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GenderPAC Dis-Invited Me from Conference

conference culture distorts activist movements

Date: 01/22/2007

This just happened...

1. Someone from GenderPAC emailed me, inviting me to speak on a panel about gender theories at its GenderYOUTH Leadership Summit this May. No honorarium. I agreed.

2. Then a couple of months later, the same person emailed to ask me to present another workshop on intersex at the said conference. No honorarium.

3. I accepted the second invitation, but expressed dissatisfaction about GenderPAC's continuous request to provide something for nothing. Here's the excerpt from my email:

I would accept the invitation to present a workshop on intersex issues during the conference, but GenderPAC needs to stop this practice of asking for free services from any source without regard to who or what it is freeriding on.

An organization with a $800,000+ budget whose conference primarily serves middle-class college students shouldn't be asking those of us struggling to pay rent to sacrifice our time and energy to provide free contents for the for-fee conference. It's morally reprehensible and contrary to the GPAC's stated mission toward achieving social equality and justice.

It's not "unfortunate" that there is no money to pay presenters; it's the direct consequence of GPAC's deliberately set priorities, which, I'd argue, are wrong, immoral, and unethical. The thing is, if GenderPAC had prioritized properly compensating presenters (or at least compensating those who don't draw salaries from universities or big non-profits), it could have easily done so.

4. GenderPAC responds. Its explanation for not paying presenters are: 1) other national conferences don't pay workshop presenters either (headliners like Judith Butler are offered money, but she generously agreed to speak for free); 2) this conference actually loses money; 3) money to presenters would mean less money for scholarships and other assistance to participants; 4) GenderPAC's budget isn't that big compared to other national organizations. Then it states:

I appreciate the concerns you raised, and hope our answers provide at least some additional perspective. In any case, given your dissatisfaction with our policies and the depth of your disapproval, we would like to ask that we put the invitation on hold for the time being while we rethink things from this end. If we decide to move ahead we will certainly reach out to you.

5. My reply to "why GPAC can't pay the presenter" part:

The difference is that GenderPAC approaches speakers it wants to invite, or at least it did in my case, rather than speakers approaching GPAC to request a workshop slot. That's not the case with Creating Change, or NOW conference (I don't know anything about FMF conference). I can think of only one conference that I have been individually approached to present, which is True Colors conference in Connecticut, which does (did) pay workshop presenters.

Besides, I'd argue that the conference culture that is eating up the "activist" industry is wrong--that it keeps grass-roots activists from participating in national agenda-setting, allowing those with the institutional funding or those who are independently wealthy to determine the course of our movements.

Of course, paying the presenters won't fix that problem, but I fear that organizations such as GPAC are not even recognizing it as a problem in praising speakers who are privileged enough to be able to "agree to speak for free." How many Judith Butlers are we silencing and excluding from our movements just because they don't have highly paid academic appointments like she does?

It's this complete lack of class consciousness that I find problematic more than whether or not I get paid personally. I do present a lot of workshops with little or no honorarium, which I am willing to and able to do most of the time, but there's a matter of principle here. There could have been many ways you could have expressed sensitivity toward class issues while you explain why GPAC is unable to compensate speakers, but your response was defensive and didn't really give me the sense that GPAC cares about class issues or how it might affect activist movements.

Then in response to the dis-invitation:

I'm disappointed to find that GPAC cannot stand slightest of disagreements or criticisms from someone whose perspective it must have valued enough to invite in the first place. It has now taken one step further from simply excluding poor and working class people by upholding the middle-class conference culture: it is now actively shutting out someone for speaking out against it. I'm also deeply disappointed because I was looking forward to meeting the youth at the conference.

- ek * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.