President Obama took a much-deserved victory lap on LGBT equality Tuesday night, declaring before an adoring crowd in New York City that his administration has “been able to do more to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans than any administration in history.”
And he’s right. Since 2008, President Obama has overseen the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” – the military’s ban on openly gay service members – a new Hate Crimes law bearing Matthew Shepard’s name, the demise of a 22-year-old travel and immigration ban against people with HIV, the addition of eight openly gay federal judges, a provision making it illegal to deny health insurance to individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the implementation of federal policies recognizing same-sex marriage, just to name a few. On Monday, the White House announced its latest achievement – that the president would be signing an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees.
“We don’t benefit as a country or an economy – businesses don’t benefit if they’re leaving talent off the field,” said Obama at Tuesday’s DNC LGBT gala. “That’s why I’ve directed my staff to prepare for my signature an executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
It was one of his biggest applause lines of the night. Outside, however, people were making noise for a different reason.
As President Obama prepared to celebrate his historic record on advancing LGBT equality, dozens of protesters gathered on the street to point out one major black mark. Under this administration, approximately two million undocumented immigrants – many, LGBT – have been deported to countries where their sexual orientation or gender identity can get them killed.
“For many individuals in our community, including myself, gay and undocumented, it can be a death sentence to be deported,” said Marco Quiroga, national field officer with the group, Immigration Equality, on Tuesday. “In over 77 countries around the world, it is illegal – they criminalize LGBT individuals for just being themselves. That includes me. That includes my little brother, who was deported, and was sent back to a country where he suffered abuse – verbal, and physical, and emotional turmoil – and separation from my family for over nine years.”
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, the death penalty exists in seven countries for those who engage in same-sex relationships, while approximately 70 more criminalize homosexuality in less severe ways. Once the southeast nation of Brunei fully implements its new penal code, it will become the eighth country with the death penalty for same-sex activity.
In many of these places, rampant discrimination and anti-gay violence often accompany the legislative crackdown. Detention centers for undocumented immigrants, too, can in many cases create hazardous situations for LGBT individuals.
“If LGBTQ people are deported, they could be in a very dangerous situation,” said Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of GetEqual, to msnbc. “In detention, many times they face violence and sometimes even rape.”
President Obama made reference to LGBT individuals facing persecution around the world in his speech Tuesday, saying “we need to send a message to those folks… We believe in your dignity and equality, and the United States stands with you.”
But advocates want him to do more – specifically, halt deportations and grant administrative relief to undocumented individuals in the U.S., especially now that immigration reform faces dwindling prospects of making it through Congress this year.
“As a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, I know the power of President Obama’s pen,” said Dagoberto Bailon, a gay undocumented DACA recipient who organizes with the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, on Tuesday. “As long as my LGBTQ community continues to be persecuted by the immigration machine and continues to be inhumanely treated in detention centers, many thousands of us are still in danger.”
The president has never made specific reference to the challenges facing LGBT, undocumented immigrants. But on Tuesday, he did call on Americans to show compassion for those “who are contributing to our society and just want the chance to move out of the shadows.”
Not long ago, the same could have been said for LGBT citizens of the U.S.