2014 was heartbreaking, angering, but also hopeful, and 2015 is shaping up to be similar. The murders of Black people by law enforcement officers, and the lack of accountability these officers have faced for the lives they have stolen, has galvanized a new generation of organizers, activists, writers and artists, who are leading movements with a queer, black feminist analysis. The world has watched the organized protests and acts of civil disobedience that have disrupted the business as usual of brunches, baseball games, symphonies, Black Friday shopping, and traffic. So when I read that Jennicet Gutierrez, an undocumented, Latina transgender woman, interrupted President Obama’s speech during at White House LGBT Pride event, to demand an acknowledgement of and end to violence against undocumented transgender women of color in immigration detention centers, I expected to see widespread support among my diverse and intelligent social media community. My heart broke as I read tweet after tweet from people that I had come to expect progressive and intersectional analysis from, completely not understand and refuse to support Jennicet’s act of protest. Constantly referring to her as “the heckler” and insisting that actions were disrespectful and out of place, people sided with an administration that has deported a record breaking number of humans, and ignores the violence that undocumented transgender women face in detention centers.
I still can’t wrap my head around people unequivantly supporting Black Lives Matter actions that are framed around disrupting the status quo, but not Jennicet’s actions. Jennicet refused to let that White House Pride luncheon go on as usual, celebrating the progress that the LGBT community has made in the United States, while the often forgotten people who represent the last letter in LGBT continue to experience horrendous violence in immigrant detention centers. As she explains in a Washington Blade article, “There is no pride in how LGBTQ immigrants are treated in this country, and there can be no celebration with an administration that has the ability to keep us detained and in danger or release us to freedom” (Washington Blade, 2015).
We in the Black Lives Matter movement have refused to let business go on as usual while our lives are cut short or in other ways devastated by state-sanctioned violence; no you cannot eat brunch and not acknowledge violence against Black people, no you cannot listen to the orchestra at the symphony and not acknowledge violence against Black people, no you cannot watch a baseball game and not acknowledge violence against Black people. Nine transgender women have been murdered in 2015, with most of them being women of color. Black transgender women experience epidemic levels of violence, from members of our communities and law enforcement, in prisons and detention centers. Black women, both cisgender and transgender, have no selves to defend (read here, here, and here). Instead of booing Jennicet, as the audience of so-called LGBT rights activists did, we need to stand in solidarity with her and all transgender women of color who experience violence.
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free”-Emma Lazarus.