Aug. 20 2014 12:00 AM

The controversy around Michfest and transgender equality


Equality Michigan issued a call July 29 to boycott the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Aug. 5-10) for non-inclusion of transgender women. The call sparked a firestorm of reaction in the media and among friends centering around non-discrimination, feminism and the essence of female-identification.

Emily Dievendorf Executive Director Equality Michigan

Equality Michigan’s website states:
“Equality Michigan has been following the exclusion of transgender women from the Michigan Womyn´s Music Festival since our founding in the early 1990s, shortly after Nancy Burkholder was first thrown out of the Festival for being transgender. The use of the "womyn-bornwomyn" intention against transgender women must come to an end. Until the Michigan Womyn´s Music Festival´s "intention" is changed to a "policy of full inclusion for all women" we must stop supporting Michfest. Equality Michigan is committing to bringing this issue up with our communities, festival organizers, festival vendors, and artists until this policy is modernized…we will no longer respect the "intention" or that "leaving the onus on each individual to choose whether or how to respect it" equates to inclusion. To us, this sounds like the arguments we heard around "Don´t Ask, Don´t Tell" - and like that policy - this one just doesn´t work for us.”

We won´t turn a blind eye to anything that is causing harm to any part of our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) family. That means we won´t turn a blind eye to those who might be perpetuating the harm even if they are our own. Sometimes we, as a movement, are called to stop harm by insisting that our friends’ actions match their values. We weighed in on Michfest because it has been decades now of hearing the same false claims and scare tactics from festival organizers and extremist anti-trans activists to justify the alienation of trans*women. The great tragedy is that we love the festival and all that it has done for otherwise underserved and too often overlooked minorities.

While Michfest attracts women from all over the country, it is in our backyard where too many transwomen already have very real reasons to not feel safe. Fest should become the oasis that attendees say that it is because that security and nurturing and empowerment are so needed - and if we value social justice we must want that for ALL women.

The position that Equality Michigan, trans activists, allied orgs, and petition signers took on Michfest this year shines a light on the exclusion of the trans* community. Discrimination is at its ugliest when we know it exists and we choose to create a sacred space within in it - to wrap ourselves with it - because everything else, the privilege and validation that it may be woven into, can feel so damn good. This year we are declaring that we have had enough of Michfest’s double talk and can see through it. In the meantime, while Michfest leaders continue to dig their heels into the excuses and allegiances of yesteryear, Equality Michigan will continue to ask citizens of our state to be clear in their position of inclusion and to invest in women’s festivals that leave no woman behind.

Lisa Vogel (via Facebook) Organizer Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Michfest)

“Statement from Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival August 18, 2014:

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.

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. … Since that single incident, Festival organizers have never asked a trans womon to leave the Festival. … “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.”

2. Acknowledge the validity of autonomous, female-defined space

3. Acknowledge that Michfest creates spaces that do not exist elsewhere

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… 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. … 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.”

5. Join the Conversation, Not the Digital Sound Bite War
“…We turn to our LGBTQ community and say: we hear your truths; we ask you to acknowledge that you hear ours. … 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.”