The 40th Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, to be held this August, will be the last, its founder announced today.
The storied women-only event, first held in 1976, has been the subject of controversy in recent years because of its exclusion of transgender women, with many artists and organizations deciding to boycott. Founder and organizer Lisa Vogel gave no reason for ending the fest, however, in a Facebook post announcing the decision.
“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. Sisters — I 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.”
She acknowledged, “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.” She urged the “Festival family” to “please take what you love about Michigan and use it to create something new and beautiful.”
The exclusion of transgender women from the fest has led performers such as the Indigo Girls, Antigone Rising, and Lea DeLaria to withdraw from the event, and last year several national LGBT organizations signed on to a petition from statewide LGBT group Equality Michigan calling on the festival to change its rule limiting attendance to “womyn-born-womyn.” Festival organizers have said this is not a formal policy but rather an “intention” that puts “the onus on each individual to choose whether or how to respect it,” but petitioners said that did not equate to inclusion and noted that the controversy dated back to a transgender woman being thrown out of the festival in 1991. Just in the last couple of weeks, however, three signatories withdrew their endorsement of the petition.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights “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,” wrote NCLR executive director Kate Kendell in an April 8 letter to Vogel, posted by the online publication TransAdvocate, which withdrew as well.“We have faith that such a resolution is possible.”
The National LGBTQ Task Force also withdrew. The Task Force “will be seeking other ways to be in dialogue about Michfest’s intention regarding transgender women,” executive director Rea Carey wrote to Vogel April 10. The group “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.”
The same day, TransAdvocate editor Autumn Sandeen called Equality Michigan executive director Emily Dievendorf “and informed her of our decision to suspend our participation in the petition in an attempt to foster the kind of honest and forthright dialogue that Kate Kendell suggests; we are committed to the truly productive discussions that Rea Carey states are necessary,” Sandeen wrote on the site. She added, “Lisa knows trans womyn have attended MichFest for many years — trans womyn who identify themselves as womyn-born-womyn. She doesn’t have to change the change the womyn-born-womyn intention, she just needs to say ‘Trans womyn who identify as womyn-born-womyn are welcome at MichFest.’”
This year’s fest will be held August 4-9 on the festival land near Hart in western Michigan.