Bil Browning

NCLR & Task Force Pull Out of Michfest Protests

Filed By Bil Browning | April 10, 2015 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Equality Michigan, Kate Kendell, Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, NCLR, Rea Carey, Task Force

michigan-womyns-festival.jpgThe National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National LGBTQ Task Force have both withdrawn their support of an ongoing campaign to pressure the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival to stop excluding transgender women. The long running effort to make the decades-old festival more inclusive has had many facets including protests outside of the camp site, multiple conversations with organizers, and pressure from national and state LGBT groups.

Both the Task Force and NCLR have sent out letters to their members who contacted them about their support of a petition hosted by Equality Michigan that calls for entertainers and vendors to boycott the music festival and for festival organizers to allow transgender women to attend the event. Other major national groups like HRC, Pride At Work, GLAAD, and the National Black Justice Coaltion, remain listed members of the coalition along with media outlets like Transadvocate and Bilerico Project.

Lisa Vogel, Michfest's founder, has repeatedly denied claims that the festival is exclusionary. In a statement released in May of 2014, she said the festival has always "been a welcoming space for revolutionary womyn and girls who personify a broad spectrum of gender" but acknowledged that the event has an unofficial policy of limiting participation to "womyn who were born female, raised as girls and who continue to identify as womyn." Over the years, several transgender women have been denied entrance or removed from the property.

NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell and the Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey, both lesbians, say in their letters to members that while they are pulling their support of the public pressure campaign, they "will be seeking other ways to be in dialogue about Michfest's intention regarding transgender women" and "actively engaged in conversations in which we honor our differences while also pursuing a conclusion that supports the gender identity and inclusion of all women in Michfest." Previous conversations with Vogel have been unproductive and haven't accomplished anything.

Copies of the letters sent to people who contacted the two groups in support of Michfest's discriminatory policy are after the break.

Letter from NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell

As you know, last summer NCLR signed the petition sponsored by Equality Michigan calling on the organizers of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (Michfest) to embrace the presence of transgender women at the iconic gathering. In the wake of our signing, you contacted us to express your disappointment and anger that NCLR would sign a petition which called for a boycott of the festival.

Many of the letters we received recognized transgender women as women and sisters in struggle, while also arguing that the intention of Michfest does not diminish the lived experience of transgender women.

Since then, we have been involved in a number of conversations with Michfest womyn, Equality Michigan, transgender leaders and colleagues who signed the petition. These conversations have made clear that there are essential values and perspectives we all share and that the petition was not going to be an effective vehicle for a resolution.

NCLR has removed our name from the petition and will be actively engaged in conversations in which we honor our differences while also pursuing a conclusion that supports the gender identity and inclusion of all women in Michfest. We have faith that such a resolution is possible.

This entire process has been one of great learning for me and, while we may disagree on some issues, I think there are many values we share. I signed the petition on behalf of NCLR because our core passion and commitment is that we all be able to live fully and be embraced as our authentic selves.

We are grounded in some deeply held principles, including the belief that discrimination and bigotry against lesbians is rooted in sexism, misogyny and the devaluation of women. We do not believe it is possible to win liberation for lesbians in a world where misogyny thrives. We also do not believe we can end the oppression of women and lesbians in a world where transgender women are reviled and targeted.

NCLR has come to a deeper understanding of what Michfest means to our community and seeks to honor that through this process. We also acknowledge the Michfest organizers have been involved in an ongoing conversation over the years on this issue. We are committed to honest and forthright dialogue as a more constructive means for seeking resolution and common ground.



Letter from Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey


Last year, the National LGBTQ Task Force signed onto a petition organized by Equality Michigan which called upon the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (Michfest) to fully welcome and include transgender women, as women, at the festival.

You took the time to write to me and I appreciate that you did - you and others shared with me your perspectives and experiences on the land that some described as "sacred," "an annual touchstone," iconic" and "home." I heard that you are angry and hurt by the Task Force and other organizations signing the petition. I heard from you and others that Michfest is a truly historic and transformative annual event that has influenced, inspired and helped to liberate millions of womyn/women from the daily trials and tribulations of misogyny and sexism. It holds a very special place in the hearts of lesbians and other womyn/women.

In the months between then and now, I have talked with womyn/women who have attended, womyn/women who would like to attend, and other people who have a variety of views. I've talked with our colleagues at Equality Michigan, leaders of other organizations who have been engaged in this, and with transgender women. From these conversations, I have gleaned shared values, differing opinions, and have come to a view that in order to move forward in any type of dialogue we must move beyond the petition.

I am writing to let you know that the Task Force has asked that our name be removed from the Equality Michigan petition and we will be seeking other ways to be in dialogue about Michfest's intention regarding transgender women. As we reflected on the petition's contents and read carefully letters from concerned people like you, we came to understand that the point in the original petition that called for a boycott of vendors and performers was misaligned with our own support for womyn/women artists, craftspeople and musicians. Although that point was withdrawn from the petition, we recognize and share the deep concern about the possible economic impact on womyn/women striving every day to make a living through their art, craft and music.

Please know that the Task Force's view regarding the MichFest intention is rooted in our core value of inclusiveness and the festival's extraordinary transformative power. For over 40 years, the Task Force has worked for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identified people in all areas of our lives - whether it be in the workplace, the government, companies and, yes, in our own community.

The Task Force will remain in active discussion with MichFest womyn/women, Equality Michigan, transgender colleagues, and other organizations that signed the petition. The Task Force is committed to productive discussions in which we honor our differences and also pursue our desire for MichFest to fully welcome the gender identities of all womyn/women at the festival, including transgender women.

For over 40 years, the Task Force has worked for a changed world. A world in which we can all experience liberation. A world in which misogyny cannot thrive. A world in which womyn/women, lesbians, bisexual women and transgender women no longer experience sexism, targeted attacks and the most horrible form of violence - murder. As we intensify our work to take on all of the challenges we face as a movement, know that these values are at the heart of what we do.

With care and in solidarity,


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