As revelers around the US came together to celebrate the Supreme Court and president Barack Obama for ushering in a new era of mainstream same-sex acceptance, we can’t forget that just a few days ago, America’s commander-in-chief shut down an important discussion regarding LGBTQ lives during a celebration of National LGBT Pride Month.
The cries of Jennicet Gutiérrez at the White House’s annual reception made international headlines, briefly focusing some much-needed attention on one of the most disenfranchised subset of the LGBTQ community: transgender, undocumented immigrants.
Initially, her interruption was met with disdain. Many in the audience reportedly told her to quiet down, and when she didn’t, booed her. However, Gutiérrez’s outburst represents only the latest call for action from a community that has always had to fight to have its voices heard.
Though transgender issues are a “hot topic” in the media right now, the truth is that transgender people of color have been fighting for their space in the LGBTQ movement since its onset. At the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally—just four years after the Stonewall Riots, generally credited for kicking off the modern gay rights movement in America—Latina transperson Sylvia Rivera stormed the stage to discuss the importance of making sure the “Gay Liberation” movement did not become a “middle class, white club.”
She—along with other trans pioneers of color like Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major—knew what would become of the movement if it kept pushing its most marginalized voices to the background. They could see into the future—and it was steeped in white supremacy, transphobia and capitalism.
This month is supposed to be a national celebration of the progress we’ve made, but we’ve clearly failed when it comes to ignoring those initial warnings from Rivera and others. So what exactly are we celebrating? A community that stands idly by as the annual death toll for trans women continues to rise. A community that routinely ignores the cries of LGBTQ people of color as they suffer disproportionate workplace and housing discrimination. Or even a community that erases identities deemed “too difficult” to understand.
We’ve naively bought into the idea that if we wait “our turn,” we’ll eventually inherit “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And let’s not forget the community Gutiérrez has now drawn attention to. According to an April 2015 report authored by liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, 92% of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants are people of color. The mainstream LGBTQ movement has and continues to overlook their plight, as well as the efforts of more than 50 organizations and campaigns including #Not1More (#Ni1Mas), Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement and Trans Latin@ Coalition which seek to improve LGBTQ immigration policies.
Yes, we should celebrate marriage equality, but we can’t end the fight there. When your life and livelihood are constantly at risk, it’s unreasonable to prioritize love above all else.
Today, with New York City’s streets still glittering from the aftermath of the weekend’s Pride festivities, I stand in solidarity with Gutiérrez as she stands up to the government and the queer elite. Many have given her their half-hearted support—agreeing with the cause but discrediting her methods. To these people I ask: when is the right time? Those of us who have not been able to play the assimilation game learned long ago that respectability politics mean nothing when our community is constantly under threat.
We’ve all been deluded into thinking we should accept the morsels of freedom that our government throws at us in exchange for our relative docility. We’ve naively bought into the idea that if we wait “our turn,” we’ll eventually inherit that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” we so often hear about.
But no more. We started this movement and now we’re aiming to take it back.