At a White House reception yesterday hosted by President Obama for LGBTQ+ Pride Month, trans Latina activist Jennicet Gutierrez interrupted the tight political agenda of both our ally-president as well as the marriage-equality advocates in the room. The undocumented trans woman of color called out her plea for our president to end the detention and abuse of undocumented queer people, begging for attention to be shed on the brutal reality of our trans sisters.
This is an open letter for everyone who dismissed Jennicet as a heckler, as an "interruption" to the queer movement.
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, located in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York, became our nation's first physical battleground in what would later become the movement for LGBTQ+ justice. Having been victims of continuous police brutality and unfair treatment, the guests of the inn fought back against the police presence that night. Contrary to what I was taught, and what so many still believe, this riot for justice was lead by trans women of color and gender non-conforming folks.
In other words, the wave of political unrest and movement of the queer population, which began at Stonewall, comes back to the resilience and power of trans women of color.
Fast-forward 40+ years. Numerous legal protections shield LGB people from discrimination, queer-identified representatives fill some seats in government, pride parades march through countless American cities and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld marriage equality. Yet, one theme is woven through the last four and a half decades: The focus of our movement fails to recognize the work and issues of transgender people, especially trans women of color.
This was highlighted when, as the nation's LGBTQ+ leaders gathering in front of our president, Jennicet was booed and sneered at. As President Obama spoke of "trans women being targeted," Jennicet raised her voice to question why an administration would admit trans women are targeted, but still be responsible for the incarceration of undocumented trans women. The "heckler" noted that "transgender immigrants make up one out of every 500 people in detention, but account for one out of five confirmed sexual abuse cases in ICE custody."
In an op-ed, she said, "In the tradition of how Pride started, I interrupted his speech because it is time for our issues and struggles to be heard."
This is what needs to be heard.
While the cisgender gay men in that room booed the trans activist, they seemed to be more concerned with the support of their marriage than the lives of their trans sisters. While President Obama claimed, "You're in my house," he seemed to be more comfortable with reading a speech about trans issues than listening to a trans women speak of her own issues.
While people can argue that this was not the right time or place for Jennicet to raise her voice, I ask, when is the right time and place? Is the right time after every gay man can marry his partner in this nation? Is the right place at the court proceedings when a judge decides X-amount of trans women will be deported?
The beginning of our entire movement took place after midnight at a local bar; note all the progress we've made from that point, from that time and place. The history of social movements stem from the roots of radical activists who take control of a calm setting and turn attention to what is needed.
In 2015, a undocumented trans women of color stood feet from the "most powerful man in the world" and demanded transparency and justice. She stood among satisfied LGBTQ+ leaders, still angry.
While she is being called a heckler and an interruption, I cannot find any other words to describe her except these: the mother of our newest Stonewall movement. A movement in which trans women will begin and will remain at the forefront.
As we celebrate SCOTUS's decision on recognizing marriage equality, I encourage cisgender queer people to recognize the life-threatening issues your trans brothers, sisters and siblings are facing. As trans people, when we open our mouths and demand to be heard, it is not because we wish to devalue the issues at the top of your agenda. But we raise our voices because, after 45 years, the movement that our mothers began needs to bring the 'T' back into the LGB conversation. In the same fashion as Sylvia Rivera and other Stonewall patrons, we will raise our voices until we not only have a seat at the table, but a voice and a vote in where our movement goes from here.
I stand with Jennicet Gutierrez, and so should every LGBTQ+ person who truly is in the movement for the liberation of our entire community.