Why I Believe in Pride

Why I Believe in Pride

This month is all about Pride: being proud of who you are, and unafraid to stand up for what you believe in. As a gay, undocumented immigrant, that has not always been easy for me.

From a young age, my parents taught me that there was one aspect of our lives we weren’t supposed to discuss: our immigration status.

I came to the United States from Mexico when I was three months old. This is the only home I know. But from the time I was old enough to talk, my father instructed me to tell people that I was from Nevada, not Mexico. My mom, dad and older sister were also undocumented, and my parents lived in constant fear of our family being torn apart.

LGBT DREAMers (from left): Jose Mendoza (Los Angeles), Carla Lopez (Oakland, CA), Alejandra “Ale” Estrada (Las Vegas, NV), and Luis Liang (Berkeley, CA), have been been invited to the White House Pride reception, and are all DACA recipients.

When I was in the first grade and my teacher asked where we were all from, I told her I was from Mexico and Nevada. My teacher was visibly confused, but my classmates were just impressed I was from two places.

As I grew up, the reality of my undocumented status weighed on me. Without a social security number, I couldn’t do all the other things my friends were doing, like apply for college. The more I thought about these limitations, the more I felt hopeless and helpless. So I pushed my immigration status out of my mind.

This month during Pride, I celebrate my dual coming out: as a proud member of the LGBT community and as an undocumented immigrant who has been fortunate to get relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants deferred immigration action for certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children, and have pursued military service or education in the U.S. Because of support from the LGBT DREAMers Fund, I was able to pay the fees required to apply for the DACA program.

As a DACA recipient, I am now legally authorized to work in the U.S. and am no longer living under a threat of deportation. I know there are millions of undocumented immigrants who are still living in the shadows, afraid to share their immigration status.

This week I, along with other LGBT immigrants, have been invited to the White House Pride reception, where President Obama will talk about issues relevant to the LGBT community, including the challenges facing LGBT immigrants like me.

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I am eternally thankful to President Obama for creating the DACA program. I look forward to telling him that this Pride month, I stand in support of the next step – compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform that will allow more LGBT immigrants – and all immigrants – to live their lives with Pride.

Putting our nation’s undocumented men, women and children on a pathway to citizenship will give at least 267,000 undocumented LGBT people the opportunity to become full participants in our economy and democracy, and should be an urgent priority for our community.

The current Senate reform bill represents a significant improvement for the LGBT community. Among other things, it eliminates the one-year bar on applying for asylum, provides additional protections for DREAMers like me and improves conditions for people held in detention facilities. I urge you to join me in calling leaders in both chambers of Congress and on both sides of the aisle to ensure these protections remain intact in the final legislation.

Our outdated immigration system dehumanizes, scapegoats and vilifies all immigrants. We desperately need to reform the system so that all immigrants – including LGBT immigrants – can live their lives with Pride.

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