Open letter in support of Martha Harvey

Image: Facebook/Pride Center of the Capital Region

On July 9th, 2017, Martha Harvey, the Executive Director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region shared an article from a feminist website to the Center’s Facebook page, along with the comment, “Interesting article. What do you think?” The article, “Lesbianism is under attack, though not by the usual suspects,” was about the historical erasure of lesbianism, lesbian women’s accomplishments, and the ongoing violence and coercion they are subjected to around the world in order to force them to submit to heterosexual relationships. The article criticized a modern version of this coercion, disturbingly rubber-stamped by many progressives and queer activists. These are recognized, long-standing issues facing lesbian women and girls, which any organization who claims to represent them should be concerned with.

But because a very small but vocal group did not agree with the arguments made in the piece, they decided that it should not be read by anyone at all. Within hours of posting the article, Harvey was attacked online by a group of people who labeled her “transphobic,” demanded she apologize and take down the article, and proceeded to write the Center’s board of directors, repeating these demands and calling for her resignation.The article contained no slurs, hate speech, or calls for violence, and Feminist Current, where the article was published, is a well-known feminist, progressive publication, that advocates against male violence and towards women’s liberation. Still, even after Harvey took the post linking to the article down and posted a lengthy, detailed apology, demands the board ask for her resignation, claiming she was unfit for the position, continued.

No political article will be wholly agreed on by all readers. It is ok to disagree, it is ok to critique, it is ok to have conversations, to argue, and to debate. It is not ok to silence, censor, or attempt to destroy the lives of those we disagree with. It is not okay to silence and smear a lesbian woman, for raising concerns about the human rights of lesbian women, on the page of an organization whose mission includes increasing political recognition and human rights for lesbians.

The article was said to have included “damaging rhetoric,” and Harvey was accused of “transphobia” and “transmisogyny” for having shared it. A statement posted on the Black Lives Matter: Upstate NY Facebook page read:

“The Executive Director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region recently shared, via social media, a cruel and dehumanizing ‘article’ perpetuating violent and transphobic rhetoric. The article, among other things, compared trans women to rapists and reduced members of the trans community to their genitals.”

No quotes from the article were offered as reference for these claims. In fact, what the article argues is that lesbians have the right to refuse sex and sexual relationships with people with penises. This argument is not hateful or phobic, it is a matter of respecting lesbianism, respecting women’s boundaries, and in opposition to a misogynist and homophobic culture that says all women should desire and be sexually available to males.

It has become common practice to evoke the concept of “violence” in reference to language or ideas with which we politically disagree. To claim an article supporting lesbian rights is “dehumanizing” and perpetuates “violence,” without supporting those claims is dishonest and dangerously manipulative. Considering the real-life violence lesbians (and other oppressed groups of people) have faced and continue to face as minorities in a patriarchal, racist, heterosexist world, painting words and thoughts as “violence” minimizes that violence and misunderstands the roots, reality, and function of systems of oppression, like patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy.

Social justice movements need to engage in critical thought and open, rigorous debate, with integrity. In the U.S., minority groups are up against a misogynist, racist, imperialist regime that poses a daily threat to their lives and human rights. Faced with a demagogue in power in the U.S., who silences and smears the free press with wild abandon, who rejects any and all critique/critical thought, and who bullies and punishes those who fail to toe the line, we need to ensure our social justice movements are not operating through the same tactics.

Many of those calling for Harvey’s resignation have stated emphatically that “Transwomen are women.” But, while it has become unpopular to say so, most of those who identify as transwomen have male bodies. It is indefensible to suggest that lesbians (i.e. women who are attracted explicitly to other women) must consider sexual relationships with males who identify as trans, simply because they say so or because it is considered “open-minded” by some. This should not even be up for debate within an organization whose core mission is to advance the rights of those who maintain a same-sex orientation. But it is, hence the article, which details the history of homophobic oppression worldwide, the erasure of lesbians and lesbianism, and the way our patriarchal culture and the media produced within it too-often fetishizes lesbianism, inserts males into lesbian relationships, and makes use of a narrative that depicts men “turning” lesbians heterosexual through penetrative sex.

