At the annual White House reception honoring LGBT Pride Month, President Obama was confronted by a trans woman of color who interrupted him during his speech. Rather than empower her voice, respect her concerns, or even give her the time of day, the President gave one of his harsher responses to hecklers and had her removed from the gathering. His actions seem at odds with what he claimed the event was about and failed to uplift LGBTQ person’s who are frequently excluded from mainstream social and political circles.
Jennicet Gutierrez, the trans woman and immigration activist who interrupted Obama, yelled from the audience, “President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention.” She continued, “I am tired of the violence we’re facing.” After getting President Obama’s attention, she repeated herself, “release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations.”
At that point, President Obama became visibly frustrated. He was not checking for Gutierrez’ interruptions but how he handled her was incredibly disappointing.
As seen in the video, Obama became quite annoyed with Gutierrez, moreso than he has historically. He said, “you know what? No, no, no, no.” He continued, “Listen. You’re in my house.” At this point, Vice President Joe Biden started to chuckle as the crowd cheered the President on.
“It’s not respectful when you get invited to- ” President Obama said while frowning. “You’re not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me like this,” he warned as the crowd started booing Gutierrez.
As Gutierrez continued speaking, the crowd became agitated in support of the President. Onlookers were “shushing” her.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Obama continued, as the Vice President put both hands over his face. “Shame on you, you shouldn’t be doing this.”
The crowd began to chant, “O-bam-a!, O-bam-a!”
The President threatened to have her escorted out unless she quieted down. When she continued demanding, “no more deportations,” President Obama forced her out of the space amidst cheers from others in attendance. After Gutierrez left, the President joked about her being in his house eating and drinking his food but he never seemed to consider the fact that he silenced and erased this trans woman of color who likely had little access to him otherwise.
Gutierrez penned her own response to yesterday’s events at the Washington Blaze. She clearly articulated her reasons for interrupting the President.
“I was fortunate to be invited to the White House to listen to President Obama’s speech recognizing the LGBTQ community and the progress being made. But while he spoke of ‘trans women of color being targeted,’ his administration holds LGBTQ and trans immigrants in detention. I spoke out because our issues and struggles can no longer be ignored.”
She also explained why President Obama’s reaction was so harmful to trans folks, especially those being held in detention centers for deportation.
“It is heartbreaking to see how raising these issues were received by the president and by those in attendance. In the tradition of how Pride started, I interrupted his speech because it is time for our issues and struggles to be heard. I stood for what is right.”
Overall, President Obama’s response too Gutierrez reflects a continued inability to properly empower and elevate voices of LGBTQ folks and trans women of color. His failure to understand how his actions undermined his proposed goals mean that even allies have work to do in addressing these marginalized communities.
Gutierrez summed it up best when she said, “Instead of silencing our voices, President Obama can also stand and do the right thing for our immigrant LGBTQ community.”
Photo Credit: YouTube
Jenn M. Jackson is the Editorial Assistant for The Black Youth Project. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Water Cooler Convos, a politics, news, and culture webmag for bourgie Black nerds. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.