A year after having interrupted President Obama during the White House LGBT Pride Month reception, Jennicet Gutiérrez is still existing to resist, and she’s thankful for that. She’s learned much more about herself as an activist and the communities she serves.
“June 24, 2015, was a turning point in my life and in my journey as a trans Latina activist,” Gutiérrez tells The Advocate via phone one day before her birthday. She had just left a rally in Pasadena, Calif., in support of lesbian Black Lives Matter leader Jasmine Richards, who was sentenced this week to 90 days in jail for “felony lynching,” in a case seen by some as an attempt to intimidate Black Lives Matter.
“I think it’s been really critical for me to make connections with other communities who are fighting for the liberation for all of us,” says Gutiérrez. “And not the ones who want to assimilate. It’s not going to make our life better.”
This past year she’s spoken out about immigration across the country, furthering the message of her organization, the TransLatina Coalition, working to stop deportations for all undocumented people. She’s even completed a hunger strike to encourage the shutdown of an LGBTQ-focused Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center. But in addition, she’s worked to gain more understanding of other communities fighting for liberation and is on the front lines of other movements in the fight.
“That’s why being intersectional to me is important,” Gutiérrez says about her work involving both LGBTQ people and immigrant communities. She says that LGBTQ groups could do more to understand and empathize with LGBTQ immigrants, and immigrant communities should work more to understand the needs of LGBTQ immigrants.
“I think many people shut people down without giving people an opportunity to really share their pain and the experience under the system that we live in,” says Gutiérrez.
She says the #Not1More campaign regarding immigration was not just an LGBTQ campaign, but because her interruption came during the White House Pride celebration, people thought that she was only focusing on LGBTQ immigrants, missing her message. And that has shaped how she approaches activism now.
“Whenever I navigate spaces with communities that perhaps don’t relate to my life experiences, I try to listen the best I can with a critical ear — that way I can process what I’m hearing,” says Gutiérrez.
Though her efforts have made LGBTQ immigration a topic of discussion, targeted raids on undocumented people continue. There has been a historic announcement about trans rights from the U.S. attorney general, and more visibility of trans people than ever. But trans women of color are still being killed at an alarming rate here and around the world. Even though there is more to do, she says her interruption and its impact were worth it.
“If I hadn’t have done what I did, we wouldn’t be having multiple conversations in multiple spaces,” says Gutiérrez, who admits that this work does require more self-care on her part. She says now she knows “it’s OK to say no,” to take some time for herself, and to surround herself with her trans sisters in the movement.
“Even a year later I’m still trying to process the significance of this event,” she adds.
And to her the significance is more than just raising visibility on this issue and for her community. She says through this work she’s found more understanding of who she is and her work as an activist, and stronger bonds with her family. Earlier, she says, she hid herself from her family.
“My family’s love and unconditional support has kept me going,” says Gutiérrez. “My mom calls me every day making sure I’m safe.” She says it “took time,” but her family members are now fully supportive, and that visible support has an impact on her and others around her.
“Once all this happened and I started speaking at these events, it made it easier for them to understand,” she says “I have a very lovely niece that says ‘You know, I’m so proud of you. This is what you are meant to do.’”
President Obama held this year’s White House Pride event Thursday, just as he endorsed Hilary Clinton to be the next president. Gutiérrez says she is “concerned” about the candidates of both parties, and the negative rhetoric in the campaign is more motivation for her work. At the same time, she says it really doesn’t matter who takes the White House in November.
“I will continue to always speak my truth and always challenge power,” said Gutiérrez.