The targeted harassment and attacks Harvey has been subjected to, simply for sharing an article, are sadly not uncommon. There are numerous cases of women, feminist organizations, and even experts in the field of gender dysphoria being targeted for questioning discourse around gender identity, transgenderism, and for centering women in their politics. Individuals are harassed online, in real life, and through their employment for asking the “wrong” questions, using the “wrong” words, and sharing the “wrong” articles.

Pride centers represent lesbians, as well as other groups and individuals who are marginalized in a patriarchal, homophobic society. Not all of those groups and individuals are or should be in agreement about every issue. Certainly they are not all in agreement about the issue of gender identity and the question of what is a woman.

Why should one vocal minority get to speak on behalf of all LGBT people? Why should that group be permitted to dictate what conversations are allowed to happen among LGBT people? Why is this group being permitted to attack, threaten, and silence a lesbian woman, who has worked for decades, on behalf of LGBT people, simply because they don’t like the kinds of articles she reads?

Harvey has done nothing wrong. She has not said anything hateful or bigoted. She is thinking critically about an issue that is of utmost importance to lesbians, and feminists, more broadly: bodily autonomy, boundaries, the right for women to define and enact their own sexuality. She was trying to open up a dialogue.

Those who are attacking Harvey are doing so without sharing — or even having read — the original article, so that people can read it and decide for themselves if it is wrong or “harmful.” Putting ordinary, nonviolent political speech — about lesbian rights and feminism, no less — so far outside the realm of polite conversation that the contents can’t even be meaningfully alluded to is to say that these topics are more dangerous than slurs, more dangerous than the harshest moral condemnation, more dangerous than direct calls to violence, more dangerous than the writings of mass murdering dictators whose words are still quoted for reference when appropriate. And if the writing is that dangerous, how much more so the feminists who write it, the lesbian who shares it? Are feminist ideas now so dangerous they are unspeakable? So dangerous they must be suppressed, so no one else may read these words?

To prevent critical thought, free speech, and robust debate, by silencing and harassing your opponents, is destructive of the democratic norms and institutions that have allowed the oppressed to advance our rights in systems not built to respect us.

Harvey should not have apologized for posting the article, but she did. We, the undersigned, think it is fair to believe her when she says she does not want anyone in her community to feel “unsafe, attacked, maligned, erased, unheard, or misrepresented.” Doesn’t she deserve the same consideration?

This is nothing short of a witch hunt. This behaviour should not be tolerated, no matter what your opinion. We implore the Board of Directors and all allies of the LGBT community to support Harvey in her position as Executive Director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region.

We stand in solidarity with Martha Harvey and with the principles of free speech, critical thought, and woman-centered politics.

If you would like to add your name to this letter, please email: [email protected].

List of Signatories:

