Last week, I joined thousands of fasters around the country during the “National Days to Act, Fast and Pray” on December 1-3. For 24 hours, I abstained from food in an act of solidarity with a group of immigration reform activists who had gone 22 days ingesting nothing but water.
I joined the fast because my mother was forced to leave her country due to the discrimination and violence she faced there.
In my work on LGBT immigration policy, I know I encounter only a fraction of our nation’s 267,000 undocumented LGBT adults. Yet I constantly hear stories like my family’s — stories of people who have fled to the United States in search of a better life.
Unfortunately, our current immigration policies don’t give these Americans in waiting a chance to be full participants in our society.
Instead, they live in constant fear of being placed in unsafe detention facilities and deported back to the countries they fled.
Just ask Marco Quiroga, who joined the fasters on the Mall last week, why he went without food on a cold day in December.
“I fast for my gay little brother,” he said. “He was deported and has been separated from my family for over eight years — in the hopes that one day we will be reunited. I fast for my mother, who single-handedly struggled for over 25 years to keep my family together in the US, who is denied a path to citizenship and at any moment can be taken away from me. Enough broken politics. Enough broken families and broken lives. The time for immigration reform is now.”
The demonstration on the National Mall, known as the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship,” was launched on November 12 by immigrant, labor, and faith leaders to demonstrate to Congressional leaders the urgent need to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the House.
Nationwide, over 10,000 people pledged to fast in solidarity in the hope that their collective commitment will move House leaders to bring a bill to the floor.
Staff at LGBT organizations, including NQAPIA, Immigration Equality, and Get EQUAL, joined in solidarity fasts and a number of leaders from the LGBT community went above and beyond the 24 hour solidarity fast and chose to continue their fasts for as long as they were able.
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), fasted for seven days and Arcelia Hurtado and Samantha Ames of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) fasted for five.
On Wednesday, members of NCTE, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), LGBT Progress, and the House LGBT Equality Caucus, visited the fasters at their tent on the National Mall.
Fasters told Equality Caucus members Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) why they were fasting.
When it was Keisling’s turn, she declared “I’m here in solidarity and because I absolutely have to be.”
Keisling’s sense of urgency was echoed by the field of wooden crosses covering the National Mall outside the tent, symbols of the 477 lives lost crossing the border in 2012. Ben de Guzman NQAPIA left a note of support for the fasters in the tent which said, “LGBT people know how to love in the face of adversity. We are with you.”
When asked why she chose to fast, Laura Durso, Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress replied “Solidarity means standing shoulder-to-shoulder when others need you most. Fasting was one small way to turn words into action and honor my commitment to advancing social justice in all its forms.”
Our community knows immigration reform is an LGBT issue. That’s why so many of us didn’t think twice about joining the ranks of fasters in solidarity.
Our LGBT organizations stand united with allies from the immigrant rights community to demand our elected leaders take action. Temporary cold and hunger are small prices to pay when the stakes are so high.