In a shocking last minute decision Lawrence University representatives no-platformed Deep Green Resistance founding member Lierre Keith from her scheduled Earth Day appearance due to previous feminist comments she has made about gender. Specifically, she was banned from speaking at the university due to her belief that Gender is socially created and not biologically innate.
Keith is the author of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability and a well known writer, Radical Feminist, food activist and environmentalist. Her scheduled speech “Stopping Civilization’s Violence to the Earth” was booked as part of Lawrence’s Greenfire Earth Week Speaking Series.
An event organizer contacted Keith on April 11 with the disturbing news that Lawrence University faculty lecturer Helen Boyd (pen name of Gail Kramer) who is identified in emails as “Professor Helen Boyd-Kramer, a well-known transadvocate” was organizing a campaign to censor Keith’s environmentalist lecture. Boyd-Kramer is the heterosexual wife of transgender and long-time crossdresser, actor Jason Crowl. Boyd-Kramer is the author of “My Husband Betty: Love, Sex and Life with a Crossdresser” and appears on the transgender circuit as a paid speaker describing her experiences as the wife of a transgender man, as well as lecturing in the Gender Studies and Freshman Studies departments at Lawrence. The organizer informed Lierre Keith that Boyd-Kramer was threatening to mount a public protest at the Earth Day event as well as publish an article in the Lawrence University newspaper damning the event unless Lierre agreed to meet with her “in order to have a private conversation about the issue”. Although Keith’s scheduled Earth Day talk had nothing to do with the transgender issue, the organizer stated his fear that “They would diminish the impact of your talk by making you look close-minded and mean, and by shifting the focus of discussion and re-framing your appearance completely.” Lierre was repeatedly asked if her feminist views on gender had “changed”: “we’d love to hear that and the issue will end there.”
No stranger to controversy, and with the strong support of those in the Wisconsin environmentalist community Keith intended to proceed with her appearance as scheduled on Sunday April 21. Two days before the event she was informed that her environmentalist program had been no-platformed at Lawrence University due to her unwillingness to retract her previous, unrelated feminist statements expressing her belief that gender is socially constructed and not biologically innate.
Lawrence University Earth Day organizer Adam James Kranz posted the following message on the event Facebook page announcing that he would personally replace Keith as speaker and present the aspects of Keith’s ideas that he finds “compelling”:
by Greenfire (Notes) on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 2:06pm
From their website “Deep Green Resistance is an analysis, a strategy, and a movement being born, the only movement of its kind.” DGR’s writings have strongly influenced my perspective on environmental issues, and I think their ideas have a lot of valuable contributions to make. They draw deep connections between violence against the land and violence based on class, race, gender, etc. Their analysis puts modern ills in historical context, comparing the tribulations of agricultural life to the hunter-gatherer systems dominant for most of human existence. They make incisive critiques of mainstream modes of activism and reform. Their appraisal of reform-based activism asks us whether we can afford to wait, and, if not, whether we have any alternatives.
There are plenty of intellectual critiques one can and should make of DGR – I did two independent studies last Spring doing just that. However, I feel that DGR’s perspective is very valuable and poses some tough questions to the conventional brand of activism. Lierre is one of the three main leaders and authors behind DGR, and I hoped her lecture would provoke some interesting discussion. The broad, inclusive resistance to oppression and hierarchy that DGR advocates was my own entry point into activist causes beyond environmentalism. I largely relied on their positions on issues I hadn’t bothered to study myself – especially feminism.
This is why I was so disappointed and betrayed to learn that Lierre doesn’t support the trans community in their fight against the same oppressive forces Lierre spends her life combating. In fact, Lierre’s views are deeply offensive and actively transphobic. If anyone is interested in reading her hate-speech, it is quoted here:
and a deconstruction/rebuttal:
Lierre’s views are products of an old trend in eco-feminism that I can’t claim to understand. However, it is not defensible under the shield of intellectual freedom of thought. Her statements go well beyond an analysis that is merely wrong to a level that is actively offensive and disregards the lived experiences of millions of people.
Greenfire is committed to maintaining a safe space for everyone on campus. Hosting Lierre, knowing her opinions and knowing that members of the community know them as well, would disregard the feelings of members of our community, and this is unacceptable. I personally apologize for not making this decision sooner.
Instead of Lierre’s lecture, Greenfire will now host a lecture and discussion forum on radical environmental activism. I will present aspects of DGR’s ideas that I find compelling and try to ask questions that create a productive dialogue about our own tactical choices and analyses. Everyone is welcome to join us. The event will still take place on Sunday, 4/21, at 1 PM, in Steitz 102. Adam Kranz
Lierre has issued the following statement directed at the President of Lawrence University:
I am writing to tell you about an incident on your campus about which you should be concerned.