1. Angie Conroy
2. Manu Schon
3. Deidre Pearson
4. Meghan Murphy
5. Monika Beatty
6. Orla Hegarty
7. Elizabeth Pickett, LL.M.,
8. Colleen Glynn
9. Tina Minkowitz
10. Tara Prima
11. Memoree Joelle
12. Peggy Luhrs
13. Spider Redgold
14. Tracy Allard
15. MJ Reilly
16. Barb Gurwell
17. Melinda Mann
18. Russell Gibson
19. Jean P. Miller
20. M.K. McCaffrey
21. Marian Rutigliano
22. Jasmine Northrop
23. Lesley MacDougall
24. Pansy Watson
25. V.L. Zajdel
26. Sarah Richardson
27. Holly Northrop
28. S. L. Bondarchuk
29. Ashley Chickadel
30. Carol Crystal
31. Tracy Lanzafame
32. Martin Dufresne
33. Lynn Johnson
34. Susan Smyth
35. Meg Goodman
36. Casey Hall
37. Kacie Mills
38. Laura Brewer
39. Elaine Grisé
40. Natasha Chart
41. Sandra Harpes
42. Sarah Blaquiere
43. Ann Elizabeth Wheeler
44. Leah Harwood
45. Lea Pierce
46. Molly Donohue
47. Marie Guzzo
48. Nancy Lee Koenig Sr
49. Andrea Stumpf
50. Sarah Westbury
51. Cathryn Atkinson
52. Diane Guilbault
53. Vanessa Fraser
54. Sara Wiseman
55. Erin Graham, PhD
56. April Applegate
57. Ella Josten
58. Georgina Whitby
59. Robertson Taylor
60. Nancy Crase
61. Ellen Donohue
62. Magdalena Gutierrez
63. Trish Oliver
64. Natalie Ballard
65. Mary Syrett
66. Harry W Laughlin
67. Katherine Denison
68. Moira Ariev
69. Karla Gjini
70. Wendy Lewis
71. Dawn Wilcox
72. Kate Hansen
73. Amanda Sabean
74. Angela Lee
75. Cherry Austin
76. Tim Leadbeater
77. Julia Beck
78. Elizabeth Robertson
79. Susan MacHolan
80. Elana Dykewomon
81. Barbara Lapthorn MSc
82. Maxine Lewis
83. Ivy Ziedrich
84. Amanda Ripley
85. Penelope Greenhough
86. Jessica Gardner
87. Terre Spencer
88. Katy Saunderson
89. Emma Flynn
90. Sheena Best
91. Barbara Scott
92. Maureen Doll
93. Camilla Strand
94. Katarina Visnar
95. Helen Saxby
96. Susanne Bischoff
97. D’Arcy Pocklington
98. Maria Alferova
99. Charlotte Peterson
100. Mags Hodge
101. Corinna Cohn
102. S. Grace Skrobisz
103. Morgan Westcott
104. Maureen Bourke
105. Ida Jørgensen
106. Maria MacLachlan
107. Vaska Tumir
108. Rhoda Mueller
109. Brian Cross
110. Jennifer Murnan
111. Janet Cotgrave
112. N. Lawji
113. Cheryl Lickona
114. Max Dashu
115. Stella Jane Bowen
116. Leah Martin
117. Judith Sara
118. Ru Ide
119. Anne Bevan
120. Dr. Sean Heather K. McGraw
121. Lisa Steacy
122. Laura Phelps
123. Nicole Buckley
124. JJ Barnes
125. Trula Earthgarden
126. Tracy Shringarpure
127. Diane McGowan
128. Thora Broughton
129. Glen Morgan
130. Patricia Booher
131. Hearth M. Rising
132. Joshua Slocum
133. Sarah Cummings
134. Christine Muldoon
135. Susan King
136. Celia A. Nord
137. Lorna Garano
138. Alex McKane
139. Sarah Porter
140. Anemone Cerridwen
141. Barbara Derbyshire
142. Helen Staniland
143. Vicki Wharton
144. Alison Dover
145. Ann Menasche
146. Katie Watkins
147. Claire Heuchen
148. Spiro C. Lampros
149. Racheal Rodman
150. Carol Pinegar
151. Suzie Blake
152. Rebecca Harmon
153. Ruby Barnett
154. Lily Cage
155. Mary Lunetta
156. Bettina Brand
157. Nancy Lulic
158. Thistle Pettersen
159. Margaret Shivelight
160. Nicola Williams
161. Brett Howard
162. Darcie Whitehurst
