Lisa Vogel, creator of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival ( Michfest ), announced April 21 that the festival would close after this August.
In a message directed to Michfest fans via Facebook, Vogel wrote: "… the 40th Festival will be the last Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. The spirit of this community will live on forever, the friends and family we have found on the Land are eternal. Everything we have created together will feed the inspiration for what comes next. It's possible that I will come back with something else, or that other sisters will take the inspiration of the Michigan community and create the next expression of our Amazon culture. What is true for me is that now is the time to bring this 40-year cycle to a close, stepping out on joy at our most incredible anniversary celebration."
While the timing of the announcement may appear connected to the Equality Michigan petition asking for the fest to lift its intent on banning transgender women, the end has been in the works for years. Discussions were had both in front of and behind closed doors regularly regarding the festival's fate. Vogel reminded Michfest supporters about the limited lifespan of the festival.
"We have known in our hearts for some years that the life cycle of the festival was coming to a time of closure," she wrote. "Too often in our culture, change is met only with fear, the true cycle of life is denied to avoid the grief of loss. But change is the ultimate truth of life. SistersI ask you to remember that our 40 year Festival has outlived nearly all of her kin. She has served us well. I want us all to have the opportunity to experience the incredible full life cycle of our beloved festival, consciously, with time to celebrate and yes, time to grieve," Vogel wrote. Adding, "There have been struggles; there is no doubt about that. This is part of our truth, but it is not - and never has been - our defining story. The festival has been the crucible for nearly every critical cultural and political issue the lesbian feminist community has grappled with for four decades. Those struggles have been a beautiful part of our collective strength; they have never been a weakness."
Executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ), Kate Kendell, admitted that the conclusion of Michfest was "widely discussed and openly rumored for years."
Kendell told Windy City Times: "The conclusion of Michfest was never the result we were seeking [in pushing for trans inclusion]. We hoped for Michfest to grow and to thrive as a place for all women/womynand yes, that includes trans women because trans women are women. It was our hope that Michfest would become a place for all women to feel honored, healed and cared for. … The fact that such a vision may not materialize is a huge loss." Kendell further emphasized, "I hope that the 40th Michfest will realize that vision and that others will take up the challenge to create a truly welcoming space for all women/womyn."
Kendell told Windy City Times she had a personal investment in seeing that this vision came to fruition. "NCLR will not close its doors until all women and that includes trans women - are free from stigma, misogyny, threats, violence, and shame because of who they are."
NCLR and Kendell recently received strong pushback for removing their names from the Michfest petition. Kendell and her team had worked with Vogel and Equality Michigan for six months in an attempt to foster open communication and dialogue on the issue of trans women attending the festival.
"It has been my core belief for 20 years at NCLR that all women grow up in a culture that still to this day is steeped in sexism and misogyny. The idea that all women could come together and fixedly embrace their own power was, for me, an idea worth pursuing and a possibility worth chasing," Kendell told Windy City Times.
The National LGBTQ Task Force also removed their name from the petition.
"Regardless of today's announcement, our goal remains the same: that MichFest fully welcomes trans women as women. And since this is the last MichFest, it is a golden opportunity for organizers to end on a fully inclusive and historic note," said Rea Carey, executive director, National LGBTQ Task Force.
While many attendees are no doubt saddened by the impending loss of Michfest, it's not the sentiment experienced by all.
Leslie Giblett is a lesbian based in Seattle, an LGBTQ activist, board member, and supporter of various political and equal rights organizations.
"I have purposely never attended Michfest, although a number of my friends have," Giblett said. "I grew up in the '70s in the era where 'radical lesbians' and feminism were hardly defined by their delectation, non-inclusive policies regarding acceptance of heterosexuals as our allies, men in general, and specific exclusions of our trans brothers and sisters. I believe we, as women, and also our LGBTQ population, has much to gain by standing together. I think the days of Michfest are gone, especially in terms of dividing the community instead of bringing it together."
LGBT activist and politician Dana Beyer said, "While it would be unfortunate to fail to resolve this four-decade conflict directly, it would be fitting that the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival dies a natural death, having outlived its usefulness as an exclusive club that failed to adapt."
Beyer currently serves as the executive director of Gender Rights Maryland and is a Huffington Post columnist.
"Twenty years ago I learned the definition of 'transphobia' by looking at MichFest as a case study," said Andrew Lane, executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation and board chair of the Movement Advancement Project. "I understand that the festival matters deeply to some in our queer family, who are deeply aggrieved by its closure. But its demise is, in large measure, self-inflictedthe result of having taken a bath in unapologetic hate for many decades. The transphobia metastasized and consumed the festival. The festival's organizers have no one to blame for that but themselves."
Lane added, "MichFest alienated queer women and artists and the rest of us by its unyielding devotion to a worldview motivated by exclusion and rejection. That is not the movement we are trying to build."
Transgender activist Autumn Sandeen offered, "Between the lines of the MichFest statement I hear festival director Lisa Vogel saying 'I'd rather fall on my sword than change the womyn-born-womyn intention.' And, if that intention doesn't change and evolve this year, what the festival and Ms. Vogel herself are going to be remembered for are their anti-trans sentiments. It strikes me as incredibly sad that Ms. Vogel and the rest of the MichFest organizers are apparently choosing anti-trans sentiments as their lasting legacy."
On the Facebook message that Vogel posted, there were mostly comments in support of Michfest and Vogel. Statements such as "My heart is so sad to hear this," and "I am so incredibly thankful for all of the womyn I've met through the years," being common sentiments.
See Vogel's full message here: www.facebook.com/michfest/posts/10153186431364831 .
See the NCLR and Task Force story here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/NCLR-and-Task-Force-remove-names-from-Michfest-petition/51126.html .