Last week, alternative rock band Hunter Valentine announced that they will not be performing at this year's Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. The out Toronto-based quartet had previously been a confirmed act for the early-August festival but withdrew on the basis of MichFest's "Womyn Born Womyn" policy, which some have criticized as being transphobic.
The statement, posted to the band's Facebook Page, reads:
"After much thought, hard conversation and inner struggle, Hunter Valentine has decided that we will not be playing Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival 2014.
We had the pleasure and privilege of playing MichFest a couple of years ago and we were blown away with the capacity at which people welcomed us and made us feel at home. We had never played a festival that had such a history and held such a strong and firm identity in itself.
We as a band have always felt that it was important to us that our live shows would represent a very open, diverse and inclusive space. Our goal since we started was to play for as many people as possible that would listen and make those people feel like they were a part of a community.
We understand and appreciate that the festival maintains the stance of celebrating women, and as a band of strong women we also celebrate the gender that we are. The issue with us playing Michigan Womyn's Festival lies in how we do now, and always have believed that the term women includes transgender women. In our mind the term "trans" should not be a label that alienates. We have always felt and identified as positive trans allies and feel that playing the festival would directly contradict our beliefs that a trans woman is a woman and should be seen, respected and treated as such.
We apologize to any fans that we may have let down and would like to thank the festival for inviting us back to be a part of it. Hopefully we will be back to play the MichFest stage when things are a little different and there is more room for open minds and change."
Last year out poet Andrea Gibson canceled her scheduled performance at MichFest, also making her announcement via her Facebook page and citing the "Womyn Born Womyn" policy. "In light of the festival's policy of not welcoming trans women, my decision to attend is one that is causing pain within our community, and that is truly the opposite of what I had hoped to create by attending," Gibson wrote last March.
Last April longtime festival staple and out singer-songwriters the Indigo Girls announced that while they would be going forward with their scheduled appearance, they would be donating pay for that performance to the cause of trans activism.
"If you are against trans-inclusion at [MichFest], that is your prerogative, but that does not mean you have to be aggressive towards the trans community," their letter reads. "We have made it clear that this will be our last time at the festival until MWMF shows visible and concrete signs of changing their intention."
Shortly thereafter, MichFest founder Lisa Vogel issued a statement that sought to clarify the intent behind the festival's policies, and call for greater understanding.
"The Festival, for a single precious week, is intended for womyn who at birth were deemed female, who were raised as girls, and who identify as womyn," the statement reads, in part. "I believe that womyn-born-womyn is a lived experience which consitutes its own gender identity."
Vogel went on to dismiss the idea that the festival is transphobic."I reject the assertion that creating a time and place for WBW to gather is inherently transphobic," she wrote. "This is a false dichotomy, and one that prevents progress and understanding. I believe in the integrity of autonomous space used to gather and celebrate any group, whether that autonomous space is defined by age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, gender, class, or any other identity. Whether spaces we carve out in our community to encourage healing and rejuvenation should be accepted, and we should support each other in this endeavor. Nobody should be asked to erase the need for autonomous spaces to demonstrate that they are sisters in struggle."
This Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is in its 38th year and will take place August 5 through August 10 this year.