Lierre Keith is the co-founder of the radical environmental group Deep Green Resistance. This website was made in preparation for her keynote at the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, the largest Law Conference in the nation. Because Keith has consistently held transphobic views, the keynote has been denounced by Basic Rights Oregon, Seattle-based Gender Justice League, the University of Oregon Student Senate, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, and over 1,000 petition signers. Through pointing out transphobic, racist, and manipulative aspects of Keith’s leadership, I hope that this website will help people on the fence understand why Keith’s personal views and actions qualify as hate speech, both within the context of this conference and the larger work of DGR as a whole.
“I liked what I said to Julia or whatever his name was who wanted to join DGR: You are not a woman. You are a man who believes he is a woman.”
I can’t fathom how mutilating people’s bodies to fit an oppressive power arrangement is frankly anything but a human rights violation. And men insisting that they are women is insulting and absurd.”
I was told that in wanting access to women’s spaces I was implementing the male violation imperative. Saba Malik, Lierre Keith and Derrick all sent emails to my chapter and one other chapter that supported trans folks with the usual rad fem attacks. Gradually my group and the other chapters were presented with a choice: put up with trans phobia or hit the road. To be in DGR was to be rad fem in the exclusive sense.
-Trans woman who was asked to leave DGR
I hate to say this, but it’s porn culture that really created the whole concept of trans.
Transgender people have existed throughout history in many different cultures. When we consider the biological and historical evidence, the validity of their existence is irrefutable. Those of us who are not trans often take our gender for granted, but the evidence shows that it is an important part of most people’s identities, and inseparable from the person as a whole. Studies show that NEARLY HALF of trans people would rather commit suicide than live as a gender that does not resonate with them. One study found that 41% of trans people had attempted suicide, and those are just the ones that lived to tell about it. I have personally seen people come alive during their transition; visibly changing from people who hid within a shell of self-doubt and depression to radiant, happy people with vibrant social lives. Radical feminists want to deny trans people the right to their identity simply because it doesn’t fit in to their academic idea of what gender is. And this has severe consequences in the lives of transgender people.
The most basic argument of trans exclusive radical feminists, or TERFs, is that gender is a class condition created by patriarchy. Women experience oppression at the hands of men through sexualizaion, violence, rape, the wage gap, and lack of reproductive freedom. The category ” woman” is defined by that oppression. They argue that trans women have male privilege because they were socialized as men in childhood, and that they make space unsafe for women with their “male” presence. The Transsexual Empire, a 1979 book by Janice Raymond, is one of the cornerstones of trans exclusive radical feminism. In it, she argues that trans women are merely men who dress as women to gain access to women’s spaces. Identifying as transgender is co-opting another person’s experience of oppression, akin to identifying as trans-Indian or trans black.
This hypothesis assumes that there is some universal experience of womanhood, a form of oppression that all women share. It’s true that being a woman almost always confers some type of oppression, but to pretend that this oppression manifests itself in the same way for all women, or to deny that trans women face oppression, is an outright lie. Truly, the only thing that all cis women share is an experience of privilege over trans women.
If trans exclusive radical feminists are correct, trans women would stop “dressing as women” when they started experiencing discrimination, right? But statistics show that trans people hold true to their identity in the face of insurmountable discrimination.
The most comprehensive survey ever done of trans lives, entitled “Injustice At Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” conducted by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force found the following results:
-trans people have double the unemployment rate of the general population
-90% report harassment at work
-19% report having experienced homelessness because of their gender
-19% report being refused medical care because of their gender
-22% of those who had interacted with police reported gender based harassment
Rates were much higher across the board for trans women of color, with black women facing the highest rates of discrimination. The transgender day of remembrance website reports over 71 known murders of trans people in 2013 alone, the overwhelming majority of which are trans women of color.
Wow, that’s a lot of risk that they’re taking just to gain access to women’s spaces, am I right?
Despite all of this, almost all trans people report that their improved self-confidence post transition is worth the discrimination.
78% report feeling more comfortable at work and their performance improving post-transition
TERFs say that trans women received advantages because they were “socialized male” as children, but for many, many trans women, their process of socialization consisted of being punished brutally for perceived femininity in a world that rewarded masculinity. Most adult trans people didn’t have the privilege of coming out in high school, but among those that did come out, 78% have faced harassment, 35% have been the victim of physical assault, and 12% have survived sexual violence. One in six faced harassment so severe that they have dropped out of school. With statistics so high for trans people who are out, it’s easy to imagine that closeted trans people would also face an incredible amount of discrimination for failing to conform to ascribed gender roles.
