By Antoine Craigwell
Just as the heat erupted in Arizona over the controversial new immigrant law, the social action group of the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center on Tuesday, Apr 20, launched the first ever handbook for LGBT immigrants arriving in the U.S. For many LGBT immigrants who fled persecution from their home countries to come to the U.S. for refuge, many are again reduced to living in fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, and the launching of the handbook, at the second annual immigrant fair and show, was right on time.
As a resource specifically for LGBT immigrants, director of the LGBT immigrant support group, George Fesser, MSW, in an email response said, “I have been wanting to produce this kind of manual for over five years. In my previous job, the focus of the agency was HIV prevention, so it was a hard sell. At the Center however, I was encouraged to find community partners that would collaborate and help us make this book a reality. Over my years of work with the LGBT immigrant community, individuals have always commented that they wish they could have had access to information that would have avoided them making so many mistakes and trusting the wrong people when it came to their personal immigration issues. With the feedback of over 400 LGBT immigrants, this book was formatted to answer several basic questions about what to do. “
The organizers of the handbook project waited for the specific legislation surrounding the HIV travel ban to become official before going to print.
The green and white covered handbook, “Welcome Guide for LGBT Immigrants” boasts on its cover samples of welcome in at least 16 different languages and lists those who assisted in sponsoring and producing it, including, AIDforAIDS, AIDS Center of Queens County, The Center, GMHC, Latino Commission on AIDS, Immigration Equality, and Housing Works. The 12-page handbook is divided at the center page by a listing of agencies as resources across the New York tri-state region, and with one six-page half in English and the other in Spanish.
Along with an introduction and a welcome, the handbook concisely lists and addresses nine areas of concern for LGBT immigrants, such as understanding rental laws, landlord, and tenant rights, and laws against discrimination, “how do I find a place to live?” It makes references to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and low wages, for those who are concerned about being able to work, “what are my rights as a worker?” With an excerpt from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Executive Order 41, which protects all New York City residents, the handbook outlines for LGBT people how to access city-based services and the agencies to obtain help. It also addresses the needs of HIV positive LGBT immigrants, with reference to the U.S. government’s end on the travel ban for HIV positive people entering the country, which took effect on Jan 4, 2010, benefits available to HIV positive LGBT people, and dealt with issues affecting the transgender community, “I am a transgender immigrant. What about me?” Additionally, the handbook suggests to LGBT immigrants how to find a good immigration attorney, knowing about filing for asylum, and how to access free or low cost legal services.
“If you read the book, you will see the logic. On the cover of the book, are all the agencies that collaborated information according to their particular expertise on the subject. It is our hope that with the possibility of new immigration reform, this book will soon become obsolete, and that we will have to create a second edition,” said Fesser.
Fesser said that a plan is in the works to post a copy of the handbook on the Center’s Website, but because of the nature of the material, where translations into other languages have to be officially certified, and with an approximate cost of $1,500 for each translation, there is some uncertainty about being able to achieve this goal.
“It took too long to make it happen, but we finally did,” Fesser said of the handbook.
As a small number of handbooks were printed, Fesser said, and out of those copies remaining, photocopies would be made, so that anyone wishing a copy could get it from the Center.
UPDATE: At a news conference held on Thursday, Apr 29, on the lawn of the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, four groups: the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) announced legal challenges to the immigration law signed last Saturday by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. According to a press release posted on the NILC Website, the new law requires law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status during everyday police encounters and criminalizes immigrants for failing to carry their “papers.” The unconstitutional law, the groups say, encourages racial profiling, endangers public safety, and betrays American values.
As an award-winning journalist, Antoine B. Craigwell reported for several prominent business magazines, community-based newspapers, and online magazines. In 2008, he earned two awards from the New York Association of Black Journalists. Antoine graduated from Bernard M. Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY) with a degree in journalism and psychology. As a member of the New York Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, and the Baruch College Alumni Association, Antoine is actively involved in giving back to his community. He has presented at several forums, as the keynote speaker, “Business of the Church in the Community” for Black History Month in 2007, and as a guest speaker on “Recapturing the Male Image,” for the 3rd Annual Men’s Conference held at York College, CUNY, September 2008. Antoine was a workshop presenter in Dec 2008, “It’s all in the questions: Coming up with great interview questions," and in Nov 2009 “Grammar for Journalists”, for the Annual NYC High School Journalism Conference at Baruch College, CUNY. In July 2009 he was a panelist on GritTV with Laura Flanders discussing the film “Bruno”.