Without DACA, We Will Lose Fierce Advocates for Justice

Living the Dream-01 (2)

By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

Jesus Chavez at a 2013 immigration rally on the National Mall. Photo: Chavez Facebook page

Jesus Chavez at a 2013 immigration rally on the National Mall. Photo: Chavez Facebook page

As a gay undocumented youth, Jesus Chavez understands well the challenges of living with secrets. He grew up in California’s Central Valley always aware of his immigration status but forbidden from speaking about it.

At 14, Chavez vividly recalls watching coverage of the 2006 immigration reform rallies in cities and towns across the country. It was then that he realized why his parents had gone to great lengths to ensure that he and his siblings kept their undocumented status quiet. The rallies were in response to an anti-immigrant measure passed in the House of Representatives that would have ramped up enforcement measures and deportations.

“It made me realize how dangerous it was to reveal this secret,” said Chavez. “The idea of family separation…I couldn’t live in the United States without my mom.”

This early introduction to activism impacted Chavez’s college and career decisions. He had always been a bright student in school. He excelled in academics and also exhibited athleticism, which he still credits with helping him stay disciplined.

When it came time to apply for college, he knew his status would pose financial difficulties, so he hustled to find the money he would need to attend. When he graduated from high school, Chavez had managed to win $14,000 in private scholarships to help fund his academic career at University of California, Berkeley. It was a remarkable feat that showcased his tenacious spirit.

In college Chavez got involved with the undocumented youth movement, serving as the co-chair of Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education (RISE). When President Obama made his historic announcement on the creation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Chavez and RISE provided support to students who wanted to come out of the shadows. They worked with the law school’s immigration lawyer to help students through the application process.

Ironically, when it came time to apply for himself, Chavez realized he found greater joy in seeing others celebrate their deferred action. “At the time, I was working three jobs and wasn’t sure I would need DACA. I was happier for others because they realized they could now work legally, they could do study abroad programs,” he said. “Now that I am working for myself, having DACA has been amazing. I’ve been able to not just get jobs that I like, but also grow professionally. Having DACA is something I’m really thankful for.”

Jesus’s professional growth and activism has indeed gained him recognition in his young career. In 2013, he moved to Washington, DC, to intern with the National LGBTQ Task Force. Today, he works as the operations manager for PFLAG, another LGBT civil rights organization. He also held posts with the Latino GLBT History Project and attended the Union=Fuerza LGBT Latino conference.

Most recently, Chavez received the “Next Generation Award” by Washington’s LGBT magazine, Metro Weekly, for his commitment to improving the lives of all people. He admits to nearly rejecting the award because he didn’t think his experience warranted the honor. He ultimately changed his mind, but when speaking about the award, Chavez’s humility comes through.

“The Next Generation Award speaks to the undocuqueer movement and how they are using two identities to make themselves heard so we can reach equality,” said Chavez. “There are so many undocumented LGBT people who struggle, not only because they’re undocumented, but because they’re out and deal with lots of criticism. We need to keep fighting for what we think is right.”

Jesus’s story is certainly exceptional, and his accomplishments from college to now underscore the value of his contributions. The world is sorely in need of fighters like Chavez who are fiercely committed to advocating for what is right. Take DACA away and we lose a great talent.  Chavez is an excellent example of why we must keep fighting for the president’s executive action on extended DACA and DAPA.

The Promise of the Affordable Care Act Must Reach All Communities

By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law, more than 15 million Americans have received some type of health coverage. This open enrollment period alone has seen almost 7 million new sign-ups. Still, there are many more to reach, especially in the Latino community, where one in four remains uninsured.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Latino population is a community that is especially vulnerable to disparities. They often require special health care needs, and in some instances the ACA now provides important protections and benefits to ensure LGBT people can access that care.

New civil rights provisions in the ACA expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, class, sex, age, disability, and certain other categories. The provision, known as Section 1557, applies nondiscrimination protections to any and all health programs that receive funding from the federal government. The federal Health Insurance Marketplace and the plans sold through it are all covered under this nondiscrimination provision.

For many LGBT people living with HIV, diabetes, cancer, or other chronic conditions, even obtaining health coverage has long been a challenge. Before the ACA, having a preexisting condition meant that someone could be legally barred from getting insurance. Now companies must adhere to strict rules that disallow companies from refusing health care to anyone with any preexisting condition.

Reaching communities that are especially susceptible to our health system’s disparities is paramount if the promise of the ACA is to be fulfilled. We must communicate what the ACA means and connect eligible individuals to information and resources necessary to understanding their options for enrolling in a plan that meets their budget and needs. Let’s work to make sure the promise and benefits of the ACA reaches our entire community!

The deadline to enroll in coverage through the Marketplace is February 15, 2015. To learn more, head to healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.

We the People: Why Congress Must Pass a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Act

Guest blog post by Sharita Gruberg, Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress

Photo: JBrazito

Photo: JBrazito

As we celebrate our victories on marriage equality, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people continue to face discrimination in their daily lives that prevent them from being full participants in society.  LGBT people are excluded from exercising basic rights in the majority of states. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire, refuse housing, or deny service to people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  For example, in 11 states, a same-sex couple can legally marry, but they can legally be fired from their jobs for doing so.

This week, the Center for American Progress released a groundbreaking report calling on Congress to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit, and federal funding. Since these basic areas of life are so closely interconnected, a comprehensive approach to addressing discrimination against LGBT people is necessary. The report examines how LGBT people are excluded from explicit protections against discrimination in these core areas of life and the impact of this exclusion, such as disproportionate rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.  A survey found discrimination in employment resulted in 1 in 4 of all transgender respondents and 30 percent of Latino transgender respondents being fired from a job. Workplace discrimination is not limited to being fired from a job, 43 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers reporting discrimination or harassment on the job. LGBT people face discrimination in other areas of life as well, with 1 in 4 same sex couples experiencing discrimination when trying to buy a home and 1 in 5 transgender people being denied equal treatment in hotels and restaurants.

As the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, NCLR believes all people deserve equal treatment. When it comes to LGBT equality, NCLR sees it as one part of the larger fight for civil rights and has said that “[e]nsuring fairness and equality while protecting people from discrimination is at the heart of NCLR’s mission.” No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. A report by the Human Rights Campaign and League of United Latin American Citizens found that LGBT Latino youth are twice as likely as non-LGBT Latino youth to say they don’t “fit in.” As CAP’s report found, more than half of k-12 LGBT students feel unsafe at school. While acceptance starts at home, it is imperative that we ensure our young people grow up in a society that treats them equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

On the Liberation of Coming Out

Photo: JBrazito

Photo: JBrazito

Happy Coming Out Day!

How easy it seems to just say the words “I’m gay” or “I’m a lesbian” or “I’m bi” or “I’m trans” and be done with it.

The reality is that for a lot of LGBT people there are years of anxiety and uncertainty built up behind those words and you don’t know what kind of reaction you’re going to get. Some people will say they’ve known since you were a child and others will pretend like they didn’t hear the words that came out of your mouth. It’s that fear of not knowing that becomes such a huge mental obstacle.   Continue reading