Local youth activist wins national leadership award

by Melanie Davis
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Ernesto Domínguez
Julie Cortez El Hispanic News Portland, OR — Ernesto Domínguez, 23, has firsthand knowledge of the types of challenges facing the youth he helps through his work at Cascade AIDS Project, Advocates for Youth, and the Oregon Queer Youth Summit. Domínguez experienced homelessness for nearly a year and a half when his mother kicked him out of the house at age 16 because he is gay. At the same time, Domínguez was homeless in another sense. To the nation he considers home, in which he had lived since he was 1 year old, he was an “alien,†and an “illegal†one at that. He discovered that many social services aimed at the homeless were not available to the undocumented. And while his relationship has improved with his mother, he has not seen her in five years and she’s never met his partner of three years because she now lives in his native Mexico and his undocumented status makes leaving the country, and air travel in general, very risky.. “Coming out as undocumented has always been a lot harder for me that coming out as queer,†Domínguez said. “You never know who you can trust, or how they’re going to take it.†The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force presented Domínguez with the Paul A. Anderson Youth Leadership Award at last month’s 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, held in Baltimore, Md. The Task Force honored Domínguez for his work on behalf of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community, but he used his speech at the conference to draw attention specifically to the plight of the undocumented. “I stand here today with the distinct privilege that many others to not have,†he said. “I say privilege because I am aware of how many of our queer and undocumented brothers and sisters … are unable to attend Creating Change.†Domínguez added that until recently, he would have been unable to accept the award due to his undocumented status. Two and a half years ago, however, he was granted U Nonimmigrant Status — often referred as a “U Visa†— because he was the victim of a violent crime. Domínguez told El Hispanic News that “if all goes well†he’ll be able to apply for permanent legal residency this fall, but for now, even with the U Visa, he’s been advised by an immigration lawyer not to sign petitions, make political contributions, or write to a congressperson. “Any of these things can be considered as treason as defined in immigration documents,†he said in his speech. “And even things like protesting can jeopardize the political visa — a visa that was only granted to me because a U.S. citizen committed a heinous crime against me. That was my only path to citizenship.†Thanks to the visa, Domínguez is now able to do his job at Cascade AIDS Project reaching out to youth through social media and his volunteer efforts on behalf HIV prevention, immigration reform, and reproductive rights without fear of deportation. He can’t vote yet, “but I can still have a voice and be more vocal than a lot of my peers.†Domínguez has experienced a lack of understanding about his identities from both of the communities with which he identifies — the Latino and LGBTQ communities. Regarding his immigration status, he’s heard the likes of: “Why don’t you just marry a girl?,†“You speak perfect English; how can you be undocumented?, â€and “Why don’t you just get in line [for citizenship]?†“If there was a line,†Domínguez said, “I’d be happy to get in it.†From Latinos, he’s had questions about why he isn’t more effeminate and why he doesn’t dress like a girl. His brother has been supportive, but thought being gay “meant I wanted to be a woman or was going to have a sex change,†Domínguez said. While he’s found “a lot of really amazing allies … there’s just a lot of misunderstanding on both sides,†Domínguez added. What he seeks to help both sides to understand is that they share a struggle for rights and for recognition. “Our communities are not separate,†he said. “They intersect.â€