Pride Month began in New York City June 1 with Jennicet Gutierrez speaking about the struggles facing trans women and immigrants before a packed crowd at a forum of the Party for Liberation and Socialism held at the Justice Center en El Barrio. An undocumented trans women, Gutierrez is known nationally for confronting President Barack Obama in 2015 at a White House event regarding his administration’s treatment of transgender and all immigrants. She is an activist with Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement.
In a separate presentation, Vincent Tsai discussed the recent elections in Venezuela, and exposed the U.S. government’s recent sanctions and corporate media’s disinformation campaign as an attempt to destabilize a government genuinely seeking to meet working people’s needs.
Eleven trans women murdered in 2018
Gutierrez made it very clear, “I am proud to say I am a trans woman of color and I am living my life openly and unapologetically.” In the U.S. that is an act of defiance in itself. A major theme of her talk was the need of the LGBTQ community, and all progressive groups, to incorporate ending the oppression and murder of trans women as an integral part of their fight for justice.
Eleven trans women have already been murdered in 2018, mostly women of color. Gutierrez began her talk by reading off all their names followed by a moment of silence. As high as that number is, it doesn’t take into account the trans women who may have been misgendered after death and therefore not included. One of these women Gurierrez mentioned was Roxana Hernandez, a Honduran immigrant who was only 33 years old when she died on May 25 in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Her death was due to abusive treatment and medical negligence. Actions are planned nationally on June 6 to protest her death and the abusive treatment of trans women by ICE, and to demand the release of all trans women from detention centers, Gutierrez said.
California activists shut down detention center
Jennicet Gutierrez was born in Mexico and currently lives and organizes in Los Angeles. Her struggle against reactionary anti-immigrant repression began in Santa Ana, CA, where ICE contracted with the Santa Ana jail to holds transgender immigrants that it had detained. In this facility trans women faced inhumane treatment and unacceptable living conditions, so Gutierrez and a group of LGBTQ activists staged multiple civil disobedience actions in 2014 and 2015 outside the detention center, and held a hunger strike, to bring attention to this atrocity. Many of them were arrested multiple times. All of her and her comrades’ hard work paid off, and in 2016 the Santa Ana City Council voted to shut down the facility.
Their direct action got the attention of a larger LGBTQ organization, which resulted in Jennicet being invited to the 2015 White House event marking Pride Month, along with the others.
They planned in advance to interrupt Obama to present their demands, she said. Chief among them were the release of LGBTQ prisoners, ending abuses in detention centers, and closing the detention center in Santa Ana.
Gutierrez explained that when she arrived at the White House she found herself in a sea of predominately “white cis mostly gay men, middle to upper class,” there to celebrate the coming legalization of gay marriage nationwide. While Obama was patting himself on the back about his concern for “human rights,” Jennicet said she couldn’t take it any longer. She interrupted Obama, demanding that he end the abuse of LGBTQ immigrants in detention centers.
She was callously brushed aside by the President. “This is my house,” he said. The liberal establishment, as well as the liberal wing of the LGBTQ movement, sided with him, accusing her of being rude to a friend of the LGBTQ community. Reflecting on the backlash now, she said “They said ‘Don’t interrupt Obama, he’s our friend,’ but where is Obama now?” Her more sympathetic critics agreed with her message but said she was acting at the wrong time. To that she said to applause,”If you wait for the right time, change is never gonna come.”
All throughout Jennicet Gutierrez’s continuing work, she said, she has taken inspiration from the revolutionaries Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who led the historic Stonewall Uprising against the New York Police Department, for which Pride is a commemoration. Gutierrez stressed that Pride is about resistance and solidarity, not about being placated by the ruling class. She quoted one of Sylvia Rivera’s famous speeches that Rivera gave when she was booed by cis gay men, “I have been beaten. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost a job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you treat me this way?”
Rivera didn’t stop, and neither has Gutierrez. Her brave action at the White House, and the publicity it generated, has brought much needed attention to the plight of trans women, especially those incarcerated by ICE.
‘We need resources, solidarity and action’
Gutierrez spoke to urgency and life and death nature of situation of trans women. Solidarity is the only way for true liberation, she said, and urged everyone to dedicate more attention to struggling with and supporting trans women as they are all too often ignored. There is a need for “cis and LGBTQ people to step up, not just to invite us to speak at their events. We need resources, solidarity and action.”
Gutierrez also stressed the importance of multinational unity. There can never be full LGBTQ liberation “if LGBTQ migrants are thrown under the bus.” Her own solidarity extends to all the oppressed everywhere. “You can’t oppose what Trump is doing to immigrants if you don’t oppose what’s going on in Gaza,” she exclaimed.
After Gutierrez’s talk the chair led the audience in the chant: “When trans rights are under attack what do we do! Stand up! Fight Back!”