1. Michigan’s Womyn’s Music Festival has been making headlines as of late for its apparent exclusion of trans women.
2. The festival, which began in early August this year, welcomes “womyn born womyn.” According to festival founder Lisa Voge this means, “womyn who were born female, raised as girls and who continue to identify as womyn.”
The festival itself takes place on over 600 acres of woods. According to the event’s website you will find, “diverse and dynamic performances, interactive workshops, healthy foods, clean air and the most amazing sense of community”
3. Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task force, recently told the TransAdvocate:
As an organization with a core value of inclusiveness, the Task Force believes that the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s ‘womyn born womyn’ intention, to the exclusion of transgender women, must end. It also runs at variance with welcoming and respecting the reality of all women’s lives. We agree with our partners at Equality Michigan and the many activists both inside and outside the festival who have raised this important issue for over two decades. As it approaches its 40th year, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival must include and welcome transgender women. It’s past time for a change in both intention and practice at the Festival, as a matter of love, compassion and radical welcome embraced by the Task Force and countless others.
4. Headlining acts such as Andrea Gibson, the Indigo Girls, and later comedian Lea DeLaria all pulled out from this year’s festivities.
6. Today, Lisa Vogel published a statement to her personal Facebook account. The post was published alongside this photo and a list “demands.”
7. The statement begins: “Many demands have been made of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (“Michfest”) via the Equality Michigan call for a boycott launched July 28, 2014. We have a few demands of our own.”
8. 1. Get Your Facts Straight
As the 39th Festival closes and we turn our hearts and minds to our landmark 40th anniversary, we reiterate that Michfest recognizes trans womyn as womyn - and they are our sisters. We do not fear their presence among us, a false claim repeatedly made. What we resist – and what we will never stop fighting – is the continued erasure and disrespect for the specific experience of being born and living as female in a patriarchal, misogynist world.
Over 20 years ago, we asked Nancy Burkholder, a trans womon, to leave the Land. That was wrong, and for that, we are sorry. We, alongside the rest of the LGBTQ community, have learned and changed a great deal over our 39-year history. We speak to you now in 2014 after two decades of evolution; an evolution grown from our willingness to stay in hard conversations, just as we do every year around issues of race, ability, class and gender. Since that single incident, Festival organizers have never asked a trans womon to leave the Festival. We have a radical commitment to creating a space where for one week a year, no one’s gender is questioned - it’s one of the most unique and valued aspects of the Festival. The Michfest community has always been populated by womyn who bear the burden of unwanted gender scrutiny every day.
The truth is, trans womyn and trans men attend the Festival, blog about their experiences, and work on crew. Again, it is not the inclusion of trans womyn at Festival that we resist; it is the erasure of the specificity of female experience in the discussion of about the space itself that stifles progress in this conversation. As long as those who boycott and threaten Michfest do not acknowledge the reasons why the space was created in the first place, and has remained vital for four decades, the conversation remains deadlocked.
9. 2. Acknowledge the Validity of Autonomous, Female-Defined Space Michfest is widely known as a predominantly lesbian community.
This does not mean that heterosexual womyn, bisexual womyn, or those who do not share this identity are not present or welcome. But for a week, we collectively experience a lesbian-centered world; we experience what it feels like to be in a community defined by lesbian culture.
10. 3. Acknowledge That Michfest Creates Spaces That Do Not Exist Elsewhere.
This year, thousands of womyn and girls from 3 weeks to 92 years old attended our 39th Festival. This included over 75 deaf womyn who came to rejuvenate and be in community. Nearly 200 womyn with disabilities came into the woods to thrive. At one of the workshops held this year, young womyn stated that until they came to Festival, they had never seen an old gender-non-conforming female in person; they did not know that those womyn existed. We built this space to let these womyn be seen and celebrated. We built this space around the fierce solidarity of female experience that has always been and continues to be deconstructed into invisibility; where that unique experience is relegated to a place of dishonor. Whenever females honor ourselves, wherever we take up space, and sit collectively in the source of our collective power, we are burned and stoned, both literally and metaphorically.
11. 4. Turn Your Energy Towards the Real Enemies of Female and LGBTQ Liberation.
While the abuse and disenfranchisement of womyn and girls escalates around the world and LGBTQ people experience life-threatening harms, LGBTQ organizations have turned inwards on a curious target – a weeklong music festival that does not ban or exclude anyone, that simply seeks to devote its focus to an experience that is denigrated in the larger world: the experience of being born and living as female.
Equality Michigan and the organizations endorsing its petition including HRC, the Task Force, NCLR and the National Black Justice Coalition, are targeting Michfest with McCarthy-era blacklist tactics. Specifically, they have called for attendees and artists to boycott the event, and – astonishingly – have threatened the livelihood of artists and vendors by branding those who participate in the Festival as “having committed anti-transgender discrimination.”
These organizations are targeting artists who perform at Michfest while remaining completely silent when queer-identified artists play at venues that generate profits for racist, transphobic, and homophobic corporate entities and individuals, whose interests are dangerous to the global LGBTQ movement and all basic human rights.
We call on the constituents, donors, and dues-paying members of the LGBTQ institutions targeting Michfest to hold them accountable for this misuse and misdirection of organizational resources, and to withdraw their time and dollars from these organizations until the targeting of Michfest ends.</> Sisters - we urge you to redirect your money to organizations that speak to your lives and speak for you.
12. 5. Join the Conversation, Not the Digital Sound Bite War.
Our community is strong enough to hold disagreement and to engage deeply with each other, face-to-face, through difficulty. The Michfest community welcomes conversation; we do not stifle it. We have and will continue to remain in community with those trans womyn for whom Michfest has been home; trans womyn like those organizing the New Narratives Conference who do not require females to disappear ourselves or our unique experiences to prove our political and social solidarity.
13. The final paragraph reads: “We turn to our LGBTQ community and say: we hear your truths; we ask you to acknowledge that you hear ours.”
Listen to the voices of the tens of thousands of women who call Michfest home. Join the conversation in person in your home communities, not exclusively through social media platforms or online petitions. We invite our sisters to participate in this conversation in person on the Land. Make room in your heart to hold difference of opinion and disagreement – this is the challenging path to honoring true diversity. We turn to our LGBTQ community and ask you to unite with us in the belief that we can work together as a movement and stand together in solidarity. We ask you to work with us, not against us.