TERFs also argue that having a uterus places cis women in a unique position of sexual and reproductive exploitation. As a feminist who works for reproductive justice, I would never, ever want to downplay the oppression that cis women and transmasculine folks face in a society that often reduces the worth of those with uteruses to their reproductive capacity. However, transfeminine folk face many types of reproductive and sexual coercion that are unique to their experience. Twenty-four states still require all trans people to undergo sterilization before they can legally change the gender on their birth certificate. Forced sterilization is a product of racist eugenics and has outraged feminists for decades. it rarely happens to cis women now, but for many trans women it is simply par for the course. Those who had children before their transition often have difficulty maintaining relationships with their families. In the early days of transition, trans women were required to move across the country and sever ties with their families before they were allowed to legally transition. Although this reality is thankfully a thing of the past, many, many trans people still loose custody of their children because of their gender. Although many trans people would be prime candidates to adopt the many children that need homes, chronic underemployment and discrimination are often barriers for the formation of trans families.
Although people with uteruses often lack access to adequate information about their bodies, an Internet search or trip to the library will yield some relevant resources. There are currently no comprehensive sexual and reproductive print recourses geared towards trans women, and 93% of trans folks report lack of adequate resources about their bodies. Many trans women are forced in to sex work because they lack other employment opportunities, and lack of sexual health information can have deadly consequences. Surveys report that Transfeminine folks have four times the HIV infection rate of the general population, with some statistics suggesting an HIV infection rate as high as 20%. Although sex work can be empowering for some, the statistics suggest that transfeminine folks are usually incredibly exploited in sex work– 63% of trans women who have been involved in sex work have attempted suicide. The trade can also be incredibly dangerous, as many murdered trans women were engaged in sex work at the time of their murder. Even when sexual exploitation is not a life or death situation, the constant portrayal of trans women as sexual or moral deviants takes its toll on the psyche of transfeminine folk. In TV specials, trans women are almost always depicted as hyperfeminine and hypersexualized, with the obligatory shot of the trans woman putting on makeup. One of my friends was asked how she could be a woman if she didn’t wear skirts, and another’s therapist pressured her to get a boob job despite the fact that she could expect adequate breast growth with hormones alone. In both of these examples, trans women are held to a higher standard of femininity than cis women, and the way that these women were treated is the rule rather than the exception.
Mainstream culture has a sick obsession with trans women’s genitalia, and radfems are no exception. Many radfems, including Keith and Sheila Jeffries, have likened the surgery to “genital mutilation.” Mary Daily calls trans women “Frankenstein monsters.” It seems that much of TERF writing reduces the entire breadth of trans experience to the genetalia of post-op transsexual women. For a group that speaks vehemently against the objectification and sexualization of women, their obsession with what’s in trans women’s pants seems awfully hypocritical. The truth is, most trans women don’t even get surgery, and what one wants to do with one’s own body is a personal choice. Reducing trans women to their body parts is degrading and humiliating, not to mention RUDE!! Although it would make sense for TERFS to spend equal amounts of time talking trans women and trans men who want to “fraternize with the enemy,” TERFs spend almost all of their time attacking the transfeminine side of the spectrum. The conclusion that I, and many others have reached, is that TERFs are cowards. They want to fight against the patriarchy, but just end up lashing out against the closest people who have, or used to have, eternal genitalia.
Keith argues that people complaining about transphobia are “men howling in pain,” while no “gives a shit” when women talk about misogyny. As a cis woman who has devoted many, many years of my life to feminism, I can only conclude that the persecution of trans women is directly caused by patriarchy within our society, and trans women, particularly trans women of color, bear the greatest weight of patriarchal oppression within American society. Most mainstream Americans can’t fathom why someone would want to give up their male privilege to become a woman. As stated in the title of Julia Serano’s book, trans women truly are the scapegoats, or “whipping girls,” of our sexist society.
So why can’t we just agree to disagree?
