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  • Homonormativity and Violence against Immigrants
  • Karma R. Chávez (bio)

Yep’s 2003 landmark article on the violence of heteronormativity and the promise of queer worldmaking, along with the powerful 2003 collection Queer Theory and Communication, which Yep co-edited with Karen Lovaas and John Elia, opened immeasurable space in the field of communication for the study of gender and sexuality. From the time I was a graduate student to now as a more senior scholar, I have tried to fill that space and open it further, a project I continue in this brief article. One thing that struck me in rereading Yep’s piece was that although Yep names the different sources and sites of heteronormative violence, and argues for the necessity of an intersectional approach to the study of gender and sexuality, he does not address questions of citizenship and immigration.

These questions are important because I believe addressing them can help us understand what queer worldmaking can look like in an era when citizen queers have allegedly obtained their full citizenship through being granted access to legal gay marriage, open military service, and protected status in hate crime law. I am compelled to ask a question that emerges directly from the current political moment: how do we think of queer worldmaking in light of these violences of homonormativity and homonationalism, especially as produced by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage? One way to consider both the violence and the possibility of queer worldmaking is through a discussion of immigration politics in a post-gay marriage United States. [End Page 131]

Although certain immigrants—those in partnerships with U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents who qualify as sponsors—have gained access to legal immigration as a result of gay marriage, the reality for most immigrants in the United States, has stayed the same or gotten worse. Anti-immigrant sentiment has reached a fevered pitch—a fact that affects all immigrants, and legal pathways to regularizing status for the unauthorized remain nonexistent. This matters to queer worldmakers, regardless of their immigration status, because the struggle for immigration justice has been most visibly led by “undocuqueer” leaders, illuminating the fact that immigration is a queer issue. It also matters because the narrow way the relationship between LGBT politics and immigration politics has been framed by powerful actors has explicitly and implicitly exerted violence on migrant and queer migrant communities.

Homonormative Violence in Immigrant Communities

With the 2013 Windsor Supreme Court decision, which rendered the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents in binational same-sex relationships who lived in states with legal marriage became eligible to sponsor their partners for immigration purposes (provided they met all the other eligibility requirements). After the 2015 Obergefell decision, which legalized gay marriage nationally, this benefit extended to people living in all states and U.S. territories. As I have written about elsewhere, and as commentators/activists like Yasmin Nair have argued, the question of the immigration benefit was in some corners of the mainstream gay and lesbian rights movement a critical reason for the necessity of legalized gay marriage.1 Of course, as Nair and others argued, as with marriage in general, the benefit for binational same-sex couples would only help the most privileged few. Furthermore, this focus distanced those in binational same-sex couples from the broader struggle for immigration justice, a distancing that would further exacerbate inequalities among different kinds of immigrants.

While activists like Nair, and organizations like the Audre Lorde Project and the now-defunct Queers for Economic Justice worked tirelessly in advance of the 2013 and 2015 decisions to show that the relationships between queer politics and immigration politics were far more intertwined and complicated, as predicted, immigrant partners in certain binational same-sex couples have now been elevated above other immigrants. The struggle for the immigration benefit through legal gay marriage has proven to be separate from other immigration struggles. In fact, in the months following the 2013 decision, the leadership team from Immigration Equality, the leader in the struggle for binational same-sex [End Page 132] couples, jumped ship. Those who departed included...


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