“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
— Albert Einstein
It’s been four years since transgender activist, Jennicet Gutiérrez interrupted Obama’s presidential Pride month speech to bring attention to the trans undocumented experience at the border and under ICE detention. It was an act she was booed for and labeled a heckler by outlets like the Washington Post and The New York Times.
The aftermath resulted in an overabundance of tone policing. The whole focus of her demonstration became the “disrespectful” or “rude” interruption instead of the cruel, dehumanizing abuse of trans undocumented people.
“Our existence and humanity are as valuable as any other person. Everyone is entitled to live their lives openly,” she told HipLatina.
Like the activists who came before her, Gutiérrez is ahead of the progressive curve because as a trans undocumented woman from Jalisco, Mexico — she’s had to be. She’s a co-founder and organizer for Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement and an organizer for #Not1More. Her organizing takes her all over the country, where she lectures at universities, leads workshops, and continues working towards ending the deportation, incarceration, and criminalization of immigrants and all people of color.
The spotlight allowed Gutiérrez to talk about the treatment of trans asylum seekers and undocumented people. It also highlighted the intersections and biases within mainstream gay activism, transgender rights activism, and immigration activism. Mainly it proved that the most vulnerable subgroups are still silenced and ignored within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the Human Rights Campaign “fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.”
Fast forward to 2019 — there have been at least 26 deaths of transgender people due to fatal violence most of whom were Black transgender women. The most recent being 23-year-old Muhlaysia Booker, in Dallas, Texas and 26-year-old Chynal Lindsey, also in Dallas, Texas. This month 25-year-old Salvadoran asylum seeker Johana Median died while in ICE detention in El Paso, Texas. Her death comes a little over a year after 33-year-old Guatemalan refugee Roxsana Hernandez also died under ICE custody in Cibola County, New Mexico.
Time and time again, it is still painfully evident that politicians across the board have failed to hear, empower, or provide actionable change and protection for BIPOC trans and undocumented people. Something that Gutiérrez says is a crystal clear assessment of our nation’s values and the agenda of those in power.
“People still believe this is a democracy,” she chuckled. “Well let me give you the reality check, it’s really not. Look at the amount militarization, the amount of prison cells, and detention centers. We have public officials who believe in controlling people through the use of heavy force. That’s not democratic, it’s very fascist. Are you ok with someone taking your rights and telling you what is acceptable? Is that really freedom?”
Case and point: in 2019 there is still no mandatory standard of treatment for ICE’s trans prisoners despite the reports that they are routinely misgendered, denied hormone therapy, and abused by both inmates and guards. Gutiérrez says that while it may start with people who are undocumented and transgender, it is only the beginning. “This administration is not going to stop with one group. They are going in full force for all of us. Dehumanization has always played a role in upholding white supremacy. We have to challenge that narrative that’s why storytelling is so important,” she said.
Trans stories tend to expose the truest and most basic indignities created and perpetuated by capitalism, colonization, and white supremacy. Trans stories directly threaten the status quo by pointing out where “American values” and the actual practices of the government are unable to align. It’s why the Trump Administration continues to try so hard to control the narrative about both trans and undocumented people. When our government reinforces the idea that human beings only deserve life, liberty, and economic empowerment if they can fit into arbitrary categories, they’re intentionally limiting the freedom they claim to protect. If the land of the free is not synonymous with the safety to be whoever you are — that’s not freedom.
“We need to envision a world beyond borders, prisons, and detention centers” Gutiérrez concluded. “We need to put people in positions [of power] that really care about the well being of humanity, that respect people’s differences, and how much we can all bring to this world.”