CBP Agents Shame Gay Refugees
But that’s just the beginning of the shaming story
As a gay man, I’ve suffered imposed shame all of my life. We LGBTQ people inhabit a world that’s designed to shame us. Members of gender and sexual minorities navigate life through corridors of disapproval, both official and casual. When we fight for our rights, the legal battle is only the beginning. The real fight is about living free of shame. Living out and proud.
Last week, CNN obtained emails written by a Customs Border Protection agent who reported that El Paso processing center agents humiliated a Honduran asylum seeker by making him walk around in front of other refugees wearing a sign that read, “I like men.”
Several agents laughed about the incident, even though the refugee was “visibly upset.” The agent who sent the emails said that the other agents would not stop even after he told them their behavior was unprofessional. A supervisor on the scene refused to intervene.
The complaining agent later reported that homophobic shaming behavior is normal where he works.
When I read that story, I vividly remembered the day that I renewed my passport at the US consulate in Montreal.
More than than that, I remembered the shame that I have to live with every day of my life.
I’d lived in Montreal for a couple of years already. With my lover. Partner. Husband. Life partner who had no legal status, because that’s how straight homophobes had rigged the system. I thought my passport mission was routine.
I thought nothing of entering the consulate and applying for a new passport. I entered the newly fortified, post-9/11 edifice with a small amount of trepidation. I hadn’t expected a fortress protected by unsmiling guards and not-so-inconspicuous rows of concertina wire.
Still, I was an American citizen, a former US Air Force intelligence officer, and a successful businessman with offices in New York and Canada. I felt my privilege as I strutted into the government building. I might have been a privatus, but I knew the people who worked at the consulate worked there to serve people like me. They were my equals, in many ways my colleagues.
After that day finished, I never again felt the same about my status as an American.
The lobby was plush, the waiting area less so. It was functional and spare. It resembled an airport gate. Same plastic chairs and cheap carpet. Frankly, it appealed to my spartan sense of military propriety.
That all changed fast once a consular officer started to interrogate me.
I’ll never forget his carefully concealed sneer, the judgement leaking out of his eyes. I wanted to protest. “Hey! I’ve won medals for excellence in intel collection. I’ve flown over East Berlin in an unarmed helicopter while Soviet HIPs and HINDs bristling with guns and missiles tried to force us off our flight path. I’m one of you! I’m an officer of the United States.”
My crime? I’d written my reason for living in Canada on my renewal form.
“I moved to Montreal so I can live with my common-law husband. As an Australian, he isn’t able to obtain legal status in the United States, so we decided to emigrate to Montreal together.”
The look the consular stabbed me with could have melted an I-beam. I felt his disgust as a fiery physical force.
I tasted his imposed shame.
That’s the shame most of us LGBTQ people know so well. We’re so often afraid. So tentative about our human connections. So shy.
I sat in that consulate for another six hours before they finally called me to the counter to pick up my new passport. Everyone else had left. I was the last person waiting in that antiseptic lobby.The sneer on the officer’s face as he handed me my passport spoke eloquently to my status as a pariah.
What did I do about it?
I went home and made dinner for my partner and our 14-year-old foster son. Something delicious that I don’t remember. I kissed my boyfriend and played video games with our kid. I blinked hard and I didn’t cry.
I needed to cry, but I didn’t. I needed our son Brent to see that we were free and equal, that our family was as good as anyone else’s family. So I lied to him. Lying is all I had.
All that happened years ago. Decades ago. Am I over it? No. I’m not at all over it, and I don’t want to be. I want to feel that shame. I need to feel that shame. I need to FIGHT for equality and dignity. I NEED to fight people who say it’s OK to disrespect me and my family.
Is that fight easy? Is it enough for me to cite my success raising kids and being an exemplary human being? Apparently not.
It’s wrong, horribly wrong, to call LGBTQ people depraved or diordered. It’s wrong to question our morality. It’s wrong to state or insinuate that we are less than fully moral human beings. It’s exhausting and debilitating to have to continuously assert my full humanity in the face of people who deny it. (Jessica Archuleta)
Is it wrong of me to fight? I can’t imagine that it is, but even if I’m wrong, I will raise my voice up in indignant, righteous, GLORIOUS protest. Always and forever. My family and I are QUEER. We are beautiful. We are MORAL. We will fight to to the DEATH anyone who asserts otherwise.
I wish I’d had that resolve to insist on that moral principle all those years ago at the consulate in Montreal.
I didn’t then, but I do now.
It’s time for full and complete equality.