Celebrated and impassioned Latinx activist Jennicet Gutierrez brought the 25th annual Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Ally College Conference ( MBLGTACC ) to a rousing close Feb. 19 leading the audience, which packed into the Festival Hall at Chicago's Navy Pier, in a chant that was as much about defiance as it was a call to action.
"My existence is resistance!" Gutierrez's lead was echoed through the cavernous room before she as given an equally thunderous standing ovation for a speech which reflected upon her life and the moment during which she was ejected from then President Barack Obama's 2015 Pride celebration at the White House after she spoke up for transgender immigrants held and abused in Immigration Customs Enforcement ( ICE ) facilities nationwide.
Her reasons for speaking up then took on a greater profundity in today's nation caught in the grip of a nationalistic xenophobia that has begun to systematically target its immigrant population.
"I am proud to be undocumented alien, guess what, I'm also a human being and no human being is illegal," Gutierrez said before citing the work she has been able to accomplish at the La Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement whose work advocating for LGBTQ and Latino communities nationwide has taken on crucial import in the Trump era.
"I've been able to go into different spaces and the amount of fear and anxiety that people like us are going through is really unacceptable," she stated.
Gutierrez went on to challenge the audience to opening dialogue and cooperation between resisting communities.
"There are so many things happening with executive orders that people don't know what to do," she said. "How do we stand in solidarity with other groups in a difficult situation? We have to be open and willing to hear other people, even if that issue is not impacting us. We have to challenge our own communities."
"A lot of the conversations happening at the moment surround sanctuary colleges, cities, schools and safe zones." she added. "We do welcome [them] but we have to be more inclusive. When we take a stand on sanctuary, we are also saying that we are taking a stand against police brutality and join in solidarity with BLM [Black Lives Matter]"
Gutierrez noted work already underway in Los Angeles which has brought Muslim, Black and the LGBTQ communities together.
"There were moments that we were challenged," she said. "But we didn't want to give up. We know that these conversations are necessary and a test for how we are going to get through. The work of social justice must be centered in Black liberation."