Camp Trans

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Camp Trans was the name of an annual demonstration and event held outside the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MWMF or Michfest) in Oceana County, Michigan. This demonstration was held by transgender women and their allies to protest against the Festival's policy of excluding trans women from attending the Music Festival.


Camp Trans was sparked by a 1991 incident, in which Nancy Burkholder was ejected from the festival, after refusing to answer when a woman asked her whether or not she was transgender.[1] The MWMF maintained a women-born-women policy since its inception, as evidenced by posters from the first festival in 1975[citation needed]. Each year afterwards a group of women, both transgender and cisgender, protested the exclusion of trans women from the event. Initially, these protests were small and sometimes carried on inside of the camp.[2]

A more organized group of transgender women and their allies began camping and holding demonstrations outside the gate. After a five-year hiatus, Camp Trans returned in 1999, led by transgender activists Riki Ann Wilchins and Leslie Feinberg, as well as many members of the Boston and Chicago Lesbian Avengers[3] The events of this year drew attention and controversy, culminating in tensions as a small group of transgender activists were admitted into the festival to exchange dialogue with organizers and to negotiate a short-lived compromise allowing only transgender women who had sex reassignment surgery on the festival land.[4]

In the early 1980s and in 1999, a transgender musician who had transitioned 10 years earlier did perform in MWMF. During the 1999's Camp Trans event, a number of transgender women purchased tickets and were admitted to the MWMF.[5][6] A similar claim of victory was published by Camp Trans that year.[7]

Events of 2006[edit]

By 2005, activists at Camp Trans and MWMF had become frustrated with the boycott effort and felt that a combined effort of external and internal activism on the grounds of MWMF might be more effective in securing inclusion.[8][9]

In 2006, a transgender woman organizer of Camp Trans named Lorrraine Donaldson was sold a ticket to the 31st annual Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.[10][11] On Tuesday, August 8, 2006, Donaldson approached the workers at the front gate of the festival and asked if she could purchase a ticket. She was instructed to read an outdated handout that was printed by the festival office in 2000 following the controversial events surrounding the Michigan 8 protest.[12] This paper indicated that the festival was still enforcing a policy of exclusion for transsexual women. When Donaldson pointed out that the document was outdated and asked for a current version from the workers, they told her that none was available. Donaldson requested that the workers seek up-to-date policy information in writing from the office and informed them that she would return the next morning. That same day, the newly organized Yellow Armbands pro-inclusion support group held their first meeting at the Watermelon Tree in the common dining area of the festival.

On the morning of Wednesday, August 9, Donaldson again approached the box office workers near the front gate and asked to purchase a ticket.[13] She was met at the gate by three members of the Yellow Armbands and one organizer of Camp Trans, all of whom witnessed Donaldson disclosing her trans status to the box office manager, before being sold a ticket and given an orange wristband that designated her as a "festie". Donaldson attended the festival for the remainder of the week and participated at a trans inclusion workshop that was presented by trans woman Emilia Lombardi, who was also an organizer with Camp Trans and who was sold a ticket to the festival on Friday, August 11, as well. The workshop was listed as part of the official festival program and both Donaldson and Lombardi were open about being trans women at the workshop that was attended by over 50 people.[14] Donaldson and Lombardi also continued to join the Yellow Armbands mealtime gatherings, where they were met with support from festies and workers. The conclusion of the 2006 festivals in Hart, Michigan was marked with noted optimism and collaborative spirit between Camp Trans constituents and their pro-inclusion supporters at MWMF, as was noted immediately by members of the community and media.[15] A camper also captured the good news as it was presented onstage by a Camp Trans committee member and later posted it on YouTube.[16]

2006 press release controversy and resulting organizational changes[edit]

Following the 2006 festival, a small group of Camp Trans organizers issued a press release that stated that the MWMF had "ended its policy of exclusion." [11] A disagreement ensued within the Camp Trans and Yellow Armbands organizations over whether or not this press release was ethical due to issues of transparency and consent.[17][18]

Camp Trans argued that the press release was a deliberate and necessary tactic designed to bait Vogel into responding with a transphobic press release which would make the parameters of the "wbw-policy" officially known. Supporters of this tactic felt that because Vogel hadn't given the Camp Trans organization permission to republish the letter, nor was the policy (or what Vogel referred to as an "intention") available in writing on the MichFest website or elsewhere, that this was the only way that Camp Trans could ostensibly prove that the policy actually existed. Others felt that the motivation behind the press release was nebulous and not supportive or inclusive of Donaldson or others who were involved in the positive developments that occurred in the summer of 2006. They also believed that the press release caused unnecessary conflict between inclusion activists and the festival office and they preferred to focus on the larger community who were clearly supportive of trans women attending in 2006. Regardless, Vogel did in fact issue a response where she stated again that the festival is intended for women-born-women, and that they hope and expect trans women to respect that intention.[19] Following the press release fallout, Donaldson resigned from Camp Trans and joined the Yellow Armbands as an organizer.[citation needed]

In 2007, the Yellow Armbands blog was frozen by an organizer who resigned from the activism due to lingering issues regarding lack of transparency in the inclusion movement.[20] Other activists also resigned over concerns that Camp Trans was privileging the voices of trans men over trans women in their organization. The remaining inclusion activists at Yellow Armbands created a new online community and blog and renamed their organization Fest For All Womyn.[citation needed]

Donaldson returned to MWMF in 2007 with the newly renamed Fest For All Womyn/Yellow Armbands and camped in The Twilight Zone area of the festival along with other trans women and female inclusion supporters.[11]

2007 was also a landmark year for Camp Trans, because for the first time in their 16-year history, they held elections for their organizational positions.[18] Camp Trans organizers celebrated this as a positive step in the right direction when the majority of elected positions were filled by trans women.

