Gay and Undocumented Arizonans Celebrate Veto of Refusal of Service Bill

PHOTO: Dago Bailon, center, stands in front of the capitol, with members of the Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project.
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WATCH Arizona Governor Vetoes 'Religious Freedom' Bill

For Dago Bailon, a gay and undocumented immigrant who said he has lived most of his life in Arizona, watching Gov. Jan Brewer veto a refusal of service bill was only worth a brief celebratory moment.

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"You can't cover discrimination with just one veto," he told today. "I believe there is so much more to be done. We have a lot of things that are not right here."

Brewer said a bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to gay people and others on the basis of religious beliefs was divisive and created more problems than it solved. She vetoed the legislation on Wednesday night.

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There are dozens of other people like Bailon in the Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project who share the unique experience of coming out about their immigration status and sexuality in Arizona. The group even rallied against SB 1062 outside the state capitol in Phoenix.

Cyntia Domenzain, 21, lived most of her life as an undocumented immigrant in Arizona and came out as bisexual to her family in 2011.

"My fear is I won't be able to truly feel free here," she told before the veto. "Do I look gay? Not gay? Why would anyone want to profile me? My worry is being put back in the closet."

It's a worry that Bailon said is still valid.

"We can't vote, but we can definitely educate people about who is in power," he added.

Bailon, who said he is from a small town in Guerrero, Mexico, remembers crossing the desert with his grandmother when he was just 6 years old.

"We walked for eight or nine hours," he said. "To me, it was like an expedition."

He kept his undocumented status under wraps, graduated from high school and started attending college. Around the same time, in 2006, Arizona voters passed a referendum to strip university students who did not have lawful immigration status of their in-state tuition status and financial aid.

"I was left to fend for myself," Bailon recalled. "I continued to go to school. However, things stated getting tougher."

With tuition becoming unaffordable and the desire to advocate for people in his situation growing, Bailon decided to take a break from school in 2009. That same year, he told his parents he is gay.

"I sat my parents down and told them I always try to do my best, be a good student," he said. "Now it's time to find my happiness. If I smile, I want to have a genuine smile."

Domenzain has a similar story. She said she remembers crossing the border when she was 8 or 9 years old with her grandmother and sister to meet up with her father in Arizona.

But it was a high school counselor who told her she was undocumented, she recalled.

"He said, 'You are illegal and you have to go back to Mexico,'" she said. "That touched me deeply."

When Arizona passed SB 1070, the so-called "show me your papers" law that allowed police to ask anyone they've stopped about their immigration status, Domenzain said she no longer wanted to leave her home out of fear she would be stopped.

"Going outside scared me to death," she said. "I didn't know what would happen to me or my dad."

Domenzain said she is now documented for a two-year period through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created by President Obama in 2012.

She dreams of attending business school, she said, but for now is working in retail at a department store and at a call center to save money for tuition.

One day, she said, she'd even like to own her own business in the state she's called home for more than half of her life. She now wonders how the bill Gov. Brewer vetoed would have impacted her future plans.

"I wouldn't want my customers to feel they were being discriminated against," she said. "I wouldn't feel right."