Student, Eco and Indigenous Groups Oppose Transphobia at Environmental Law Conference

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 8.03.10 AMfrom Earth First! Newswire

More than 30 radical environmental organizations took a strong stance against transphobia by calling for the removal of outspoken transphobe Lierre Keith from the list of keynote speakers at the University of Oregon’s Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.

With signatories including national and local forest defense groups, the letter represents key voices of environmental justice to appalachia defense to indigenous solidarity. The letter states, “PIELC has an obligation to promote safer spaces inclusive of LGBQTTI people. PIELC must not become a venue for trans* exclusionary hate that breeds an environment of hostility and violence.”

Keith has described the trans* community as “deeply misogynist and reactionary,” stating that “men insisting they are women is insulting and absurd.”

Though relatively unknown in the environmental movement until a few years ago, Keith was brought to a larger audience through her co-authorship of Deep Green Resistance, alongside McBay and primitivist author Derrick Jensen. Since then, she has been a part of an organization modeled after the book, also called Deep Green Resistance (DGR), which many see as divisive and sectarian.

The letter asserts, “Neither Keith nor DGR have played decisive or visible roles in campaigns against clearcutting, fossil fuel infrastructure, and climate change in Cascadia, while many of us have dedicated our lives to making these causes inclusive and non-reactionary.”

Here is the PIELC  sign on letter in full:

Dear Paul Shang and Friends of Land Air Water,

For more than three decades, the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference has been among the most important institutions in the environmental movement of Oregon. Uniting people of all paths in the movement towards ecological justice and environmental sustainability, PIELC has hosted some of the greatest luminaries in the world. For this reason, we were extremely disappointed to find that PIELC has embarrassed itself by inviting transphobic, anti-queer Lierre Keith to come as a keynote speaker.

Rather than bringing people together, Lierre Keith has a history of tearing apart alliances in the environmental movement. In fact, her own organization, Deep Green Resistance (DGR), does little else beside attacking people in the environmental movement who do not fit her identity politics. Asserting that all transgender people are “deeply misogynistic,” Keith and her community of self-described “radical feminists” have heaped some of the most hateful and sordid attacks against trans* people and their allies. Keith has claimed that trans* people, by nature of being trans, are “insulting and absurd” to her, and that “it is porn culture that really created the whole concept of trans.”[i] Keith’s larger community are known for slandering trans* people a “perverse, pedophilic, porn-diseased men,” insisting that “all trannies will be eradicated by radical feminism,” and that “the only good ‘trans’ is the detransitioned FORMER-trans.”[ii]

Lierre Keith’s position reduces the existence of trans* people to “transgenderism,” as if trans* people simply entertain some kind of sick belief or ideological disease. Similarly, Keith believes that queer theory is inherently misogynistic, indicating the troubling direction of her exclusionary politics. Her opinion has caused many original members of DGR to leave the group, such as cofounding author, Aric McBay, who explained in a public statement that Keith’s “transphobic attitudes are disgusting and deeply troubling.”[iii]

McBay left DGR after Keith, Saba Malik, and Derrick Jensen spurned his and others’ support for trans* inclusive policies. A trans* woman recalls how trans* people were forced out of DGR: “Saba Malik, Lierre Keith and Derrick [Jensen] all sent emails to my chapter and one other chapter that supported trans folks with the usual rad fem attacks. The head organizer Premadasi Amada was asked to leave as a part of this process. 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.”[iv]

The anti-trans position wielded by Lierre Keith has alienated and isolated many allies as well, including the Ogalala Lakota. The Great Plains chapter of DGR spent time working with the Lakota to develop bonds of solidarity between settlers and Native peoples. After moving towards decolonization through direct action, both the Lakota and the Great Plains chapter were broadsided by Keith who attacked the Lakota as patriarchal. During the ensuing deterioration of Indigenous-settler relations in the region, the Great Plains chapter broke away from Keith and DGR. The former members of DGR continue to support the Lakota in their efforts to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

