by Hermia Lyly
Just yesterday I was talking to a friend about how angry I am about how the Church ignores its members who cry out for change. If you’ve ever tried to rally for change within the Church, you’ll probably understand how awful it is to feel voiceless, ignored, belittled, and invalidated. When I have attempted to express my concerns to Church leaders in the past, most of the conversations have gone along the following lines:
Me: I feel that you are dismissive of my concerns and opinions.
Church Leader: Well that’s not true.
Me: See, you just did it again!
Church Leader: Did what?
Me: You just dismissed my opinion. You are gaslighting me.
Church Leader: (unironically) No we aren’t.
I learned many years ago that going through the “proper” lines of authority in order to address my concerns would get me nowhere. When I was polite in sharing my concerns, they assumed that I wasn’t serious. When I was willing to wait for them, they assumed that if my concerns could wait, they must not really be that important at all. And when I stopped being polite and waiting for them, they blamed their ignorance of my struggles on my rudeness and my irrational, overemotional femininity and my wicked, sinful queerness.
Just last General Conference, a number of attendees from the group “Any Opposed?” stood up during the sustaining vote and publicly shouted “opposed!” when Elder Uchtdorf asked if any were opposed to sustaining the Church leadership. Afterwards, many Mormons felt it was their duty to condemn these attendees for yelling during General Conference, for being “disruptive” and “irreverent.” Instead of examining the reasons why “Any Opposed?” felt the need to voice their opinion, many people focused on tone-policing. They were more concerned about being polite and nice than they were about the legitimate grievances that “Any Opposed?” had regarding the Church’s racism and the Church’s failure to address its members’ needs.
Luckily, there were many Mormons who were able to see past this tone-policing. They were able to recognize that the members of “Any Opposed?” did not interrupt General Conference just for the sake of being rude–they interrupted General Conference because they were frustrated that they were not being heard by their local leaders, and they felt that only way they could be heard was by vocalizing publicly.
Unfortunately, some of the same people who defended “Any Opposed?” from tone-policing are currently engaged in tone-policing Jennicet Gutiérrez, a trans activist who is now gaining publicity for “heckling” President Obama at an LGBT event in the White House. Part of the reason some many people are tone-policing Jennicet Gutiérrez is because of the dreadfully poor reporting on the event. Many reporters failed to look into who Gutiérrez is or even what she was saying; they simply assumed that since a person was interrupting the President at an LGBT event, that person must automatically be homophobic, and therefore silencing them was okay. In the interest of getting a story out quickly, these reporters presented false information to millions of people.
To say that Jennicet Gutiérrez was “heckling” the President is to tone-police her. Gutiérrez did not attend the event to give the President a bad time, rather, she spoke truth to power in order to “demand respect and acknowledgement of our gender expression and the release of the estimated 75 transgender immigrants in detention right now. There is no pride in how LGBTQ immigrants are treated in this country and there can be no celebration with an administration that has the ability to keep us detained and in danger or release us to freedom” (full article here). The fact that President Obama, the attendees of the White House event, and millions of people online have chosen to focus on the way that Gutiérrez engaged with President Obama rather than what she had to say shows that we care more about being polite than we care about human rights and social justice. Gutiérrez interrupted the President because the plight of these transgender immigrants was consistently ignored and silenced, and interrupted him seemed like the only way to keep him from ignoring them yet again.
Systemic oppression will not be overthrown through waiting patiently, being nice, or speaking politely. If we wait until our oppressors are ready to hear our grievances, we’ll die waiting. So think twice before you dismiss Gutiérrez for disrespecting the President. After all, which is more disrespectful: interrupting a speech, or claiming to support LGBT rights while holding transgender people in detention and violating their basic human rights?
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