On the Deep Green Resistance Website, Lierre Keith claims that radical feminists have a “different opinion” about gender. She denounces violence against trans people, saying that they “do not condone dehumanization or violence against anyone.” She claims that disagreeing is not a form of violence. However, when a group of people who have power “disagree” with those who have less power, and that disagreement causes real consequences in the lives of those with less power, that’s not called a disagreement, it’s called oppression. Keith has not sunk to the depths of cruel and petty actions that many of her TERF colleagues take sadistic pleasure in, but her hateful words and actions have caused a lot of pain for the trans people forced to leave DGR. Facing a lifetime of discrimination and oppression, and then being told that that oppression simply doesn’t exist is enough to drive anyone mad. My partner and I left Portland in a wake of broken relationships in the fallout over the Law and Disorder conference, and my effectiveness as an organizer has been greatly affected as I now spend more time combating transphobia than defending the forest.
Radical feminists are hatemongers, many of whom make sport of stalking and harassing trans women online and in person. Kathy Brennan, a Maryland based lawyer, has posted the personal information of trans women, encouraging her followers to harass them, and posted naked pictures of trans women with shaming messages. Her group, Gender Identity Watch, is considered a hate group by the Southern Povery Law Center. Brennan is an extreme example, but many radical feminists make sport of harassing trans women online. Many trans women are afraid to post online for fear of being targeted.
Radical feminism is still incredibly prevalent in education. I went to a mainstream college, and while no professor ever came out and said that transsexuality didn’t exist, the idea that gender was a social construct rather than an essential part of one’s identity was drilled in to us again and again. We were given readings of prominent TERFs like Mary Daily and Germaine Greer, and Alix Olsen, a TERF poet, and Bitch, who performs at the womyn-born-womyn Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, performed at my school. Although I always supported transgender people, the education that I received did not prepare me to fully accept trans people for who they are. I later had a falling out with a good friend from college, who I took many gender studies classes with, when I started dating a trans woman. She said that she could not find any academic theory to prove that transsexuality existed, so she could not respect my girlfriend as a woman. We were forced to leave our house because my girlfriend felt emotionally unsafe around her. Many years after I graduated, I was appalled, but not surprised, to learn that a woman who was in my freshman class dropped out of college after she was beaten up by her RA because she was placed in a men’s dorm.
TERFs have legislative power. Cathy Brennan wrote a letter to the UN asking that human rights not be extended to transgender people. It is a little known fact that the US government supported transgender surgery as medically necessary until 1973 when Janice Raymond, author of The Transsexual Empire, lent her “expert” opinion. She advocated for reparative therapy, costing hundreds of trans people their lives, and authored the government’s official stance in a paper titled, “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery.”
TERF rhetoric has had a significant effect on trans women’s access in feminist spaces, closing what might have been the only safe space that many trans women have in their respective communities. An infamous example is the womyn-born-womyn policy at Michigan Womyn’s music festival, the largest gathering of cis women in the nation. Many feminist spaces don’t ban trans women outright, but TERF voices are often present in these spaces and cis women rarely take action to make trans women safe from their attacks. One of my friends was targeted by TERFs across the nation on the Facebook page for an event being held at the feminist bookstore in Portland. When she stood up for herself against the hate speech, she was told that she was making the board members feel uncomfortable, and was asked to stop volunteering at the bookstore as a result.
Attacking and discrediting an incredibly marginalized and oppressed group IS hate speech. Stand with us in boycotting Lierre Keith and DGR’s presence at this year’s PIELC!
Why Deep Green Resistance is Rotten to the Roots
Most of the media against DGR has focused the trans issue, and a lot of people have criticized DGR opposition for nitpicking a single issue when the fate of the world is at stake. It’s true that all environmental movements are oppressive in ways that prevent many marginalized people from joining in the fight against environmental destruction. But in most organizations there is room for dissention, and good organizations are shaped and molded by their members. DGR is draining precious energy from our movement, as members leave in droves after Jensen and Keith respond to their concerns in immature and authoritative ways. What follows are some accounts of how Keith and Jensen have responded inappropriately to various members concerns:
At least four people of color and three white people have officially resigned from DGR over the issue of race. And those of us who work against oppression in organizing know that for every marginalized person who speaks out when they leave, there are dozens more who slip away quietly.
One member resigned when she complained about a statement that Lierre and another DGR member made, suggesting that the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations were inherently sexist. She received the following response.
