It would be easy to wax poetic about the transformative marriage victory this week and all it will do for both loving couples and LGBT kids trying to envision a future around the country, but instead I'd like to turn my attention to one struggle that continues. In a truly rare moment at the White House this week, someone heckled President Obama on his own turf during the annual LGBT Pride reception. Jennicet Gutiérrez, a transgender Latina and undocumented immigrant, interrupted the president just moments into his remarks at the reception. As video shows, it was not particularly well received by either the president or the event’s attendees.
“Listen, you're in my house,” Obama said, as the crowd began to “boo.” Gutiérrez continued. The president grew exasperated. “No, no, no, shame on you. You shouldn't be doing this,” he said. “Can we have this person removed please?”
The debate that quickly erupted in the LGBT community centered around whether it was polite or not to interrupt President Obama in the White House. In the meantime, the message that Gutiérrez was carrying—that trans women in government-run detention centers routinely experience violence and horrible mistreatment—was mostly lost.
“There is no pride in how L.G.B.T.Q. and transgender immigrants are treated in this country,” Ms. Gutiérrez said in a statement. “If the president wants to celebrate with us, he should release the L.G.B.T.Q. immigrants locked up in detention centers immediately.”
If you want a glimpse into just what inspires a person to gather the courage to confront a president amid a crowd of revelers in his own home, take a look at this investigative report on the detention conditions that undocumented trans women face. It is appalling.
The first thing to know is that one in every five confirmed sexual assaults in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers involves transgender individuals, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The second thing to know is that ICE often houses transgender women in detention by putting them in solitary confinement for days, weeks, and even months on end. Being in solitary confinement for extended periods is a form of violence all its own.
Read the report and you’ll walk away thinking, “Is it any wonder Ms. Gutiérrez did what she did?” These are the types of actions people take when they are desperate to be heard—desperate to get the word out about an issue that has received scant coverage, let alone any action.
Taking on the president is something the LGBT community did continually in the lead up to “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. It is something the undocumented community did repeatedly before President Obama finally announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that gave Dreamers temporary deportation relief.
We would do well to remember more broadly that the history of struggle and oppression is also a history of doing what some consider to be "inappropriate" things at inconvenient times to remind our leaders and the people around us of the pain we are in.
A true activist takes that opportunity whenever she or he gets it. That Gutiérrez felt the need to shout down the president in his own house—during a political event, I might add—says a lot about just how truly desperate the situation is. In fact, I can't think of a single time during Obama's presidency that an activist actually heckled him inside the White House.
As lead marriage plaintiff Jim Obergefell said Friday amid the celebration at the steps of the Supreme Court, “Progress for some does not mean progress for all.”
For those of us who were lucky enough to have our humanity affirmed by the highest court in the land this week, it is no time to turn our backs on those who seek the very same.