There's been a lot of talk lately about the loss of the feminist roots in the LGBT movement, especially since the tremendously divisive and challenging debate over a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Brewing for years has been the lack of visibility of women in leadership position in our LGBT and allied groups - with a few notable exceptions like Jennifer Chrisler at Family Equality Council, Kate Kendall at the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a few others. Matt Foreman has been one of very few men in leadership positions in our community that has shown his feminist values in his work, and it will be interesting to see who replaces him at NGLTF.
And Women's History Month seems like a good time to reflect.
What was lost in the ENDA debate (especially in the media) was the very real interplay of gender roles with sexual orientation. The simplest way to describe how this affects the larger culture and best demonstrates how sexism is the true root of homophobia is the basic equation: gender non-conforming = gay = feminine = bad. The irony is, of course, that this impacts gay men more than women, so it is especially infuriating to see many of the men in our community not "get" how their internalized sexism translates into more prejudice against other men.
For women, gender roles and expression are somewhat more relaxed, but frankly, it is still the experience of many women that (like my wife and me) the "femme" is the woman and the "butch" is the man - with all the assumptions and genders roles that come with that. Needless to say, anyone who has been to my house knows that it isn't always the case.
When harassed by guys on the street when we were younger (I think we've aged out of common sexist street harassment but that is an other post!) my girlfriend would invariably get the smoochy noises and comments that she "hadn't met the right guy yet" or that she could be "taught a lesson." I was the recipient of sheer anger, aggression and the glare of someone threatened by a woman who dare not conform to society's standards. And it was I who experienced the most prejudice in the workplace and elsewhere because of my non-conforming gender presentation, not my sexual orientation.
But there are places where the general community is realizing that both our feminist roots and women's voices need to have the proper space and time. For two years running, one of the more unique and interesting conferences for LGBT media activists, producers and consumers has been the Queer Media Conference (affectionately known as QMeCon). QMeCon was started in 2005 by NYC-based queer media and entertainment consulting group Punkmouse and brilliantly executed by veteran media and marketing mavericks Jennifer Howd and John Baez.
After two successful conferences in New York and Los Angeles that focused on all types of media and marketing issues facing queer content creators, actors and others, the decision was made to plan the 2008 QMeCon as a Women's Summit. Partly because the last conference gave us a very clear reminder of how few women are visible and supported in all types of media, and partly because that reminder immediately was apparent to both John and Jennifer in the planning and execution of the events and panels. Thus Q-Me Con (NYC) 2008 Women's Summit was born.
The Q-Me Con (NYC) 2008 Women's Summit is a weekend-long forum featuring engaging seminars and networking events with the intention to empower queer women seeking to network and educate themselves in how to get their authentic, diverse voices and images OUT into the massive media-sphere. The weekend will feature a wide array of informative seminars, ranging from Q & A panels with queer, female producers, directors, writers, bloggers, actresses, journalists, musicians and film, TV and theater and entertainment executives to in-depth forums and interactive workshops delving into the "ins & outs" of financing, pitching, marketing and distributing female-centric content.
This is a hands-on conference with extra time built in for networking and connecting with other women. It is not a top-down approach, but a collaborative experience we simply do not see enough of in our community.
As one of the organizers and sponsors, I will admit to a hefty bias, but no one can deny the tremendous need for women's space, focus and - one specific goal form the planning committee - the opportunity for networking and mentoring for women of all sexual orientations and gender identities. With some heavy hitting organizers, sponsors and partners, this conference is forging new and much needed ground for queer women in the media. It was thrilling to sit around a table with producer Rose Troche, veteran news and documentary producer Katherine Linton, actor Heather Mattarazzo, Angel Brown, Barbara Hammer and other prominent bloggers, journalists, entertainment executive and activists who want to participate and roll up their sleeves.
A striking part of this for me has been the very different feeling in the room than most of the other meetings I go to in the LGBT community. The primary focus is "how do we get things done?" and "how can I help?" or "how do we bring even more diverse voices into the process?" not organizations jockeying for top billing or any hidden agendas (ok, I admit it, lots of us are seeing this as a great chance to find staff, interns and other talented women to pull into our work, and a few are probably looking for a date).
Not surprising to me, but maybe to some, is that one of the most supportive folks at QMeCon is found John Baez. He is a guy who gets feminism and gets the intersections. "By focusing Q-Me Con 2008 on topics that affect the queer women's media making community, Jennifer and Sandra are taking the conference into a new and much needed direction. I think that more so than gay men, queer women need a safe space to discuss the issues that specifically affect them. They're also in need of increased opportunities to foster creative solutions and spaces to network and come together."
I couldn't have said it better. I encourage you to join us in person or in spirit in New York this May, for more info check out www.qmecon.com.