Erika Bleyl, LSRJ Summer Intern, (University of Washington School of Law)
On Wednesday June 24, 2015, Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented trans Latina leader at Familia: TQLM and GetEqual, was removed from the White House after she interrupted Obama’s speech during a reception commemorating Pride Month. Gutiérrez, pled for the release of LGBTQ people in detention centers and called for an end to state violence against queer and trans people of color (“QTPOC”). Obama responded by saying, “this is my house, you’re eating my h’ors d’oeuvres,” and shamed her for interrupting him. Many in the room cheered for Obama, and booed at Gutiérrez until she was escorted out.
While there are some who would argue that President Obama probably could not hear what Gutiérrez was saying, the President – either by purposefully dismissing Gutiérrez’s mission or by not apologizing for misunderstanding the situation – has sent the message that he would rather give a speech about trans women than actually listen to a trans woman.
Every time something like this happens where a mainstream entity silences QTPOC resistance, I harken back to the first law school event I ever attended during my last quarter of undergrad. I was disappointed to see that despite significant resistance from audience members and other panelists, one panelist claimed that all forms of LGBTQ equality had been obtained with the passing of gay marriage. Sadly, he was not the only person I had heard this sentiment from, and this event now represents for me the ways that law school perpetuates the harmful notion that laws are the best (or only) tool for obtaining equality and that lawyers are leaders in movements that have always been truly transformed by community organizers.
Like many law students, I came to law school hoping to acquire tools that I could use to uplift my community. Yet as a law student, I have only been provided tools that reinforce the legal system. I am taught to celebrate laws that maintain systems I don’t believe in, and when I am critical of things such as the SCOTUS opinion and problems with the pursuit of marriage equality, I am told that I am ungrateful or unrealistic.
Yet Dean Spade writes in his book Normal Life how recognition-and-inclusion focused law reforms do not actually produce changes that enhance safety for queer and trans people. Even during a time when Laverne Cox and Caitlin Jenner have gained massive public attention, I agree with the sentiment that visibility is not enough. Laws themselves have produced systems that make being trans administratively impossible. Laws that simply “add” to current laws, such as the criminal justice system, are actually contributing to the most significant source of violence against QTPOC.
It is past the time that the voices of trans women of color should be heard rather than shushed. Isn’t Gutiérrez justified in being concerned that trans immigrants make up one out of every 500 people in detention, but account for one of five confirmed sexual abuse cases in ICE custody? Why did the City of Seattle spend $100,000 on painting their sidewalks rainbow, when King County is estimated to have 4,000 homeless queer youth? What are mainstream LGBT organizations doing to support the activists from #BlackOutPride, 6 of whom were detained in Chicago for protesting ongoing state violence against QTPOC? Will you rise up for the liberation of all queer and trans people?