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NCLR and Task Force remove names from Michfest petition
by Sarah Toce
2015-04-09

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[Updated April 11, 8:11 p.m.]

Just days after Kate Kendell and the organization she leads, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), removed their signature from Equality Michigan's Michfest petition, another big league LGBT organization followed suit. National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey has withdrawn her support for the petition.

Kendell and Carey's original letters were met with an outcry from the LGBT community opposed to Michfest's intent on transgender women, and an additional joint statement was released on Saturday, April 11, 2015.

"We are writing to state clearly our commitment to the full inclusion and welcome of transgender women, as women, in the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (Michfest). We will continue to actively work to fulfill that goal," the updated response said. "After a number of conversations, we do not believe the petition/boycott is going to be ultimately productive in achieving the goal of a fully inclusive Michfest."

Kendell and Carey added, "There have been a number of misstatements and distortions that have been included in some media reports, social media and blogs about our positions regarding Michfest that have wrongly equated taking our names off the petition with a lack of support for trans women. We have not abandoned our efforts to work for a fully inclusive Michfest. Our goal is a Michfest that fully welcomes Trans women."

The statement concluded, "What we have done is remove our names from the petition in order to pursue an active, intentional dialogue which we hope and believe will be a more productive course in achieving the goal of a fully inclusive Michfest."

The email received by Windy City Times was signed "Rea and Kate."

Carey wrote in her original letter: "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," Carey wrote to supporters Friday, April 10. "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."

Then added, "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."

Citing support for womyn/women artists, Carey further explained: "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."

As in anything, it's all about the intention—and Carey's letter was full of it.

"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."

Carey's outreach resembled Kendell's tone in a personal letter she sent to her own supporters earlier in the week.

"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," Kendell wrote to several women, individually, April 7, 2015. "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."

One transgender activist Kendell spoke with was Autumn Sandeen. Sandeen told Windy City Times exclusively, "The U.S. hasn't had a good relationship with Iran since the 1970s. Though not nearly as internationally consequential, trans women haven't had a good relationship with MichFest since the 1970s. Well, this week the U.S. and Iran, through forthright dialogue, came to a significant agreement. If what Kate Kendell and NCLR [have] done results in forthright dialogue that leads to a real chance for a significant agreement with Lisa Vogel and MichFest in time for the festival's 40th anniversary events [this coming August], then I'm all for it."

A lesbian (who is not transgender and wishes to remain anonymous) received the letter from Kendell after communicating with her for months over the issue. She said she was "grateful that NCLR removed their name from the petition."

"There has been a lot of discussion about the meaning of the letter among Festival workers and supporters. Some think it's straight up bullshit/politicking. Others feel it indicates a change-of-heart. I feel it's a bit of both. What stands out to me is that Kate has been dialoguing, in at least one instance, over a period of months with a woman associated with the Festival. So far as I know, none of these other organizations have expressed an interest in doing that, and continue to spread misinformation, etc. … That's important. She reached out to the source. She is listening. She has backed off the most egregious and aggressive attack on the Festival. She is engaging in a two-way process. This is very, very significant," our source said.

Why the seemingly sudden change of heart?

"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," Kendell said, with a nod toward lesbian unity. "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."

Kendell further explained, "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."

Lesbian-feminist Estefa Villarreal (a pseudonym), who is not transgender, was also contacted directly by Kendell about removal of her signature on the petition.

"I was glad to see Kate Kendell remove her signature from the ill-advised boycott petition. We are seeing a clashing of Queer Culture and Radical Feminist culture in many of our communities, which has led to stereotypes that have very little truth to them," Villarreal said. "Hopefully, the hundreds of women who wrote her helped Ms. Kendell get beyond the vitriolic stereotype of women who attend Fest as being knuckle-dragging trans-hating bigoted old dinosaurs who are stuck in the 70s."

Villarreal added, "If you disappear a sacred lesbian institution, what have you achieved? It furthers the phenomena of the disappearance of lesbians from our communities. NCLR removing their name from the petition is one step in reigning in those who benefit from the chaos, divisive tactics and hate speech being used to attack our community from within under the guise of 'progressive politics."

The 2015 talent lineup for the Festival stage features lesbian-inclusive acts and performers including BETTY, Cris Williamson, Julie Goldman, Crys Matthews, Bitch and Melissa Ferrick.

The full text of Carey and Kendell's letters are below.

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.

Sincerely,

Kate

Carey:

Greetings,

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,

Rea


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