“The gate was guarded by four womyn, dressed in typical dyke-garb…baggy shorts or pants, tee shirts, practical shoes. Behind them, large femme-hued cloth banners beckoned passers by with the word “WELCOME”. On the sturdy pipe gate itself, floral decorated words said simply, “Michigan Womyns Music Festival”. The ready smiles of the gatekeepers who swung the barrier open to eager festie-goers who had made the final leg of their journeys down the washboard dirt road only added to the idyllic, some say even sacred, setting. Inside, the most celebrated annual gathering of womyn in the United States was in full bloom on three stages, in dozens of crafts booths, and camps that attracted every manner of female soul with the money and resources necessary to get there. Almost.

Across from the gate, as it had nearly every year since 1993, a rag tag encampment was taking shape under the rich green canopy of leaves common to this heavily wooded region. Mostly queer, mostly womyn, and all business, Camp Trans was emerging from a yearlong slumber to once again shake an angry fist at Lisa Vogel, owner and womyn-goddess of the Michigan festival. The reason? Lisa’s long standing denial of womyn-privilege to anyone so inclined to label themselves as a transsexual womyn or anyone who would not fit her narrow attendance criteria as “womyn-born-womyn who had lived their entire life experience as womyn.”

On one side of the road then, was the festival, that claimed inspiration and guiding light from the deepest place within the womb of the feminine when in fact it ruled unilaterally about who was and who was not a womyn. On the other, Camp Trans, a righteous and indignant crew of underclass feminist radical peace loving self described sister spirits who were tired of the open discrimination they say Vogel’s policy perpetuated. The space between these two camps was a distant measured in emotions and history. This year, the MWMF’s 25th, would once again shine a light on that world in between.

The year 2000 version of Camp Trans was put together by a new generation of trans-queer-womyn activists headed by Chicago and Boston area Lesbian Avengers. The Chicago contingent named their group the Camp Trans Organizing Committee, and had been meeting for most of a year to plan and try to figure out how to get Lisa to loosen her attitude toward determining the gender of festival goers.

The festival had been going on since Monday. I arrived on Thursday evening. I was in Michigan because I wanted to go. There is so much debate in the LBTQ community about who should be a part of the festival. I realized that most of those who had an opinion never attended, or had stopped going years ago. I wanted to see and feel for myself how all of this would play out. And besides, I am a womyn. A womyn-born-womyn. I also happen to be a trans-womyn, one who lost her job as a California high school teacher when I came out. I’ve felt first hand the sting of the patriarchy that the MWMF purports to hold at bay for a blessed week. I belong among other womyn as surely as I need to sit down to pee. Any rule that would exclude me from the community of my sisters is intolerable to me.

On Friday morning, a group of us assembled under a loosely hung blue tarp that acted as Camp Trans Community Central. We talked about who wanted to go into the festival. It was great being among these twenty-something’s who were far more queer and gender bent than I ever would be. According to Lisa’s criteria, they should all be allowed entrance. Yet, many wanted no part of the womyn-born-womyn label. They had names like Simon, Ari, and Gunner who were they said ‘dyke-boys” and “trans-boyz” and “andro” and “queer”. They had been born with vaginas, and had even lived the bulk of their young lives as womyn, but it was obvious to me and to them that I was more female than they were. Why, they asked rhetorically, should they be allowed into the MWMF while I was being denied entrance if I stated that I was a transsexual. They were there to push for the right to self-determination, just as I was. We suspected that most every dyke-straight-femme-butch-bitch already camped inside the festival gate wanted the same right.

At 11:00 am, we heard a commotion. Looking up, we saw a band of about thirty festies marching toward the gate from inside the festival, beating a drum and chanting, “We support our tranny friends!” Their bodies were painted with slogans of support and self-identification. They all had wristbands signifying that they had paid to attend, and all could have stayed inside and not bothered with us. But they chose instead to show their support and come to the gate to cheer us on while we attempted to come in.

Bolstered by this classic expression of feminist activism, we approached the gate, and asked to be admitted so we could purchase wristbands of our own. We were met by womyn who claimed to be officials of the festival. They said that anyone honoring the festival’s womyn-born-womyn guidelines would be admitted. They were not interested in how we identified. Clearly, they wanted no part of the controversy that had marked previous years. In 1991 Nancy Burkholder was expelled after being outed as a transsexual, and last year bands of self described lesbian separatists harangued gender-queer festies, boldly asking to see their genitals while stalking behind them chanting “man on the land”. This year, a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy seemed to be Lisa’s strategy.

Avengers said they wanted clarification of the policy. They wanted to know who would be admitted and who would not. I stood there, ready to declare that I met the womyn-born-womyn criteria. (In my heart I know this to be true. My mother and daughter and lesbian lover know that this is who I am. The Goddess in my prayers knows this. Surely, telling Lisa Vogel is no stretch for me.) The officials refused to dialogue. They kept saying that they wanted us to respect their policy. When asked again for information, they repeated their mantra. Now, as we stood there almost a decade after Burkholder’s expulsion, one womyn who declared herself transsexual was told she could not enter. I could see her face, etched with the painful reality that she was not welcome in womyn’s space. While I truly have compassion for Lisa’s desire to protect her festival from male energy, I knew then that her line was marked in an inappropriate place. She was keeping out womyn who needed and wanted to be inside.

