by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A contingent of local LGBT activists joined thousands of others in the annual May 1 immigrant rights march as it made its way from St Mary's Church in the Central District to Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center.
The LGBT contingent was organized by Allyship, a volunteer-led multi-issue social justice organization that has been working with immigrant advocacy groups since 2008.
This was their third organized LGBT contingent in the May 1 march. Like previous contingents, it was identified by distinctive pink armbands.
'This was our largest turnout to date, and the largest contingent of LGBTQ and immigrant rights organizations endorsing this contingent,' said Allyship activist Debbie Carlsen.
'There were about 30 people who joined us throughout the march and we handed out an additional 20 armbands to LGBTQ individuals who were marching in other contingents.'
Other LGBT organizations joining Allyship were Dyke Community Activists, Equal Rights Washington, Entre Hermanos, Ingersoll Center, Pride At Work, Seattle Gay News, Seattle NOW, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and Trikone NW.
As in previous years, the May 1 march was organized by El Comite Pro-Reforma Migratoria Justicia Social, OneAmerica, and the May 1st Coalition.
Estimates of the number of marchers ranged from 2,000 to 7,000.
'I've given up trying to count people,' said El Comite organizer Juan Jose Bocanegra, who proclaimed the day 'beautiful!'
The post-march rally was graced by a surprise appearance by Ohio congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, who was in town to address local labor and community organizations.
'We didn't really expect him,' Bocanegra chuckled, 'but we made a place for him on the speakers' list.'
Carlsen told SGN that Allyship organizes an LGBT contingent for May 1 because 'The LGBTQ community is very diverse and our issues go beyond marriage equality. LGBTQ individuals are affected by the economy, health care access, immigration policies, the rising cost of post-secondary education, and many other issues.'
These issues are made even more critical because of the economic crisis, Carlsen believes.
'LGBTQ people and immigrants share the unfortunate reality of being scapegoated in hard economic times,' she said. 'That scapegoating might look different but when LGBTQ people stand in solidarity with another marginalized community, we as marginalized communities are less vulnerable to political attacks.'
Carlsen added that 'many LGBTQ individuals are immigrants, and Allyship fights for true social change that addresses all the parts of people's lives and/or lived realities.'
Carlsen also shared the personal stories of some of the individuals who participated in the Allyship contingent.
For example, a Gay white man who marched 'in solidarity' with immigrants because 'he used to live in Arizona and witnessed the draconian laws passed to regulate immigrants. He sympathized with immigrants as a group of marginalized people because there were also laws passed in Arizona against LGBTQ people.'
Another Gay white man was 'a teacher in a local school and mostly had immigrants as his students. He came out in solidarity to support his students and their families.'
A mixed race Mexican and Native American Lesbian 'came out because she is directly affected by the backlash of anti-immigrant sentiment and believes this is a LGBTQ issue.'
As the march reached downtown, it made a wide loop to pass by the Hilton Hotel, where it was joined by a contingent from UNITE HERE Local 8, the hotel and restaurant workers' union.
UNITE HERE, which represents large concentrations of both LGBT workers and immigrants, will be renegotiating all its Seattle-area hotel contracts this summer.
'UNITE HERE appreciated that the march was re-routed,' said union organizer Jasmine Marwaha. 'It really energized our members.'
In 2007, the union scored major breakthroughs in its contract with the Westin Hotel.
The Westin contract was the first hotel contract in the country to explicitly protect Transgender workers. At the same time, UNITE HERE also won important protections for workers whose immigration status was challenged by employers.
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