Story of the Goddess Festival Transgender Politics Harms Women Female Erasure Poster OMNI Resignation Letter Women’s Liberation Underground flyer Bulletin Board Comments
In February of 2017 a workshop proposed by Jeanne, Paula and Susan was rejected by the Goddess Festival in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Paula and Jeanne had been conducting workshops at the Goddess Festival for several years – “Climate Chaos! The Sixth Extinction! Patriarchy at Work! Building an Ecofeminist Resistance Movement,” “Ecofeminism 101,” “Feminist Political Quilts” and more – and had a reputation for giving quality radical feminist and ecofeminist workshops. Background on the Goddess Festival and Fayetteville
The Goddess Festival literature says: “The Fayetteville Goddess Festival focuses on restoring balance in the world, by encouraging exploration of the feminine divine through art, music, words, dance and shared knowledge.” Their stated intention claims: “We use a process that reflects our values, promotes a diverse community of equals, and deals with conflict in kind, open, and honest ways. We work together cohesively and empower one another as we bring forth our individual ideas, suggestions, and inspired thoughts to collectively plan and implement a festival that is fun, entertaining, educational, inclusive, and unique. With our festival, we focus on and celebrate the Feminine Divine. We create community for all seekers of the Goddess and all She encompasses as we help restore the balance in our lives, in our community, and in our world.”
Until last year, when the events described below transpired, the Goddess Festival was willing to include radical feminist thought. In 2018, instead of requesting workshop proposals the planning committee said that events would be by invitation only. When radical feminists proposed a workshop anyway, that workshop on radical feminism and Goddess spirituality (and open to everyone) was not accepted. For more information on the Goddess Festival see www.goddessfestival.com.
Fayetteville is a university town located at the edge of the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas, USA. This small city is a progressive oasis in a very conservative southern state. There is a large lesbian community in the area.
The rejected workshop, entitled “How Transgender Politics Harms Women and Undermines the Women’s Liberation Movement” took the Goddess Festival planning group – a group of women and men – by surprise. Some of the planners were aware of the history of attacks by the transgender movement on feminist/women only events and advocated for our proposal. But, other planners had had no experience or knowledge of the transgender movement and did not believe that a transgender movement even existed. It is not that they thought that there were not transgender people, they just thought that there was no social movement.
One of the Goddess Festival planners who wanted us to be able to hold our workshop served as a liaison between the presenters and the planners and kept us informed about the ongoing deliberations of the planners. We modified our proposal in some minor ways, at her suggestion, trying to make it very clear that we were critiquing only the political perspective of the transgender movement and that we supported full protection of transgender people from discrimination.
All of this was to no avail and our liaison informed us over the phone that the Goddess Festival would not permit us to hold our workshop. We sent an email to the planners requesting a written notification telling us why they rejected the proposal, but we never received a response. Please see a copy of our first proposal in its final form here.
Disappearing Lesbians: We Submit Our Second Proposal
Susan, Paula and Jeanne headed back to the drawing board. We had been reading both Ruth Barrett’s anthology, Female Erasure, and Bonnie Morris’ book The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture. Our rejected proposal had been inspired by Female Erasure. Fortunately the deadline for submitting proposals had been extended by the Goddess Festival. What if we tried submitting a second proposal based on The Disappearing L and toned down our rhetoric? Here’s what we submitted:
The Disappearing L – Lesbians Rise Up!
In her book, The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture, Bonnie Morris takes on the job of scholar-sleuth to find out what has happened to the vibrant lesbian-feminist culture of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Why is the once powerful “L” in LGBT “losing steam and esteem”? In our workshop we’ll share some of the key findings from the detective’s report, such as the impact of trends like postmodernism in academia, the mainstreaming of women’s music and the assimilation of lesbians into mainstream society. We will then lead a discussion about these trends and ask what it will take for lesbians to once again rise up. This free event is for women (biological females) only.
