Jennicet Gutierrez is an undocumented trans woman from Tuxpan, Jalisco in Mexico. She consistently fights for the rights of both transgender and immigrant communities, with an emphasis on queer Latinas who are often forgotten in mainstream movements. She is the co-executive director of the Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement organization. This organization focuses on community building, organizing, education, and the abolition of systems that oppress or criminalize trans, queer, or gender non-conforming Latinx people. Jennicet Gutierrez consistently breaks boundaries by advocating for both communities, while doing so in her own unique way.
Gutierrez is most known for her iconic interruption of President Obama’s speech at the White House in 2015, where she condemned the administration’s treatment of immigrant and trangender communities. She began her work in activism by staging multiple civil disobedience protests outside of the Santa Ana detention center that holds transgender immigrants; within this detention center, transgender women face inhumane treatment and constant misgendering. Gutierrez even held a hunger strike outside this facility to bring awareness to these atrocities, and later in 2016 their efforts would be recognized: the Santa Ana facility was finally shut down.
Her presence in these protests gained the attention of larger LGBT organizations, leading her to receive an invitation to the White House event marking for pride month in 2015. Ultimately, after feeling as though she were not welcome in a room full of white cis men, she interrupted the President’s speech, in which she demanded better treatment for transgender and immigrant communities who were being ignored. While she did receive backlash from mainstream media and even some members of the LGBT community, she reaffirms she made the correct decision in speaking out. After all, she believes, “If you wait for the right time, change is never gonna come.”
Jennicet Gutierrez has taken inspiration from the pioneers of the queer liberation movement, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. After being booed by those who opposed her insistent demand for more diverse representation and equality, she even quoted Rivera by saying, “I have been beaten. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost a job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you treat me this way?” Both Gutierrez and Rivera hold the belief that pride has always been about resistance and solidarity, not being placated by people in power. In this way, Jennicet Gutierrez should receive more recognition for her work in paving the way for more queer Latinx people to speak their mind and fight for better treatment.
For example, in 2018 she spoke at the forum for the Party of Liberation and Socialism held at the Justice Center in el Barrio, a Latinx neighborhood of New York City, to expose the struggles faced by both transgender and immigrant communities. During her speech, she highlighted the lives of eleven transgender women who had their lives taken from them in the first half of the year, dedicating a moment of silence to honor them. In particular, Immigration and Customs Enforcement killed Roxana Hernandez through their extreme maltreatment and blatant disregard for legal detainment procedures. As a result of her death, national protests on June 6th were planned to oppose the mistreatment of trans women in detention centers and to demand their immediate release. By highlighting the lives of trans women, especially those in the Latinx community who constantly experience mistreatment and negligence, Gutierrez effectively provides a voice for those within the community, inspiring many others to speak out as well.
Recently in June of 2022, she even declined an invitation to attend the pride event held at the White House, as she believes it is not appropriate to be celebrating in a space where politicians and white supremacists are actively attacking her community. She cites many grievances for her decision to refuse to attend, one of the most important being the constant mistreatment of trans Latinx people in the United States. For instance, the controversial immigration laws established by the Trump administration remain in place, leaving many queer Latinx people in unsafe situations. Specifically, she cites the continuance of Title 42 as an issue, as this restricts immigrants along the southern border from coming into the United States. Her original work in activism highlights the maltreatment trans women face in detention centers and at the hands of ICE, so it is clear that continuance of these problematic laws by the government is a large motivator for declining to celebrate with members of Congress. An additional issue Gutierrez fights against is the notion of a “digestible” or “people pleasing” social movement. This is in reference to the lack of diversity seen within the LGBT mainstream media movements, as there are rarely transgender individuals or people of color seen within these demonstrations. This could be a consequence of many factors, including the belief that the queer liberation movement should be “digestible” for the mainstream media– Jennicet actively rejects this idea, holding the ideology that you cannot be in support of the community while actively denying the existence and importance of trans Latinx within it.
Clearly, Jennicet Gutierrez is an outstanding advocate for both transgender and immigrant communities in the United States, someone who consistently demonstrates her willingness to push the boundaries in order to secure a more diverse and inclusive society. By writing this spotlight on her incredible achievements, I hope to have promoted a unique and important voice within the LGBT community, further allowing for her story and mission to be heard. To further support her work in fighting for trans Latinx rights, I have included both Spanish and English resources for these communities below. Consequently, the powerful work of Jennicet Gutierrez makes her an inspiring pioneer within the LGBT liberation movement, effectively encouraging other trans Latinx individuals to also share their testimonios and voices.
Familia TQLM: https://familiatqlm.org/resources/