On the TERFs in our midst

As an organising group including many trans people, we explicitly oppose transphobia, and any attempt to portray trans women as lesser than cis women.

How some people acted at the conference was abhorrent, and entirely against our politics and our identities. TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) are not welcome in our organising, or in our spaces.

We wanted to clear up what happened on the day, and why, to the best of our knowledge. Here goes.

What actually happened with the TERFs during the conference?

This is our best attempt to piece together what happened, from the reports of organisers and volunteers.

Initial all-attendee meeting

During the first session, an audience member asked why there wasn’t a woman-only space in the conference, given that there were other spaces set aside for trans people, sex workers, people of colour, and disabled people.

The question was answered in good faith, explaining that we’d set aside spaces for people that were marginalised within anarchafeminism specifically – and though women are marginalised within anarchism, they aren’t within anarchafeminism, which was what the conference was about.

The ‘introduction to anarchafeminism’ meeting

One of the facilitators was a woman called Gail Chester, who is also involved in the Feminist Library and Black Flag. During her introductory talk, she called for there to be a ‘woman-only space’, by which she meant a space for cis women only. This was against what Gail had told her co-facilitator in advance she would do.

The safer spaces volunteer in the session was prepared to deal with problematic participants. However, they were knocked off-kilter when it was the facilitator that was using trans-exclusionary language. They wanted to shut the discussion down and ask the Gail and the other transphobes to leave, but they felt intimidated and unable to challenge Gail directly, because they’d had run-ins with Gail before.

Instead, they tried to challenge the bigoted views when the session got going, and along with other session participants were vocally supportive of an inclusive feminist movement. The session’s other facilitator tried to silence one of the people that had expressed transphobic views, and for that they ludicrously accused her of being “hierarchical”; the transphobic person, needless to say, kept speaking out of turn.

After the ‘introduction to anarchafeminism’ session

The people calling for a transphobic women-only space talked to each other after this meeting, and then went and had their own unpublicised ‘women-only space’ (i.e. cis women only space).

After this, they approached an organiser and safer spaces volunteer asking if they could organise a more public ‘women-only space’. When asked what they meant by this, it became clear they wanted to organise a space only for cis women.

They were told there was no chance that this would happen at our event, because the very idea is transphobic. They went around asking other safer spaces volunteers, who all gave them the same answer – that there would be no space only for cis women. When told this, they responded with shouting and angry body language.

So why weren’t the TERFs asked to leave?

Some of them were.

There were multiple people in multiple rooms calling for a cis woman only space. Sometimes, they were challenged in the session. Sometimes, people told them to leave the session. When it became clear that the same people were maliciously coordinating their transphobic outbursts, using the quiet space as a base, two organisers went to tell them to leave the conference.

However, Gail told them that they should ignore that and stay – and (unsurprisingly) they listened to Gail and ignored repeated requests to leave, as Gail described herself as an organiser.

Why did you let a TERF onto your organising group?

Gail had in the past expressed some transphobic views. However, the organising group were told (both by Gail and others) that she had changed her ways.

Due to some comments she made during the organising, we specifically asked Gail if she agreed with our organising principles, which included both what transphobia is and how we stand against it. She said ‘yes’.

What power did Gail have as an ‘organiser’?

Not that much.

To be clear: Gail had no access to anything by being an “organiser”. She couldn’t access any contact details of participants – because for security reasons we didn’t collect any.

She didn’t influence the make-up of the day in any way, as she never really responded to work on the organising email list. She also didn’t have any special power to ‘block consensus’ about getting rid of TERFs from the event. We didn’t need unanimity from ‘organisers’ to remove people from the event.

What do we think we could have done better?

We feel:

  • That there weren’t enough people that felt able to challenge bigotry when it happened. This could be addressed in the future by confidence building/assertiveness training for safer spaces volunteers, having more volunteers in each room so they would know at least one other person would back them up, and giving volunteers a very specific and clear set of guidelines on when to act and how.
  • That we didn’t successfully remove bigots in our midsts. Because we as organisers were undermined by another woman who was also an organiser, we were not able to deal consistently with this. We had some reason to mistrust Gail, but we took her at her word. We could and should have spent more time discussing the content of the various workshops with all the facilitators, including Gail.

What next?

We have removed Gail Chester from our organising group, and we will be meeting in the near future to redesign our organising process so that people can’t just lurk on our email list.

We are an international group of active anarchafeminists, and praxis, not securitisation, is our focus; our conference was successful not because we tried to write a perfect set of policies (an endless and impossible task!), but because hundreds of gender-oppressed people from all over the world worked to forge new understandings and new ways of organising together under the AFem banner.

We will be looking for new people and new ideas in the next few months to continue that work.

Apology and reparation

We apologise sincerely to those whom our ways of working failed to protect or support, and we want to make reparation.

If you have suggestions as to how we can do that, or how we can work better in future, please let us know however works for you: we have a feedback form, email, twitter, a facebook page and this blog where you can leave a comment.

17 comments

  1. I like the gendercrits distinction of declaring a special “woman-only” space, presupposably not only free of trans women, but also of sex workers, disabled and non-white individuals based on already established inter-conference categories.

    You know, because only certain people are *really* allowed to be women.

  2. Has anyone approached the Feminist Library for clarification? Was Gail speaking as a representative of the library? It’s meant to be an inclusive space. Given you’ve stated Gal’s link to them it would be fair to allow them to respond…

    1. Gail wasn’t there as a “representative” of the Library, no – them and Black Flag were listed largely so that people know how to avoid Gail.

