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Transphobia Spurs PIELC Protest

One speaker’s stance on gender identity is causing controversy around an upcoming environmental conference at the UO. Among its keynote speakers, the 32nd annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) Feb. 27 to March 2 will feature radical feminist Lierre Keith of Deep Green Resistance (DGR). A heated debate on PIELC’s Facebook event page (http://wkly.ws/1on) about Keith’s position that people who are transgender aren’t really the gender with which they identify has generated hundreds of comments. Some enviros are petitioning PIELC and UO to cancel Keith’s talk.

 “I find it disturbing that the co-directors of PIELC think that Keith’s ‘perspective on environmental issues and activism’ are separate from her perspective on transgender people,” says Shelley Cater, a long-time PIELC attendee and one of the protest’s organizers.

Cater says the Trans and Womyn’s Action Camps that started in Oregon are a model worldwide for dismantling gender oppression and sexism in the radical environmental community. “It is a slap in the face of activists in the Northwest who have done this serious and difficult work to offer validation to Keith’s toxic views in our home and at our very own beloved environmental law conference,” she says. 

“I think it’s a scandal,” says local anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan. “It’s an ugly, transphobic thing.”

Keith founded DGR with Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay in 2011. Among the group’s statement of principles to which all DGR members must agree is that “civilization, especially industrial civilization, is fundamentally destructive to life on earth” and that it is a radical feminist organization. The statement continues, “Gender is not natural, not a choice, and not a feeling: it is the structure of women’s oppression. Attempts to create more ‘choices’ within the sex-caste system only serve to reinforce the brutal realities of male power.”

Zerzan, who is an anti-civilization theorist, says that in his experience DGR has a top-down structure that doesn’t allow for questioning by members.

This isn’t the first time DGR’s trans-exclusive policy has generated controversy. McBay left the group in 2012 when Keith and Derrick Jensen canceled a trans-inclusive policy. “I find these transphobic attitudes to be disgusting and deeply troubling, and it bothers me a lot to have any past association with people promoting transphobia,” he wrote. 

The Portland chapter of DGR, now called Resistance Portland, splintered from the original organization due to its trans-exclusive policy and has encouraged other DGR chapters to do the same. Earth First! stopped printing DGR-related material in its newsletter.

PIELC organizers responded to questions via email, saying that the views of PIELC don’t align with every speaker. “We only invite speakers to present on public interest and environmental issues,” they write. “It has not been standard practice for the co-directors of PIELC to investigate the personal views of speakers. We invite speakers who will contribute to advancing the dialogue on environmentalism.”

Cater alleges Keith’s supporters have a history of outing transgender youth publicly, have interfered with transgender people’s access to health care and posted their personal information, including home addresses, phone numbers and arrest records, to online “bully sites” to make them targets of attacks.

“This effectively silences transgender people from protest of her public appearances in any form, as the potential for arrest or incarceration is far more dangerous for transgender people than for gender-conforming people,” Cater says. “Many transgender folks have said to me that they will not attend this year’s conference as they feel unwelcome and unsafe there.”