Early Friday, I had the honor of speaking to 160 new American citizens at a 7:30 a.m. naturalization ceremony at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Kendall.
"The USCIS Kendall Field Office is commemorating “Pride Month” during our naturalization ceremony," read my invitation in May. "We strive to provide guest speakers from our outstanding citizens in our community. This provides an even greater meaning to that special day in our new citizens lives. We would be honored to have you as our guest speaker."
The auditorium was packed with moist-eyed, cheering new Americans from 24 nations, including 93 from Cuba, 10 from Peru, 6 from Nicaragua and others from such diverse countries as Russia, Sudan, Haiti and Philippines.
Immigration officials in Miami believe my speech about LGBT pride was the first of its kind delivered anywhere in the world to a mainstream group of new American citizens.
I was extremely moved by the invitation and the warm response I got by immigration officials and the new citizens, themselves.
Here's the text of my speech:
Thank you very much. I see so many happy and proud people here today. I, too, am happy and proud to be here, as are, I'm sure, Immigration employees who join us and LGBT people who may be part of your group.
Eighteen months ago, I wrote about a Coral Gables couple, Daniel Zavala and Yohandel Ruiz, who weren’t sure at the time whether Zavala could stay in the United States.
The two men met three years ago in a Lincoln Road nightclub. Zavala was visiting South Florida from Mexico. He commuted between both countries during their courtship and they married May 1, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
Two days later, Zavala’s tourist visa expired.
Zavala and Ruiz, along with thousands of other gay and lesbian bi-national couples, faced separation because of DOMA, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing legally married same-sex spouses.
“I should not have to leave the country to be with the person I love,” said Cuban-born Ruiz, an American citizen who grew up in Hialeah. “I should be able to sponsor my husband, Daniel, to stay in the country.”
On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled a portion of DOMA unconstitutional and ordered the federal government to recognize all legally married same-sex couples.
Now, legally married men can sponsor their husbands for green cards and legally married women can sponsor their wives, too. Just like opposite-sex married couples.
In the past year, hundreds of green cards and fiancée visa petitions have been approved for lesbian and gay Americans citizens and their foreign spouses, in more than half the states and in U.S. consular posts around the world, according to Lavi Soloway, an immigration lawyer who specializes in representing bi-national LGBT couples.
This month, gay pride is celebrated throughout the world. Celebrations are planned throughout South Florida, including Wilton Manors in Broward County this weekend.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have much to celebrate but they are still lobbying for marriage equality throughout the United States, including in Florida, and a national workplace nondiscrimination law.
One couple celebrating this year: Daniel Zavala and Yohandel Ruiz.
In January, Zavala got his new green card, proving he is now a permanent resident of the United States.
Congratulations to all of you and best of luck in the next chapters of your lives.