I think there are slights that cannot be expressed in words, just disbelief. Sadness. Pain. I may not be a part of the trans community that Jennicet is, and certainly do not intend to speak over the pain of her and her community, but I know what it’s like to clench my fists and close my heart when I hear news like this. President Obama sure knows how to crack a good joke once in awhile, often garnering media attention, but this was not a joke. Not at a Pride event. Not ever.
Jennicet Gutiérrez, making most news headlines as “undocumented trans woman” and “Obama’s heckler,” is the woman who refused to be silenced during President Obama’s speech at the White House’s LGBT Pride month reception. She says, “But while he spoke of ‘trans women of color being targeted,’ his administration holds LGBTQ and trans immigrants in detention. I spoke out because our issues and struggles can no longer be ignored.”
And she’s absolutely right. Obama can yell, “Shame on you!” all he wants but the fact remains that Obama has deported more immigrants than any president in U.S. history. If anyone should be feeling any shame here, it should be Obama and the crowd.
It makes me want to vomit, hearing the people in the audience cheer Obama on and tell Jennicet that, “This is not for you. This is for all of us.” Because in reality, they’re correct. This was not for her. It’s never for her. Obama’s talk about the LGBT civil rights community doesn’t include people like Jennicet, nor does it include all the TWoC slain over the years. It doesn’t include the homeless, the struggling, the children in foster care. It includes exactly who you see supporting him, predominantly white, cis gay men who hold infinitely more power than women like Jennicet. It makes no sense that Obama should be allowed to call upon the struggle of trans women, on a day founded by trans women, to make himself out to be the ally that he just isn’t.
What Jennicet did was, perhaps disruptive, but not disrespectful. You know what’s really disrespectful? Allowing trans women to continue to be jailed in men’s prisons, risking their lives. Allowing them to be jailed, period. Allowing trans immigrants to make up one of every 500 detainees (out of an even larger number of people).
The very history of Pride itself is grounded in protests, in being “disrespectful” and radical. Obama says to her, “Not in my house,” and “My attitude is if you’re eating the hors d’oeuvres, you know what I’m saying? And drinking the booze? I know that’s right.” But you invited people like her, Mr.President. You invited the LGBTQ+ community, and if it’s a Pride event then I’d argue that it’s no longer “your house.” It’s not your territory, and it’s not your right to tell Jennicet what is right and what is wrong. The White House is not your house, Obama, it’s our house. You can appeal to to the kind of people that rallied against her, but know that from now on I — and many others — will never take your allyship serious again. I’m glad that he’s for gay marriage, but it means squat to me if he’s not there for people whose livelihoods are literally at stake. If you don’t support trans women of color, don’t bother pretending you care at all.
If you don’t support Jennicet’s right to bring light to an issue that the trans community has literally been trying to highlight for decades, then you’re complicit in the destruction of their lives. What she did was a necessary act of civil disobedience, because clearly a nice little sit-down with Obama (Malala style) does not incite change. In fact, it’s a given that Obama’s faced hecklers before but-ding, ding ding-never with such animosity and sadism.
Isa Noyola says in her op-ed, “There is a line in the sand being drawn. Transgender communities have been thrust into the media spotlight, and been asked about our bodies, lovers, histories, and how we see ourselves. The moment we start to engage and raise questions around the state’s transphobic violence, our LGBT community leaders turn their backs and proceed to silence us. Transgender leaders are receiving the message that we are only mere tokens, bodies for entertainment, and accessories to make the spaces of organizing diverse and give the illusion of unity.”
The people who hold power in the LGBTQ+ movement can sweep trans women under the rug, but they can never hide just how much our spaces and our communities have let them down. Jannicet Gutierrez is not just a heckler. She is an advocate, and she is immeasurable strength. Hearing her voice ring out among a crowd of jeers is more powerful than any speech I have ever heard Obama make.
If you want to make a further stand for solidarity with Jennicet, please consider donating to Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement – an organization that she leads.
“President Obama, stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention centers. I am a trans woman, I am tired of the abuse.”
|—||Jennicet Gutiérrez interrupting the President of The United States to address sexual assault.|