Op-ed: You Can't Cheer for Laverne and Boo Jennicet

Op-ed: You Can't Cheer for Laverne and Boo Jennicet

The transgender community has had an incredible year in the media and in the national spotlight. Caitlyn, Laverne, Janet Mock: the general public have cheered for these women, and LGBTQ movement leaders have enthusiastically embraced them, shared their magazine covers on Facebook, and shouted them out in interviews and on stages. This has been the year of celebrating transgender people. 

That is, until a trans Latina undocumented immigrant woman took center stage at a White House Pride reception on Wednesday to challenge and engage the President as he began a speech congratulating our nation’s biggest LGBTQ leaders. 

Jennicet Gutiérrez is the first transgender person to publicly call out the president around immigration and the torture and rape transgender immigrants often experience inside detention centers. Gutiérrez was in a room full of national LGBT leaders who gathered to celebrate the many accomplishments of the movement. You would imagine this would be a place to feel seen, safe, and validated. That was not the case.

As soon as Gutiérrez proceeded to speak truth and ask the President as to why he is not releasing our trans detainees who face violence, the crowd began to jeer, boo, and hiss. As she continued, the crowd then began to drown her and chant, "OBAMA! OBAMA!"

A transgender woman of color and undocumented leader in the immigrant rights and LGBT movement was booed and silenced by not only the state, but by the very same movement that purports to uplift and celebrate the transgender community. 

As her voice, filled with passion and conviction, broke through the White House room, she was met by negativity, intolerance, and stares of disapproval from her peers. Her voice was carried by the thousands of transgender women considered disposable by the nation, facing deportation, detention, and brutal transphobic violence. 

Her voice and visibility in that moment was shunned and shamed as inappropriate by a roomful of leaders who then applauded as the President lamented violence against transgender women of color, violence that his actions have contributed to by not taking action against the detention centers. Her voice is one of few transgender women of color immigrants who are bringing national visibility to this issue of the detention centers. Her voice carried the weight of the communities who are screaming inside detention centers demanding to be freed. Her voice was heard and ridiculed by many who claim to fight for transgender communities and also are involved in LGBT immigrant rights issues.

There is a line in the sand being drawn. Transgender communities have been thrust into the media spotlight, and been asked about our bodies, lovers, histories, and how we see ourselves. The moment we start to engage and raise questions around the state’s transphobic violence, our LGBT community leaders turn their backs and proceed to silence us. Transgender leaders are receiving the message that we are only mere tokens, bodies for entertainment, and accessories to make the spaces of organizing diverse and give the illusion of unity. 

As we continue to celebrate and honor trailbrazing transgender women of color in the media and national spotlight, let us also celebrate the transgender women who are imagining a visibility that reaches beyond the borders and the jails and the detention centers that restrict us. Let us show up for these women, and support them as they infuse movements for health access, immigration, and racial and economic justice with their lives and bodies. 

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ISA NOYOLA is Program Manager at Transgender Law Center, where she works extensively for the release of transgender women from ICE detention and an end to deportation. Isa identifies as a translatina, activist, two-spirit, queer, jota, pastor’s kid, muxerista, and cultural organizer. Isa is passionate about abolishing oppressive systems that criminalize trans and queer immigrant communities of color.