In this blog post, AILA President Allen Orr posed some questions to Jennifer Yeaw, a member of the Diversity & Inclusion committee about Pride month and how immigration law and policies have gradually grown more inclusive to LGBTQIA+ families, but there’s still a long way to go.
Allen Orr: Jennifer, first thank you for participating in this blog post with me, I know you’ve done some thoughtful work reflecting on the intersection of immigration law and LGBTQ+ issues. It’s Pride month and I wanted to touch base with you – As well as being the first African American president of AILA, I’m also the first LGBTQIA+ president in the organization’s 75 years of existence. This topic is definitely of both a personal and professional importance to me. I’m so glad you have also been working on educating the bar but also the public about these issues. Let’s start with Pride Month – tell us about what that means to you.
Jennifer: Thanks Allen, it’s an exciting month! June is Pride month, which celebrates Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Allies and Pansexual (LGBTQIA+) persons. The annual recognition of Pride is in June to honor the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Although there have been gay rights organizations founded since the 1920’s, the Stonewall Uprising is considered by many to have kicked off a gay rights movement both in the United States and world-wide. As a result, there has been some progress in ensuring equality and justice, though we still have a way to go.
Allen: It’s hard to believe sometimes but only a few years ago, LGBTQ+ partners couldn’t marry.
Jennifer: That’s absolutely right. One of the most widely recognized moves toward parity was when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and then Obergefell v. Hodges in June of 2015 which we all celebrated. In Obergefell v. Hodges, SCOTUS ruled that the ability to get married is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and therefore would be afforded to same-sex couples as well. Because of that ruling, I was able to marry my wife in April of 2016. And, right after we got married our friends and family started asking, “Are you going to have children?” That’s of course, a big decision for any couple, but for LGBTQ+ families, it’s obviously additionally complicated.
While the right to marry has been protected by the U.S. Constitution, in some cases, the rights of people who identify as LGBTQ+ to be parents is still opposed, and litigation has followed. Just recently, SCOTUS issued a heartbreaking ruling in Fulton v City of Philadelphia, a case where the City of Philadelphia barred Catholic Social Services (CSS) from placing children in foster homes because CSS would not license same-sex couples. CSS can continue to discriminate against gay couples and the Supreme Court says it’s ok. There are so many children who deserve the security an adoptive family can give them, and it is reprehensible that the factor of a couple being gay could be enough to prohibit CSS from placing a child in a safe environment.
Allen: Let’s tie this back to the immigration law. So many people have no idea how difficult immigration issues still are for LGBTQ+ families.
Jennifer: Yes, things have gotten better recently but it is still very difficult because the immigration laws haven’t been reviewed and revised in the context of where we as a society have come on LGBTQ+ families. For instance, a court struck down an outdated Department of State rule last year which had prevented the daughter of James Derek Mize, and his husband, Jonathan Gregg, to be recognized as a United States Citizen because she had been born abroad and because Jonathan, her biological father, had also been born abroad. If the child had been biologically related to both parents, the policy would never have applied. You can read the decision here.
Let’s be real – there are a lot of people who need to use In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) to pursue pregnancy for various reasons. However, if a gay person or same-sex couple wants to pursue this option, some insurance companies will not cover any medical expenses incurred because often the individual or couple must prove that they have tried through “traditional methods” to get pregnant. This is discriminatory against LGBTQ+ couples! So there’s work to be done advocating for changes to insurance coverage, as well as continued updating to immigration law and policies.
Allen: Thank you for sharing these insights with us Jennifer. Pride is a time to celebrate, but it is also a time that I hope people will take to learn more about the challenges and inequalities still facing many of their friends and colleagues in the LGBTQ+ communities.
Jennifer: You’re right Allen, Pride is generally a joyous celebration where we see rainbow flags flying, parades, and public displays of solidarity. But this movement didn’t just happen. It was born out of decades of work and many lives uprooted and even lost during a fight to be recognized and treated equally in all aspects of society, including the right to have and raise a family.
For those wanting to learn more about these issues, AILA resources include an interest group AILA members can join, practice resources, and materials on asylum claims related to persecution on account of LGBTQ+ identity. Note that this issue will be covered in detail during the session “Protecting LGBTQI+ Lives: Current Challenges and Opportunities for Success” on August 16, 2021 during the 2021 AILA Asylum Conference.