4 time Mayor of San Angelo, Tx, resigned today in order to both uphold U.S. laws and remain with his partner. His relationship is the latest casualty in the ongoing heterosexist immigration policy of N. America.
JW Lown missed his Tuesday swearing in ceremony to go to Mexico with his partner who was living in N. America as an undocumented person after his education visa expired. Lown wanted to help him re-enter the U.S. through legal means.
If U.S. marriage policies extended to all consenting adults and U.S. immigration policy included the right for gay families to petition for their loved ones, Lown and his partner would not have had to leave the U.S. Were our laws set up to honor loving partnerships between consenting adults regardless of gender or sexuality, they could have made a legal commitment to one another that reflected their emotional one; that commitment would have extended the rights of citizenship accordingly. There is no telling how many immigrants and bi-national families have left this country because of these unequal standards.
While Lown and his partner’s plan should garner him a visa to re-enter, as long as no one puts a hold on his application for staying beyond the terms of his original education visa, visas are temporary. And U.S immigration policy continues to exclude queer families even in those states in which gay marriage is legal. Foreign nationals who are legally married in their own countries are also met with similar heterosexist laws when trying to enter the U.S. Alternative ways to gain citizenship granted heterosexual applicants, include: asylum (which as of now is rarely granted on the basis of homophobia in one’s home country alone), the diversity visa (limited to people from underrepresented countries & not available to those in the country without documents), obtaining skilled worker status (must be applied for by an employer & only good for 3-6 years). None of these solutions create equity in the immigration laws governing the U.S. nor do they grant permanent status to bi-national queer couples who, if straight, would have access to family re-unification.
Then presidential-candidate Obama promised that he would extend family reunification protections to queer families as part of his immigration reform package outlined on his website. As of now, HR1024, the Uniting American Families Act, has not been passed despite 99 co-sponsors in the House and 19 in the Senate. As you can imagine, this puts loving families in jeopardy across this nation.
The community that elected openly gay Mayor Lown for 4 terms has responded to his attempt to uphold the law and love at the same time, by taking down all reference to the Mayor on the city’s website. Even his basic greeting that outlines the city’s history and makes no mention of him and/or his leadership, except for his singature at the bottom, has been removed. At the time of writing this, the main page for the city’s website was completely blank as a result.
This is a sad end to a Mayor the head of the ASU Government Department once described as “more than just a symbol of the city.” Until late in 2007 he had “never seen a cause he advocated go down to defeat” (Go San Angelo). In his tenure, he spearheaded school and city street improvement initiatives, lowered taxes, and committed to leadership that included the education of both himself and his constituents on the issues impacting their city. Inspired by his own learning disability, he started two school based initiatives to help students become life long readers. When he made mistakes he owned them publicly and committed to being better educated about them in the future. And he did all of this on a salary of $50/month.
His decision to resign further illustrates his commitment to honesty, legality, and education that has defined his career.
Lown’s decision to leave office is not only brave but also helps to raise awareness of the ongoing plight of queer families because of DOMA and heterosexist immigration laws. While it is sad to see him go, it is nice to see a gay Mayor taking a positive stand on immigration after the Cesar Chavez street debacle in Oregon in which then-Mayoral candidate Sam Adams publicly denounced the Latino Coalition and its allies in a racially contentious & sometimes anti-immigrant meeting about the street, then upset the Asian immigrant and API communities by trying to move the street to China Town, before declaring “some people” (ie immigrants of color) unreasonable on a national television report.
We can all take a page from Lown’s example and I hope that we do.