  3. I would like a right to reply to be offered to the feminist that you have named here. Naming in this way is entirely unacceptable, especially when there are very different sides to this story. Lisa-Marie

    1. What are the “different sides”, Lisa-Marie? bcs this is collected from the personal experiences of quite a few people on the day. and also, the idea of a ‘right to reply’ is weird – if you threw someone out of an event because they said a racist thing, would you then host a statement on your website from them explaining why they thought racism was acceptable?

      1. The comments that I have heard differ hugely from what is being portrayed here – and they come from the personal experience of people at the event too. I think that if you go so far as to name someone in this way, you should at least give them the opportunity to respond. Lisa-Marie

      2. Again, what are the comments though? because we’ve had many people give feedback, and it all matches with this account.

    2. “I would like a right to reply to be offered to the feminist that you have named here. Naming in this way is entirely unacceptable, especially when there are very different sides to this story”

      Look, can we just knock it off with this shit already? There is NO “different side” to this story. None whatsoever.

      Gail and her cohorts LIED about their beliefs and intentions to get into this conference. They KNEW full well that this was a safe space for trans women, and they didn’t give a fuck. They were asked to leave and they refused. They were rude, obnoxious and disgusting. Just like the entire TERF movement. If this was you’re attempt to show the world that the TERF movement isn’t dominated by a bunch of paranoid, delusional assholes, congratulations. You failed big time.

      Gail made her reply when she disrupted a trans inclusive event in order to be a jerk.

      Seriously, you jokers need to grow the fuck up.

  4. Can I just ask why you see fit to name one person in this manner on your blog, but not name any of the other participants or identify yourself? Surely if this post is meant to clarify something for those who were there, everyone knows who you’re talking about; there’s no need to name unless you expressly want to shame someone, which seems to be your intent. Why isn’t it enough to just say what you want to say, and let the person in question decide whether or not she wants to speak up. Naming one single person ON THE DAMN INTERNET — where there are more than enough attacks against women who hold opinions others think are wrong — as if this hasn’t been an issue for as long as transwomen have existed is just inexcusable. I *agree* with your position that transwomen shouldn’t be excluded from women’s spaces, but I’m absolutely horrified by the way you’ve chosen to defend that position by attacking another woman in such a vindictive and public manner. That is not what feminism — or anarchism, for that matter — is about.

    1. Three reasons we named Gail:
      (1) we named the person that was widely considered to be the central bigot of the day. We didn’t name the others involved bcs the following point doesn’t really apply to them
      (2) we named Gail largely bcs she is so central in other anarchist/feminist organising. we named her because many supporters/attendees at AFem want to specifically avoid her in the future, which is also why we listed her affiliations.
      (3) we named Gail bcs this isn’t just for the people that came to AFem2014. lots of trans women specifically didn’t come because they were scared of *exactly* people like Gail making the event a hostile space for trans women. this is to let them know what happened and what we’ve done about it, bcs even though they didn’t come, they’re still super important to AFem as a project

      Three other things:
      (4) our aim isn’t to “shame” Gail. it’s accountability. don’t want people being tools at our events and letting them go off and be tools at other events.
      (5) I’ll name myself if you want. I’m Sam. hi.
      (6) if you really think that *this* is what’s horrifying – naming a bigot – rather than the actual bigotry, then you’ve gotta re-evaluate your priorities.

      1. Well, to be honest, I’m afraid of *exactly* people like you doing *exactly* things like this, which is why I myself rarely go to feminist events. To hold someone accountable for their actions also requires that they be allowed to defend themselves from those accusations — not to do so looks an awful lot like a witchhunt, which is what your reply does seem to suggest, even more than the original post. Of course it makes sense not to organise anything further with people with whom you’ve had difficulty in the past, even for the organising collective to remove or deny someone entry to your events (though I do strongly feel such decisions should be unanimous). But that’s very different from trying to ostracise someone from the entirety of feminist activism.

        As for bigotry, I prioritise constructive dialogue above all — yes, even with those with whom I vehemently disagree. Otherwise we’re just going to keep going around in circles and the divisions that tore feminism apart in the 1980s are going to tear us apart again. We’ve got to figure out more constructive ways of dealing with our differences than pointing fingers and saying ‘don’t talk to so-and-so, she’s this-or-that’. And I have to wonder why this had to be done via a global forum so it will come up whenever someone searches for either the person or those organisations, forever. Women attacking other women via the internet — particularly by using their personal identifying information — is indeed something I find horrifying and if you don’t, I would wonder about your priorities…it’s called doxxing, and it’s one of the main tools men use to silence women for saying things they don’t like (google Gamergate if you’re not sure what I’m talking about).

      2. Bluntly: no, I don’t think “accountability” in this sense requires giving someone the space to take up some of our organisational space, when (a) they disagree with our fundamental organising principles (b) one of the central problems was that they’ve already taken up far too much of our space.

        You’re not really engaging with what I said at all. As I said, if you really think that the main aim now is “give Gail more space” rather than “work to repair the wounds and hurt that Gail caused to multiple event attendees”, then your priorities are bad.

        Also, on a technical note:

        (1) Calling this a “witch hunt” is pretty hilarious though – we didn’t seek this out, remember, Gail seems to have intentionally come to the event to be disruptive.

        (2) this isn’t “doxxing”. We didn’t scour the internet for juicy personal tidbits about her. Literally all we did was put Gail’s full name in a piece, just like lots of other things that Gail has done before online – the only difference being that we were critical of Gail’s actions. So sorry, but no.

  5. Luz, you fail to seem concerned with what the bigot did and more concerned that the bigot gets a venue to spread more hate. And Doxxing, seriously? How about all the Doxxing the TERF’s do to Trans women in an attempt to destroy their lives? Even going so far as to Doxx children.

    You do need to rethink your priorities.

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