By Greg Hernandez
Rainbow pride flags large and small could be seen waving throughout the crowd of thousands who gathered in downtown Los Angeles on May 1 for the annual May Day rally and march.
Gloomy, drizzly skies resulted in a smaller crowd than in years past, but there was no shortage of passion among advocates, union leaders, and workers when it came to standing up for immigrant, worker, and LGBT rights.
“I’m here to stand up for our rights – to shout and scream and be strong,” Los Angeles LGBT Center volunteer Frankie Barcenas said as he stood with fellow marchers outside Pershing Square.
“No more hate, no more homophobia,” Barcenas added. “We’re good people and they need to respect who we really are. We’re not harming anyone.”
In all, more than 50 organizations joined together to send a message of unity. The Center joined the Trans Queer Contingent that included Equality California, API Equality-LA, Latino Equality Alliance, Lambda Legal, GLAAD, ACLU SoCal, Gender Justice LA, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, and Bienestar Human Services.
“We support LGBT workers who still face discrimination and deportation every day in different states – sometimes in our own state,” said the Center’s Policy and Operations Manager Maria Melo. “They face the danger of being returned to countries where in many places it’s unsafe to identify as LGBT. We have to continue fighting for as long as it takes.”
Melo was joined at the march by members of the Resistance Squad, the Center’s volunteer-based rapid response policy team.
For retired schoolteacher Tim Doherty, also a Center volunteer, participating in the annual May Day march is always deeply emotional. His first march was in 2006 with his then boyfriend, who was undocumented.
“It was our first time doing it together and a year later he was deported back to Mexico,” Doherty said. “So this is always a big deal to me.”
The couple had been together for less than two years at the time of the deportation. They stayed together for four more years, but eventually the distance proved to be too much and they went their separate ways.
“It made the immigration issue much more personal,” Doherty said, as he held a sign which read: “United, Not Divided. Immigration is an LGBT Issue.”
This year’s march took place as a legal battle continues on multiple fronts over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy which protects the children of undocumented immigrants.
The Trump administration announced an end to the Obama-era policy last September that had allowed young people who came to the U.S. as children to remain in the country legally to work and attend school. More than than 800,000 immigrant youth protected by DACA, including nearly 40,000 LGBTQ DACA recipients and their families, are now in limbo.
Deportation Could Mean Death
Last December, the U.S. Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act of 2017 which would have prevented youth and LGBT undocumented young people known as DREAMers from being deported to countries where their lives might be in danger due to homophobia and transphobia.
There are anti-LGBT laws on the books in 80 countries, including death sentences in eight of those countries. The potential threat of being sent back to a country they barely ever knew is constantly on the minds of the DACA participants, many of whom are in the middle of their college studies.
For this reason and more, Latino Equality Alliance Executive Director Eddie Martinez said it’s important for allies to be visible on May Day and every day.
“It’s good to be here to build power, to build community, and to lend support to families – particularly LGBT families – that are struggling with fear of being deported,” Martinez said. “We are here in solidarity with them and will do what we can to make sure they don’t live in fear but wake up each day with pride and strength and can live the American dream.”