I think it’s rather fitting that the fate of the DREAM Act, which offers a path for the children of illegal immigrants to become citizens if they graduate from a U.S. high school and then complete two years of a four-year university or serve at least two years in the military, and the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which would allow members of the LGBTQ community to openly serve in the military, were essentially woven together in a recent defense appropriations bill that failed in the U.S. Senate. But not everyone agrees with me.

LGBTQ advocates were enraged by Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to include both provisions in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act because doing so essentially guaranteed the bill’s failure. Some Democrats felt that the two policies should have been debated independently of one another. Some Republicans felt that the two policies shouldn’t have been debated at all.

But if you look closely enough, you’ll soon realize that each of these opinions rests upon the same faulty assumption — namely, that gay rights and immigrant rights are mutually exclusive.

Consider that for both these groups, each day brings the possibility that it could mark the beginning of the end. A woman who accidentally reveals the identity of her female partner could be dishonorably discharged the same day a high school senior is deported back to his “home” country. Though seemingly incongruent, these two scenarios are not all that different from one another. Both tell the story of honest, hard-working individuals reduced to nothing more than a single aspect of their identities. But apparently nothing else matters — not even twenty years of decorated military service or eighteen years of impressive work ethic. Because in the eyes of the federal government, sexual orientation has long been indicative of military aptitude much in the way legal immigration status has been indicative of a person’s right to learn.

Much like Coretta Scott King, I believe that “we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny… I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.” It’s important to realize that the validation of one minority group rests heavily upon on the validation of another. So while I would have loved for the U.S. Senate to have instated the DREAM Act and repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I fail to see the point in blaming another group of victims. This does nothing to advance the fight for social justice. Instead of pointing fingers at one another, advocates from both sides should be working together to end all forms of institutional inequality. Because when it comes down to it, these groups have similar stories to tell.

If you don’t believe me, read the testimony of the following two people. The first is from a Romanian student currently living here in the United States. He’s been here his entire life but is still facing deportation over a problem he didn’t even know existed. The other is from a queer young woman currently training to serve in the armed forces. Though she loves her country, she’s been forced to keep her sexuality a secret.

My Romanian friend said to me in an e-mail, “I came to the United States of America when I was 5 years old. I didn’t come here illegally, nor did I hop any borders. I wasn’t smuggled in or paid an excess amount of money to get in. I lived my life learning the American way. Aside from being Romanian, I had become the ‘All-American Boy.’ But shortly after graduating, I received a letter saying that I would have to return to Romania because my visa had expired. The DREAM Act is a way for me to stay in the United States without having to go back to a country that I haven’t been to in 15 years. We are Americans too. Grant us the same rights and we will not falter. ”

Similarly, my female friend explained, “I love my country. That’s why I decided to sign up for the military. I believe in the American Dream and I’m willing to put my life on the line to protect it. So I don’t understand why being gay should stop me from doing that. I didn’t ask to be gay but I definitely wouldn’t change it. Repealing don’t ask, don’t tell is my only chance at feeling like I truly belong here. I’m just as much an American as any straight guy or girl out there. That doesn’t change no matter what.”

They, too, sing America.

Noel Gordon can be reached at noelaug@umich.edu.

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