LGBTQ students lead complex lives as ‘undocuqueers’
The combination of being LGBTQ and undocumented, nicknamed “undocuqueer,” means battling not only homophobia, but also the stigma of being an undocumented immigrant.
Comprised of 52 affiliate organizations in 25 states, United We Dream (UWD), the largest immigrant youth network in the nation, launched the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP) in 2011 to organize and empower those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning community.
According to a report by Gary Gates of the Williams Institute at UCLA, there are at least 267,000 LGBTQ undocumented immigrants living in the United States, about 30 percent of the 904,000 total LGBTQ immigrants.
Being LGBTQ and undocumented means facing a variety of new challenges, which is why Florida QUIP organizer David Burrows joined the movement.
“By being gay, I won’t be thrown out of the country,” Burrows said. “But because of being undocumented, you might be, and that’s unjust.”
The goal of QUIP is to bring LGBTQ issues to the forefront in the immigration debate. Burrows explained that being an “undocuqueer” means they are faced with coming out not once, but twice, by confessing their sexual orientation and their immigration status.
Burrows explained the difficulty of being undocumented includes not having the ability to work legally, receive a driver’s license, obtain a Social Security number and possibly facing deportation.
“But being LGBTQ, they might not have any support from their family and still face all the other issues,” he said.
Fernando Olvera,17, another Florida organizer, is equally passionate about QUIP.
At the age of one, Olvera was brought to the United States from Mexico. It took him years to understand what being undocumented would mean.
“I had no choice in coming here or not. I really didn’t know about my status, and I thought I was like any other kid,” Olvera said. “I didn’t find out I was undocumented until high school when I had to do tests and there was a box for my Social Security number.”
Being undocumented, Olvera wanted to get involved with the movement to support undocumented immigrants. That is when he stumbled upon QUIP.
“As well as being undocumented, I’m classified as being queer,” Olvera said. “It’s hard because of what people say about my sexual orientation and the fear I deal with of being deported.”
His friends didn’t know he was undocumented, and his father didn’t know he was gay. QUIP helped him find the courage to come out to his father and friends.
“The biggest obstacles for LGBT DREAMers, for myself and others, is to actually get the same equality that others have,” Olvera said. “Overall, it’s hard knowing that you’re undocumented and have to come out.”
Since joining QUIP, Olvera broke out of his shell and stepped up as a leader, developing lifelong friendships in the process.
“This movement has made me a stronger person,” Olvera said. “If it wasn’t for this empowerment I have, I wouldn’t be able to fight for what I believe is right.”
Currently their chapter is based in Homestead because of the large population of LGBT DREAMers. Olvera and Burrows want to expand the movement statewide in Florida and across the nation.
“We want to empower everyone to be a part of the community. I was just a member, but I stepped up,” Burrows said. “Building individuals, having them find themselves and giving them the resources they need to move on is what we want to do.”
Burrows and Olvera see a bright future for QUIP and are excited to be along for the ride.
“I see it growing to a point where once there’s an issue in Florida that we know is wrong and someone hears QUIP is coming, they will want to step back,” Olvera said.
“Basically, QUIP is coming, it’s going to be something serious.’”