HRC Takes on MichFest

The Human Rights Campaign has weighed in on the trans-exclusionary 'womyn born womyn' intention of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and festival organizers may not like what the national group has to say.

BY Parker Marie Molloy

July 30 2014 1:36 PM ET

The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group has thrown its weight behind those taking issue with the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival's "intention" to exclude transgender women, just days after a statewide equality group called on the festival to reverse its unofficial policy discouraging transgender women from attending the annual festival. 

Calling the festival organizer's stated intention that the space be reserved for "womyn born womyn," a "simply inexcusable" instance of the marginalization of transgender women, Human Rights Campaign senior content manager Beth Sherouse on Wednesday joined Equality Michigan in its call for Michfest to put an end to its exclusionary intention

"While the organizers continue to insist that excluding trans women is not an official policy, their 'intention' that the festival cater exclusively to 'womyn born womyn' serves to further marginalize trans women, denying them access to one of the only exclusively female spaces in our society," Sherouse writes in an HRC blog posted Wednesday. "Trans women and ciswomen (another word for non-trans women) suffer under the same patriarchal oppression, similarly restrictive ideas of what it means to be a woman, and the same structural barriers that deny women control of their own lives and bodies. The festival attempts to provide a refuge from this; to exclude some women from this refuge is simply inexcusable."

Sherouse points to iconic lesbian duo the Indigo Girls as an example of former Michfest performers who have come together in solidarity with transgender women, and in asking festival organizer Lisa Vogel to put an end to the discriminatory policy. This year, out Canadian rock trio Hunter Valentine announced they will not perform at the festival because of Michfest's intention, which they see as discriminatory, and Orange Is The New Black star Lea DeLaria cancelled her scheduled performance after becoming the subject of online criticsm surrounding her inclusion on the festival's roster. 

Sherouse closes her statement with a confirmation that her position on Michfest's exclusionary intention is shared by the national LGBT lobbying group as a whole. "I and my many colleagues at the Human Rights Campaign stand in solidarity with Equality Michigan, the Indigo Girls and the many other proud feminists calling on Michfest to live its mission and provide a place for all women to celebrate," concludes Sherouse. 

Earlier this week, Equality Michigan launched a petition urging Michfest organizers to put an end to their 'women born women' intention, outright rejecting "The premise that transgender women are lesser than… To us, this sounds like the arguments we hears around 'don't ask, don't tell' — and like that police, this one just doesn't work for us."

Festival organizers and supporters, including founder Lisa Vogel, continue to contend that the festival has no official policy around the exclusion of transgender women, instead clarifying that organizers have "said that this space, for this week, is intended to be for womyn who were born female, raised as girls and who continue to identify as womyn," Vogel wrote in a May blog post. "This is an intention for the spirit of our gathering, rather than the focus of the festival. It is not a policy, or a ban on anyone."

Vogel says attendees are supposed to self-police. "We do not 'restrict festival attendance to cisgender [nontrans] womyn, prohibiting trans women,' as was recently claimed in several Advocate articles," Vogel wrote. "We do not and will not question anyone's gender. Rather, we trust the greater queer community to respect this intention, leaving the onus on each individual to choose whether or how to respect it." 

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