Lierre Keith and the Politics of Exclusion

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A young friend of mine who is a student at the University of Oregon recently sent me a message asking me to sign a petition demanding that Lierre Keith not be allowed to speak at a Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University later this month. The petition claims that Keith is a transphobe and a racist. I must admit, not without some embarrassment, that I did not know who Keith is. I subsequently learned that she is a feminist and environmentalist. She is a founding member of an environmental group, Deep Green Resistance.

The accusation of racism apparently stems from an incident in which she posted a comment on a DPR message board in which she called Lakota culture “patriarchal”. When some people criticized the comment, it was taken down. I don’t think there is anything to see here.

The transphobia accusation is more substantial. Deep Green Resistance is unique among environmental groups in that it doesn’t allow transgender members. This is due to the particular brand of feminism that Keith and other leading members of DPR subscribe to. These people hold, as Keith puts it, that gender is “not a binary but a hierarchy”. (You can find an exposition of Keith’s ideas here. You can find a critique of those ideas here) Keith objects to transgenderism because it seems to her to go against her theory of gender. (It apparently doesn’t occur to her that perhaps this means that the theory should be modified in some way. But what does an empiricist like me know.)

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I’m a firm believer in free speech, including for people I disagree with. On the other hand, if Keith insists on excluding some people, she shouldn’t be surprised if they want to exclude her in return. I would have to say that Keith should be allowed to speak, but with the proviso that people can protest her views if they so wish.

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One Response to “Lierre Keith and the Politics of Exclusion”

  1. norristh Says:

    I know this is an old post, but I just stumbled across it and figured it worth clarifying / correcting one point. Deep Green Resistance does not ban transgender people from membership. But it does defend the right of women in the organization to set up safe spaces for sleeping, bathing, and organizing separate from males.

    If you want to get into it more, you can read DGR’s radical feminism FAQs.

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