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“Rowdy crowd” backs Obama over heckler at White House LGBT reception

Despite disruption, president's annual reflection on LGBT progress under his administration is well received

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President Barack Obama ticked off a laundry list of LGBT achievements by his administration during last night’s White House Pride Month reception. However, not everyone was enthusiastic to hear the president speak.

As the president began his introduction, a transgender woman interrupted him, shouting, “President Obama, release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations.” She continued shouting as the president tried to resume his speech.

“No, no, no, no, no. Hey, listen, you’re in my house,” President Obama finally retorted, as the audience burst into applause. “It’s not respectful when you go into somebody’s house. You’re not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me.”

As the woman continued, the crowd began to boo her, as a second voice from the crowd started yelling, “President Obama!” This prompted the crowd of prominent LGBT invitees to began chanting, “Obama! Obama!” to drown out any further disruptions until the hecklers could be removed from the room. One person even yelled out, “Bye, Felicia!” as she was escorted from the room. The heckler could still be heard outside as she was led away.

The woman was later identified as Jennicet Gutiérrez, in a press release issued by a coalition of radical queer and LGBT immigrant groups.

According to GetEQUAL, the #Not1More campaign and Familia QLTM, Gutiérrez — an undocumented transgender woman from Mexico — said she could not celebrate while some 75 transgender detainees are at higher risk of physical assault and sexual abuse in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at various detention centers for undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation hearings. Groups such as the National LGBTQ Task Force and 35 members of Congress have previously raised concerns about the detainees’ safety, and have called on the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to release LGBTQ immigrants out of concern for their welfare.

The president later referenced the Gutiérrez disruption, when another person yelled out, “We love you! The transsexuals love you!,” allowing Obama to joke, “That’s the kind of heckling I can accept.”

The reception, which has become an annual event under the Obama administration, was fairly boisterous and in a celebratory mood — with the help of some social lubricant.

The guests at the reception included a “Who’s Who” of both D.C.-based and national LGBT organizations, as well as several local LGBT “power couples” whose jobs range from the legal field to LGBT activism to political consulting to lobbying. Some of the more prominent figures among those present included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Eric Fanning, the first openly gay chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Defense; Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); Sarah McBride, a transgender activist and research associate for the Center for American Progress; Six transgender members of the pro-LGBT military organization Service Members, Partners, Allies For Respect and Tolerance For All (SPARTA); Martin Garcia of civic engagement nonprofit IMPACT and an officer with the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; and Sultan Shakir, the executive director of the LGBT youth organization SMYAL.

Calling the cause of LGBT equality “an issue whose time has come,” the president acknowledged the work of LGBT activists and organizations over the years, adding, “Together, we’ve been able to do more to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people than at any time in our history.”

The president reflected on the major LGBT progress achieved under his administration, including:

  • the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military;
  • strengthening hate crime protections for LGBT people;
  • lifting the HIV entry ban;
  • strengthening and expanding the Violence Against Women Act to apply to members of the LGBT community;
  • requiring insurance companies to cover transition-related costs for transgender people; and
  • the gutting of the Defense of Marriage Act.

As the president listed each accomplishment, the raucous crowd interrupted him with cheers and applause. Obama also noted the shift in societal attitudes toward the LGBT community, even among the slow-to-change political class.

“When I became president, same-sex marriage was legal in only two states. Today, it’s legal in 37 states,” Obama said. “A decade ago, politicians ran against LGBT rights. Today, they’re running towards them.”

Looking toward the future, Obama acknowledged the looming specter of a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. Expected in the next few days, they will rule on whether same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also name-checked several other priorities for the LGBT community that have yet to be acted upon, such as the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and reiterated his call for banning the practice of conversion therapy or other sexual orientation change efforts on minors.

The president also told those in attendance that they had demonstrated the kind of courage that comes from being true to oneself.

“To a young boy or girl out there struggling with their own identity, the folks in this room are heroes,” Obama said. “They’ve shown extraordinary courage, not only in helping others find the strength to be true to who they are, you’re helping America be true to we are as a nation. And that’s ultimately what this Pride month is supposed to be about.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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