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Transphobes Still Welcome at Public Interest Environmental Law Conference

By Trans and/or Women’s Action Collective - Earth First! Journal, March 29, 2016

EUGENE, OR – Members of the Trans and/or Women’s Action Collective are no strangers to direct action. Since the early formation of TWAC from amongst the membership of groups like Earth First!, the collective – which was created initially to address patriarchal behavior, misogyny, and transphobia within the radical environmental movement – has been involved in campaigns against resource extraction, corporate prisons, trans-exclusionary legislation, ICE raids, destruction of public and Native lands, criminalization of sex workers, wildlife culling, and police brutality and racism. On March 5th, TWAC activists and allies found themselves once more embattled as they confronted members of the transphobic group Deep Green Resistance at the annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon.

Deep Green Resistance, a group founded by trans-exclusionary radical “feminists” Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen, has been a bone of contention in the radical environmental scene for many years, contention which came to the fore again in 2013 with the release of DGR member Rachel Ivey’s video monologue “The End of Gender”  in which she reiterates the radical feminist rhetoric that transgender people (or, “people who call themselves transgender”) are in fact champions of the patriarchal gender binary, as well as deeply dangerous to feminism and women. This video, Ivey’s public speaking tour, and the continued presence of Deep Green Resistance in environmentalist spaces such as the Law & Disorder Conference and PIELC, spurred protest from trans activists and allies around North America.

In 2014, the PIELC organizers were protested for inviting Lierre Keith to be one of their keynote speakers, despite her well-known anti-trans rhetoric and the very public transphobic views of DGR as a group. Over 1,000 emails expressing concern over Keith’s presence were sent to the University prior to the event, and local and national environmental groups petitioned PIELC and UO to cancel Keith’s talk with a letter signed by more than 30 organizations across a broad spectrum of social and environmental causes. Protests culminated in a collective walk-out during Keith’s keynote speech. PIELC organizers have not yet apologized or addressed the issue, though DGR has been invited back every year since.

On Saturday March 5th, dismayed at DGR’s increased presence at PIELC this year, activists and their allies covered the DGR table with a banner declaring “DGR Not Welcome! No Transphobia in Defense of Mother Earth” and stood by their words as conference organizers tore the banner in half and demanded that the protesters leave the area. The protesters remained by the DGR table even after their banner was destroyed, engaging with the public and holding space for conversations about transphobia and trans rights. 

“Deep Green Resistance entwines their transphobic views with their vision of an ecologically healthy future,” says trans activist Shane Lenartz, who has worked with groups such as Earth First!, Rising Tide, and the Trans and/or Women’s Action Collective (TWAC). “Their degrading and dehumanizing attitude towards trans people, especially trans women, is not a new thing, and it’s not excusable. We have been fighting this issue for years. As environmental activists, we are sick and tired of having to come to conferences like this and see transphobic groups like DGR being openly represented and given space.”

PIELC organizers and DGR members united against trans people and allies on Saturday, calling the protest “disruptive” and “disrespectful.” When one transgender activist asked organizers why they were so committed to defending DGR’s “right” to continue spreading their views, and asked whether they would extend the same energy towards creating space for an overtly racist organization, the conversation became nasty. “They [the organizers] sneered at me,” he recalls, “and asked me sarcastically if I was ‘really’ going to ‘play the racist card.’ To see such a knee-jerk reaction – especially to an analogy that DGR itself routinely uses to excuse its transphobia [calling trans people culturally appropriative and asking if they would think it was okay to call themselves ‘trans black’ or ‘trans Native’] – was appalling to me. Because neo-Nazi organizations with an environmentalist framework DO ACTUALLY EXIST. It’s not some kind of stretch to ask whether, because they consider themselves environmentalists, they too would be given space at PIELC. And to have PIELC organizers – who are supposedly studying law – shut me down as though no parallel could ever possibly be drawn between racist views and transphobic ones, was deeply disconcerting. You’re the future of law in America? That bothers me.”

“A Legacy Worth Leaving” was PIELC’s theme for 2016, citing “a response to the drastic need of daily, direct action of individuals in their communities.” What conference organizers’ privilege shields them from understanding is that violence against transgender people in the United States is increasing yearly. 
During 2015 in the United States over twenty transgender women were murdered, the largest number on record. The known reports of transgender violence barely begin to scratch the surface of not only physical violence against trans people, but the emotional and verbal abuse trans individuals, particularly trans women of color, experience on a daily basis.

