By Erin Chessin
President Obama was giving a speech at the White House in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month last year when suddenly a loud voice spoke out from the crowd.
“President Obama, release all LGBTQ detention centers! Stop the torture of transgender women!”
That voice rose from the sea of politicians, organizers and advocates of LGBTQ rights. It was the voice of 30-year-old Jennicet Gutiérrez.
Activist and civil rights leader Gutiérrez spoke at HSU on April 3 to share her story and her organization’s mission. She is a founding member and leader of La Familia, a transgender and queer liberation movement.
One of the missions of her movement is to end LGBTQ detention centers that criminalize and imprison the transgender community, putting thousands at risk of facing deportation.
The speaker began by presenting video footage of her causing an interruption at the White House in 2015.
“It wasn’t easy to interrupt the president,” Gutiérrez said. “But we tried sending letters to him, and we tried reaching out to him. Our voice needed to be heard.”
As a Latina transgender woman and undocumented immigrant, Gutiérrez has faced undeniable prejudice and societal oppression since childhood.
Her transgender liberation began at a young age. She started showing femininity around five years old, realizing around seven years old how much “pride and happiness” she felt when her aunt let her try on women’s clothes.
When her mother found out about this, she scolded Gutiérrez. This was her first realization that there are societal restrictions to being a transgender woman.
Gutiérrez wanted to be recognized as female despite the male identity she was born with, but her family and the society around her showed no approval.
“I thought to myself ‘what’s wrong with me, why am I being told not to be myself or not to exist’,” Gutiérrez said.
Gutiérrez is passionate about denouncing injustices of the transgender community. She has devoted her life to her organization, La Familia, which aims to stand up for transgender rights and put an end to violence towards transgender women of color.
At HSU, Gutiérrez told her story in hopes of inspiring students to help denounce social injustices of the transgender community. Students listened attentively to her motivating speech and cheered often after powerful statements Gutiérrez made.
Freshman Grace Hall, an environmental science major, was amongst the crowd of HSU students at her speech.
“It’s incredibly courageous of her to interrupt the president and stand up for something she believes in,” Hall said.
While the bulk of the presentation was about her fight for transgender rights, Gutiérrez also talked about the struggles of being an illegal immigrant and the risks of being deported.
Gutiérrez was denied a visa at age 15 and could not obtain a social security number. This meant she could not advance her education past high school.
Not having the resources to further her education was her first realization that she was an undocumented immigrant.
Gutiérrez continued to use her sister’s social security number in order to get small jobs to support herself.
According to Gutiérrez, transgender immigrants are 12 times more likely to face discrimination than cisgender immigrants.
Philosophy professor Loren Cannon also attended Gutiérrez’ speech. “There are students who can relate to her status as an undocumented immigrant and as a transgender woman,” Cannon said. “There are students who don’t feel accepted, and it’s important to listen to those students.”
Gutiérrez hopes she left students with a powerful message.
“Our issues and struggles can no longer be ignored,” Gutiérrez said. “I am a human being and no human being is illegal.”