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Reelout Accepts WAF Apology

Jul 19, 2010

Dear Ms. Dowell,

We acknowledge and accept your apology. The staff and board of directors of the Reelout Arts Project Inc. accepts that we do not meet the application requirements and ask in the future that the Women’s Art Festival post these rules on the application form and that the next person responsible for vetting applications make reference to these guidelines when rejecting an application. We have been both shocked and hurt by this experience and hope that both organizations are now able to move forward and support the work of women artists in our community. This letter marks a turning point – one that we hope brings about positive change at the Women’s Art Festival. However, your letter does highlight a couple of continuing concerns.

We believe it is erroneous to judge an application based on the assumed gender of the administrator of an organization when his or her work is not on exhibition. You may wish to blame our Festival Director’s choice of the word “penis” to excuse your offensive remarks but, at the end of the day, your remarks were homophobic and cannot be justified by being shocked by someone else’s reference to his anatomy. Furthermore, assumptions and policy structured on gender should be monitored often to ensure that you are not discriminating against a person or persons based on their gender. Matt did not identify himself as male or female in the application nor on the telephone until he told you that he had a penis, a statement of fact nothing more or less and still not indicative of gender.

You mention “overt sexuality” in relation to Reelout. Although our original application clearly states our intention of showing family friendly short films by women for women, you still equate Reelout with “flaunting sexuality”. Nowhere in our application and subsequent conversations did we mention sexuality but only the word “queer”. We believe this highlights a serious problem within the WAF vetting process and needs to be addressed immediately.

Despite these concerns Reelout fully supports the continuing work of the WAF as it reflects our own mission to foster the development of independent artists. We have been gratified by the amazing outpouring of support from both individuals and organizations in the Kingston community. We believe this indicates both a support for the queer community and an emotional investment in how the WAF conducts itself. We will advocate for change from within and are calling upon all women artists to step forward and help WAF at this point in time to become an organization which is sex and body positive as well as committed to gender justice and sexual diversity.

We hope that in the future the WAF and Reelout can participate in a healthy and fruitful collaboration not unlike our partnerships with our friends at the Raise The Roof Women’s Music Festival and the Skeleton Park Music Festival. Our mission statement includes creating challenging dialogue within Kingston. We appreciate that your experience within this dialogue may not have been comfortable or entirely positive. It is our hope that we move forward from this experience with a shared desire to strengthen both the WAF and Reelout in our community. Please feel free to forward our secretary Alice Robinette-Woods alice@reelout.com any information on how women in the Kingston community can get involved with volunteering for your organization.

Sincerely, Reelout Arts Project Inc. Board of Directors

See copy of original apology letter below:

July 14, 2010

Dear Matt and the Reelout Board,

I am writing this letter to apologize for the comments that I made to you over the phone about your application.  I have come to understand how the comments have been interpreted by you and others and I am immeasurably sorry to have caused hurt to you, the people at reelout and the rest of the members of the public who have communicated their distress with the words I spoke during our phone conversation.  The comments I made were not directed towards the gay and lesbian community in any way, nor were they the opinions of the Women’s Art Festival Collective.  The comments I made reflected my own personal opinions about “overt sexuality” in public places — by anybody — gay or straight.  I did not mean to suggest that lesbians and their art were not welcome at the WAF — in fact, we have always had active and important participation on the collective and at the festival of lesbian artists. I come from an older generation of people, who grew up in a different time.  When you spoke to me about your penis, I was very flustered and upset and I did not manage to get past the shock in our conversation that followed.  I am uncomfortable looking at and talking about overt demonstrations of sex of any kind — that is my own perspective and not that of the collective.

What I meant to communicate to you is that we have a specific focus at the festival, as you can read on our website at  http://www.womensartfestivalkingston.ca/rules_regulations.htm)

“WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO EXHIBIT IN THE WOMEN’S ART FESTIVAL?  *The festival is open to women artists who design and create original art work. The total body of work must be handmade by the woman artist who registers.”

Your application did not meet these two criteria – this is the message that I should have communicated to you in a simple and direct fashion. The reason I called you in the first place was because I was not familiar with your organization and I wanted to speak to you about it rather than refusing the application out of hand.  On the face of the application, it did not meet our very simple criteria, shown above. Even after our conversation, I did not fully understand how your organization would qualify, given the criteria shown above.  In my attempts to understand and explain, I spoke off the top of my head and I said things that I now understand were very hurtful to you.  I did not mean to say anything against the gay and lesbian community and the reelout festival; I fully support each person’s right to love who they love and live openly as who they are.

The discussion that I had with some of the other women in the collective related specifically to the fact that they agreed that the application did not meet the criteria of “women artists who design and create original art work” which is “handmade by the woman who registers.”  We did not discuss any views about overtly sexual material at that time — those were my own opinions and I should not have tried to explain them over the phone because they had nothing to do with the reason that the collective could not accept the application.

If Reelout would like to submit an application that meets the criteria of “women artists who design and create original art work” which is “handmade by the woman who registers,” we will accept it with open arms.  As a possible suggestion, the woman who applies could be a director, actor, producer or some other contributor to a film, who would like to come and show that film and sell DVDs.  At the booth, she could also have materials from the Reelout festival, to put the film in the larger context.

I hope you can accept this apology for the hurt that my comments caused you.  I have learned a hard lesson about how continuing a conversation in a state of feeling flustered can result in miscommunications that can cause hurt and misunderstanding.  I wish you all the best in your preparations for your festival this year and in the years to come.

Shirley Dowell

WAF Collective – WAF Applications

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About Reelout

We host an 11-day queer film and video festival in Kingston, Canada in January/February each year!

One response to “Reelout Accepts WAF Apology

  1. Julian Gregory ⋅

    I guess the only thing that sticks with me is that it doesn’t feel like Shirley apologized for making queer-phobic remarks. She wrote, “The comments I made were not directed towards the gay and lesbian community in any way,” and “I did not mean to say anything against the gay and lesbian community and the reelout festival”. You know what I really like in this type of situation? I like it when someone says, “Wow, I just made a really homophobic remark. I’m sorry.” Instead of being sideways, and not actually admitting anything. We all can be homophobic, racist, ableist, and so on. The important thing is to own up, state it, and move on. However, Ms. Dowell’s apology does come across sincere.

    Since we’re talking ;). I wish I felt welcome at this festival. When I was a girl, I was loved there. A few years later, when I looked manly, I went and I received so much negativity, like I was evil and should just disappear. This is the brunt I get from women-centric places, not only this festival, which is disappointing and frustrating.

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