I have difficulty interrupting others. I wait my turn, look for an appropriate opening, one in which I can respectfully assert my view without cutting someone off or talking over anyone. I generally don’t like to interrupt, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.
Like when transgender rights activist Jennicet Gutierrez interrupted President Obama’s speech at a recent White House pride event. Granted the press conference had happened just days after the Supreme Court had struck down DOMA, making it legal in all fifty states for same sex couples to get married. All the years that DOMA was in place were painful years for the LGBTQ community and now second class status was history. People wanted to celebrate. I understand that. I’m grateful that my marriage will now be federally recognized too. But Gutierrez says she was following her instincts. She had been invited to the event and hadn’t planned on speaking out, but when Obama talked about the gains of the LGBTQ community, she says she thought about her trans sisters – immigrants who face deportation and abuse inside US detention centers. She couldn’t let these abuses get papered over. She had to speak out.
And when she did, the president tried to shut her down.
“No, no, no…” he said. And, “Listen, you’re in my house…”
In the video, the room looked like it was full of LGBTQ advocates. And while it was disappointing to see Obama try and shut her down, it was far worse to see Gutierrez booed and shushed by her own community.
To see and hear LGBTQ activists silencing one of their own was painful.
As I watched, I felt the shaming. Maybe that’s because there’s an internal voice that is always telling me to shush. It says I should wait to talk when the time is right or when I’m invited to speak. Above all, it tells me to go with the flow and not rock the boat. Or ruin the party. Which is what the message seemed to be at the press conference. It viscerally affected me to hear how loud the mostly white crowd was against Gutierrez. The message was clear, “Don’t ruin the party.”
But what if the party doesn’t include you?
Just recently, immigration authorities announced they will consider housing transgender detainees in separate facilities in response to criticism about detention conditions. There is still a long way to go to translate these policies into reality, but it makes me think that maybe Gutierrez’s interruption was heard after all.