Xara López
Photos by Xara López

Transgender rights activist Jennicet Gutiérrez spoke in the Hub on Thurs., Nov. 5 as part of the Trans Revolution Series organized by the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) to discuss her experiences as an undocumented trans woman in the United States, the intersectionality of the queer community and the challenges presented by various power structures.

Abigail Salazar, fourth year Chican@ studies and black studies double major, facilitated the talk, beginning with a moment of silence to honor all of the trans women who have been murdered this year.

Gutiérrez introduced how her family history — being born into a single mother family — influenced her politicization and eventual activist work with Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement. She noted the “total national silence” surrounding the murder of trans women across the nation, and finding her own voice, which led her to her actions at the White House at an LGBT pride event this past summer. Gutiérrez interrupted a speech by President Obama to demand an end to the deportation of trans women in immigration detention centers, after which she was escorted from the White House.

“Tambien quiero decir unas palabras en español porque me da mucho orgullo ser una mujer Translatina indocumentada en este país que tiene muchos retos para la comunidad” Gutiérrez said.

Direct action, a form of public protest, informs Gutiérrez’s activism as a way to articulate that the community “stands up and cannot take anymore.” She discussed how “[organizers] had to get creative and have legal observers” in organizing direct action in Los Angeles to ensure the event disrupts everyday activities as peacefully as they could.

The talk shifted toward addressing issues of incarceration in the trans community, specifically trans women of color, focusing on the harassment and poor treatment seen in detention centers across the United States. Misgendering plays a key role in how a detainee is treated.

“[Officials] don’t want to acknowledge our gender expression,” Gutiérrez said. Not until 2015, following the LGBT pride event held at the White House, did U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers allow trans people to be detained according to their gender expression. “They already assume that most of us [are] prostitutes or sex workers depending on how we dress so that’s already criminalizing our bodies,” Gutiérrez said.

Intersectional politics play a large role in Gutiérrez’s activism through showing solidarity for other movements, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and being present in protests against police brutality focused on black people. She said to “not take their space or their leadership” when encouraging black and brown solidarity. She noted addressing issues of “anti-blackness” within the Latin@ community, which she added could prevent communities from coming together, as a form of showing solidarity with the black community.

Gutiérrez argued that capitalist structures “value more profit than our lives” when speaking on her actions at the White House. “It was a moment to challenge power,” she said, “To challenge white supremacy and any other kind of oppression.” For Gutiérrez, it’s a matter of knowing history and dismantling oppression. “I’m only carrying the torch of my sisters, of Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson” she said.

Zoraida Reyes, a past UCSB student and transgender activist who was murdered in 2014, inspired Gutiérrez to become a more politicized figure and to become involved in trans activism.

The facilitated talk ended on a lighter note, exploring Gutiérrez’s healing practices and her favorite poets. Audience members were invited to come up to the stage and voice their personal questions for Gutiérrez, querying her thoughts on various topics including intersectionality in the queer community and how to unite the trans community across racial boundaries.

Mariel Islas, second-year public policy major, voices a question to Gutiérrez about her feeling after her demonstration at the White House this past summer.