Allegations of violence and vandalism during 2010 festivals[edit]

According to an online news site, Anarchist News, there were several incidents of violence and vandalism during the 2010 festivals.[21] A printed version of the statements found at Anarchist News, as well as further details regarding the incidents was first published by Pink and Black Attack in early September 2010.[22] A confrontation ensued between attendees of Camp Trans and a tow-truck driver near the gates of MichFest during a reading of the history of Camp Trans.[23]

In the Pink and Black #6 zine issue, the publishers included the following descriptions of the vandalism left at one of the Michigan kitchens:

"August 7. Hart , MI: Vandalism at Michfest This year at MichFest, the words “Real Womyn Have Cocks” were painted on the MichFest kitchen and other damage was allegedly done to MichFest property. A flyer was distributed with the following text: 'Second-Wave ‘Feminists’, A hot load from my monstrous tranny-cock embodies womanhood more than the pieces of menstral (sic) art your transphobic cunts could ever hope to create. Love, Womyn-born-Monsters"

Despite these unofficial statements, neither the MichFest office nor the Camp Trans organization has confirmed the veracity of these accounts, nor whether the vandalism occurred at the worker or main kitchen. Although workshops were allegedly held to resolve the matter, no one has specified whether or not Lisa Vogel made an official response.

A thread from the MichFest bulletin board created on August 9, 2011 contains statements from numerous long time MichFest attendees and workers, who confirmed that trans women attended the festival in 2011.[24] There has been no comment from Camp Trans in regards to their attendance or participation in the 2011 festival.

Since 2010[edit]

There have been groups created "on the land" like Trans Women Belong Here, for support, care, and acquiring a "safe space" within MichFest. MichFest itself, however, ceased as an ongoing concern after its 40th season in 2015.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Trouble in Utopia". The Village Voice. September 12, 2000. Archived from the original on January 15, 2009. Retrieved January 10, 2009.
  2. ^ "To: Women Concerned About Transsexual Oppression (April 28, 1993)". Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  3. ^ "Camp Trans History". Camp Trans. Archived from the original on February 1, 2009. Retrieved January 10, 2009.
  4. ^ Son of Camp Trans Press Release: Protest Called For Women's Music Festival Discriminatory Policy Still In Effect (June 26, 1999)[1]
  5. ^ "A Handbook on Discussing The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival For Trans Activists and Allies (Koyama, Emi: Portland: Confluere, 2003: 28-36)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 2, 2008. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  6. ^ "Active link for Koyama 2003 handbook" (PDF). Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  7. ^ Son of Camp Trans Press Release: Protest Called For Women's Music Festival Discriminatory Policy Still In Effect (June 26, 1999) [2]
  8. ^ Camp Trans Festival Program (August 2005)[dead link]
  9. ^ Camp Trans & Yellow Armbands Info. Sheet (August 2005)[dead link]
  10. ^ Camp Trans Festival Program (August 2006)[dead link]
  11. ^ a b c Is The Michigan Debate Over? (July 2007)[dead link]
  12. ^ 'Michigan Eight' Evicted Over Festival's New 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (August 12, 2000) [3]
  13. ^ "Is The Michigan Debate Over?". Curve Magazine. July 2007.[dead link]
  14. ^ From MWMF 2006 festival program (Lisa Vogel, August 2006)[dead link]
  15. ^ "(09-19-06)". Dykes To Watch Out For. September 19, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  16. ^ "Camp Trans: Saturday Night Video Speech (August 19, 2006)". August 19, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2014 – via YouTube.
  17. ^ Lorraine Donaldson and Lina Corvus Conversation (September 18, 2006)[dead link]
  18. ^ a b Hard Questions (04-08-07)[dead link]
  19. ^ MWMF Press Release: Michigan Womyn's Music Festival Sets The Record Straight (August 22, 2006)[dead link]
  20. ^ dandypants resignation dialog between Yellow Armbands organizers (May 27, 2007)[dead link]
  21. ^ Let The Trans Women Speak! Anarchist News Online (August 12, 2010) Archived November 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Pink and Black Attack #6 (September 2, 2010)". Archived from the original on January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  23. ^ "Let Trans Women Speak: A Response to Camp Trans; Not Yr Sister Press (October 26, 2010)". October 26, 2010. Archived from the original on January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  24. ^ "Many Thanks to The Trans Women Belong Here Group (August 9, 2011)". Archived from the original on January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  25. ^ Trudy Ring (April 21, 2015). "This Year's Michigan Womyn's Music Festival Will Be the Last". The Advocate. Retrieved June 13, 2015.

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