Written on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, this letter is put together by Coalition Against Trans Antagonism (CATA). We are publicly addressing the presence of cis supremacists at the 2018 Vancouver Dyke March (VDM), the inadequate actions by the organizers of VDM leading up to, during, and after the march, and the overall disappointing response by the community at large. (Please note: the examples and details we provide in this letter are not exhaustive of all the harmful actions by TERFs/SWERFs at this year’s VDM.)
In early June, a member of CATA posted specific questions and concerns to the facebook event page for this year’s march. This was in regards to the ongoing fascist organizing by TERFs/SWERFs locally, including what VDM’s stance was on TERFs/SWERFs and what VDM’s plans were to address the presence of cis supremacists at the march. The motivation of the posting was based on a very real concern rooted in lived experience about TERF/SWERF fascist violence in the march (considering their presence last year) and the personal safety of members of the trans community who hoped to attend.
The facebook thread exploded and was subsequently swarmed by TERFs/SWERFs. VDM responded by deleting the thread, comments, and all other original posts by community members, and by disabling all discussion on the event page. We are incredibly disappointed by the erasure of the labour put in by the local community responding to the bigotry as well as the erasure of the calls for accountability. The deletion of these posts are a direct silencing of the community, an indication of a lack of commitment to maintaining safer spaces for those multiply marginalized (including online), and an erasure of community history.
In mid-July, an autonomous sex worker, trans and BDSM positive (SWT-BDSMP) contingent was organized to create a safer space for those who identified under the umbrella to participate in the march and in anticipation of the presence of TERFs/SWERFs. In late July, the organizers of this contingent had a conference call with some of the VDM board members. They were assured by Clarissa, Danielle, and Elizabeth (of VDM) that various safety plans were in place to address TERF/SWERF/fascist presence, rooted in a framework of de-escalation. This plan was asked not to be made public, and therefore the rest of the SWT-BDSMP contingent, and the community at large, were not informed of the details.
Before the march began, on August 4th, the SWT-BDSMP contingent, who were asked by VDM to march out front, noticed that the Grumpy Old Dykes (GOD) were gathering with trans antagonistic signs towards the rear of the event. Members of the SWT-BDSMP contingent asked volunteer board members of VDM to deal with the TERF presence, to ask them to not march, and to remove their hateful signs and banners. Unfortunately, the march commenced without their removal.
During the march itself, the SWT-BDSMP contingent primarily marched out front with various trans affirming signs including an LGBT anti-fascist flag and a banner that read “No TERFs and SWERFs in Anti-Capitalism”, which alluded to the rampant complicity of leftist social justice organizing with TERFs and SWERFs in Vancouver and beyond. Individual contingent members and VDM volunteers surrounded the TERF group and shouted trans affirming chants. To prevent the TERF marchers from entering the VDM festivities at Grandview Park, individuals and SWT-BDSMP contingent members pooled at the entrance of the park at Commercial and Charles Street. Activists held signs and chanted “No TERFs, no KKK, no fascists here today,” declaring that so-called LGBT community members with fascist politics were not welcome to celebrate pride for all.
After the march at Grandview Park, SWT-BDSMP contingent members approached VDM board members in an attempt to understand why TERFs/SWERFs were allowed to march at the back. VDM board members were defensive and regurgitated non-profit rhetoric in an effort to deflect and not address concerns that were being brought to them. They claimed that their hands were tied, that they could not prevent the TERFs from demonstrating, and that these marchers were free to carry whatever messages they desired. By saying this they invoked tropes that conflated the right to free speech with hate speech.
Leading up to this year’s march, VDM has made public statements about who the march is for, who is included, and who they wanted to be present at the march, and at the same time no statements were made about meaningfully mitigating the presence of TERFs/SWERFs and fascists as a whole. The latter negates the former, preventing trans people and sex workers from feeling safe to march. VDM also has a “Trans, Two-Spirit, and Intersex Policy” in a commitment to trans inclusion at VDM-related events and in VDM-related organizing. Their policy, however, lacks a process to address what happens when this policy is breached. An inclusion statement and rejection statement, alongside a policy and strategy to remove harassers and fascists from event spaces, are some of the necessary steps required to ensure a safer space at VDM.
- Commit to creating more space and support for trans people, sex workers, people of colour, disabled people, and other marginalized people within the dyke community to hold meaningful positions of leadership within VDM (avoiding tokenization).
- Commit to publicly recognizing the history of dyke marches as anti-trans organizing spaces and VDM’s historical complicity.
- Commit to devote a portion of VDM’s year-round organizing to specifically affirming trans women as women and advocating for trans dyke women politically in all spheres where VDM operates or is visible.
- Commit to publicly recognizing that sex work is work, understanding that dyke sex workers exist and are deserving of safety and autonomy.
- Build on VDM’s existing “Code of Conduct” to more effectively communicate that harassment, abuse, oppressive behaviours, and fascist ideologies are not welcome; and develop, implement, and clearly state a process in how these issues will be addressed by VDM at VDM-related events and in VDM-related organizing.
- Incorporate into the process steps that range from calling a person in, calling them out, and removing a participant from the event altogether.
- Work with the trans and sex worker community to draft a rejection statement of cis supremacists, TERFs/SWERFs and fascists in general to be used in all VDM-related events and organizing. The statement must include a formal recognition that people promoting fascist, cis supremacist and TERF/SWERF ideology cannot be included or participate in VDM events in any form.
- Specifically commit to ensuring that if a person brings a trans-eradicationist or an anti-sex worker sign to VDM-related events, they will not march even if they put away their sign.
- Whether in inclusion or rejection statements, specifically mention trans feminine communities and transmisogyny, not simply trans communities and trans antagonism. There is a specific hatred of trans feminine people that underlies TERF ideology and it demands a clear and specific response at all times.
- Commit to require a similar statement of rejection from any groups or organizations formally participating as partners in VDM-related events and in VDM-related organizing.
- Develop and implement a social media policy and design a role where posts made by the public are monitored, and fascistic rhetoric and the people who post them are removed and banned.
- Include in the policy a commitment to transparency through the archiving of posts and comments by community members, especially when it involves calling organizers to account.
As a trans person from Montreal eloquently states in the comment section of VDM’s facebook post about the TERF/SWERF presence at the march: “…[A]n organised hate movement….demands an organised response.”
We believe that part of creating and ensuring safer spaces requires an ongoing learning process and we are calling on the organizers, board members, volunteers, and patrons of VDM–as well as the greater community–to learn from this year’s march and to take very seriously the dangerous and harmful beliefs promoted by TERFs/SWERFs.
The fact that TERFs/SWERFs were able to march along the entire route amongst VDM participants is a clear indication that VDM’s de-escalation strategy has failed. VDM must acknowledge this reality. VDM must develop and implement a strategy of removal in order to effectively address, deter, and prevent the presence of fascists in future events and organizing.
If VDM is sincere and serious about creating a safer space at the march, particularly for Two-Spirit, trans, and intersex people, and especially for trans women and trans feminine people, then concrete change and actions are required to reflect VDM’s stated intentions of inclusion.
This call for accountability applies beyond VDM and includes all organizations, groups, and individuals committed to social justice, who continue to create space for, work with, endorse, and maintain personal relationships with those who espouse fascist, anti-trans, anti-sex worker ideologies. For far too long, many who claim to fight for the oppressed are complicit in the normalizing of and providing platforms for hatred and bigotry directed towards trans women, trans people as a whole, and sex workers in Vancouver and beyond. Organizing in this way is unacceptable and must be held to account.
We can and must do better.
Coalition Against Trans Antagonism