Jorge Gutierrez (the executive director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement) joins guest host Anna Castro to discuss the importance of recognizing and uplifting intersecting identities during Pride Month, in particular the experiences of immigrant and BIPOC LGBTQ+ folks. Listen and learn about building towards co-liberation, the #EndTransDetention campaign, and more. As Jorge succinctly reminds us: “We can’t have Pride when we have folks who are in detention.”
Anna Castro: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the June, 2021 episode of the Solidarity Is This podcast. I’m your guest host this month. My name is Anna Castro and I’m the manager of Solidarity Is at Building Movement Project. I have been a collaborator on this project for three years, working alongside Deepa Iyer, your fabulous podcast host. In typical visionary and builder style, Deepa has been working on a project that launched this month called Move the Money: Practices and Values for Funding Social Movements. Move the Money is a set of resources geared towards grantmaking institutions eager to expand and deepen their supportive organizations, networks, and leaders involved with social change movements. I invite you to visit Building Movement Project’s website and check it out.
I’m excited to guest host this month’s episode. If you enjoy it too, please subscribe and share it with others. Welcome to the vibrant world of change agents, their campaigns, and their stories known as Solidarity Is This. In this episode, I will talk to one of my favorite disruptors, Jorge Gutierrez, executive director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement. Along with being a disruptor, Jorge is a frontline responder and builder, and one of the movement leaders behind the End Trans Detention campaign. Jorge and I spoke during pride month, right before he and around 150 other LGBTQ immigrants and their allies traveled to Washington DC to demand that the Biden administration put an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s, also known as ICE’s, practice of detaining transgender people and people living with HIV.
Jorge and I discussed how the COVID vaccine has given disruptors who use direct action tactics to raise awareness of their campaigns and demands the opportunity to gather in person once again. Familia, an organization that builds trans and queer Latinx power, use the increased visibility of pride month to coordinate a series of actions across the country to engage co-conspirators and join in the fight to end trans detention.
We also discuss the origins of the campaign. Three transgender women have died as a result of ICE’s negligence. Victoria Arellano in 2007, Roxana Hernandez in 2018 and Johana Medina in 2019. Jorge and I discuss the critical intervention key and movement leaders like Isa Noyola and Marisa Franco of Mijente and Jennicet Gutierrez of Familia made in creating the End Trans Detention campaign. Transgender people face a disproportionate amount of violence and detention and their stories and demands highlight the need to center people whose experiences lie at the intersections of multiple systems of oppression. After listening to the podcast, I invite you to explore the End Trans Detention website. A number of organizations have collaborated on the campaign and through their efforts, they seek justice for Victoria, Roxana, and Johana and all transgender immigrants, LGBTQ immigrants, black immigrants, and people living with HIV who have been formerly or currently detained by immigration enforcement. These organizations include Black LGBTQI+ Migrant Project, the Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mijente, and Transgender Law Center. For more information, visit www.endtransdetention.org.
Anna Castro: Now onto the podcast with Jorge. So Jorge, here we are in pride month, a very busy month for your organization, Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement. And I wanted to ask you both as a member of the community and as also an organizer and an activist for a long time, what is your relationship with pride this year? And I asked that in particular, because we are still living under a pandemic, but the possibility to gather has now opened up. Then I also want to hear how has your relationship with pride month shifted over time?
Jorge Gutierrez: You know, part of what Familia I would call secret sauce is that throughout the seven years that we’ve existed as an organization, we’ve always prioritized bringing folks together. Whether for trainings, retreats conferences, because we really value that community space, that being able to be in rooms together and that’s where like the magic and strategy and vision really comes from. And I think the pandemic really put a break to all of that. Our staff felt it, our members felt it, it was really difficult to engage folks digitally for many reasons. And so we’ve missed that this whole year, you know? And so I think that this pride month, because things are starting to open and it’s safer for folks, more folks are vaccinated, that’s when we’re like, “Let’s go all out this month.”
We’ve been organizing local actions and events in different cities and we’re heading to DC next week to convene about a hundred folks, and so I know that for me, I get so re-energized. I get inspired every time we’re with folks. And when you can see the resilience, the joy that despite all the obstacles that we’re facing, our people continue to show up, continue to say, “Hey, I’m here. I want to continue to organize because we deserve better and we need more changes in our communities.” And so for me, this pride month has been exciting because for that reason. The possibilities of coming together again have started to open up and I think that our folks are looking forward to that because the pandemic has also created so much isolation for our communities. Especially for folks that live in smaller towns and smaller cities that are not in New York, that are not in LA, are not in Chicago.