163. Michelle R Miller
164. Jennifer Bilek
165. Temple Ardinger
166. Daisy Kler
167. Jennifer Chavez
168. Kim Macphail-Chicago
169. Karla Mantilla
170. V J Link
171. Debbie Liu
172. Henrik Persson
173. Eliza Karat
174. Charlee Connor
175. Kathleen Knight
176. Elizabeth Johnson
177. Inge Kleine
178. Pour les droits des femmes du Québec (PDF Québec)
179. Kate Gould
180. Abigail McGowan
181. Kitty Barber
182. Dru Smith
183. Rebecca Whisnant
184. Darl Wood
185. Susan Boyd
186. Ellen McManus
187. Elise Osha
188. Liza Cowan
189. Paul Joseph McDonough
190. Gina Quinlan
191. Claire Robinson
192. Nicole Jones
193. Casey Leeds
194. Miep Rowan O’Brien
195. Amanda Whyte
196. Lisa Mallett
197. Liz Waterhouse
198. Simone Watson
199. Anna McCormack
200. Karen Cayer
201. Jane Margaret Kelf
202. Mick Parkin
203. Hayley McPhail
204. Shawnee Freeman
205. Morven Magari
206. Laura Williams
207. Francine Sporenda
208. Marylou Singleton
209. Marieke Bos
210. Alisha Read
211. Jo Gaylor
212. Tua Wester
213. Ben C. Smith
214. Georgina Blackmore
215. Carol Hanisch
216. Shuli Goodman
217. Vandra Costello
218. Temple Morris
219. Teresa Henderson
220. Mark Fulwiler
221. Shoshana Handel
222. Kathy Scarbrough
223. Caity Strickland
224. Adam Sowa
225. Myriam Perera
226. Mandy Vere
227. Kelly Yardy
228. Kate Lewis
229. Rebeka Hoffman
230. Diane Szczesniak
231. Kay Rowan
232. J Gourley
233. Elizabeth Albright
234. Terry Harris
235. Sandra Russel
236. Aoife Assumpta Hart, PhD
237. Jessica Anderson
238. Josephine Bartosch
239. Amy Whitman
240. Cristy Webb
241. Lizeth Alvarez
242. Lia Patris
243. Sharon Fraser
244. Pat Whyte
245. Michele Richards
246. Mary Burns
247. Patricia Fraser
248. Kathleen Connor
249. Michelle Connolly
250. Merilee Thompson
251. Susan Wiseheart
252. Gretchen Brown
253. Maureen Peterson
254. Sarah Richardson
255. Krista Sawchuk
256. Mary McClintock, M.Ed
257. Joan Moore
258. Zoë Lafantaisie
259. Molly Belt
260. Cynthia Bott
261. Rachel King
262. Kathleen Lowrey
263. Keira Smith-Tague
264. Hilla Kerner
265. Samantha Grey
266. Louisa Russell
267. Maria Paredes
268. Maria Wong
269. Rachel Anthony
270. Michelle Gale, PhD
271. Meredith Avila
272. Lynn Schirmer
273. Susan Breen
274. Cherrie Bertha-Elizabeth
275. Tove Happonen
276. Jennifer Grimsley
277. Jodi Shaw
278. Dr Lesley Semmens
279. Elizabeth L Little
280. Raquel Rosario Sanchez
281. Tanya Lebar
282. Liz Warren
283. Tara Candido
284. Lee Evans
285. Marie Moore
286. Emma Robertson
287. Magi Gibson
288. Marcia K. Matthews
289. Sabrinna Valisce
290. Natalie Thompson
291. Jessica Shepherd
292. Maureen K. Doll
293. Amy Guy
294. Anna Makarova
295. Joyce Miller
296. Maureen Anderson
297. Bear Dean
298. Julie Smith
299. Cassandra Birch
300. Anika Cunningham
301. Gaye Spetka
302. Nori Budge
303. Karis H. Post, CAGS
304. Donna Zinno-Baybusky
305. Dani Richards
306. Linda Barnes
307. Linda K. Best
308. Cheryl Bergen
309. Harriet C. Forman
310. Melissa McCudden
311. Claire Williams
312. Richard Pope
313. Beckie Kuipers
314. Nick Dager
315. Jan Whitman
316. Joey G. Mueller
