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President Obama honors the positive side of transgender activism at White House LGBT Pride Celebration

Amada Briseno with White House Marines

The reporting about the White House Pride Reception hosted by President Obama primarily centered upon a persistent heckler berating the president on the treatment of LGBT and transgender immigrants, particularly those being detained in government facilities. The heckler was later identified as Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented transgender woman. Ironically, the very treatment that Gutiérrez was protesting was effectively addressed by the Obama administration one business day later. Not in response to Gutiérrez’s actions but because of the Obama administration’s unwavering focus on LGBT equality.

What failed to make the news was the story of another transgender woman present at the 200-strong gathering. A woman whose positive energy and attitude underscores the huge impact the Obama administration has had on the LGBT community as a whole and the transgender community in particular.

Amada (Mada) Briseno, 44, grew up on the South Side of Chicago and identifies as a pre-op transsexual. Back in May, Briseno wrote a letter to the president expressing her gratitude at her new found rights as a result of the Affordable Care Act and LGBT positive federal legislation. What followed is a series of events that had a huge impact on Briseno’s life. This is her story.

San Diego LGBT Weekly: Mada, thank you for talking with us. First can you give us some background about yourself?

Mada Briseno: I’m a 44-year-old third generation Mexican-American, pre-op transsexual, born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. I started expressing my true identity at the age of 18, when I graduated from St. Francis De Sales High School. I always felt that I was really a woman. I started having these feelings as far back as I can remember, even as young as 5 years of age. Sadly, I also recall having my spirit broken at that time. I knew it was something that I had to hide.

What motivated you to write to the president?

Within the last two years I’ve been discovering and taking advantage of all the new resources there are for the transgender community. This includes medical, legal and employment aid that was never available to us before. I’m very grateful and I had to express that. Because of this help I’m more confident than I’ve ever been in my life. Obviously it had everything to do with President Obama so I had to let him know my feelings and thank him.

The letter that Amada Briseno wrote to the president:

Dear Mr. Obama,

I’m a Mexican pre-op transsexual, born and raised on the South Side of Chicago … I’m still here and very proud of that. Through your years in office I always questioned, just like everyone else, if you’re really a good president. I get very choked up when I think about this but within the last 2 years I found out about all these new rights I have as a low income transsexual. I’m 44 years old, I’ve been skirting along this life just barely making it. It’s been such a struggle, I couldn’t begin to describe the difficulties.

I’m writing to thank you because for over a year now, I’ve been on the proper meds. Because of County Care. I have a doctor that monitors my progress and makes sure my health is fine. I have an appointment with a dentist in 2 weeks, I haven’t seen one since the 90’s. I’m working with a lawyer to have my name and gender marker changed. She’s also helping me with some discrimination issues at my current residence. At the end of May I’ll be attending a workshop aimed solely at trans-women like me to help with employment.

Because of you Mr. President, my life has done a complete turnaround. I had no future until these last 2 years. You are allowing me to be who I was meant to be. So my questions about your Presidency have been answered. To me you are a Savior. And the fact that we are from the same side of Chicago makes it even more special. I’m gonna hate to see your term end!

I can’t thank you enough for all this work on my behalf…the last 2 years have been a nonstop Birthday, or Christmas for me. I really hope you can see this. I hope with my humble words you can understand the severity of my situation and gratitude for your help. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

With my deepest sincerity,

Amada Briseno

What happened after you sent your letter?

About a month later, I received a call from the White House. They asked if I would be interested in letting them use my letter on the White House Blogs. I, of course , said yes.

How did you get invited to the White House Reception celebrating LGBT Pride Month?

The invitation came via email exactly a week before the event, which was on 6/17/2015.

What were your feelings about this invitation and tell us the sequence of events that followed after you received that invitation?

I was beyond surprised. Actually this has all been unbelievable, starting with the call from the White House. I was also disappointed because I could never afford a trip like that. I’d been posting this all on my Facebook page starting with the call. So once again I posted on Facebook, this time it was the invitation. All of my family and friends were insisting that I go, they recommended I use Youcaring.com. So I signed up and minutes later I received the first donation from a great family friend Hector Albarado Jr. The donations started rolling in and didn’t stop till the very day of the Reception. They raised $1005.00 for me to go to the White House. I love them all so much for this! They funded the best day of my life!

Amada Briseno with Tonie Snell

What were your initial thoughts on entering the White House?
I was very scared as I waited in line. Not only was this my first time to the White House but It was also the first time I traveled outside of Chicago on my own. I met a couple people in line; I was so overwhelmed by all of this I don’t even remember names. They calmed me down. As we started down the path I thought of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. As we approached there was an amazing group of about 15 voices singing. I could not pinpoint the style of music, but it sounded as if it could be used at the gates of Heaven. They started checking identification and we went through two security check points. We got in and another band is playing; I was dizzy, the White House is beautiful. Everyone looked so happy and I grabbed a glass of Champagne and just started making my way around. First I noticed the chandeliers, then the portraits of previous presidents and first ladies. The ones that stood out were, Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and John F. Kennedy. I started taking pictures of everything. It’s the most beautiful home in the U.S. and everyone was so welcoming. A few people told me they loved seeing the excitement in my eyes. I know I teared up several times. It was such a moving experience.

