Approximately 30 activists gathered at the Phillip Rush Center March 3 to discuss ways the LGBT and queer communities can come together to fight Arizona copycat anti-immigration legislation in Georgia.

On March 3, the state House passed HB 87, also known as the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. The vote was 113-56 in a mostly party line vote in the Republican-controlled House. The bill now goes to the Senate.

“Like the groundbreaking law Arizona enacted last year, HB 87 would authorize state and local police to verify the immigration status of certain suspects. A federal judge halted a similar provision in Arizona last year after the Obama administration argued it is pre-empted by federal law. Arizona is appealing that judge’s decision,” reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Atlanta LGBT immigration advocates fight copycat Arizona bills

LGBT activists joined in a rally at the state Capitol during debate of the bill and then met up for a strategy session afterward organized by Southerners On New Ground.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people need to join the fight against these anti-immigration laws because the community knows what it is like to be discriminated against and legislated against, said Kung Li, who was part of the Lesbian Avengers 20 years ago.

“What can we do as queer people, as gay people? We know our own history and can give inspiration,” she said.

The gay civil rights movement has ranged from gay organizations wanting to show that gay people have buying power and contribute significantly to the bottom line of the nation and therefore should be accepted as part of society, said Li, who is also a former attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights and now a fellow with the Open Society Institute.

“Then there was the Queer Liberation movement who said, ‘We’re here because we’re here,’” she said.

As more LGBT people started coming out of the shadows, a sense of empowerment accompanied them as they started fighting for equality, she explained. And now, undocumented workers are also coming out of the shadows to say that they are here and part of society.

Paulina Hernandez, who identifies as a queer Latina, is co-director of SONG.

“They are mobilizing resentment,” she said about the right-wing groups pushing for the anti-immigration laws.

Hernandez explained there are several different bills in the Georgia legislature that are anti-immigration, but SONG, “a membership-based, Southern regional organization made up of working class, people of color, immigrants, and rural LGBTQ people,” is focusing on the bills that allow the police to stop and detain people to ask for citizenship papers.

“We’re calling [HB 87] the ‘Show Me Your Papers’ legislation. Part of the danger to the LGBT community is the different gender identities we have. We will get caught up in the crosshairs,” she said.

For example, if trans people have to produce identification and their gender marker on the ID does not match how they present, there is a violation of privacy and possible trouble with police, Hernandez said.

And if a transgender person applies for a job but their paperwork has to go through what is called the E-verify system, as required by the new legislation if it becomes law, and gender markers don’t match how they present, the person is automatically flagged. That could mean outing a person without their permission to an employer or other authority. And that can mean some people will stop seeking a job if they don’t believe they have privacy over their identity.

“And for those of us who part of both communities [immigrant and LGBT] we can be driven further underground,” Hernandez said.

While the legislation may be confusing to some, there is really one basic reason LGBT people need to stand alongside immigrants in this state and national fight, she added.

“The people behind these bills are the same as those with homophobic agendas all over the country,” she said. “This is a growing trend, of ‘white nativism.’

“They are using us against each other. If we want Latinos and immigrants to stand with us against homophobia we also need to be standing with them.”

Jerry Gonzalez, who is openly gay and director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials told Creative Loafing, “This bill is an embarrassment to the people of Georgia. While everyday Georgians struggle to keep their homes and jobs, the legislature spends its time scapegoating hard working immigrants who contribute to Georgia’s economy and culture. We can’t afford to be passing racially biased laws that embarrass us in the eyes of the country and the world.”

SONG is planning another LGBT town hall to discuss the anti-immigration legislation and ways to fight on March 8 from 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. at the Phillip Rush Center, 1530 DeKalb Ave., Atlanta, GA 30307.