Butch Voices plans town hall on Butch Nation accusations
by Heather Cassell
Butch Voices will host a mediated town hall discussion at its Oakland convention this Friday, August 19 to provide an opportunity air concerns and address issues raised by last month's accusations by former members who teamed up and formed the rival Butch Nation.
The third national conference focused on butch and "masculine of center" identified individuals hosted by Butch Voices starts today (Thursday, August 18).
It appears that the Butch Voices organizers, who were shaken late last month when the group was lambasted in an accusatory press release July 25 from Butch Nation, are ready to have a face-to-face community conversation.
Butch Nation organizers, who include former Butch Voices board and committee members, called out the organization for ageism, anti-feminism, misogyny, and lack of organizational transparency.
The release garnered Butch Voices some unwanted media attention. Butch Nation received hundreds of responses to the release, particularly addressing the issues related to feminism, misogyny, and sexism, said Jeanne Cordova and Sasha T. Goldberg, co-founders of Butch Nation.
"We are not the first ones down this path with Butch Voices," said Cordova.
"Certainly negative information is spreading, but I wouldn't call it inaccurate," added Goldberg.
To heal some of the wounds, Joe LeBlanc, founder and board member of Butch Voices, extended an invitation to Butch Nation organizers to attend the town hall meeting organized specifically address the issues they raised.
Goldberg and Cordova, however, said they were not invited.
"It's great that folks get together to have that conversation. I'm all for butch community building, butch conversations. I wouldn't have started Butch Voices otherwise," said LeBlanc.
Butch Nation leaders are scheduled to present their own workshops during the Butch Voices conference Saturday and Sunday in a room under Goldberg's name at the conference hotel.
On the surface, leaders of both organizations are attempting civility to the point of encouragement and goodwill, but grievances on both sides are close to spilling over.
Krys Freeman, president of Butch Voices, feels Butch Nation leaders' actions are in "poor form."
"There is no need for separate but equal. There is no such thing," said Freeman, whose recent attempts to reach out to Butch Nation leaders failed.
Oakland will also host the second Femmes of Color Symposium starting Friday, August 19.
All three events run through August 21 and take place at the Oakland Marriott City Center Hotel, with social gatherings happening throughout the city.
The conference couldn't come soon enough for Freeman, who anticipates a large turnout this year.
"The reality is there are so many people that are like, 'I can't wait to go,' ... even with all of the strife," said Freeman.
Former Butch Voices board and committee members Goldberg, Cordova, Yvonne Moore, and Stacy Reed voiced their opposition and raised concerns about internal problems within the organization in a July 25 news release. The same release also announced the formation of Butch Nation.
Publishing emails they sent to the board that went unanswered and ultimately forming Butch Nation was the only way the former members could elicit a response to their issues from the Butch Voices leadership, said Goldberg.
Some of the former members refused to sign the new "team member packet." They questioned the 12-page document that covered everything from Butch Voices' mission and vision statements to branding and organizational procedures. But it was the confidentiality agreement that team members down to volunteers are required to sign in order to participate in the organization that was a sticking point.
Goldberg and Moore refused to sign the agreement, citing the illegitimacy of the organization's legal standing as a nonprofit, the leadership's top-down secretive corporate-like behavior, and its odd leap away from its grassroots model.
"We are not talking about Google as a brand and we have great trade secrets about how to come out with Google+," said Goldberg. "We are talking about taking workshops and putting on events, so it didn't fit right."
"I was going to sign something that said I wouldn't talk about anything that was not known outside of Butch Voices – anything that could be considered not public knowledge," continued Goldberg, who was concerned about giving away her intellectual freedom as a leader and writer. She offered editorial suggestions to the agreement.
LeBlanc told the Bay Area Reporter that the board didn't have any issues with Goldberg's suggestions, "We were open to incorporating an addendum that she came up with and she wasn't willing to sign it."
Freeman and LeBlanc defended Butch Voices' organizational focus, claiming that they are adding structure to create a sustainable organization as it grows.
"It's also sort of a misconception that grassroots means not organized," said Freeman.
Both leaders added that the organization is currently discussing fiscal sponsorship with several foundations. Freeman declined to disclose the foundations in fear of negatively impacting the process.
A nonprofit professional, Goldberg doesn't believe Freeman or LeBlanc. She said she has been told the same story since 2008 and the organization has yet to evolve to that level to date.
Cordova added that as a veteran activist she also pushed for nonprofit status.
Femmes of Color Symposium is hosting workshops for femme-identified women of color this weekend at the same location in Oakland, but separate of Butch Nation and Butch Voices. Social events are open to allies of femmes of color, said Christine De La Rosa, conference co-chair of the symposium.
"The significance is what we talk about ... basic survival stuff and creating spaces for ourselves in these larger communities," said De La Rosa, who has been out for more than 20 years, along with her out lesbian sister. "My mother still doesn't want me to be a lesbian. She's Catholic and Mexican. There's a different level of stress and trying to navigate that."
The town hall meeting is scheduled for Friday, August 19 from noon to 1:15 p.m. in the Grand-Jewett Ballroom at the Oakland Marriott.
Tickets for Butch Voices are $150 general, $175 VIP. Butch Nation's workshops are free and open to the public. Femmes of Color tickets are $50. The conferences, running from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. August 18-21 are located at the Oakland Marriott City Center, 1001 Broadway.
For more information, visit: www.facebook.com/people/Butch-Nation http://www.facebook.com/people/Butch-Nation/100001098137544, www.butchvoices.com http://www.butchvoices.com/, or www.femmesofcolor.com http://www.femmesofcolor.com/.