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It’s now been a little over two weeks since Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the odious anti-immigrant state law SB 1070. The law criminalizes undocumented immigrants, along with anyone who associates with or aids them in any way, from giving an undocumented child a ride to school to offering prenatal medical services to an undocumented woman. Most alarmingly, SB 1070 requires police and all government employees to detain people based on “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented immigrants.
This latter clause has become widely known as “breathing while Brown.”
If you are or appear to be Latino/Latina, you are subject to arrest. Your very existence is a crime. Unless you carry on your person legal documents proving citizenship, actually even if you do, you can expect to be rounded up at any time, held for hours in jail before being released at best and at worst subjected to the horrors of this country’s system of immigration detention, a network of nightmarish prisons currently holding tens of thousands of adults and children whose only crime is being alive on the wrong side of a border that was created when the United States stole more than one-half of the nation of Mexico some 150 years ago.
A righteous outcry has arisen in response to the Arizona law. It is being compared to the Jim Crow South and before that the Fugitive Slave Act, to apartheid South Africa’s pass laws, to Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws. It ought to also remind us of what we have faced as LGBT people—violence at the hands of bigots and police, harassment, discrimination, our very selves banned by law in most states until the Supreme Court’s Lawrence vs. Texas decision just seven years ago, our relationships not legally recognized to this day, all of it compounded by racism against LGBT people of color.
The day the governor signed SB 1070 a national boycott began. No travel to, no business with, no support of any kind for any Arizona enterprise until the law is overturned. The boycott has broad backing. Along with the National Council of La Raza and virtually every other Latino/a organization, key supporters include the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—a coalition whose members include the AFL-CIO, NAACP, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Organization for Women, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Asian American Justice Center, and scores of religious groups. Alpha Phi Alpha, the biggest African American college fraternity, has moved its upcoming national convention from Phoenix to Las Vegas. Many professional athletes support the boycott.
On the literary front, two writers have taken the lead. Award-winning novelist Tayari Jones published an open letter canceling her scheduled appearance at an Arizona writers’ conference this summer. And poet/novelist/memoirist Rigoberto Gonzalez, one of the leading lights of LGBT literature, issued an impassioned call for everyone who cares about equality to join the boycott.
I’ve been an activist for many years, and one thing I know is that wherever there is a mobilization for social justice, LGBT people are always there in the thick of it. Now it’s time once again to take a stand. Let’s heed the call sounded by Tayari Jones and Rigoberto Gonzalez.
Sisters—brothers—others: LGBT writers, poets, journalists, let’s boycott Arizona!
What does this mean in practice? Don’t go to Arizona. Don’t do readings there, or book signings. Don’t attend writers’ conferences or other literary events. If you’re scheduled to participate in or speak at one, cancel. Try to get your publisher to pull your books from the shelves of Arizona bookstores.
It’s not all don’ts. There are do’s too. Join marches and rallies against SB 1070. For those of the butch persuasion, by which I mean those who follow sports, and really everyone else, walk the picket line at your city’s baseball stadium if the Arizona team comes to play.
On top of this, we as writers can contribute something special. We can write! Stories. Poems. Essays. Opinion columns. Organize readings supporting the boycott at bookstores, community centers, campuses. Let’s do what we do best, use words, to express solidarity against racism and build the boycott.
From the Montgomery bus boycott initiated by Rosa Parks to the first boycott of Arizona when that state refused to observe the national Martin Luther King Day holiday, there is a long, honorable history to this tactic as a means to apply pressure against oppressive institutions. Now it is in play once again, this time in service to the effort to overturn the abhorrent, unconstitutional, racist Arizona SB 1070. The LGBT community must be partners in this fight. Especially we writers.
Spread the word: no human being is illegal! Let’s offer up our voices to this urgent cause.