Who Is Jennicet Gutierrez? The Transgender Immigant & LBGT Activist Interrupted Obama For A Very Good Reason
When an attendee interrupted Obama during his speech at an event celebrating Pride Month at the White House on Wednesday, the president shot back, "Hey, you're in my house." It was a definite "Oh snap!" moment for Obama, and his comeback has since become viral. But perhaps what's also deserving of attention is who the heckler is and why she leveled such impassioned demands at the president. Who is Jennicet Gutiérrez, the transgender immigrant and LGBT activist who dared to interrupt the president of the United States? Given her mission, it's understandable why she was so angry.
During his comments on how far the country has come with LGBT rights, Gutiérrez shouted, "President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations!" Visibly irritated, Obama shot the comeback at her and, when she refused to quiet down, was forced to have her removed from the room. He said, disappointed, "It's not respectful ... shame on you. You shouldn’t be doing this."
After the event, Gutiérrez, who identifies herself as transgender and says she's an illegal immigrant, issued a statement in response to Obama's actions:
I am outraged at the lack of leadership that Obama demonstrated. He had no concern for the way that LGBTQ detainees are suffering. As a transwoman, the misgendering and the physical and sexual abuse — these are serious crimes that we face in detention centers. How can that be ignored?
Speaking with The Advocate, Gutiérrez further explained her actions:
[Obama] came out, started speaking and started to get into his speech on how wonderful everything is. And I couldn’t help but think about the conditions that my LGBTQ Latino/Latina, especially trans women of color, are facing in detention. So, to me, that was the moment I had to speak up. I had to raise awareness to the president and to everyone else watching that I’m not just going to celebrate, when my trans sisters are facing a lot of violence in the detention centers. [Trans women are facing] sexual and physical abuse, and I just had to send a message.
According to a press release by Not1MoreDeportation, Gutiérrez is one of the founders of Familia TQLM, which advocates for LGBTQ immigrants. She is also a member of GetEQUAL, a grassroots organization who seeks to secure equal protection under the law for LGBTQ people. In the press release, which was issued after the White House incident, Gutiérrez writes:
The White House gets to make the decision whether it keeps us safe. There is no pride in how LGBTQ and transgender immigrants are treated in this country. If the president wants to celebrate with us, he should release the LGBTQ immigrants locked up in detention centers immediately.
The release also gives some background on Gutiérrez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico in order to seek safe refuge and economic opportunity. According to the Huffington Post, Gutiérrez, 29, arrived in the States when she was 15 and is currently in the process of obtaining a Green Card through her sister, but is undocumented at the moment.
Gutiérrez began her activism work after meeting transgender immigrants who were being detained under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. Her experience with the transgender immigrant community was the driving force behind her protest at the White House. According to the release, Gutiérrez refused to celebrate with the president while roughly 75 transgender detainees were still under ICE custody and suffering abuse. The Huffington Post reports that she had actually intended to deliver a letter to the president with this message. In an interview before the event, she said:
The letter is asking to release our communities from detention centers and to stop deportation.
It's possible that she made her outburst because she was unable to deliver the letter, but either way, she had to get her message out. To have the courage to interrupt the commander-in-chief on his turf, knowing that there are numerous Secret Service agents at the ready to take you down, in order to speak out on behalf of a group that needs protection — despite the progress that Obama was speaking on — makes Gutiérrez, in my book, not so much a heckler, but a hero.
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