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Coming Out As a Dreamer

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June 20, 2012

Originally posted on the ACLU of Northern California blog.

As we prepare to celebrate Pride by marching in the SF Pride Parade as this year’s Community Organization Grand Marshal, I’m reminded of what it means to be able to walk down a public street with thousands of people watching me strut my stuff, free of shame or judgment. The feeling stands out in comparison to growing up gay and in the closet in a small town in West Texas, pretending to be “normal,” and trying to get by without being rejected for being who I am.

I also think of the hundreds of thousands of young people (we call them DREAMers) that were affected by last week’s White House announcement. DREAM Act youth are young undocumented people who were brought to the United States by their parents – they grew up here, as American as any of their neighbors, yet they lived in constant fear of deportation, thanks to harsh immigration policies. At least while this administration is in office, some young undocumented immigrants can finally breathe a sigh of relief and not be persecuted for something they have no control over.

The idea of “coming out” is no longer limited to the LGBT community. The undocumented community has adopted the phrase to describe realizing and accepting that they have been labeled by our legal system in such a way that excludes them from many aspects of our society. Coming out describes the process of realizing they have come of age in a country that they call home, yet they are not recognized as citizens. It also describes the shame some feel to tell others, “The reason I always ask you to drive is because I can’t get a license,” or “I can’t go to Cancun with you on Spring Break because I wouldn’t be allowed back into the country.” Now, the community is standing up and shouting out loud, “undocumented and unafraid!”

“Undocumented and unafraid” isn’t the only chant you’ll hear the DREAMers shout, however. They quickly follow it with “queer and unashamed,” loud and proud. The struggle for acceptance, opportunity, and fairness for the LGBT movement and that of the DREAMers is all too similar. It’s clear why the DREAM movement, despite the fact that many of its members are children of a community labeled “socially conservative,” is so progressive on the issues of LGBT equality. It has embraced its queer brothers and sisters because we all share a “coming out” story.

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