You have probably noticed that we did not include the word “transgender” in this second proposal. We intended to discuss the impact of the transgender movement on lesbian culture as part of our workshop, but we felt it best not to mention this in our short proposal. Like our first proposal, we specified that the workshop was to be “for women (biological females) only.” The Goddess Festival had a long-standing policy that workshop leaders could specify who was welcome to attend their workshop. We hoped that asking for space for biological females would not trigger a rejection, though we did have concerns.
We were, however, getting somewhat worried about whether the local transgender movement might target us personally, so we asked that the presenter of the workshop be listed as Ozark Radical Lesbian Feminists, a group that we had formed and belonged to in the past. The Goddess Festival accepted our “Disappearing L- Lesbians Rise Up” workshop with no questions asked. That was in February.
Trouble at the Goddess Festival
The Goddess Festival opened over the weekend of March 18th, 2017. The principle venue for events was the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology, but some events were held at other locations, including Elder Tree, a women’s and lesbian center in Fayetteville. Background on the OMNI Center and Elder Tree
Elder Tree is a women’s center located in Fayetteville. It is a project of the non-profit organization, Spinsterhaven. Although Spinsterhaven was begun by lesbian feminists in the 1990s, that organization is now torn between women who are strong trans supporters and radical feminists. The Goddess Festival holds some of its events at Elder Tree.
On Monday morning Jeanne was at Elder Tree as one of the presenters for two workshops being offered by the local group, Ecofeminist Study & Action. Two women from the Goddess Festival planning group (one of them also the director of OMNI) were at Elder Tree for the ecofeminist workshops. Both women were concerned by a couple of phone calls that had come in that morning from people upset about the Disappearing L workshop, which was scheduled for Thursday morning. There were no complaints about the two ecofeminist workshops which were “for women only”, but the trigger point for the Disappearing L workshop seemed to be that it was “for women (biological females) only.” The OMNI director’s phone kept her so busy she couldn’t make it into the ecofeminist workshop for a long time.
What was going on? As the workshop presenters for “Disappearing L – Lesbians Rise Up” we were periodically informed on the situation. Our workshop was central to the unfolding drama, but we were not privy to all that transpired. To the best of our knowledge, here is what happened. A local transgender activist group called InTransitive took offense and initiated a campaign to have our workshop cancelled. They seemed to feel that the Goddess Festival and OMNI were places that were welcoming to transgender people (there were usually transgender-led workshops included as part of the Goddess Festival). A workshop for women that excluded “transwomen” was considered offensive.
Transgender people called up OMNI to complain and so did many of their supporters. The Goddess Festival attempted to negotiate with InTransitive at a late night meeting at a local coffeehouse, but the female to transgender spokesperson for InTransitive refused to modify their position. The phone call complaints intensified. A major online conflict of transgender people and allies vs supporters of women only space broke out on OMNI’s Facebook page. Women from as far away as Australia joined the fray. Members of the OMNI Center became upset with OMNI and the OMNI director started looking for a way out.
When the director of OMNI was seeking a resolution to the conflict, she asked the activity director of Elder Tree if our workshop could be held at their facility. The director agreed, but we had concerns for that organization. Once we contacted the Elder Tree Board to advise them of the pressures being applied by InTransitive, the Elder Tree Board believed they, too, could not risk exposure to the bullying tactics and threats.
Finally, the Goddess Festival planners, including the OMNI director, had another emergency meeting and cancelled our workshop. The Goddess Festival liaison and another of our friends, a lesbian feminist also on the planning group, called Jeanne to let us know. Our lesbian friend was distraught, saying that this was one of the hardest things she had ever done in her life. Jeanne was not surprised by the turn of events and neither were Susan and Paula. The three of us began plotting our next steps.
We Produce the Workshop Ourselves
We had less than two days to find another location for our workshop. The local “progressive churches” were some of the pressure groups demanding that OMNI and the festival organizers cancel our workshop. We decided our only option was to rent a space. We visited five different hotels with small meeting rooms and gathered prices. We finally chose a small conference center and paid the deposit.
Our other big challenges were how to get the word out to all the women who wanted to attend the workshop while keeping the location a secret. We did not want to expose ourselves or the other women to the pickets or invasion of the workshop that were being threatened.