“The real issue seems to be that she is upset that Lierre and Saba stated that the Lakota are a patriarchal culture. This is true by their own definition, practice, and historical tradition. This is a view expressed by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota leaders such as John Arvol Looking Horse and it is made proudly by them.”
She then goes on to give a quote by Looking Horse that blames the degradation of traditional culture on women and their insistence on working outside of their proper sphere.
John Arvol Looking Horse has been critiqued by other Nation members for his sexist remarks. The official website of the L.D.N. nation states that they are a matriarchal culture. It was irresponsible of Lierre Keith to use the words of one man and pretend that he was a spokesperson for the tribe.
One person of color said that Lierre claimed to have expert knowledge of indigenous people. He was also told to keep quiet about the fact that Deep Green Resistance would never be a people of color dominated space.
When the members who had left made this information public in preparation for Lierre’s keynote, they were contacted by her and told to take it down. Her essential argument was that she had done a lot of stuff right around race, so people of color should keep their mouths shut about their complaints.
Despite having worked closely with native tribes, her lectures almost never address indigenous struggles or systematic racism.
Another complaint of those who have left Deep Green Resistance is that the Board does not consider the input of its members in decision making. There are currently three people on the board, Keith, Jensen, and Saba Malik. Keith and Jensen apparently have the power to veto decisions that they don’t agree with. The co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance, Aric McBay, left over the transgender controversy. Despite being a founding member, his input was not considered in regards to the transgender issue:
“I left the organization at the beginning of 2012 after a trans inclusive policy was cancelled by Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith. Many good people and good activists left the organization for that reason.
I find these transphobic attitudes to be disgusting and deeply troubling.”
-Aric McBay, co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance
“At no point was the radical feminist position of DGR up for a consensus decision. If that decision had been up to all members, DGR would no longer be a radical feminist organization.”
So not only is the issue of trans inclusion not up for consensus decision, it’s not even up to the members of the board?
This past May, at the Law and Disorder conference, DGR was confronted by trans people and allies on several occasions. Trans people and allies confronted DGR about Keith’s transphobia, and were repeatedly told that transphobia did not exist and that Keith was not transphobic. The trans people and allies scribbled on a book, threw a burrito, and told DGR that they needed to leave. You can find out more information about these incidents at deepgreenburrito.wordpress.com The DGR members who were present posted a public statement about the incidents, outlining what happened. Jensen and Keith forced the Portland chapter to retract their initial statement, saying that it was “done incredibly poorly” and “should have been run by us. We would have fixed this.” Keith and Jensen, who were not even in the same state that the incidents happened, released their own “official” statement, painting the whole thing as a “male” (aka trans women) attack on women, even though only one of the DGR tablers was female, and at least half of the people confronting DGR were cis women or transmasculine folk.
In some leaked private e-mails, Jensen made the following ridiculous statements:
“One [of the people who confronted me about transphobia] was an anarchist, so he’ll be a prick no matter what happens…The anarchists are liars.
DGR Portland refused to stand behind the new statement and split over the conflict, forming a group called Resistance Portland, and encouraged other groups to do the same. Here is a quote from their statement:
“In the last few days, we have become dismayed with Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith’s insistence on exaggerating and manipulating the facts about what occurred at the Law and Disorder conference in order to gain public sympathy and to aggressively push their trans*phobic agenda…We’re not against the delegation of authority or against leadership, but we are against unclear centralized decision-making structures and against a climate where questioning authority is discouraged. Unquestioning embrace of a small, centralized authority; member isolation; a climate that discourages member dissent; and an us-versus-them mentality are all characteristics of a cult. We are increasingly concerned about these and other unhealthy power dynamics within DGR.”
It seems as if Deep Green Philly also split over similar issues, although I am unclear on the specifics.
If you are interested in supporting environmental organizations that are working from an anti-oppressive framework, consider giving to the following campaigns.
Deep Roots United Front was created by some of the members that left DGR over issues of race. They accept only people of color and work primarily with indigenous communities in North Dakota. http://deeprootsunitedfront.org/
Deep Green Resistance has worked closely with the Unistoten people of Canada to resist pipeline expansion on their sacred land. Consider donating to them directly: Unistotencamp.com
The Trans and Womyn’s action camp was formed 8 years ago in direct response to patriarchy within the forest defense movement. Here, Trans people and women can teach each other forest defense skills in an environment free of manarchists. Twac.wordpress.com