“The validity and safety of trans and non-binary people is not up for debate,” trans ally and activist Stephanie Taylor says. “The demonization of trans people, especially trans women, is not just a ‘difference of opinion,’ just like white supremacist views aren’t just a ‘difference of opinion.’ These attitudes uphold cultures of violence and they cause people to be hurt and killed. Transphobia and trans-misogyny have no place in the environmental movement.”
The confrontation at the DGR table turned into a more-or-less blockade by trans activists and allies as the PIELC organizers continued to refuse to hear their requests that the table be removed. Initially, the activists agreed that they would leave the space if organizers would honor their request to meet at a later time that day to discuss banning DGR from the conference. Organizers reluctantly agreed to the terms that protesters would leave the table as long as DGR was not allowed to set it back up in the interim, until further discussion could be had. It quickly became apparent, however, that neither DGR nor the organizers intended to honor their end of that particular agreement, and protesters once again took up space around DGR’s table to engage the public in conversation about transphobia in the movement. Many attendees expressed gratitude for the protesters’ polite engagement and agreed on the need to have a public conversation about transphobic views. A few even returned to the table to cross their names off of DGR’s mailing list after talking to protesters.

“We’re not about stopping anyone, physically, from accessing information about DGR,” said one of the protesters. “If you want to hear what they’ve got to say, there are a hundred ways to do it, and we’re not going to prevent anyone from coming up to their table if they really want to. We’re just going to intercept them first because we think everyone needs to know that this group holds very fundamentally bigoted views, because those views aren’t just a separate issue from environmentalism. Those views form how people see the future, especially young people who might be looking for an alternative, for activism, for hope. And what DGR is saying is that trans people have no place in their vision of the future. That’s not just an exclusionary opinion; that’s dangerous, and it should run counter to the code of conduct of this conference.”

Throughout the standoff, protesters continued to ask PIELC organizers what it would take for a group to be banned from the conference, considering that despite clear and consistent backlash from the trans community and their allies, DGR was not only invited back but approved to lead several panels this year. Answers to that question ranged from professed ignorance about DGR’s politics to outright defense of them, with one of the core organizers repeatedly claiming that “everyone has the right to express their opinion” and that besides, DGR had “paid to be here.”

Some protesters felt like the issue of money actually lay at the heart of the matter, and one passerby asked organizers how many of their number were affiliated with DGR. One protester calmly offered to reimburse PIELC for DGR’s tabling fee if they could be asked to leave. His offer was refused. More and more allies and passersby joined the “blockade” throughout the day and it continued until about 4 p.m. when most of the tables were being packed away for the night. One of the DGR members who had been most vocal in arguing with and attempting to intimidate the protesters left the scene with the promise, “we’ll be back tomorrow, so bring your A game.”

“The choice of words is interesting,” said Jade Summers, one of the trans protesters and an activist with the grassroots environmental group Rising Tide. “Because it shows that they think this is a game. To them, transphobia isn’t real because they don’t think being trans is a valid identity. I think it’s interesting that we just spent hours arguing with a bunch of cis men about the right of women – ALL women – to be safe, and they’re acting like this is some kind of academic exercise. But to them, it is. They’re not affected by transphobia, they don’t live in that kind of fear, so what’s it to them?”

Responding to accusations by PIELC organizers and DGR members that their protest was “unnecessary” and “immature,” Summers says: “we take direct action when our voices have not been heard. We’ve tried talking about it, we’ve tried organizing panels about it, we’ve tried appealing to PIELC’s supposed policy on respect and inclusion and still Deep Green Resistance is invited back every year. PIELC and DGR call us disrespectful for calling attention to the transphobia that destroys our friends and our community every day, but there is a deeper disrespect going on here – you can’t equate putting a banner on a table with the denial of trans people’s human rights.”

In the end, the promised meeting with the organizers did not come about. One of the head organizers caught up with some of the protestors the next day to talk about staging a round-table discussion between trans activists and DGR, for the benefit of the law school’s journal and student credit. The offer was declined.

“We have no interest in arguing about the validity of our existence with Deep Green Resistance,” says Lenartz. “We’ve done that, and that’s not a conversation, obviously, that’s going to be at all productive. What we want is for PIELC organizers to show solidarity with trans people, to show that they care about our safety by not allowing transphobic groups like DGR into the conference. We’re not interested in re-hashing this trauma in a private forum so that [law students] can get school credit.”

Contact: Trans and/or Women’s Action Collective (

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