LGBT Voices and Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban


When I read an article about the “banned books” list in Arizona earlier this year, my heart sank. I looked at the titles of the books removed from classrooms at Tucson public high schools and then looked at my own stack of books. I saw Occupied America, Borderlands, The House on Mango Street and other texts by Chicano authors that had played a profound role in shaping my pride and confidence as a Latina. Imagining someone taking that from me is aching.

The books were removed from classrooms under a state law that bans ethnic studies because the courses have been deemed racially divisive. In response to the actions of the Tucson school board, Tony Diaz, a Houstonian, organized a caravan to deliver copies of the books to Arizona. The caravan was part of a bigger movement to fight the virulent anti-immigrant wave of legislation that has swept the country over the last few years. But the laws aren’t just anti-immigrant. What hasn’t been talked about is how these laws affect queer individuals, especially LGBTQ people of color, and how anti-immigration and anti-gay sentiments go hand in hand in Arizona.

In fall 2009, HB 2013, which revoked domestic partner benefits for state employees, was approved by the Arizona Legislature—five months before SB 1070, the anti-immigration law ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court this year, and HB 2281, which banned ethnic studies. The domestic partners bill hit same-sex couples hardest because, unlike heterosexual couples, they can’t marry in Arizona. Courts found the law unconstitutional.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the Tucson school district’s response to the state superintendent’s order to remove Mexican-American studies from the curriculum. The list of books removed from classrooms includes almost every notable Chicano or Mexican-American writer, cultural commentator and historical poet. Many of their works have shaped the way educators teach race theory and U.S. history. Several of the authors are gay or lesbian and write through a feminist or queer lens.

There’s a connection between anti-immigrant and anti-gay sentiments, according to a national study by Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo and Carl Bankston III. They found that the “support or opposition of individuals regarding same-sex marriage tends to be associated with support or opposition regarding immigration.” The study was published in the academic journal Sociological Spectrum in December 2009. The authors state that sexuality has been a basis for admitting or excluding immigrants from this country. In 1965, immigration reform made “heterosexual marriage the primary avenue for migration to the United States.” In recent years, more people have legally immigrated to this country through marriage than any other means, the authors note.

What does this connection mean for artists, activist, organizers and LGBTQ allies? The xenophobic agenda is not aimed at one group, and the intention is not singular. The United States government has a history of making this mutual connection of exclusion between “ethnic groups” and gay, lesbian and gender-variant people, especially when it comes to non-citizens attempting to enter the U.S. Along with historic bills such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, there were restrictions against people who were, or who were assumed to be, anything but straight. Both are acts of discrimination that promote a white and straight America. The State of Arizona is attempting to re-create an outdated image of America.

Candace López is development manager at Workers Defense Project in Austin.