So for us, bringing people together is we feel that that’s so important. And then I feel like that’s why people like to engage with us. Because they know that they’re going to be in community throughout the year. And for me, I think that my relationship with pride has evolved and gotten more complicated and complex. Not that those are bad things right? But because I know I’ve been doing this work for more than 12 years, I know the issues, there are folks are still facing that the thing that we’re still fighting for. And so for me, visibility without a demand is nothing. If we’re allowing all these corporations, the businesses, to put a rainbow flag on their logo to try to get money out of our pockets, to buy the products, then we got to be asking the right questions. How are you treating your workers? Do they have health care? Do they have protections? Are they able to unionize?
And I think that also goes to maybe some of the folks that are more privileged in our communities. Why LGBT communities that are eager to party at bars, who are eager to being in those kinds of places. No shame, no shame, because I think we should celebrate. I want to celebrate too. But are these folks connected to the local organizations or communities, right? Do they know that people are fighting for affordable housing? Do they know that LGBTQ people are dealing with so much trauma, dealing with so many issues impacting their everyday lives in this moment? So how are they engaging in that way? How are they showing up for our communities? Because there’s so much that’s happening. And so I think for me, that visibility is great, but it has to come with demands for all of us so that all of our communities can continue to create the changes that need to happen.
Anna Castro: You mentioned that Familia is hosting a lot of events in June using the added visibility of pride to issue demands and a big demand that you are leveraging right now is a call to end trans detention. And so I wanted to ask you a bit more about this campaign. Can you tell me about your role, when did this campaign start and what is the lineage? How does this fit into a long and vibrant history of a LGBTQ liberation movement?
Jorge Gutierrez: The End Trans Detention campaign was started six, seven years ago. And really came from local organizing and us finding out though that ICE had created what they called an LGBT pod detention center specifically to target and detain and deport LGBTQ immigrants. And we went after the detention center, we went after ICE and in our research and even our demand started to evolve. We started to really see huge numbers of trans people detained, who were getting deported, who were getting mistreated, who were going through all kinds of abuse inside detention centers. And we felt that there was a moral obligation to focus in on trans immigrant communities. And so my role in that campaign was really to one, bring people together to understand the issue and what was happening and to be able to say, “And we got to fight for this. And we got to demand that this needs to end.”
And so I was really part of the beginning of getting this off the ground maybe when we ourselves didn’t fully understand the implications of this kind of campaign, didn’t understand how it all connected to the broader demands to end all detention and all deportations. When other LGBT organizations, they didn’t want to touch this because it’s like, “What is this?” It’s a new demand. And so, seven years later, right now, I think, I’m really proud of that decision. I think that that risk that we took that we didn’t know where it was going to go, just like with any campaign that you start. But for us, it was, again, a moral obligation. Seven years later I think the End Trans Detention, at least on the surface level, has been adopted by the broader immigrant rights movement.
Has become a talking point in the broader immigrant rights movement. I think that that campaign has brought that visibility, but again, how were we really… there’s a tangible demand, right? There’s ways that we’re saying. Right now, there’s a trans policy memo that was sent to the Department of Homeland Security that outlines how they can stop deporting trans people. That’s a tool, it’s a tangible thing. It’s an actual demand. And I don’t know if it sounds bizarre to say, but I think we’re close to it. We’ve been at it for seven years, there’s this memo, there’s this way, there’s already community organizations across the country who are working with trans migrants who are being released from detention centers. So there’s already some ways and infrastructure on how to do it that’s outlined in the memo. And so we’ve been doing direct action, mobilizing, training people up, right? Have brought visibility to a community.
And it’s a way also we have paved a new way through this new demand within the broader immigrant rights. We expanded who’s considered an immigrant, what are the different communities who are part of those rights? There is so much more complexity. We’re not monolithic when we’re talking about immigrant communities in the U.S. There’s black immigrants, it’s LGBT folks, there’s disabled folks, there’s single parents who are being detained, young people. So it’s all of that. And so I think as we paved the way we created a new lane in this broader movement and to say like, “Look, we’re here and we’re not going to go anywhere.” And we want to complicate the conversation around immigration. And we want to complicate the conversation around citizenship and who is deserving, who’s not deserving? Who gets to get deported, who gets to stay here? All of that.