We devised a complicated plan that depended entirely on word of mouth. We felt we could not use any online method to name the new location—it seemed too risky. Any woman who wanted to attend the workshop was asked to meet us in a particular grocery store parking lot a half hour before the meeting. Someone there would give her the location and directions.
We really did not know what to expect. Would someone or some group learn of this plan and then follow one of the women to the secret location and cause trouble? Because we were concerned that a woman might go to the OMNI Center not knowing about the cancellation, we also had women there to direct the women to the new location. Additionally, some women volunteered to do a drumming outside the OMNI Building to help keep things calm. No pickets showed up at OMNI that morning despite having threatened to do so.
Finally, We Meet
We transformed our rented space with vintage women’s liberation posters, lots of feminist books, a variety of political quilts including a radical dyke t-shirt quilt, and other visuals. We arranged the chairs in a circle. Seventeen women came together to reaffirm the value of women meeting together. Because we anticipated that our meeting would be a long one, we provided fruit, peanut butter, bread and other edibles. We announced there would not be a break for lunch, but encouraged women to help themselves to any of the food.
Jeanne, Paula and Susan, as the three presenters, used the first hour to share the information we had planned for our workshop, “Disappearing L – Lesbians Rise Up”. Whether lesbian or heterosexual, every woman there was outraged at the cancellation of our workshop. Everybody present was curious about the chain of events leading up to the cancellation. We explained all we knew at the time.
As background, the three of us discussed how we had met in the mid-1990s at the Women’s Conference and Festival held on the University of Arkansas campus. Over the next decade we thee had been part of the planning group for a series of weekend-long events named Radical Lesbian Feminist UpRisings held locally and at times in Kansas City, MO.
Susan, Paula and Jeanne were all lesbian feminist activists in three different cities in the vibrant 1970s and 1980s when lesbian feminist communities were thriving with bookstores, women’s centers, festivals, protests, political actions, newsletters, and even women’s dances.
We went on to describe the forces that were causing the disappearance of lesbians, including the backlash against women and feminist thought, the transformation of university sponsored Women’s Studies programs into Gender Studies programs, the advent of queer theory, and the growing influence of transgender politics. We noted how postmodern dogma dominated the universities, leaving any feminist instructors or students who do not subscribe to postmodernism struggling to regain any respect for women and women’s liberation in those institutions of “higher learning”.
The assimilation of lesbians into the mainstream culture was another factor at work in disappearing lesbian community. Radical women and radical lesbians were left high and dry by their sisters who no longer believed that by working together we could eliminate all forms of domination. Lesbians have also been assimilated into gay male dominated organizations. Today, even organizations for lesbians are being hijacked by transgender activists and their vocal supporters. The needs and desires of male to transgender persons are now the primary focus of funding and legal action for both lesbian and LGBT groups. The question of transgender inclusion in women’s events has fractured women’s groups all over the world and includes the ending of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival after 40 years of offering women and girls a home in the woods for one week of the year. We covered a lot of ground in that first hour.
Once the presenters concluded their presentation, we did a round of talking where each woman had the group’s attention to describe her feelings about the workshop cancellation and the fact that we, as a group, were being characterized as transphobic and discriminatory. Each woman had a chance to ask questions and share her insights and thoughts about the situation.
The conversations of the next three hours were animated. Many of us described how and why we need and want time with women. We told our stories. We acknowledged that there is an issue beyond our personal need for women only spaces. We realized that the challenge of transforming our patriarchal culture demanded that women understand women’s history, and that we can learn together how to change the world. We reconnected with the concept of “the personal is political and the political is personal”.
As we all discussed the events of the Goddess Festival, the bullying tactics, threats and intimidation seemed out of proportion to our desire to meet together as women. Our desire to meet as women-born-women was our “crime”. We had dared to exclude male to transgender persons. Transgender activists and so-called progressives united in their condemnation of us and the workshop. Some lesbians and other women also believed we should not “discriminate” by resisting the presence of male to transgender persons.
As gender critical women, we were condemned by most who should have been our natural allies. For the last fifty years, women’s liberation groups have met in women only groups, actions, events and festivals—including the nine years of the Goddess Festival. We had expected respect for the desires of women to meet together.
