It has come to our attention that there have been conversations and criticisms circulating about VSAC hosting a Walk a Mile event in Victoria this year. People have expressed their particular disappointment in our participation this year given our focused and public commitment to being a [trans1] inclusive agency.
We have heard you. You are right.
For those who have participated in all aspects of the conversations about this complicated and challenging event we wish to say thank you for holding us accountable. We have heard your concerns, which have also been our concerns. We wish to acknowledge the commitment that those who are participating or have participated in Walk a Mile have to addressing sexualized violence and supporting VSAC. Our intention with this letter is to take responsibility as an agency for Walk a Mile.
We have decided that Sunday, May 25th, 2014 will be the last time that VSAC will hold a Walk a Mile event. We’d like to tell you why.
Why This Year?
Some people have asked us why we are even holding Walk a Mile this year. Honestly, we thought we could do Walk a Mile differently, we thought we could use it to address misogyny and transmisogyny that happens at the event and every day. We were wrong.
People have been sharing their concerns about Walk a Mile upholding the very systems we seek to dismantle. We have heard concerns that in creating spaces where people are laughing at men enacting aspects of “femininity” – often in stereotypical and un-nuanced – ways we are holding space for violence to happen. As a result some people, particularly trans* people and survivors, might not feel comfortable attending this event.
Our thought was that by doing Walk a Mile differently than it is done in other cities that we could raise awareness about sexualized violence with an audience of people that are sometimes new to the issue or do not normally participate in these types of events. We understand that Walk a Mile is in its essence an inherently flawed event. Our intention was that in de-emphasizing the shoe (the high heel shoe) from event messaging, encouraging people to walk in their own shoes, and using event day as an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with an audience we might not otherwise reach, but who are integral to violence prevention, that our Walk a Mile would be different.
We were wrong.
We are committed to making our services accessible to all trans* individuals. Within this commitment we recognize that trans women are often left on the margins of inclusion, even trans* inclusion. It is impossible to center our trans* inclusion work when we are holding events that might not feel safe to trans* folks. We have been reminded through conversations about Walk a Mile to better address trans-misogyny and to be better about consulting with and making spaces for trans women and trans feminine people in our work and at our Centre. As has happened many times in history, trans* individuals have been at the forefront of pointing out violence and refusing to stop voicing their opinions until they are heard. We wish to stand in solidarity with trans* people in struggles such as this and know that creating solidarity means working hard to build relationships and being accountable for our mistakes.
We believe that trans* inclusion is an integral part to the feminist analysis through which we work. Within this analysis we believe in engaging boys and men in conversations about their role in ending gender-based violence. We want to have critical conversations about masculinity and gender, and we want to engage all people in our communities in discussions around power, privilege, social location and how to be a part of ending sexualized violence.
A Sense of Responsibility
Another conversation we have been having is about our sense of responsibility. The way that the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® trademark works is that only one agency in a community is able to organize a Walk a Mile event in a year. Throughout the years that we have been hosting Walk a Mile, our approach and ability to incorporate our analysis has evolved. We have feared that if another agency takes up this event that they will start from square one. However, this concern does not justify continuing to host the event. We hope that other agencies will learn from our mistakes and that there will be no more Walk a Mile events in Victoria.
When we decided to host Walk a Mile for one last year we sat down and discussed what we could do to bring a VSAC twist and analysis to the event. This year we have hosted a bystander intervention workshop with fundraising participants, we are planning event speeches and skits that address gender-based violence and violence against trans* people, and we intend on bringing as much awareness and dialogue around the complexities of sexualized violence as possible.
The reality is that we cannot control all comments, jokes, or conversations that happen at the event. We were also unable to distance ourselves from some aspects of the Walk a Mile trademark and message marketing. Try as we might to do it all, it is simply impossible for us to have an event with the premise of Walk a Mile and bring our values, beliefs, and commitment to trans* inclusion together in to one event.
Back to the Drawing Board
Our mandate is to end sexualized violence through healing, education, and prevention. This is a process that we have been a part of for over 30 years and will continue to partake in as long as there is a need in the community. However, this will never be a possibility if our work is not reflected by the voices of our community. For this reason our intention is to hold a community consultation where we can deconstruct what we were trying to achieve with Walk a Mile and create space to imagine future events that feel safe, inclusive, and representative of our communities. We intend on documenting this conversation, and feedback from previous years to discourage other agencies from taking up this event.
Beyond community consultation, we realize that trust takes time and commitment to grow, and that it is easy to lose. We want to acknowledge that it has been those for whom Walk a Mile feels unsafe or harmful that have had to push until their concerns were heard and acted on. We are sorry that our learning and our process has come at your expense. We hope we can create more space, and more relationships of trust, so that decision making happens together.
Thank you to all who have held us accountable.
For those who have participated and/or are participating in Walk a Mile, we thank you for your support and hope that you will continue partaking in awareness building around ending sexualized violence.
Thank you to all those who speak up when you see violence and injustice everyday.