Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Standing with Jennicet Gutiérrez, "the Mother of Our Newest Stonewall Movement"

The Wild Reed's 2015 Queer Appreciation series continues with an open letter by Pat Cordova-Goff about the incident last week at the White House involving Jennicet Gutiérrez.

Jennicet who?, some of you reading this may be asking.

Well, at a White House reception last Wednesday hosted by President Obama for LGBTQ+ Pride Month, trans Latina activist Jennicet Gutiérrez (right) interrupted the tightly-controlled political agenda of both our ally-president as well as the marriage-equality advocates in the room with her plea for Obama to end the detention and abuse of undocumented queer people, trans women in particular. Gutiérrez is a founding member of Familia: TQLM, established to advocate for LGBTQ immigrants who are often excluded in the immigration debate.

Many present at the White House, along with others within the wider LGBT and allied communities, criticized Gutiérrez, saying that her interruption was "inappropriate." In a similar vein, the corporate mainstream media dismissed her as a "heckler."

Pat Cordova-Goff is an 18-year-old community college student, working to bring visibility to low/no-income, queer and non-binary trans communities of color. She wrote the following 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 Gutiérrez 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 Gutiérrez, and so should every LGBTQ+ person who truly is in the movement for the liberation of our entire community.

– Pat Cordova-Goff

Related Off-site Links:
Undocumented Trans Activist Jennicet Gutiérrez Challenges Obama on Deportations at White House EventDemocracy Now! (June 25, 2015).
The Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Ruling, Though Expected, is Still Shocking — Especially for Those Who Grew Up LGBT in the U.S. – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, June 26, 2015).
With Marriage Equality Won, LGBTQ Activism Continues for Bias Protections and Overlooked Trans IssuesDemocracy Now! (June 29, 2015).
Transgender and Catholic — Nick Stevens (The New York Times via The Progressive Catholic Voice, May 24, 2015).

For previous installments in the 2015 Wild Reed Queer Appreciation series, see:
Vittorio Lingiardi on the Limits of the Hetero/Homo Dichotomy
Reclaiming and Re-Queering Pride

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The "Incident" in the Temple
Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People
Putting a Human Face on the 'T' of 'GLBT'
Shannon Kearns' Transgender Day of Remembrance Message: "We Are Beloved Children of the Universe"
Living Lives of Principle
Signs and Wonders Continue
Something to Think About – June 3, 2015

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