During the final hour of our workshop, the group formed on ongoing organization we call LAF-Rise Up, meaning Lesbians and Feminists Rise Up, and planned our first meeting. Donations from that day covered the steep rental fee for the building. Amid more heated discussions and some laughter, we had many women helped as we dismantled the room and packed our cars, proud that we had refused to allow anyone to shut us down!
Lesbians and Feminists Rise Up
Our LAF Rise Up group has been meeting regularly for discussions and to strategize since the Goddess Festival events. We have been studying Ruth Barrett’s book Female Erasure: What You Need to Know About Gender Politics’ War on Women, the Female Sex and Human Rights. After seven months of meeting, we sponsored two public events. In November, we invited women to join us at “Born a Woman: A Fate to Celebrate”. In early December, we organized another event, “Female Erasure: Meet the Book”.
Because we could find none of our usual non-profits willing to rent to us, we again had to go further afield to find a space for the events. Both events were publicized by word of mouth and bulletin board postings at community spots. However, we did not feel free to post the location of either event for fear of harassment and due to our concerns that the transactivists would pressure the venue to refuse to rent to us. We asked any woman interested to email us with her phone number and we then contacted her.
The editor of Female Erasure, Ruth Barrett, was in Fayetteville for several events including a Winter Solstice celebration and a house concert. Our LAF Rise Up group spent several hours with her at a meeting/potluck to discuss the political situation locally. Our discussion included how bulletin boards at local organizations have now disappeared or now are closely regulated. We have direct information that the disappearance of one particular bulletin board was the result of conflict over the “biological women only” statement on our flyers. Rather than “choose sides” in this conflict, that organization, which had provided a community bulletin board for the past forty years, has removed all its public bulletin boards. View our flyer here.
Meanwhile, Back at the OMNI Center
Once the workshop was cancelled by the Goddess Festival and OMNI, the OMNI Board of Directors jumped into the situation in an attempt to do damage control for OMNI. Jeanne had been serving on the OMNI Board for about a year at this point and suddenly received an onslaught of emails as every other board member tried to figure out what OMNI could do to placate the transgender activists and the OMNI members and other community members who had taken up the transgender activists’ cause. Not a single board member exhibited any concern whatsoever about what OMNI had just done to (disappearing) lesbians, by cancelling the workshop.
Jeanne, as an OMNI Board member, sent the board an email telling the rest of the board that they needed to listen to the lesbian community and not unthinkingly take sides. Not one single board member even responded to her email at the time. One man on the Board, acting in an especially arrogant way, had already commented that he didn’t see how anyone could hold any position other than his – unquestioning support for the transgender activists.
The OMNI Board showed zero concern for lesbians, despite the fact that the OMNI Center claims to be for “Peace, Justice & Ecology.” Later, one male board member did email Jeanne to say he felt that OMNI had not given her objections the consideration they deserved. The OMNI Board supposedly makes decisions by consensus, but it never met in person during this stage of the crisis and completely ignored and over-ruled the strong objections of one of its board members to its actions.
Jeanne wrote a long resignation letter to the OMNI Board, characterizing her letter as “offering the OMNI Board one last gift.” The letter explains to the Board the harm being done to women and Women’s Liberation (and to transgender children and adults) by the transgender movement and calls on OMNI to take more seriously its claim to be a center for justice. The letter, with one short paragraph removed, is included here.
At the time Jeanne sent the letter, she requested the board keep the letter private because of concerns about her safety. Over the past year she (and Paula and Susan) have decided to take a much more public position in order to be as effective politically as possible. So the private letter to the OMNI Board is now public on this website. Safety is, of course, still an issue for us and for anyone publicly taking a stance criticizing the transgender movement.
The OMNI Board eventually responded to Jeanne’s resignation letter with a weak written apology to Jeanne, Paula and Susan.