So I think that’s what the campaign has been doing in this pride month and that’s why we’re going to DC and we know our church service, a rally in front of the White House to say we can’t have pride when we have folks who are in detention.
Anna Castro: Thank you, Jorge. That was so rich. And honestly it makes me reflect on the fact that, yes, this is currently pride month, but it is also immigrant heritage month. And so I wanted to go back to talking a bit about you and getting to know a bit more about you. I would love to hear what has it been like to be a disruptor in the immigrants rights space and in the LGBTQ movement space? What are some of the lessons that you learned by stepping into that space and by taking that role of disruptor? And I think also wanting to hear from you, who are the people or communities that have shaped the way that you think about immigration or organizing or movement now?
Jorge Gutierrez: I think at the beginning it was very lonely because I think that we were trying to figure it out. Not to say that we were the only ones doing LGBT immigration work because that’s not it. A few of us were really thinking about sort of that national perspective of trying to elbow ourselves in in this broader conversation and these broader coalitions that have been going on for decades now. And so at the beginning, it was a lot of fighting. It was a lot of knocking on doors and “Hey, are you down to do this?” Folks not really wanting to, or not knowing how their work fits what we were trying to do. And so we did a lot of cutting the grass and getting the soil ready, to harvest these new ideas that we were coming and people were reacting to it.
And so I think, yeah, so there was a lot of fighting with the immigrant movement, a lot of infighting with the LGBTQ movement. And I think in retrospect, some of it was good. I think some of it we could have done with. And I think part of it maybe we got some of our frustration that got the best of us at times. Rightfully so, I would say. But I think after that, once we sort of found our groove and we’re like, “No, we got to do this.” No one else is really thinking about this community, this campaign in this way, there’s something here, let’s run with that.
And so I think we were just like cooks in the kitchen who maybe who were not cooks or are good at cooking, but we were trying to put some recipes together. That we were trying and they maybe we didn’t like them, it didn’t stick and then we can move on to the next. And then we found platforms like the Not One More Deportation campaign. We were like, “We want to be part of that campaign.” It was really right to really talk about how our folks are being criminalized and that even after our folks were being criminalized and have criminal records, our people still deserve dignity. That really aligned with us and we’re like, “Let’s jump on this. Let’s make the End Trans Detention demand part of this Not One More.” And so that’s how we were able to bring even more visibility, bring in more LGBTQ folks into the fold who wanted to organize with us and who are still organizing with us till this day.
Yeah. And that’s taken seven years, right? We know that campaigns can take many years. And it’s not just about the win. I think for me, what I’m really proud of is that we now have a network of grassroots, local organizations and leaders and a base who are doing this work now day in, day out. Who have seen themselves reflected in our values and in the campaign, who know that this is their campaign, and who continue to show up. Every time there’s an action for them to do, they show up. We see that this time, this month, with the local actions. People understand that the amount people… a lot of them happen to have experienced detention before. And so they know what it is. And so I think that for me, I’m really proud that there’s a whole network of community.
It’s not just one leader, it’s many leaders now who are doing this work and who are going to continue the fight and so that for me… again, it’s not just about that end of the road win or that tangible win, but it’s all about the in-between. All the relationships that we’ve been able to build, all the challenges that we’ve been able to face, all the fighting that we had to do. But now there’s a whole network, there’s a whole base of LGBT immigrants who have been developed by the campaign, who have become organizers through the campaign and who are doing the work and in their communities. And so that’s exciting for me to see.
Anna Castro: The work that you are describing and the work that you’re engaging in being so heavily centered around lived experience. We’re talking about being in close communication with families who’ve lost people to immigration enforcement. They’ve lost folks who have been killed by immigration enforcement. Again, talking about Roxana Hernandez and Johana Medina and Victoria Arellano, that type of work takes a lot of energy and a lot of emotional strength to be able to manage. I want to ask you, what are some of the practices that you have in doing this work that help you deal with the psychological toll that it takes to come into contact with trauma?
Jorge Gutierrez: For me, I think what’s helped me along the years, one is you just got to… as community organizer, there’s so much stuff happening and then so much stuff comes at you. I think one that’s helped me is you got to build some thick skin. So many people, so many of us are dealing with so much. That always helps I think to not take things personally, to be able to process a lot of complicated emotions and be able to then do the work that you got to do. I think too, mentorship. Finding a crew of folks that you can go to and vent and troubleshoot and get advice and knowledge from. Because again, this work is complicated. It’s day in, day out many times, and we need all the love and support that we can get.
