Pride and injustice

It’s Pride season, and I want to remind you that as everyone grabs a paper cup of slightly cool beer and goes out to party in the streets, we are honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. This was a street riot against injustice at the hands of law enforcement — aimed largely toward a poor, LGBTQ community.

A riot that was used to stoke outrage in the press, like the New York Daily News’ infamous, “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad” headline.

It’s a hell of a thing to be able to show that, all these years later, we’re still standing. At the same time, we still need to stand up to injustice.

Here, I speak of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, otherwise known as ICE. It is ICE that has been at the heart of incarcerating asylum seekers coming to the United States — incarceration that sometimes leads to permanent harm or death in migrant concentration camps.

To be fair, ICE’s attempts to show how well it treats transgender people wasn’t so much to jump on the Pride bandwagon, but a way to distance itself from a pair of recent transgender deaths had at ICE’s hands.

In a series of tweets, ICE attempted to show off its facility at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Cibola, New Mexico. It was at Cibola that Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a 33-year-old transgender woman seeking asylum from Honduras, died. She had been physically abused, was dehydrated and suffering complications from HIV.

As The New York Times reported, from an independent autopsy, “other detainees cited in the autopsy report recall that Ms. Hernandez experienced the symptoms of severe dehydration ‘over multiple days with no medical evaluation or treatment, until she was gravely ill.’”

ICE, meanwhile, showed pictures of a clean, well-lit facility with trans and gender nonconforming migrants doing each other’s hair, eating nice meals and enjoying a host of recreational activities.

“Cibola’s medical and detention staff are trained in best practices for the care of transgender individuals,” reads one of their tweets, while another promotes the facilities access to “common areas, televisions, microwaves, a library and access to outdoor recreation.”

The timing of ICE’s tweets seems to be a defense, not so much for the death of Hernandez, but that of Johana Medina Leon, another transwoman who died on June 1. In Leon’s case, ICE “released” her just before she died, and claims that any illness she had wasn’t their fault.

“This is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition,” said field director, Corey A. Price.

Leon came to the U.S. to apply for asylum. She was held beginning in the middle of April. She pleaded with ICE for medical care after she became ill in custody. She even asked to be deported immediately, giving up her bid for asylum for the hope of medical care.

So ICE released a series of tweets that can at best be called propaganda, in order to deflect from the deaths of two transgender people in its custody. This is where takes an even sicker turn.

The series of tweets ended up on the radar of Fox News host Tucker Carlson who decided that this didn’t have enough outrage attached to it. In his mind, transgender migrants, based on ICE’s tweets, were being treated too fairly.

“Giving fashion tips to men who dress like women who snuck into our country illegally is a priority for the federal bureaucracy,” said Carlson. “They’re happy to spend a lot of your money doing it.”

He seemed to forget that this was the administration of his party and his president doing this.

“Meanwhile, for American citizens, things get steadily worse,” continued Carlson. “Life expectancy declines, half a million people sleep on the streets every night, and heroin addicts line the streets of our once-great cities. But at least the federal government can pay for specialized detention centers for transgender migrants in New Mexico.”

“That’s not all,” he concluded. “Thirty million Americans don’t have health insurance, and millions more pay way more than they can afford for health insurance. But transgender migrants don’t have to worry about that at all. They get all the free healthcare they want that includes mental health services and dental. Can you afford dental insurance? If not, you might want to seek asylum. It could be worth it for the amenities alone.”

This free healthcare he speaks of is the same care that was denied to Hernandez and Leon. I doubt they ever had a chance at much free dental care as they lay dying, and I doubt the physical assault that Hernandez reportedly suffered would be the sort of amenities Carlson’s viewers would have in mind.

But Carlson seems to think that this facility Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez died in — run by an organization that has been involved with the deaths of far more than just two transgender people — is somehow a leftist nirvana.

He and his ilk have served a double purpose. Not only have they helped legitimize the lies foisted by ICE in tweets, effectively sidestepping accountability for the deaths of Leon and Hernandez with pictures of basketball hoops and prison libraries, but also fueled the belief that even a small amount of possible care is too good for those incarcerated in Cibola — that their lives should be that much worse.

This is a lie on top of a lie and a great injustice. This is something that we need to fight for this Pride season, never forgetting what resilience against adversity really means. 

Gwen Smith is still working out her Pride plans. You’ll find her at

Newsletter Sign-up