Last year after I interrupted President Obama during an LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House, a reporter asked me if I was concerned about not getting another invitation to a future event. Feeling slightly frustrated, I responded that a White House invitation was the least of my concerns.
Just twelve months ago, I risked my status and my safety to raise my voice and demand the release of undocumented LGBTQ people in detention centers. While other LGBTQ advocates drank champagne and ate finger sandwiches, I went toe-to-toe with the president to demand an end to the torture and abuse that transgender women face when they are locked up in ICE detention facilities.
While others were there to celebrate an expected positive ruling from the Supreme Court on marriage equality, I reminded myself that I belong to a community that is ignored and silenced, even within the broader LGBTQ movement. I could not idly sit back and celebrate another empty Pride month while trans women of color, especially undocumented trans women, are struggling to simply survive.
Fast forward a year, and President Obama is now hosting the final Pride reception of his presidency today. Unfortunately, not much has changed for our sisters in detention since one year ago.
While we have some organizing victories to celebrate — such as the City of Santa Ana terminating a contract with ICE which turned a local jail into a particularly horrendous detention center — we must not allow the government to fool us into thinking that an invitation to a White House party is true progress. It is easy for political leaders to host receptions, give awards, and form advisory committees. It is less convenient for them to push forward policies and take actions that actually save trans lives.
Just a few weeks ago, in reference to the anti-trans hatred being spewed from the North Carolina state legislature, Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated, “No matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”
And while lawsuits and speeches are nice, I question what it means that this same administration is also detaining trans woman Chelsea Manning in solitary confinement — a practice known to many of us as torture. The same administration telling us that they “see us” has still taken no action to hold ICE accountable for the abuse they continue to inflict upon immigrant trans women, both inside detention and outside. The same administration insisting that they will “protect us” refuses to take action against state-sanctioned violence inflicted upon black people, especially black trans women.