Michigan Womyn’s Festival has a long, powerful (and somewhat controversial) history in the LGBTQ community. However, it’s recently come to our attention that the legendary festival just might be making a comeback this year with the possibility for a more trans-inclusive environment — at least, a hope for that.
Michfest was acclaimed as a magical festival where women, especially queer women, could escape from the misogynistic world to a safer space surrounded by their peers. The space, however, was not always welcoming to trans sisters as they had a strict “womyn-born-womyn” policy for the festival. In 1991 festival organizers removed Nancy Burkholder, a trans woman, from the festival, which started a decades-long protest by transgender activists and allies.
Riki Wilchins and Leslie Feinberg started Camp Trans in response to Michfest’s transphobic policy. This trans-inclusive festival happened annually until 2010 at the same time as Michfest in an active protest of the festival. Organizers from both groups had long conversations, conflicts, and some resolutions through the years — namely in 2006 and again in 2011 when several trans women were sold tickets to Michfest and allowed to camp on “The Land” for the duration of the week.
It was this very policy of Michfest’s that has often been pointed out as one of the main reasons the festival ended two-years ago. With major LGBTQ organizations like GLAAD, Equality Michigan, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and the Human Rights Campaign speaking out against the festival’s trans-exclusive policy.
Leslie Gallagher founder and board president of We Want the Land Coalition (WWTLC) has plans to revitalize “The Land” in Hart, Michigan where Michfest held space for generations. “There is some indescribable magic that happens there. This is an indescribable safety. There is something to be said for women feeling safe in the middle of nowhere,” she told INTO.
WWTLC has opened up applications for events on the 650 acres for the summer of 2018. “WWTLC is not going to engage in deciding who is or is not a woman,” Gallagher told INTO. “So yes, a group of trans women could apply to have an event on The Land so long as they demonstrate how it would benefit women and girls, that would be fine. That’s totally within the scope of our mission and endeavor.”
However, WWTLC has not made efforts to create a trans-inclusive policy in the language of their application process, meaning a group of women could also submit an event proposal that is trans-exclusive and have it be approved. Trans activists and allies were hoping for a trans-inclusive policy that would ensure no more events closed off to trans women would take place on “The Land.”