Trans immigrant activist emphatically turns down White House invite over Biden’s LGBTQ+ failures

Jennicet Gutiérrez drapes herself with a trans Pride flag

A top trans activist has turned down an invitation to a White House Pride celebration in protest against president Joe Biden “failing” the LGBTQ+ community.

On Wednesday (15 June), Biden is expected to hold a reception at the White House celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month. It will be attended by elected officials and activists – but Jennicet Gutiérrez won’t be one of them.

Gutiérrez, a community organiser at Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, a grass-roots group based in Los Angeles, California, blasted Biden for not doing enough for trans migrants in a letter to the president and first lady Jil Biden.

“At the start of your administration you pledged to protect LGBTQ+ people worldwide, but it’s a commitment that you have failed to uphold at home,” she wrote in the Monday letter seen by PinkNews.

Gutiérrez wrote that with a swipe of a pen Biden could use his executive powers to stop the “suffering” trans folk face in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

“The reality is that as this celebration is taking place, trans people currently in ICE custody will be in unsafe conditions,” the letter continues.

Gutiérrez, a 36-year-old from Tuxpan, Jalisco, had her reasons to decline the White House’s invite. And there are many, she tells PinkNews.

“LGBTQ asylum seekers are being deported, transgender people are under attack, trans immigrant women are still being detained in detention centres under inhumane conditions, governors in various states are heavily criminalising trans existence, especially trans youth and their families for providing support and affirming trans healthcare. I cannot join a celebration knowing with a clear conscience these attacks are happening,” she says.

“Attending a pride celebration and having access to the White House isn’t a priority for me.”

Jennicet Gutiérrez says Joe Biden can do more for trans migrants. (Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)

Biden has certainly eased up since his days as a Delaware senator voting against marriage equality. From telling trans kids “the president has your back” during his first joint address to Congress to reversing many of Donald Trump’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

But Gutiérrez says Biden still has a lot more to do. “Even as his rhetoric has been more friendly than that of other presidents, his policies towards trans immigrants have not been good,” she says.

A Trump-era rule that turned away most refugees – even those fleeing persecution – from the southern border during the pandemic remains intact.

The White House vowed to rip Title 42 from the books by May this year, only for a federal judge to rule the law must be kept in place. Yet removing the policy should have been done in the early days of the administration, not two years later, says Gutiérrez.

From Biden’s first day in office to April, border agents evoked Title 42 more than 1.3 million times to expel migrants, government data shows.

Gutiérrez says: “He can’t speak about caring about our community who are fleeing violence and persecution when his administration is abusing them once they get here.”

Trans people face inhumane conditions in ICE detention, activist warns

Many trans people flee to the US in search of protection from torture, sexual violence and persecution in their home countries. They are often familiar with the stories of how trans people are treated in immigration detention units – kept in jails that don’t match their gender, denied medication and stripped naked, Gutiérrez says.

There’s no short supply of data to back this up. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, trans detainees are held in ICE detention for twice as long as the average length of detention and one in eight are thrown into solitary confinement – a procedure considered a form of torture by the United Nations.

The 2015 US Transgender Survey found nearly a quarter of trans people have been physically assaulted in ICE detention, and one in five had been sexually assaulted, whether by staff or other incarcerated persons.

Victoria Arellano, Roxsana Hernandez and Johana Medina, three trans women, died in ICE custody although they repeatedly asked for medical attention so it’s clear to us that ICE should not be anywhere near trans people,” says Gutiérrez.

Joe Biden. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The campaigner has for years called for the deportation of LGBTQ+ people to come to an end. In 2015, she interrupted a White House Pride Month event to shout at then-president Barack Obama and vice-president Biden: “Release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations!”

Not much has changed since, and advocates fear they might not anytime soon.

As part of the reception, Biden will sign a “historic” executive order that will see federal agencies do more to ensure the rights of LGBTQ+ people are protected from the hundreds of state laws that seek to erode them.

But while everything from education to healthcare, homelessness to conversion therapy, will be tackled, the plight of trans migrants is absent. Biden could have instructed the Department of Homeland Security to release all trans people as part of the order, Gutiérrez stresses.

“Instead of detaining trans people, the Biden administration could adopt a policy of releasing them, releasing people living with HIV and other medical conditions, as well as other vulnerable people,” she says.

Francisco Cortes, co-director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, says the group has tried to engage with the administration to change this. Biden, however, has not budged.

“There should be no pride celebration at the White House when we know that trans people are suffering in detention,” Cortes says. “There is no pride in detention.”

“To be trans in America is to be a target,” Gutiérrez adds. “But we won’t let that stop us from existing. We will live our truth.”