organising group

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.


Initial thoughts from some organisers

You can submit your thoughts and reflections (and please do! we’ve only had responses from about 10% of attendees), but here are some of ours, whilst we collate all the feedback we’re getting…

There were some great moments and workshops, and we want to build up a record of what worked well.

So if you learned about new concepts and struggles, about how oppression and privilege impact on different groups, made contacts you have the enthusiasm to build on, encountered new ideas and activity that inspired you, thought about how to move anarcha-feminism forward as a political force, or have any other positive reflections about the sessions or day in general, please send us your thoughts (either via afem[at] or on social media).

These will help us to plan future events because – a surprise to ourselves – we are full of enthusiam for further events.

Having said this, there were serious negatives, as we are all aware and have reflected on elsewhere and will continue to do so.

Most damagingly, was the intervention of transphobes or TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists). These breached our Safer Spaces policy and undermined our Inclusion Policy. Much has been said, and will be said here (not least in that we will shortly issue a stament as organisers). We want also to flag up how traumatic this was not only for many people attending the conference, but also for ourselves. Several of us were so upset by this dynamic that we have temorarily taken time out from AFem organising group to try to recover without triggering memories.

Our general happiness about what was achieved on the day is coupled with anger about how easy it was for a tiny handful of privileged people to impose their bigoted, backward-looking and damaging ideas. We say this because as well as issuing a statement, we will be taking the issue very seriously and tightening up our processes in future. In order to do this, we want your thoughts too on how to do this.

Finally, please take the project forward! Organise your own events and activies under the AFem banner, as long as it agrees with our policies. But please protect yourself structurally and personally against people who think the anarcha-feminist movement is theirs rather than belonging to all gender-oppressed people. And send us your reports/links so we can gather momentum in transforming the anarchist movement and the whole world.

For more on how to contact us, and our feedback form for the event, see our post How was AFem2014 for you?

“At a moment of backlash”: one organiser’s take on the day

Taken from a Facebook post from one of the organisers the day after the conference.

The background

AFem, the inaugural UK based conference organised by a group of 35 anarchafeminists in Solfed, AFed and international anarchist organisations, as well as unaffiliated anarchafeminists, took place this weekend on Sunday 19th October. The conference was very popular, with just under 300 people through the door from 19 countries and counting, including Argentina, the Philippines, Brazil, Japan, Iran, the US and Canada.

The conference was funded by a mix of donations, a fundrazr for £2k, and smaller fundraising events in 3 UK cities. Food Not Bombs also held a fundraiser so we could afford to feed those on low or nil income, and many in kind donations were made, from printing to translation to childcare to signing.

On the day

The conference was largely well organised with few technical glitches: there were not enough programmes, we had issues with the technology and as we had not put a numbers limit on sessions, some of the rooms were overcrowded. We had not given enough thought to accessibility – no large print programme was available and we did not have dedicated helpers for accessibility needs.

However with those exceptions the day ran fairly smoothly from a practical point of view. Facilities at the conference were good, with a creche, a quiet space, free food for those on low or nil incomes, listeners and emotional first aid all available. In addition there was a team of 18 ‘safer spaces’ people who sat in sessions, at the front desk and in the quiet room to resolve issues or questions relating to the day’s safer spaces agreement, or help people who felt triggered or unsafe.

The conference offered 23 workshops and 2 plenary sessions. Workshops were broad, ranging from “what is gender?” to prison abolition to workplace organising around gender to middle eastern feminism to survivor-led accountability, with dedicated strands for disabled people, trans people, people of colour and sex workers. The timetable is attached as an image.

The workshops were by and large received very well at the conference. The comments book on the day was overwhelmingly positive and the atmosphere was excellent – many remarked on the new organising connections they were making and on the unusually anti-oppressive politics of the organising group and the conference itself.

However the day was not without difficulty. A small group of trans exclusionary radical feminists attended the conference, misgendering and insulting trans people and demanding space for cis women only. Exclusion of trans women from women’s space is direct transphobic discrimination and managing this issue became the bulk of the work done by the safer spaces team. As a result, several trans people at conference experienced transphobia and some were extremely upset by this. Efforts were made on the day to repair this damage, both interpersonally and politically, and care was taken to help those who had these experiences stay safely at conference, but nevertheless the TERFs should have been excluded.

Working with the organising group to develop and carry through the politics of AFem – anarchocommunist, feminist, multigender, anti-oppressive, accountable, democratic and transparent – has been one of the best organising experiences I’ve had in a long time, but also one of the most difficult, because we’re currently at a moment of backlash against prefigurative political forms.

In the run-up to AFem, as we made our politics clear on our website, blogs and social media, an increasing number of critiques were posted online. This made the run-up to conference extremely tense – we weren’t sure whether there might be opposition or even disruption on the day. For those who haven’t seen them, our gender inclusion policy and safer spaces agreement can be found on the AFem website.

There’s clearly some anxiety in our milieu about whether accountable organising spaces are overly authoritarian. My feeling is that this conference was a good initial response: it was a popular and much-needed event with minimal difficulty and an atmosphere of solidarity, and I’m really happy solfed supported it and supported me and other comrades to help organise it.

The organising group will respond to criticisms on the AFem website, once we’ve got the post-conference tasks done and all the feedback collated. We plan on organising further AFem events, and will recruit new organisers shortly.

Note: I’ve held off commenting on racism and cultural appropriation cos I’d rather that commentary came from poc, but I’m really happy we organised the poc- only space and that critiques were fed back to conference as a result.

For other write-ups from the day, see our conference summary page.