A great deal of publicity has surrounded Jennicet Gutiérrez’s heckling of the president. Where were you placed when this began?

I was only 10 feet away from her.

Gutiérrez was trying to bring publicity to the plight of LGBTQ immigrants locked up in detention centers and in particular the treatment of transgender detainees and subsequent misgendering and other civil rights violations? How do you feel about those issues?

Of course being transsexual, I understand the disrespect to our community. I still get discriminated against and I’m 44-years-old. My heart goes out to these transgender women and men. Bottom line I think it’s wrong and definitely should be addressed. As far as the immigration issues I believe our president is totally trying to help. Listen, my grandparents were immigrants from Mexico! I’m very privileged to live in the U.S. because of their efforts. Who am I to say who can and cannot have a chance to become a citizen?

Some believe that Gutiérrez has some legitimate concerns but that this event was not the time and place to voice those concerns. What is your view on that?

I agree 100 percent. My mother used to tell me the very same thing, “There is a time and place for everything.” That would have been the perfect opportunity to meet people and network. Bring the issue up to people, they would have listened! Even though she did go about this the wrong way, I hope it does get the attention needed. Those people are being treated poorly and we need to address the problem. They are finally listening to us; we need to come to the table correctly.

What do you think Gutiérrez should have done?

Maybe she could’ve written a letter like I did. Obviously President Obama is receptive to transgender voices. Look where my letter has taken me.

What impact do you think Gutiérrez’s actions have had on the transgender movement’s progress toward equal rights?

I’m not going to lie. I think what she did was harmful. Being a Mexican-American transsexual I was ashamed as I witnessed her actions. In the same breath I understood her concerns. But these issues need to be handled very delicately. Lashing out at the president who is actually trying to help is not going to get us anywhere with these issues.

What was your reaction to President Obama’s speech at that reception?

LOL! I obviously was extremely moved. Everything that was said was to let me know he respected and cared for everyone in that room. Our president is definitely a humanitarian. I love him. I’ve never been moved to tears by any other politician in all my life. In fact, I really don’t pay attention to politicians as they’ve never paid any attention to the transgender community. That of course is why my emotions were heightened; I had to let our president know that the transgender community appreciates what he has done for us. And that is when it uncontrollably came out of me and I cried out during his speech, “Transsexuals love you Obama, transsexuals love you!” I thought I would be removed as well! But no, I was thanked and told that it was accepted. I wish I could relive that moment over and over at least once a week. I was very proud of myself. As were all my family and friends on Facebook. My transsexual voice has finally been heard. I get very teary eyed every time I watch the snip. I’m teary eyed now.

If you were face to face with President Obama right now what would you say to him?

Well for me it definitely would be an emotional meeting. I would thank him from the bottom of my heart. Up until now I felt like a nobody. I felt like no one really cared about us. For the first time in my life I feel like I’m being taken seriously. I would tell him I love him. I would also thank him for the opportunity to visit his home – the shrimp and champagne were awesome LOL! And I would also send a message to the first lady letting her know I’m very impressed with her sense of style and I think she is beautiful. Also, I’m proud to be from the same part of Chicago as the both of them. That’s what I would say!

What is next for Amada Briseno?

I hope to take advantage of this attention and maybe get a better job. LOL! I hope I get invited to the White House again! Most of all I hope to get more involved in helping our community.

What would your advice be to a young transgender person trying to make their way in the world today?

I hope I’m heard throughout the transgender community. I hope they learn that we are being heard, that we count and there is help for us. In Chicago, they could look up Translife Center and Chicago House. Those places are very much in our corner and they have helped me so much! Last, I want them to stay positive, keep those chin ups and always say thank you. Again look where it got me!

Mada, thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to thank you for this opportunity! I also would like to thank you for finding the positive side of what happened that day in the White House. Everyone else just focused on the dark side! Thank you.

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Posted by on Jun 30, 2015. Filed under Around the Nation, Online Only, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

6 Comments for “President Obama honors the positive side of transgender activism at White House LGBT Pride Celebration”

  1. Mada….you are,awesome!!!! Keep it up, you are such an eloquent speaker! I am proud to say I’ve known her since she was little, lol. Mucho love.

  2. This is an amazing story and so moving. I myself was almost brought to tears just reading it. I’m a 26 year old trans man and it’s really good to know that there are people out there that care. This was a truly inspirational story for me. It gives me hope for people like us. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Amada (Mada) Briseno

    There is so much support for your generation. Take advantage of it they are here for us! It’s a good time to be us! Good Luck Zachariah

  4. This isn’t inspirational to me at all.

    Jennicet brought up grave, important concerns, and no, they would not have gotten press or action if she’d just politely written a goddamn letter. All due respect to Mada, but writing a letter going on and on about how amazing the president is is not activism, it’s after-the-fact gushing.

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