Viri Hernandez, a DREAM Act student organizer who has spent the last few years mobilizing Latino voters in West Phoenix, is criticizing Pastor Warren Stewart for his stance on gay relationships.
(The DREAM Act was intended to grant a pathway to U.S. citizenship for individuals brought to this country as children and who met certain criteria. Those undocumented youth who would have qualified became knowns as Dreamers.)
"Pastor Stewart claims to be a moral meter, a fighter for justice," she writes in an unabashed open letter to Phoenix voters. "Unfortunately, his brand of justice has invisible lines which end at same-sex marriage. A man who refers to same-sex marriage as a contributing factor to the "widespread dysfunction of marriage and family," as going "against nature," does not have a place leading the city of Phoenix."
Scott Phelps, Stewart's campaign spokesman, tells New Times that Stewart addressed his views on same-sex marriage early on in the campaign.
"I think he freely admits that as a Baptist minister, 'Same-sex marriage in the church is not something I'm going to be able to do," Phelps says. "But when it comes to civil unions and all the benefits, his view is that, 'I'm there for you, and I'll fight with you.'"
Stewart, senior pastor of the First Institutional Baptist Church, came under fire from the LGBT community for a letter he wrote after President Barack Obama publicly supported same-sex marriage.
However, he did acknowledge, in an early speech he gave, the struggles of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, just as he did those of the undocumented.
"Let's face it, we have things to talk about," Stewart said in his speech, including pathways to citizenship among those things. "We need to reach out to the Latino community and the LGBT community - and make their challenges our own."
To my friends in the LGBT community, I tell you today, as I would have told you yesterday, that anyone who wants to deny you and your partner medical benefits, adoption rights, hospital visitation rights, or if anyone wants to discriminate against you when it comes to housing or employment, you will have to take that fight through me."
Yes, I know, as a Baptist minister, I may not perform a same-sex wedding at my church. Most people really do understand that. But outside the church, if you want to talk about Civil Unions, like our friends in Bisbee did ... I will come to that table. I will have that conversation. I will reach out to you."
(Bisbee has become the first Arizona city to legalize same-sex marriage.)
Hernandez says plainly that Stewart is "no champion for justice."
She cites Stewart's response to Obama, in which he said, "supporters of same-sex marriage are contributing to the widespread dysfunction of marriage" and "that the legalization of same-sex marriage will eventually lead to the legalization of polygamy."
Former U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini recently endorsed Stewart, and writes in a letter posted on Stewart's website that "for his entire life, Pastor Warren Stewart has been a consensus leader" who fights "for equality and justice for all people in Arizona."
Hernandez is part of Team Awesome, a group of students, most undocumented, that worked tirelessly to increase voter turnout fivefold in west Phoenix during the 2011 election. They continue to actively work in the westside's District 5 with neighbors and Councilman Danny Valenzuela, who they helped elect into office.
While Team Awesome is not formally making an endorsement in the District 8 race, some of its members are personally lending their support to individual candidates.
Tony Valdovino, also a member of Team Awesome, is working with Kate Widland Gallego, who is running to represent District 8. Joseph Larios, who helped form the team of organizers, is working as campaign manager for Lawrence Robinson, another District 8 candidate.
Hernandez says the push to separate immigration issues from those affecting the LGBT is increasingly evident in Arizona, and among well-funded immigrant-rights organizations who are supporting Stewart's candidacy.
"I have seen how many organizations push down, overlook, or try to out organize the LGBT groups to maintain immigration as the sole priority issue," she writes. "As an undocumented student, I will not allow candidates to brand themselves as "Dreamer" friendly, "immigration" champions when they will not recognize this movement first sprouted and continued to gain momentum due to the LGBT leadership at the forefront of this fight."
Arizona's Black/Brown Coalition is among Stewart's supporters.
Hernandez's Open Letter:
Pastor Stewart Is Not A Champion For Justice
Unafraid: this has been the term that has defined our generation. As an undocumented student I have learned to live by this term. I decided to "come out" as an undocumented student and no longer live in fear of what the societal norms were, what should or should not be said, what made people uncomfortable or what would cause heads to turn and eye brows to raise. Thousands of students have made the same decision.
This movement of the undocumented community has grown to a massive scale, which now pushes for policy changes and new legislation. Nothing would have been possible if it weren't for 5 undocumented youth who "came out of the shadows" in Tucson, Arizona in 2010. This event was one of the first personal pushes I received with a clear message; it was time to come out. Since the beginning, queer youth have been leading by example. On that first event, it was 3 undocumented queer who had taken their experience of "coming out" and expanding the messages, with the same purpose: break the fear.
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Many organizations have recently jumped on board to push for migrant and LGBT rights. This year in late March, there was uproar when the Human Rights Campaign had asked a Dreamer to share his story and "come out" as queer but not as undocumented. A national campaign began demanding HRC for an apology. How dare HRC push someone back in the closet! "It is not enough for LGBT communities to say that they are in solidarity with our struggle," Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP) member Imelda Plascencia says in the video. "Solidarity is love reflected through actions and support." But as the tables turn, so does the blame. Our immigrant youth movement will hold people accountable who speak down on immigrants, but who will hold us accountable? For the last few years in Arizona I have seen how many organizations push down, overlook, or try to out organize the LGBT groups to maintain immigration as the sole priority issue.
This has become more evident the last few months as BIG name, LARGE funded immigrant organizations and individuals, decided to support an anti-gay candidate for city council. The reasoning; "he is good on immigration." So, where is the uproar now? Where is the accountability on some of these pro-immigrant leaders for their short sighted assertion that being pro-immigrant is the only metric that matters? I have seen most candidates in District 8, and they all stand on the right side of immigration. But in such a diverse city as Phoenix, we need a council that will respect and represent everyone. As an undocumented student, I will not allow candidates to brand themselves as "Dreamer" friendly, "immigration" champions when they will not recognize this movement first sprouted and continued to gain momentum due to the LGBT leadership at the forefront of this fight.
Pastor Stewart claims to be a moral meter, a fighter for justice. Unfortunately, his brand of justice has invisible lines which end at same-sex marriage. A man who refers to same-sex marriage as a contributing factor to the "widespread dysfunction of marriage and family," as going "against nature," does not have a place leading the city of Phoenix. This District 8 candidate continues with his fallacious arguments by claiming the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to the "legalization of polygamy" in his open letter to President Obama featured on his church website. He claims that same-sex marriage will confuse many teenagers, yet he does not reflect on the impact his words of inequality has in his sermons. Studies have shown 30% of suicides have a direct correlation to sexual identity issues, yet he does not see his condemnation of love as a factor in the lives of many confused teenagers in his own church.
So, why are "pro-immigration" organizations backing up a man who publicly pushes division in our community? The fight for undocumented rights is not separate from the fight for LGBTQ rights. To the Latino leaders who've disregarded the principle of many struggles one fight, embrace our new movement or be left behind. To candidate Warren Stewart, DO NOT elevate yourself amongst the undocumented/ latino community by appealing to our sense of equality and justice under the law, while engaging in the oppressive tactics and rhetoric that our community is far too familiar with.