Violence, Intersectionality, and the Erasure of Queer Migrants

By: Karma R. Chávez © 2010

In early October, the brutal beatings and torture of one man and two 17-year olds in the Bronx, presumed to either be gay or to have had gay sex shocked and angered many of us in the LGBT and queer community, as well as the U.S. national community at large. This happened as the question of LGBT suicides also flooded the national news. The New York Times reports that one of the survivors in the Bronx attack, described as a 30-year old gay man known to neighbors as “La Reina,” is also an Ecuadoran immigrant. I have found little else that has indicated the citizenship or migration status of any others involved either as perpetrators or survivors. I have found many images of young, tattooed Latino “thugs” and “gang members” in custody, and white men holding pictures of young men of color suspected of taking part in these brutal attacks. These images couple with the descriptions of the victimized immigrant, “La Reina,” as “like a woman,” and “a good person” you could go to if you needed anything. All of these depictions intermingle to create a complicated depiction of a local, if not national, tragedy.

As of late, LGBT rights and immigrant rights have been featured together more than ever before as Democrats attempted to add both the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the passage of the DREAM Act to a defense spending authorization bill last month. Young activist “DREAMers”—undocumented migrant youth who would benefit from the passage of the DREAM Act –came out in support for the repeal of DADT and in solidarity with LGBT rights on blogs [1]. These same young activists also came out to condemn both LGBT and undocumented suicides [2]. Similarly, mainstream organizations like the Human Rights Campaign have also come out in support of immigration reform, especially the DREAM Act [3]. These connections between immigrant rights and LGBT rights, and the plight of LGBTQs and immigrants are crucial to the broad-based coalition building that will be needed for promoting LGBTQ and migrant human rights. My own research investigates the way that migrant rights and queer rights intersect in the public sphere in ways that both challenge and uphold accepted imaginaries of the United States.

This brings me back to La Reina, and how the attack on her/him (we don’t know La Reina’s pronoun preference) is framed much like LGBT support for immigrant rights, and immigrant support for LGBT rights—through erasure of LGBT immigrants. Few reports or blogs have called attention to the gendered, racialized or national complexities of the Bronx attacks, instead reducing it to “gay-bashing” or “anti-gay beating.” Notably, friends of the attackers have indicated that most of these guys weren’t really “homophobic.” Putting aside the questionable logic of such a statement in light of this brutality, if we push harder on such a claim, it points to the necessity of thinking intersectionally about what has happened. The attackers’ race, class, masculinity, legal status, and presumed sexuality undoubtedly come together to create both the conditions that make such brutality possible, and the nature of this particular attack. La Reina’s trans-gender performances, race, class and sexual object choice no doubt all featured into this attack.

It is hard to say how La Reina’s immigrant status “matters” in this scenario as little has been said about this point. One might presume that being an immigrant impacted La Reina’s choice of neighborhood, and one might further argue that being an immigrant was, in part at least, what led to La Reina’s social circles and interactions. The acceptance La Reina received, or seems to have received from certain members of his/her neighborhood and social circle may have also had something to do with her/his immigrant and/or Latino/a identity. In fact, it is quite possible that La Reina’s ability to perform gender in the way she/he performed it was influenced by immigration status and culture. It is also possible that, as an immigrant, La Reina was perceived as an easy target by her/his perpetrators.

Whatever the answers to the above conjectures, this attack should not be reduced to “gay-bashing” even as sexuality and gender clearly featured centrally in the perpetrators’ motivation. Moreover, this attack should not be used as an example of the importance of “hate-crimes laws,” which continue to disproportionately put people of color and the poor behind bars, expanding the prison-industrial complex. Finally, this attack should not be reduced to inner-city violence among communities of color, or “gang taboos” about gender and sexuality taken to the extreme. Instead, the brutality of this attack should point us in a number of possible directions. First, queer activism and scholarship continues to need a robust critique of and challenge to the violence of heteronormativity, especially as it pertains to racialized, classed and gendered norms. Only in a nation-state as firmly invested in heteronormativity as ours can such violence persist. Second, the mainstream LGBT rights and immigrant rights movements’ emphasis on palatable and potentially “winnable” issues like marriage, military and even the Uniting American Families Act are taking vital attention and resources away from, what I would argue, are more serious problems facing LGBTQ and migrant communities: violence, poverty, and the possibility for a livable life for more than just the privileged few. Finally, as scholars and activists we must refuse to think only of single-issues, single-identities, or singular explanations of phenomena. For those of us who work with queer migrant communities or on queer migration issues, we must work on and against the consistent erasure of queer migrant identities, needs, issues, and experiences.

As of this writing, I have not been able to find any reports about how La Reina is doing, whether she/he’s recovering from the physical injuries, and even in a space to consider moving beyond the emotional ones. Moreover, with the exception of a few blogs focusing specifically on LGBTQ issues in communities of color, few people are talking about the necessity of centering queers of color, and violence they suffer [4]. I hope the Queer Migration Research Network will lead the charge in promoting an alternative queer vision, one that accounts for and contributes to transforming the reality facing queers of color, migrants, and queer migrants.


*Views on the QMRN blog reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of the QMRN or its individual members

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