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Not Another Death Threat: Queer and Trans Muslim Realities in America

By Almas Haider

There should be a name for the particular depression of living as a queer trans Muslim of color in America. A specific PTSD of walking the streets in constant fear of being racialized as Muslim and have your gender and sexual orientation questioned. The pleasure of not just having one day a year, September 11th, to expect extra harassment, but surprise holidays like “Punish a Muslim Day.” The joy of calling your mother and father, asking them their plans for the day, and telling them to “be mindful, keep your phone charged, and go home and call me if you don’t feel safe outside today.” Because to be a queer trans Muslim of color in America means to live in a state of anticipation of what hate violence we can expect next.

In the past two years since Trump’s campaign and subsequent election, there has been a surge in anti-immigrant legislation and hate violence. According to a study conducted by South Asians Americans Leading Together (SAALT), from Election Day 2016 to Election Day 2017 there have been “302 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities in the United States.” 82% of these incidents were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment, a “45% increase from the year leading up to the 2016 election cycle, levels not seen since the year after September 11th.” [SAALT]

This rapidly escalating level of hate violence was not created in a vacuum. This cycle of violence is directly tied to the racist and xenophobic legislation and systems of the United States. The latest manifestation of this has been the Muslim Travel Ban which will be heard by the Supreme Court on April 25th. The executive order, “bans citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days, suspends the entry of all refugees for at least 120 days, and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely,” creating yet another form of institutionalized Islamophobia in the U.S. [ACLU].

In response, on March 26th the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) and seven LGBT South Asian and API groups submitted an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Donald Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban. The brief showed how the ban has a direct impact on the lives of LGBTQIA people and tears families apart.

This brief is in part a direct response to an attempt to pinkwash the Muslim Travel Ban. Language included in the Ban says it will protect Americans by barring entry to “those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation” [Human Rights First]. This insinuates that people living in Muslim-majority countries are queerphobic and transphobic, a marketing and political tool most infamously being used by Israel to justify Palestinian genocide.

How quintessentially American: the Ban would bar queer and trans immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from seeking a complicated form of “safety” in the U.S., while claiming that the ban will help keep queer and trans people safe. This will in turn further the narrative of queerphobic and transphobic tyrants reigning in Muslim majority countries, justifying ongoing U.S. imperialism and intervention in the Middle East and creating more refugees. And the amount of physical and verbal violence queer and trans Muslims of color experience within the U.S. will continue to increase.

As the policies of the state become normalized in our everyday lives, the next turn in this cycle of queer, trans, and gendered islamophobia is the increase in hate crimes against our communities. For queer and trans Muslims of color, these attacks target multiple identities that we hold. According to the 2016 FBI Hate Crimes Statistic report, hate crimes against racial and ethnic minorities drastically increased in 2016. 25% of incidents were motivated by anti-Muslim bias alongside 18% anti-queer and anti-trans bias incidents. This makes queer and trans Muslims of color disproportionately likely to be victims. [FBI report]

Through our organizing as queer and trans Muslims, we aim to change that.

For the last two years, on September 11th, we have been crafting actions across the U.S. The purpose of these actions has been to educate, empower, and hold our community who experience the nuances of being profiled as queer Muslims of color. Our actions, drawing inspiration from Black Lives Matter and the movement for Palestinian liberation, have ranged from mock “security” checkpoints to guerilla performance art.

We are questioned and detained not just because of the languages we speak, our ancestral homes, and places of worship and communal gathering, but also because of how we express our gender and sexual identity through our appearance and the political movements we align with. Through these actions we have focused on the ways that Islamophobia and transphobia reinforce each other, how Black Muslims are particularly impacted by queer and gendered islamophobia, and building solidarity internally within our LGBTQIA community.

On the 15th anniversary of September 11th, we spearheaded 20 local organizations to create “checkpoints” in high-traffic areas of Washington, D.C. The Washington Post showed how we aimed to replicate various “checkpoints” and experiences that Muslim Americans and those perceived to be Muslims have to go through every day, including being stopped by the Transportation Security Administration, being verbally and physically harassed in businesses, and routinely called terrorists.

In 2017, after a year of direct and blatant attacks on our communities by the Trump administration, we focused on creating spaces of not only resistance, but also of healing and safety. We named the Muslim Travel Ban and other forms of state violence as the root cause of queerphobic, transphobic, and Islamophobic hate crimes. We drew connections between queerphobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia. We questioned how we show up for one another. And we committed and successfully created spaces for all of our communities to mourn both the lives and the safety that has been taken from us since the election.