One of the sorest problems for people who have left or have been forced out of DGR by Keith is the group’s cultish status. As a permanent advisory board member, Keith has bestowed upon herself a non-transparent role that designates who does and does not suit the group’s politics. DGR not only attacks and excludes trans* people, but it also attacks other trans* inclusive groups and their members like Earth First! as misogynistic “rape apologists” for being inclusionary.[v] While it is difficult to find, in the last year, one single action that DGR has taken in defense of the Earth, it is easy to find episodes of divisive antagonism littered by Keith and her “radical feminist” group throughout both the feminist and environmental movements.

While we recognize that Keith has a right to give vent to her opinions, as an open forum for the environmental movement, PIELC has an obligation to promote safer spaces inclusive of LGBQTTI people. PIELC must not become a venue for trans* exclusionary hate that breeds an environment of hostility and violence.

Therefore, we, the undersigned organizations, representing generations of ecological defense and comprised of hundreds of thousands of members, demand that Keith be removed from the list of keynote speakers at this year’s PIELC. Neither Keith nor DGR have played decisive or visible roles in campaigns against clearcutting, fossil fuel infrastructure, and climate change in Cascadia, while many of us have dedicated our lives to making these causes inclusive and non-reactionary. We ask that PIELC represent the voices of the radical environmental movement by rescinding its invitation to the reactionary politics of fear, and transforming the DGR-centric conference into one that respects principles of biocentrism, anti-oppression, and solidarity.

Signed,

National Groups

Greenpeace USA

Rising Tide North America

Earth First! Journal Collective

 

University of Oregon Student Groups

Students Cooperative Association

Coalition Against Environmental Racism

Student Labor Action Project

Student Insurgent

Survival Center

 

Regional Environmental Groups

Ancestral Pride ~ Land Defenders, Ahousaht and Snuneymuxw First Nations

Bark

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project

Cascadia Earth First!

Cascadia Forest Defenders

Trans and Women’s Action Camp Cascadia

 

Portland State University Groups

Cascadia Branch

Resistance Ecology

Students for Unity

 

Rising Tide Groups

Portland Rising Tide

Rising Tide Vermont

Seattle Rising Tide

South Sound Rising Tide

Wild Idaho Rising Tide

 

Other Groups

Bay Area Trans and Womyn’s Action Camp

Climate Ground Zero

Humboldt Earth First!

The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership

Mutant Legal Collective

Radical Action for Mountain Peoples Survival (RAMPS Campaign)

Reclaim Turtle Island

Redwood Forest Defenders

Unsettling America


[i] “How Derrick Jensen’s Deep Green Resistance Supports Transphobia,” Be Scofield, Decolonizing Yoga, May 13, 2013, http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/how-derrick-jensens-deep-green-resistance-supports-transphobia/#sthash.f6qn0dKt.dpuf

 

[ii] These quotes are from RadFem/DGR activist Lisa Compton, and roughly typify the position of these groups as experienced in public forums and personal conversations. The first and last quotes come from the comments section of the Earth First! Journal Newswire, March 21, 2013. (http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2013/05/17/deep-green-transphobia-iii-derrick-jensens-hateful-tirade/#comment-3985), and the second one comes from a comment she made on a story entitled “Transgender at 11: Listening to Jazz,” ABC News’s Youtube channel, January 19, 2013, (http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpZ9q64AVEF7Q3frPS4Es1w)

 

[iii] Aric McBay, “DGR and Transphobia,” May 14, 2013, http://www.aricmcbay.org

 

[iv] Scofield, Decolonizing Yoga

 

[v] Sasha Ross, An Open Letter to Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen from a Member of the Earth First! Journal Collective,” Earth First! Journal Newswre, June 24, 2013, http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2013/06/24/an-open-letter-to-lierre-keith-and-derrick-jensen-from-a-member-of-the-earth-first-journal-collective/

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