My parents, like many other immigrants, came to this country to follow their dreams. They wanted to provide an opportunity for our family to succeed.
My family and I have struggled and worked hard to be treated as equal to other Americans, but our immigration status determined whether or not we were eligible to receive the same protection, benefits, opportunities, and resources as our U.S. citizen neighbors. I have seen my mother work long, hard hours to put food on the table, sacrificing not only her health, but also the time she could have spent with the family watching her children grow.
Coming from a diverse family with people who identify themselves not only as immigrants but as LGBT and HIV positive, I have personally witnessed loved ones being treated as if they were inferior to the rest of society due to their sexual orientation and their HIV status. Growing up, I remember watching family members consumed by self-hatred because they couldn’t understand what they had done to be so badly mistreated. They were verbally abused in public on a daily basis, sometimes even physically assaulted. It took them a very long time to come to terms with their identities but even to this day, whenever they speak of their experience, there’s always a hint of sadness in their voices. They will always remember the times when they were bullied over outdated notions that people living with HIV, especially in the LGBT community, are an “abomination”.
From an early age, my family’s challenges made me realize that the United States was often tough and unfair to marginalized communities and these realizations made me question the justice in our legal system. Throughout history, some individuals have harbored misconceptions about people who are different. Even today, people continue to face bias and abuse based on their immigration status, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. In too many cases, they are discriminated against, incarcerated and denied basic human dignity and respect.
My hope is that in the near future we as a community will no longer stand idly by, closing our eyes to prejudice, intolerance and inequality. That someday, together, we can permanently end discrimination not only against people living with HIV but against anyone who has been a target of injustice and abuse.
Lucero Francisco is a student at the Bronx Community College, where she is a part of the Criminal Justice Academy. She is currently serving as an intern at The Center for HIV Law and Policy.