And we don’t know it all. As much as we like to think so at times, we don’t. And I think that for me, the mentorship of people like Marisa Franco, Isa Noyola, Jennicet, and so many others have really provided so much grounding and a space for me to just really show up as my full self even in times where I screw up. And to be able to get reenergized, to get reminded and to get some advice on how to move through it all. Because for me, I think I’m committed to this work. Maybe my roles and all that will change, but I think I’m committed for the longterm. But in order to be in a long-term you have to figure out where you need to get your nourished from. And so for me, a lot of mentorship.
And I think also my mother gives me so much hope and inspires me every day to roll up my sleeves and do the work that we need to do to be able to create the changes for our people. And so she gives me a lot of love and compassion and really good food, which is also really, really important.
Anna Castro: Jorge, at one point in this conversation, you mentioned that we are close to ending trans detention. And in your decade of work that there have just been moments where we see how much power is built when you give LGBTQ immigrants the reigns to be able to think through the solutions of what our immigration system should look like. So I want to ask you in your ideal world, what would our immigration system look like? What would it feel like for an LGBTQ immigrant to interact with it? I find that oftentimes people who want to support both LGBTQ immigrants, immigrants in general, we pivot towards legislation. And you have said earlier we have to think beyond even pathways to legalization and citizenship. So again, in this ideal world, what does this immigration system look like, feel like? How does an LGBTQ immigrant navigate it?
Jorge Gutierrez: I like this question a lot. And I keep thinking of an LGBT immigrant knocking a door at a community center and that someone welcomes them, ask them, “How are you? How can I help you? Here’s a meal to get you started.” And then there’s a conversation that happens. There’s a menu that gets rolled out of “Where do you want to live? What kind of job would you like? How far do you want to travel? What kind of services do you like? What brings you happiness?” That this person can feel fully seen. That it’s not about charity. It’s about giving opportunities and possibilities so that folks can make their own decisions about where they want to live, where they want to look, what kind of job do they want, and what are the things that are going to bring them joy and happiness?
That’s how I see it. I think that that goes beyond a piece of paper that puts a stamp on someone that who’s legal or not. And I think that, one, it’s super problematic, but I think it also limits our creativity in the way that we approach immigrant rights organizing in this country. So yeah, and I see all kinds of people going through that community center and then taking a bus, taking a bike, walking, running to the next community. Where they’re going to build routes and then continue to move, take another bus, take another bike, take another walk and into another community and build more routes. That’s how I see immigration.
Anna Castro: To me that sounds like the freedom to thrive and the freedom to have a home, to build a home wherever you would want. So, thank you for sharing that vision. I think you’re right. When we start to think of it from the vantage point of what a human being deserves, regardless of where they are born, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, at the core of it, what should be the purpose of our immigration system? It should be to give people the opportunity to be a human that gets to choose their own path.
Jorge Gutierrez: Yes.
Anna Castro: Jorge, thank you so much for being here with me today. I know it is a busy month and you have been making sure that End Trans Detention is all over our social media spaces. So thank you for being here.
Jorge Gutierrez: Thank you for having me and happy pride month.
Anna Castro: Jorge and the organizers at the End Trans Detention campaign are a source of constant inspiration for me. And I’m so happy to have shared his beautiful vision of what we can accomplish together at the end of this episode. If you want to take a deeper dive, here are some prompts to reflect on. First off beloved trans and queer, black, indigenous, and people of color, I share with you all of the joy and love in my heart. Victoria, Roxana, Johana, Lorraina, Monica, Dominique, Layleen, and too many others present. Then for those of us navigating these shared histories and lived experiences beyond pride month, how can we celebrate and make space to grieve what was taken from us? For the allies and co-conspirators of transgender immigrants, LGBTQ immigrants, black immigrants, and people living with HIV who have been formerly or currently detained by immigration enforcement, how can we uplift and advocate for the demands of people affected by different systems of oppression? I invite you to visit transgenderlawcenter.org and check out the trans agenda for liberation for more information about how you can get involved. Until next time, I wish you the love and support you deserve. I’m Anna Castro. See you on these digital streets.