I am the author of multiple books on environmentalism. A student at Lawrence, xxxxxxx (cc’d here), invited me to speak for Earth Day. The lecture was scheduled for tomorrow, April 21. Yesterday, I received an email from Mr. xxxxxx (pasted below), canceling my appearance because some students take issue with my ideas.
I will get into the content of this disagreement later. My overwhelming point of concern is the purpose of higher education and the defense of the liberal tradition itself. I don’t know if I can state this strongly enough. Universities are supposed to be institutions founded on the bedrock principle of an open and robust exchange of ideas. I am appalled that anyone would be barred from speaking at your school over a disagreement. Intellectual engagement is the entire reason universities exist. It’s also why institutions of higher learning are vitally important to a pluralistic society. The young adults in your care need to understand this principle. If they learn one thing at your school, it should be this: ideas qua ideas are our only defense against the human tendency to fundamentalism with all its attendant horrors.
Mr. xxxxx’s email (pasted below) stated my appearance would be “threatening” and “offensive” to some students. Given that I have threatened no one, and that I am a middle-aged woman with a degenerative disease and no upper-body strength, I think we can set aside the notion that I pose a physical threat to anyone. What they mean is “uncomfortable.” But people don’t go to college to feel comfortable. They go to be challenged. They go—or, they should go—to learn to engage with new ideas, to examine themselves and the world, to interrogate their beliefs and the society around them as deeply as possible. Some of your students are not preparing themselves for citizenship in a pluralistic democracy, which by definition means a civic society of people who hold differing–often, profoundly differing–beliefs. The entire project will rise or fall on how we as a society negotiate those differences. That some of your students don’t understand this–and are, in fact, actively rejecting it–leaves me gravely concerned for the future. That is why I am bringing this to your attention. I hope you share my concern.
To the details of the disagreement. I will try to be brief. I am a feminist. I have spent three decades fighting male violence against women. My analysis is informed by a century and a half of feminist theory and activism. My views are in no way unique. I believe that a social system of male domination starts with human beings who are biologically male or female and creates two social classes of people: men and women. Socialization to either group can be a brutal process.
Men are made by socialization to masculinity. Being a man requires a psychology based on emotional numbness and a dichotomy of self and other. This is also the psychology required by soldiers, which is why I don’t think you can be a peace activist without being a feminist.
Female socialization is a process of psychologically constraining and breaking girls—otherwise known as “grooming”—to create a class of compliant victims. Femininity is a set of behaviors that are, in essence, ritualized submission.
I see nothing in the creation of gender to celebrate or embrace. As a feminist, I am an abolitionist. Patriarchy is a corrupt and brutal arrangement of power, and I want to see it dismantled so that the category of gender no longer exists. This is also my position on race and class. The categories are not natural: they only exist because hierarchical systems of power create them (see, for instance, Audrey Smedley’s book Race in North America). I want a world of justice and equality, where the material conditions that currently create race, class, and gender have been forever overcome.
There are, of course, people who disagree with feminism. In their view, men and women display domination and submission, respectively, not because of social conditions, but because we have different brains. Gendered behavior is natural, they say, a function of our biology. Boys are naturally aggressive and active, while girls are naturally emotional and passive. The claim is often that prenatal hormones create these propensities, and that the wrong hormones can produce the wrong brain. Hence it is possible to have a man’s body with a woman’s brain (which adherents like to call a “lady brain”). Cursory research will reveal the variations and disagreements amongst the genderists. Some, for instance, believe that gender is a matter of costuming—what they call “presentation.” The problem with gender isn’t gender per se, but that there are social constraints on what men can wear. On the other extreme are people who argue that their genitals are a “birth defect” that require surgical removal.
I can’t do justice to the range of genderist beliefs in an email. My point is that I disagree with them, and because of that disagreement I was disinvited from your school. I don’t know what could be more important in a college environment than an examination of social reality and ideas about justice, but that examination has been shut down at Lawrence.
I would urge you to encourage the opposite in your students, for their sakes, certainly, but more importantly in defense of the values central to the liberal tradition. Encountering ideas that differ from one’s own has never hurt anyone; indeed, it is the only way to a better world.
I would be happy to send the text of the talk (which frankly had nothing to do with the subject discussed above) I had planned to give if you have further interest.
Please take a moment to show your support for Lierre Kieth and your support for the great tradition of academic free speech by dropping your own message to Jill Beck, The President of Lawrence University expressing your concern at the following address: