Was Obama's Heckler Actually A Transgender Hero?
On Friday (June 26) the Supreme Court ruled in favor of nationwide marriage equality. Pride celebrations across the country this weekend were extra celebratory -- as they should have been! The decision is historic, and will give many LGBTQ families much-needed protections under the law.
At the same time, activist groups like GetEqual have been quick to point out that although marriage equality is huge, there’s still a long way to go before the LGBTQ community has full equality and protection from discrimination. A few examples: 40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBTQ; the transgender community faces exceptionally high rates of violence; and LGBTQ people can still be legally discriminated against in the workplace in most of the US. For many members of the LGBTQ community, solving these issues is a matter of life and death.
Angela Peoples, the co-director of GetEqual, attended the White House Pride reception with Jennicet Gutiérrez, the now-famous heckler who was shut down by both the president and the audience.
MTV News caught up with Ms. Peoples to talk about her experience at the White House that evening.
“I was invited to the Pride Reception at the White House and I was able to bring a guest,” Peoples told MTV News. "I brought Jennicet Gutiérrez, who has been part of the broader campaign for #Not1More LGBTQ deportation and detention.”
Specifically, Gutiérrez wanted to let the president know that transgender immigrants who are detained in immigration facilities face an exceptionally high risk of violence by both guards and other detainees. Last year, Fusion conducted a six-month investigation and published an exposé on the subject that concluded, “conditions for transgender women locked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are often humiliating, dangerous, and even deadly."
The Fusion exposé points out that transgender women detained in immigration facilities are “often locked up alongside men, sometimes the very men they were trying to escape. They are forced to live with the men, even shower with them. Other times, these women are put in solitary confinement---its own form of torture---for months on end, all in the name of protecting them.”
Fusion also sites exceptionally high rates of physical abuse and sexual assault endured by transgender immigrants who arrive seeking asylum but are detained. “The United States has long been a haven for those fleeing persecution and oppression,” they state, “But today, the treatment for asylum seekers can be so terrible that some are asking to be sent back to the very countries they were escaping.”
Angela Peoples told MTV News, “Jennicet, who is a trans woman of color, wanted to use [the White House Pride reception] as an opportunity to bring the message of stopping the detention and torture of trans women in immigration facilities to the President. I was so, so proud of her for what she did.”
According to a statement from Not1More, as a transgender woman who is undocumented, Gutiérrez said she "could not celebrate while some 75 transgender detainees were still being exposed to assault and abuse in ICE custody at this very moment."
Peoples said she was disappointed by the president’s reaction, and also by the reaction of the booing, shushing crowd who “were supposed to be advocating on behalf of people like Jennicet.”
“It was sad,” Peoples continued, “But I’ve also been really inspired since to see folks in online communities and around the country [who] are stepping up in huge support of Jennicet, giving her so much love and talking about how we need to continue this conversation.”
Jennicet has since spoken out about why she interrupted the president (her story was also covered by People magazine) and the Advocate published an op-ed called “You Can’t Cheer For Laverne and Boo Jennicet.”
“I’ve heard people saying, ‘There’s a right time and a place,’" said Peoples, “and my response is to say that there’s no ‘right time and place’ to demand basic human dignity. These trans women are facing horrifying, inhumane conditions in federally-funded, federally-run facilities that the government is responsible for. ...We’re not going to just keep waiting to schedule a meeting, waiting for that meeting to happen, waiting for someone else to get back to us, waiting for yet another meeting to get scheduled...while people are literally dying in federally-funded facilities.”
“People have already sent letters to the President, met with administration, and taken action around the country to show the urgency and to show the pain that’s being experienced by folks that are in detention, and we have not gotten any response from the administration,” she continued. “So this was a moment to say, ‘Hey, you’re not hearing our voices, we’re gonna take it directly to you.’”
Peoples also pointed out that even though she was shut down by the President and the crowd at the reception, Jennicet’s direct technique actually was effective in the end. Following the interruption, 35 Congresspeople signed a letter sent to ICE demanding the agency release LGBTQ immigrants out of concern for their safety, and today (June 29), US Immigration officials announced that soon transgender detainees may be housed in facilities that match their gender identity.
“The reality is, people are listening now. When is the last time you even thought about undocumented trans women of color and how they’re treated in this country?”
Peoples said she thought Jenniet was brave for taking the risk that she did, and she hopes that others will follow her lead. “We need people who will say, ‘We appreciate what you’ve done Mr. President, but there’s a lot, lot more to do,’” she said.
Fighting for humane immigration policies is just one of many campaigns GetEqual supports in hopes of achieving full equality for the LGBTQ community. To learn more, you can check out their LGBTQ Bill of Rights and follow them on Twitter for updates.
For more about LGBTQ issues, visit LookDifferent.org