‘Coming Out’ for Immigration Reform

Fil-AM LGBT Advocate Ben De Guzman

October has always been a special month in my household, since it’s when my twin brother and I celebrate our birthday, surrounded by family. But October is also Filipino-American History Month and LGBT History Month, both of which I’m uniquely situated to appreciate.

As a Filipino American, I am part of a legacy that includes generations of Fil-Am activists like Larry Itliong, who started the farm worker movement that was joined by Latino and labor pioneer Cesar Chavez. And as an openly gay man, in the spirit of the Stonewall activism that stood strong against homophobia and transphobia, I cheer the latest victory for the LGBT rights movement — the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and grant benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

The times we are in now, however, call for all the strength these legacies can muster. With our government mired in partisan disagreement, the movement for comprehensive immigration reform stands at a crossroads. Given the distractions, it would be easy to let the momentum wane. But far from choosing the path of least resistance, we’ve chosen to push on and continue the fight. 

On October 5, the board of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) gathered in New York and stood in solidarity with the more than 100 protests and marches taking place around the country as part of the National Day of Dignity and Respect. On October 8, I joined thousands of pro-immigration advocates on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to raise our voices above the political posturing on Capitol Hill and call on our lawmakers to vote now for comprehensive immigration reform. My friend, colleague, kababayan (compatriot and fellow Filipino American) and openly gay man, Greg Cendana, took our struggle to the next step by joining members of Congress, such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), by getting arrested in an act of civil disobedience.

I’ll be coming out as an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented.

We are taking these measures because time is running out for our communities. The Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander LGBT families that are affected by our broken immigration system cannot wait. 

My friend Tony Choi, a gay Korean-American undocumented immigrant who lives in Little Ferry, N.J., a few miles from my parents, is one of those who can no longer wait for immigration reform. He lives with the constant risk of deportation — which, for him, would mean facing anti-gay military hazing in South Korea because of that country’s mandatory military service requirements for young men. 

Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado, my Filipina American activist role models in Pacifica, California, are taking their first vacation back to the Philippines in years — something they are able to do now because Tan's deportation was halted by a bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Proposition 8 in California and part of DOMA has given them rights as a binational, lesbian couple. They can, in essence, be a family. What they cannot do, they say, is stand by and watch as our backlogged and broken immigration system keeps other Filipino American families apart.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and I’m taking the opportunity to come out, again. But this time, I’ll be coming out as an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented — at least 267,00 of which are LGBT — and that protects my family, our nation, and our core values of fairness, equality, and freedom to pursue happiness on our own terms.


This article was first published by New America Media. 

Ben De Guzman

Ben De Guzman

Ben de Guzman is the co-director for programs at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA). He is the proud son of Filipino immigrants.