Through this work we as queer and trans Muslims of color have recognized and grown our power in a country that seeks to alienate, imprison, and murder us within and outside its borders. And as we wait in anticipation for the the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Muslim Ban, we begin our plans for an annualized and formal nationwide series of actions on September 11th. We now look to September 11th and every day, not with fear, but with the resolve and strengthened ability to create a different world. And ask our accomplices to be ready to join us.

Almas Haider is the Racial Justice and Immigrants’ Rights Committee Chair of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance and Community Partnerships Manager at South Asian Americans Leading Together.

You can learn more about and get involved with the work of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance to combat Islamophobia, transphobia and queerphobia at www.nqapia.org.

VICTORY: NQAPIA’s LGBTQ Amicus Brief in Federal Court Helps Block Trump’s Anti-Muslim Travel Ban

You may have heard that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban on Dec. 22. What you may not yet have heard is that the Court made specific reference to NQAPIA’s amicus brief in its legal reasoning.

This is a significant victory. Court opinions very rarely cite amicus briefs. And, we were tremendously successful in showing the court how the Muslim ban has a direct impact on the lives of LGBTQ people. The court said:

[Trump’s Travel] Proclamation also risks denying lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (“LGBTQ”) individuals in the United States the opportunity to reunite with their partners from the affected nations. See Brief of NQAPIA, Immigration Equality et al. as Amici Curiae, Dkt. No. 101 at 17–20. The Proclamation allows that it “may be appropriate” to grant waivers to foreign nationals seeking to reside with close family members in the United States. 82 Fed. Reg. at 45,168–69. But many of the affected nations criminalize homosexual conduct, and LGBTQ aliens will face heightened danger should they choose to apply for a visa from local consular officials on the basis of their same-sex relationships. Brief of Immigration Equality at 4. The public interest is not served by denying LGBTQ persons in the United States the ability to safely bring their partners home to them. (Order, at 66.)

This win is possible because of many supporters, donors, and allies. Joining NQAPIA on the brief were Immigration Equality, the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, the LGBT Bar Association of Los Angeles, the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, and Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP provided pro bono assistance in writing and submitting the brief.

Thank you so much. Next stop, the US Supreme Court.

Read More

Read the 9th Amicus Brief

Read the 9th Circuit Court Order citing the LGBT Brief

Media Release: LGBT Asians Deeply Disappointed in U.S. Supreme Court Decision Denying Immigrants’ Rights

MEDIA RELEASE
For Immediate Release: Thursday, June 23, 2016
For More Information, Contact: Glenn Magpantay, 917-439-3158, glenn_magpantay@nqapia.org

LGBT Asians Deeply Disappointed in U.S. Supreme Court Decision Denying Immigrants’ Rights
But is relieved that Court upholds affirmative action

Week of Action #RiseUp - New York CityWashington, DC … Today, a badly divided U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4-4 decision in the case U.S. v Texas. The decision upholds a lower court’s ruling to block President Obama’s Executive Actions on immigration, which expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and created a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program.

NQAPIA Executive Director Glenn D. Magpantay said, “We are extremely disappointed in today’s ruling which would have benefited up to a quarter million LGBT Asian Americans. Immigration laws and policies have a direct impact on the lives of LGBT people. Today’s decision diminishes our equality.”

NQAPIA, with the pro bono assistance of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, had filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the case illustrating the impact of the case on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. View the brief in DropBox or as a PDF.

The President’s expanded DACA and DAPA immigration programs could have helped up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, including 400,000 Asians, to be free from deportation and gain work authorization. An estimated 267,000 undocumented immigrants are LGBT, of which a disproportionate share is API.

Fortunately, the original DACA program remains unaffected, and more than 100,000 undocumented Asian Americans remain potentially eligible for this program but have not yet applied. Learn more about DACA on NQAPIA’s website.

Magpantay continued, “NQAPIA vows to educate more LGBT Asian Americans to apply for DACA and to provide legal assistance.”

In another decision, the Supreme Court also upheld the University of Texas affirmative action-based admissions programs. NQAPIA has supported affirmative action to ensure that more Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander young people can obtain a college degree.

Last April, NQAPIA and local groups organized a national Week of Action on Immigrants’ Rights protesting the US v. Texas lawsuit in New Orleans and New York City.

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) is a nationwide federation of LGBT Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations. We seek to build the organizational capacity of local LGBT AAPI groups, develop leadership, and expand collaborations to better challenge homophobia and racism.