The day after the “Disappearing L – Lesbians Rise Up” workshop, the Goddess Festival and OMNI held a “healing” event at OMNI. The idea for the event came out of a conversation between a lesbian concerned about the workshop cancellation and one of the OMNI Board members. Although there was certainly a need for healing (and conflict resolution and an agreement to re-instate women only space at OMNI) the event proved to be a sham. The moderator chosen to lead the event was ignorant of the Women’s Liberation point of view. There were three speakers, one male to transgender person, one mother of a transgender person, and one lesbian who values women only space. In the two hour (or more) event, the lesbian bravely spoke for twelve minutes to an audience mostly hostile to her perspective. The other speakers and their transgender point of view dominated the event.
The OMNI Center has continued in its attempts toward healing by holding ongoing small group dialogue meetings. However, the process has been held back, so far, by having two moderators who both remain ignorant of a Women’s Liberation point of view. Paula and Jeanne met with them at length when the dialogue meetings were in the planning stages and used our Women’s Liberation Perspective on Transgender Politics: Thirteen points paper as an educational tool. One section of that paper explains the absolute necessity for women only space. We urged them both to read Female Erasure. Despite our efforts at education (and the ongoing efforts of one of the lesbians attending the dialogue meetings), the moderators continue their bias toward the transgender perspective at these meetings.
The OMNI Center has had a discriminatory policy ever since the Goddess Festival of refusing meeting space for women only events.
Women’s Liberation Underground
Not long after our Disappearing L – Lesbians Rise Up workshop, Paula woke up one morning feeling very disgusted with the way that the local transactivists had been able to garner support from so-called progressives and shut down our workshop at the Goddess Festival. She and Jeanne talked about the situation and Paula wrote out a quick flyer by hand which we posted around Fayetteville. We called ourselves the Women’s Liberation Underground (WLU) and kept our identities secret. We had to tell Susan, of course, so she became a third WLU member and sent a copy of the flyer out via email. We eventually formalized the flyer and turned it into its current form, the Who Is a Woman? Who Gets to Decide brochure now available for download and distribution from the XX Amazons. Please print out some copies and distribute in your community.
Disappearing Flyers, Disappearing Bulletin Boards
When LAF Rise Up started putting up its event flyers, we found that those flyers were often torn down. Then a funny thing happened. Two different locations began closely controlling what flyers could be pasted on their bulletin boards. Jeanne was confronted by a woman on the marketing staff at one location as a male to transgender employee looked on. After a discussion with the store manager, Paula and Jeanne were told they could put flyers on a bulletin board at the entrance to the store, but that now the bulletin boards inside the store were under the exclusive control of the marketing department. OK, we thought.
A week later, when another member of LAF Rise Up was putting up flyers with her husband, they discovered that all three bulletin boards, outside and inside the store, had completely disappeared. The LAF Rise Up member’s email to that groups said in its subject heading “!!!!_____ OUTRAGE!!!!!” As we began to explore the reason for the bulletin boards’ disappearance, the reason was – you guessed it – complaints over flyers being put up by a “hate group.” That’s us! (So they think.)
We women resisting trans-domination are so powerful we can make three bulletin boards disappear at a cooperative store that has provided community bulletin board space for decades. The store took down the bulletin board to avoid being the target of a transactivist campaign. By simply allowing our flyers to be posted, the store was being likened to a Nazi group. Some members of the cooperative are now unhappy about the loss of what were once community bulletin boards. Please see Paula’s, Jeanne’s and Darlene Clubb’s comments on the transactivist assault on feminists and the community bulletin boards. We all gave short presentations with our comments at the January 23, 2018 board of directors meeting and then submitted our comments in writing. Our comments were well received by the Board.
And Now … XX Amazons
At this point, Susan, Paula and Jeanne decided to create the xxamazons.org website. For several years we had been considering the possibility of putting together a radical lesbian feminist/ecofeminist website, but never quite came up with enough OOMPH to do so. What a fine motivator a de-platforming can be! If each transgender attack on women only space generates half the energy it did here in the Ozarks, the TEAFs (Transactivist Extremists Attacking Feminists) are in deep trouble. We thought for awhile we would keep the name Women’s Liberation Underground, but none of us was willing anymore to be anything but out and fighting for women and girls, so XX Amazons was born. Our goal is ending patriarchy and re-creating the female-centered world.
January 19, 2018