Rainbow flags dotted the landscape of this year's May Day rally, as an amorphous LGBTQ contingent marched along with groups demanding the legalization of the undocumented; worker's rights; and an end to raids and deportations. While official tallies put the numbers at about 15,000, Jorge Mujica of the March 10 Movement ( a key organizing group ) put the number closer to 50,000 in a post-march interview. Marchers felt that while the numbers were fewer than last year's, the issues were still as tangible for queers and immigrants.
Pictured: Karen Rothstein ( left ) , Aurora Pineda and their son. Photo by Yasmin Nair
This was not the first time that queers have marched at the May Day immigration rally, but it was the first time that queer groups had issued a call-out to organize under rainbow flags. At the rally itself, several queer immigrants marched along with groups like the youth contingent of the March 10 Movement, while others looked to march under the rainbow flag as the official queer block. The LGBTQ presence seemed, at first, to consist largely of non-immigrants, a fact commented on by some.
Mariela Alburges was among those who came to march as part of the queer contingent: 'I'm definitely here because of the call-out.' She was positive about the potential for solidarity among queers and immigrants, but she also said, 'A lot of the visibility is being taken or being overshadowed by the white queer community. … It's important for [ our ] allies to also acknowledge that we need more queer immigrant leaders to be out here. The front lines don't have to be headed by white queer men. I am a little worried about how we're organizing ourselves.'
One young non-immigrant marcher acknowledged the largely white queer presence but said, 'It's mostly but not exclusively white. ... A lot of the LGBT organizing is racially divided; a lot of it is white-focused.' She spoke about the need for solidarity, a word that echoed through the crowd.Read more story below....
The queer contingent was eventually joined by ALMA ( Association of Latino Men for Action ) . Opinions on what constituted queer immigrant issues varied based on how the marchers identified themselves, and there seemed to be some confusion about the issue of marriage and binational couples. While many spoke about the need for what Andy Thayer of GLN ( Gay Liberation Network ) called 'equal naturalization rights for binational couples,' they were surprised to learn that the issue only affects documented people.
There was more clarity about the war on Iraq, as this year's rally was the first one to take on an explicitly anti-war agenda. An organizer with the March 10 Movement said this was because 'a lot of immigrants … are at the front lines of the war,' and because there has been a significant shift in public attitudes towards the war. Thayer, whose group is involved in anti-war efforts, spoke about immigration issues and the war, and the possible reasons for the dip in attendees: 'People are frustrated because they come out against the war but politicians have ignored us. We are at a march today whose central demand is legalization but that is not at on the agenda of any of the major presidential candidates. Instead, you've got Barack Obama appropriating the immigration slogan 'Sí, se puede' ( 'Yes, we can' ) but supporting building the damn border fence. That is crass opportunism at its worst.'
In talking about the smaller numbers, Thayer acknowledged people's frustration but also said that 'some people are [ living with ] the mistaken notion that Santa Claus is going to come on Nov. 4, and they're in for a very rude awakening. ... These issues aren't going to go away.' For queer immigrants at the march, the issues were somewhat different, as were the reasons why there might be fewer people. Nicole Perez, who has ties to the immigrant community, said: 'I know people who are getting deported because of no-match letters. People who are undocumented, afraid in a world where fear is a real issue, who couldn't get out of work ... Safety is an intense issue. I'm here for my family, people who are undocumented, too afraid to march, people who can't take the time to march.'
For Alburges, the march was about, 'basic healthcare access … the basic recognition of us being immigrant as well as queer … and of [ not ] having to choose between our identities … between my latinidad and my queerness.' Jorge Cestou spoke about equal marriage rights for queers: 'We have the same challenges as the mainstream gay community—marriage is not recognized between gays and we have to deal with [ the fact that ] we cannot immigrate our partners.'
This year's rally also saw a larger youth presence than at previous rallies. Mujica pointed out that 'these are the sons and daughters of those who marched in previous years. Many can't vote because they're under 18, or are undocumented, or have parents who are undocumented. So the alternative is to march.'
Overall, most were positive about the effects of a queer presence at the march, and thought that it furthered what Perez called a 'multi-issue agenda.' Aurora Pineda pointed out the difference from previous years, where she and her partner, Karen Rothstein, had felt gawked at. Rothstein missed the queer spectacle of last year's march, but for Pineda, 'There's great energy; [ queers are ] so sure of themselves. They [ the people marching ] don't give a fuck.' Pineda and Rothstein brought their three-month-old son to the march, and their presence dovetailed with the cries for preserving families that rang throughout the march.