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Media Release: Immigrants’ Rights are LGBT Rights

MEDIA RELEASE 
For Immediate Release: Friday, March 4, 2016
For More Information, Contact: Glenn Magpantay, 917-439-3158, glenn_magpantay@nqapia.org

LGBT Groups File Amicus Brief at U.S. Supreme Court for Immigrants’ Rights
“Immigrants’ Rights are LGBT Rights”

Washington, DC. Today, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), with the pro bono assistance of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case U.S. v Texas. The case challenged President Obama’s Executive Actions on immigration, which expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and created a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program.

The programs could help up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, including 400,000 Asians, to be free from deportation and again work authorization. Lower courts suspended the programs. The programs would specifically benefit undocumented immigrants over 30-years-old who entered the United States as minors (expanded DACA) and undocumented parents of citizen and legal permanent resident children (DAPA).

Tony speaking in New York

Standing in front of the New York Supreme Court,
DACA recepient Tony Choi speaks out against US v TX

NQAPIA’s brief informs the U.S. Supreme Court of the special concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Asian Americans, South Asians, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders (API). An estimated 267,000 undocumented immigrants are LGBT, of which a disproportionate share are API.

According to Glenn D. Magpantay, NQAPIA Executive Director, “The Supreme Court is extremely supportive of LGBT people, and we aim to show how immigration laws and policies have a direct impact on the lives of LGBT people.” He continued, “We also lift up the voices of Asian Pacific Islanders to demonstrate the ethnic diversity of undocumented immigrants.”

The brief draws up the Court’s reasoning in Obergefell v. Hodges, where Justice Kennedy ruled that the Constitution protects same-sex couples to legally marry. The brief discusses the human dignity of LGBT people and the protection of children of LGBT parents. Where the Court holds that same-sex marriage protects LGBT families, NQAPIA argues that the expanded DACA and DAPA programs also protect LGBT families. Family is especially strong among Asian Pacific Islanders.

NQAPIA’s brief highlights the stories of LGBT Asian immigrants:

  • Sandra Meetran is a 16-year-old student in Rhode Island. She is a citizen, but when her father was deported to Laos when she was young, it made her coming out much more challenging. Her family would have benefitted from DAPA.
  • Jose Antonio Vargas is a 34-year-old, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, filmmaker, and media producer. Jose is undocumented and entered the U.S. when he was 12 from the Philippines. Because he is now over 30, he is ineligible to apply for deferred action from deportation, but he could apply for the expanded DACA.
  • Tony Choi is a 24-year-old, gay, Korean undocumented beneficiary of the original DACA program (for those under 30) from New Jersey. In 2010, his options were to live a closeted life taking care of this mother with cancer or return to Korea where his LGBT identity would subject him to harsh hazing for two years in the mandatory military service. He successfully applied for DACA and has helped dozens of other undocumented youth apply for DACA and continued fighting against deportations.

These stories demonstrate how the expanded DACA and DAPA programs protects LGBT APIs from harassment, discrimination and hardship.

The brief shows how the lower court’s suspension of the programs place LGBT families in extremely difficult circumstances. Undocumented LGBT parents and children must (a) return to their home countries where LGBT people are persecuted, jailed, and even sentenced to death, or (b) parents must leave the United States and abandon their children without any or minimal family support. The expanded DACA and DAPA programs allow undocumented LGBT individuals and LGBT individuals with undocumented family members to stay in the U.S. and keep families together.

Joining NQAPIA as co-signers to the brief are variety of LGBT organizations from various regions of the county, various ethnicities, allies, youth, and transgender groups:

Local LGBT Asian/South Asian Organizations 
Asian Pacific Islander Pride of Portland
Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York
Gay Asian Pacific Alliance – San Francisco hotpot! Philadelphia
Queer Asian Pacific-Islander Alliance (QAPA) Boston
SALGA-NYC
United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA) Seattle

Local Organizations 
API Chaya – Seattle
Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF)
Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement – Los Angeles
New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center
Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) – New Orleans

National LGBT Organizations 
Immigration Equality
National Center for Transgender Equality
National LGBTQ Task Force
PFLAG National
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
Southerners On New Ground (SONG)
The Trevor Project
Transgender Law Center

The filing of the amicus brief follows up on NQAPIA’s National Week of Action on Immigrants’ Rights in April 2015 in a dozen cities and local protests against the US v. Texas lawsuit in New Orleans and New York City.

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