Karen Ocamb

Gay Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas Comes Out as Undocumented

Filed By Karen Ocamb | June 24, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: DREAM Act, Jose Antonio Vargas, LGBT community, undocumented immigrants

Too often the LGBT community is perceived to be purely white and male dominated, with little interest outside their plush ghetto silos. But as California-based, 30 year old journalist Jose Antonio Vargas illustrates in his moving revelation in the New York Times magazine, gays have a myriad of issues and concerns that intersect with all other communities. Vargas, for instance, now pursues immigration reform with Define America.

As a 12 year old, Vargas says, his mother bundled him up and brought him from the Philippines to Mountain View, California to start "a better life." In this story, he reveals that he is still an undocumented immigrant and a prime example of the young people meant to be helped by the Dream Act. "Tough as it was, coming out about being gay seemed less daunting than coming out about my legal status. I kept my other secret mostly hidden," Vargas says in the Times story, excerpted below. And here's Vargas on video:

Here are excerpts from Vargas' long and important story in the NY Times:

It was an odd sort of dance: I was trying to stand out in a highly competitive newsroom, yet I was terrified that if I stood out too much, I'd invite unwanted scrutiny. I tried to compartmentalize my fears, distract myself by reporting on the lives of other people, but there was no escaping the central conflict in my life. Maintaining a deception for so long distorts your sense of self. You start wondering who you've become, and why.

In April 2008, I was part of a Post team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper's coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings a year earlier. Lolo died a year earlier, so it was Lola who called me the day of the announcement. The first thing she said was, "Anong mangyari kung malaman nang tao?"

What will happen if people find out?

I couldn't say anything. After we got off the phone, I rushed to the bathroom on the fourth floor of the newsroom, sat down on the toilet and cried.


Early this year, just two weeks before my 30th birthday, I won a small reprieve: I obtained a driver's license in the state of Washington. The license is valid until 2016. This offered me five more years of acceptable identification -- but also five more years of fear, of lying to people I respect and institutions that trusted me, of running away from who I am.

I'm done running. I'm exhausted. I don't want that life anymore.

So I've decided to come forward, own up to what I've done, and tell my story to the best of my recollection. I've reached out to former bosses and employers and apologized for misleading them -- a mix of humiliation and liberation coming with each disclosure. All the people mentioned in this article gave me permission to use their names. I've also talked to family and friends about my situation and am working with legal counsel to review my options. I don't know what the consequences will be of telling my story.

(Image via screencap. Crossposted at LGBT POV.)

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I met Jose about a decade ago, when he was a student writing an article on the bi community and responses to biphobia. I've been following his writing ever since. His contributions to the field of journalism are extremely important. But this piece in the New York Times, in all its raw and powerful vulnerability, is the most moving one yet. It's deep and strikingly honest, and it makes me so anxious for his future, but also so hopeful... I'm eager to see what happens next, and wish the best for him.