobia won in the Puerto Rico Senate last Thursday. There was no difference when the pro-statehood Senate majority defeated SB 1000 (banning conversion therapy) back in 2018 and now with a new majority lead by the Popular Democratic Party. Different senators, different bills, same result, but the same homophobia. Many Puerto Rican voters believed that furthering human rights would be easier to achieve on the island with a new majority in the legislature. Unfortunately, the reality is that our legislature is just a mirror of our society, and the lack of cultural competence persists among us. But we will keep fighting; this is a single lost battle, a battle among many others yet to come.

These are the 11 senators who voted against SB 184 or didn’t vote:

  1. Sen. Rubén Soto – Against
  2. Sen. Ramón Ruiz – Against
  3. Sen. Albert Torres – Against
  4. Sen. Ada García – Against
  5. Sen. Wanda Soto – Against
  6. Sen. Marissa Jimenez – Against
  7. Sen. Joanne Rodríguez – Against
  8. Sen. Thomas Rivera – Against
  9. Sen. José L. Dalmau – Absent
  10. Sen. Marially González – Absent
  11. Sen. Javier Aponte – Absent
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Commentary

Happy Mother’s Day

The publisher, editor, and staff of the Los Angeles Blade wishes all of the mother’s a very happy mother’s day and thank you for all that you do.

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The publisher, editor, and staff of the Los Angeles Blade wishes all of the mother’s a very happy mother’s day and thank you for all that you do.

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Commentary

Rich privilege on full display- Hannity interviews Jenner and it wasn’t pretty

Vox journalist Aaron Rupar live tweeted the show, capturing some of the arguably worst of the discourse with Jenner.

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Commentary

LOS ANGELES – Fox News pundit and anchor Sean Hannity interviewed realty television star Caitlyn Jenner on his show Wednesday evening and it frankly was a hot mess.

Jenner, who announced a week ago that she’s running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the likely recall election this Fall, gave Hannity her take on issues that was Trumpian and clueless to outright enraging at times.

Vox journalist Aaron Rupar live tweeted the show, capturing some of the arguably worst of the discourse with Jenner pontificating on subject matters that she clearly doesn’t have a firm grasp of.

For instance, on California’s homeless crisis: Jenner said: “My friends are leaving California. My hangar, [ Jenner is a pilot and has her own aircraft ] the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, where are you going? And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless'”

Jenner again disparages Trans youth athletes: Jenner explains that she’s opposed to transgender girls playing sports against other girls. But then in the next breath she says she wants to be a role model for transgender girls.

“Forest management is extremely important” Jenner’s comments about wildfires reminded Rupar of former President Trump’s clueless remarks.

Next she claims, well take a listen yourself:

This next part is rich. “You’re pro *legal* immigration” — Sean Hannity puts words in Caitlyn Jenner’s mouth when she talks about immigration. Jenner responds by saying, “sorry, did I miss the legal part? Thanks for catching me. You’ve got my back, Sean, I appreciate that.”

Then there’s her take on trains. Jenner wonders why high speed rail is needed between LA and SF since people can just fly

Then she muses that Trump did a better job than Biden is doing which is completely vapid and devoid of substance

Mercifully it ended…

I reached out to a Trans activist of note for comments on the Hannity interview, who angrily asked why I would consider giving Jenner any more oxygen.

I explained that sadly in the toxic world of Republican politics circa 2021 in a post-Trump presidency world there are those right wing extremists who will hold Jenner up as an ‘authority-figure’ and as a spokesperson for Trans people, and worse will cite Jenner as an example.

Jenner needs to be marginalized, people need to hear loudly and clearly that she absolutely does not speak for the LGBTQ+ community and that her bigotry towards young Trans people is harmful and dangerous.

While Jenner’s candidacy and ‘policy’ positions may well be perceived as a joke, what does need to be taken seriously is her ongoing attacks on the Trans youth who just want to participate in sports.

Electing not to comment the activist agreed.

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