Along with twenty or so Avengers and allies, I went in, past the gate, and bought my wristband. My experience inside was wonderful, and I was treated with respect everywhere I went. At one point, during the Saturday evening meal, I stood proudly supporting my sisters, now known as The Michigan Eight, who were told to leave the land when they declared their status as dyke-boyz and trans-womyn to festival officials. This was done in full few of hundreds and hundreds of supportive festies, who watched this peaceful act of defiance. I even helped pass out stickers reading ‘room for all kinds of womyn’ to show my solidarity. Overwhelmingly, the crowd that gathered wanted every womyn present to stay and be accepted. A few detractors tried to drum up anti-trans sentiment but the hatred and ignorance of their words fell without harm into the dust on Lois Lane where we stood.

The Michigan Womyns Music Festival has grown over twenty-five years to include young boys who are the children of festies (they were originally excluded), and to embrace workshops and supporters of the BDSM lifestyle. Today, there are special places on the land for womyn of color and chemical free zones for clean and sober womyn and even a scent free space that were not present originally. Likewise, I believe the festival will change to include trans-womyn and this new generation of dyke-boyz. In many ways, it already has. Every day, in full view of the Night Stage, a trans support group met openly. Transexual Menace tee shirts could be seen all over the land in many meetings and circles. I’m guessing that as they always have, Lisa and her friends will soon gather to plan next year’s festival. Along with the Lesbian Avengers and many festival workers and most importantly festies themselves, I encourage them to do the right thing, and let the MWMF continue to grow to be a space where all kinds of womyn can walk and talk and dance and sing.”


*This was published in August 2000 on LesbianNation.com, now SheWired.com. Dana Rivers, formerly David Warfield, is a transgender mass murderer currently facing trial for killing lesbian couple Patricia Wright and Charlotte Reed, and their son Toto “Benny” Diambu-Wright. Dana/David first stabbed and then shot his victims, he then attempted to set them on fire. The lesbian women were Michfest attendees.

Michfest was a women-only, predominantly Lesbian music festival that existed for 40 years until the HRC (Human Rights Campaign), NCLR (National Center For Lesbian Rights), NGLTF (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) among others, called for a boycott of the festival and all women who attended or performed at the festival. This was the first and only boycott sponsored by the National Center For Lesbian Rights, directed against a lesbian festival on the grounds that female homosexuality is discriminatory against the sexual rights of heterosexual men. 

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Emily Dievendorf- creator of the largest anti-Lesbian boycott in history

This afternoon Equality Michigan announced that Executive Director Emily Dievendorf has resigned. The surprise announcement comes on the heels of the withdrawal of support by The National Center for Lesbian Rights and The National LGBTQ Task Force for the controversial anti-Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival boycott authored by Dievendorf last year.

Dievendorf, a “Bisexual Rights” activist partnered with a male, organized the contentious boycott against members of the lesbian community who support the iconic annual 40-year-strong women-only music festival. The boycott targeted Lesbian artists, Lesbian musicians, and Lesbian vendors, as well as attendees of the event, calling for a financial attack on the women’s livelihoods. The justification for this boycott was Equality Michigan’s claim that lesbianism is a form of discrimination against male people, and that affinity groups based on the female experience are unfairly discriminatory against males. Last August, Dievendorf persuaded many national organizations that had formerly purported to advocate for lesbians to join the Equality Michigan campaign against Lesbian and Women’s Rights.

Since that time, Equality Michigan and all the signatories of the boycott have experienced a hemorrhaging of support, both financial and volunteer, from lesbians and the allies of lesbians and women. In effect, the boycott of lesbians and women resulted in the opposite effect: a withdrawal of support from the so-called “LGBT” organizations by the lesbians being boycotted. Somehow, this came as a big surprise to these organizations, who had long ago abandoned lesbian and women’s interests yet apparently believed that the ongoing, foundational, steady support of the very women fueling their “LGBT” orgs would continue even if they were targeted, insulted, and their livelihoods harmed. Finally, last week, NCLR and The Task Force, two of the largest signatories of the boycotts, publicly withdrew their names.

Two months ago, Dievendorf posted a muddled, confused statement on Facebook expressing her puzzlement over the withdrawal of lesbian support from her now formally anti-lesbian organization. It read:

Read the rest of this entry »

NCLR's Kate Kendell

NCLR’s Kate Kendell

Many in the Lesbian community were shocked last year when the National Center for Lesbian Rights, headed by Kate Kendell, announced that the first and only boycott in the history of the org would be against the rights of lesbians to hold private events that exclude males.

The NCLR, formerly a Lesbian Rights organization had, unbeknownst to some, shifted their mission to prioritize the rights of men, particularly wealthy heterosexual males who want to “identify as lesbians”. The Task Force (formerly the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), headed by Rea Carey, followed suit.

After extended outcry, mockery, and withdrawal of support from the lesbian community Kendell announced this week that NCLR was reversing their stance on the boycott and requesting the name of their org be removed from the petition issued by the head of Michigan Equality, Emily Dievendorf,  a self-described “bisexual rights” activist partnered with a man.

Sara Toce at the Windy City Times quotes 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”

Rea Carey of The Task Force

Rea Carey of The Task Force

Today, I was forwarded an email sent out by Rea Carey of The Task Force. Like Kendell’s it was sent out to women who had written in protest of the boycott. It reads:

“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”

Rumours abound that other Michfest boycott signatories, many of which like NCLR and The Task Force were once (at least tacitly) supportive of Lesbian and Women’s Rights are undergoing similar pressure to reverse what can only be described as an aggressively anti-women, anti-lesbian, stance.

To all lesbians reading this, and to our allies: Please withdraw all support, financial and otherwise, from organizations- especially those who purport to be “LGBT” centric- if those organizations do not explicitly support the rights of lesbians to hold lesbian-only or women-only events.

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