317. Patricia K. Wood
318. Rona Stewart
319. Angela C. Wild
320. Gunhild Mewes
321. Ulrika Winbäck
322. Moa Lindholm
323. Susan Lowney
324. Lydie Labat
325. Nasheima Sheikh
326. Robin Birdfeather
327. Natasha Collins-Lynn
328. Jane Levan
329. Lenore Norrgard
330. Carolyn Scofield
331. Jerl Dilno
332. Natalie Painter
333. Karen Bercovici
334. Kimberly Sabrosky
335. Alison Batts
336. Jen Izaakson
337. Jay Keck
338. Frances O’Connell
339. Corrinne Farner
340. Vajra Ma
341. Susan Matthews
342. Sandy Cleomaude
343. Donald J. Anthony
344. Mary Forst
345. Ramona Boston
346. Madeline Ruoff
347. Perig Gouanvic
348. Louise Moondancer
349. Sarah Mooney
350. Rand Hall
351. Kayley Self
352. Lori Curry
353. Marcia Levin
354. Melinda Tremaglio
355. Juliette Doroy​
356. Melissa Kelly
357. Claudia Raven
358. Nil Şimşek
359. Kristen Erskine
360. Wendy Lev
361. Trisha Baptie
362. Michelle Noonan
363. Helen Ridsdale
364. Eavan Moore
365. Lina Nordström
366. Melissa Kramer
367. Suzanne Jay
368. Barbara van’tSlot
369. Karolina Jurikova
370. Heather-Rose Ryan
371. Amilkar Romero-García
372. Emily de Castrique
373. Robert Doublin
374. Spyros Marchetos
375. Krysti Hollaway
376. Mary J. Mulligan
377. Rae Robinson
378. Aurora Linnea
379. Clara Göransson
380. Lacourarie Pascale
381. Gabriel Parra-Blessing
382. Jessica Weber
383. Candyce Rusk
384. Conni Johnson
385. Kajsa Ekis Ekman
386. Gaye Chapman
387. Jody Biesche
388. Sophia Ramsden
389. Elicka Sparks
390. Heidi Wilson
391. Rebecca Bergfjord
392. Sylvia Black
393. Judith Woolf
394. Suzanne M. Kupiec
395. Sibyl Frei
396. Jessica MacFadzen-Reid
397. L.A. Murphy
398. Wendy Davis
399. Susan Flindt
400. Pamela Morgan
401. Tracie Warden Dengá
402. Sarah Morgan
403. Dee Sias
402. Nicole Lacoste
403. Chris Sitka
404. Ann Allen
405. Marta Sofia Mendes Mendonca Correia
406. J. Bourge Hathaway
407. José Bateira
408. Michelle Mead
409. Lena Newman
410. Twilah Hiari
411. Christina M. Limpert
412. Maartje Kuilman
413. Candace J Groudine
414. Katherine Dalton
415. Maxine Lewis
416. Mia Mantello
417. Lise Pauzé
418. Florence Humbert
419. Jolie Malone
420. Danitza Cornejo
421. Christine Delphy
422. Susan Perry
423. Jacqueline Casares
424. Mahina Nightsage
425. Kao Huguenin
426. Helen Webster
427. Olivier Blanc
428. Lauren Levey
429. Lisa Trost
430. Jeannine Bigrat
431. Diana Arseneau-Powell
432. Riel Hahn
433. Angela Moy
434. Jacob Russell
435. Dinah Stubbs
436. Julian Vigo
437. Miranda Yardley
438. Gjertrud Johansen
439. Dorothy A. Mayfield
440. Magdalen Berns
441. Tammy Wilder
442. Lydia Morris-Jones
443. Natasha Magness
444. Alice Dreger
445. Blossom Martin
446. Joanna Matley
447. Bonnie Atwood
448. Rachel King
449. Angie Sabin
450. Pamela Rothfield
451. Spider Redgold
452. Rebecca Jurgens
453. Dr Amelie Summer
454. Victoria Doherty
455. Ophelia Benson
456. Rya Jones
457. Megan Robinson
458. Csilla Florian
459. RL McKee
460. Kalyna Katherine Lesyna
461. Laura McIlroy
462. Stephie Smith
462. Sascha Patrice Kramps
463. Julie Moss
464. Marina Surette
465. Morgne Cramer
466. Amanda Conrad