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Activist Jennicet Gutiérrez Discusses BGLTQ Immigrant Rights

Jennicet Gutiérrez
BGLTQ activist Jennicet Gutiérrez addresses an audience at the Yenching Auditorium on Monday evening. In her speech, Gutiérrez recounted her experiences as a transgender woman of color and advocate.
Jennicet Gutiérrez, the transgender activist who interrupted President Barack Obama at a White House event in June, shared her experience immigrating to the U.S. and advocating for undocumented BGLTQ immigrants at Harvard on Monday.

The event, titled “A Call for Justice,” opened in Yenching Auditorium with a video clip showing Gutiérrez, an undocumented immigrant, interrupt Obama’s June White House address celebrating his work on BGLTQ issues.

When she interrupted the president, Gutiérrez called for a halt to undocumented immigrants’ deportations and stronger rights for undocumented immigrants who identify as BGLTQ. A week later, U.S. immigration officials announced that transgender immigrant detainees would be provided housing in detention facilities to match their own gender identities.

Gutiérrez said interrupting Obama was intentional. She planned the move about a week in advance, when colleagues from the organization she co-founded, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, reached out to her.

When her colleagues asked if she would be willing to interrupt Obama, “without hesitation I said 'yes,'” Gutiérrez said. “As an activist, I wasn’t really concerned about respecting politics… At the moment, I wanted to raise my voice.”

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Gutiérrez argued that placing immigrants in detention centers without regard to their gender identities was humiliating and that BGLTQ-identified immigrants in detention centers often experienced sexual and physical assault.

Salvatore R. DeFrancesco ’19 said he was impressed by Gutiérrez’s willingness to “stand up for what she believed in” and then come speak to Harvard students about it.

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“I was fascinated by how she spoke about all the transgender immigrants who are detained in facilities,” DeFrancesco said. “No one really talks about that.”

“The question-answer session was really eye opening and had a lot of profound statistics about what’s happening to that community,” Alea G. Challenger ’19 said.

The event was co-sponsored by Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, the Harvard College Women’s Center, and the Harvard College Office of BGLTQ Student Life, among other organizations.

—Staff writer Kristina D. Lorch can be reached at kristina.lorch@thecrimson.com.

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