As many of you know, about a week and a half ago, Dan Owens, who attended A-Camp as talent in 2015 and 2016 and did some freelancing for Autostraddle between 2014-2016, published a blog post on Medium containing stories by several former A-Campers and staff detailing racism they experienced while at camp. A-Camp’s co-directors shared a statement in response in the comment section of the post. The statement was hidden twice by the post’s author, so A-Camp tweeted the statement and then Autostraddle retweeted it to reach a larger audience. Autostraddle has been called upon to publish the full text of the A-Camp directors’ statement, which you can read at the bottom of this post.
First, we want to sincerely apologize and take full responsibility for the fact that it has taken 12 days to publish this full statement on our website. We engaged in a lot of internal communication about the best way to take accountability and begin the healing process with those who have been harmed working at or attending A-Camp, which took time as no A-Camp staff are employed year-round in their A-Camp staff roles. This process required coordination from many people, including Black, POC, trans, and disabled staff, who have different and often less flexible schedules than editors and staff writers.
The process of responding to Medium in a way that respects the hard work countless people have devoted to camp, and the work of many marginalized staffers over the years to call leadership in and improve it, while also committing to be better for campers and staff in the future has been challenging — and has taken a toll on everyone doing that work, especially the Black A-Camp staffers who have committed truly invaluable and generous time and energy to working with leadership as well as speaking with those who have concerns or grievances with A-Camp as a space. Our Black and POC A-Camp staffers were harmed by the length of time it took us to craft the statements and to distribute them widely on our website. Many of those Black and POC staffers who have senior leadership authority at A-Camp have been disproportionately targeted, attacked, and harassed on social media and via email.
We are sincerely sorry for the stress, anxiety, and pain we caused our Black and POC writers, readers, and editors during this process and are committed to creating internal processes to ensure that all of our marginalized staff members have immediate and safe access to advocate for their needs, and to feel confident that their concerns will be acted on with immediacy by our senior editors going forward.
Although there’s a lot of overlap in promotion, staffing, and readers/attendees, A-Camp and Autostraddle are actually two separate entities with different leadership structures. A-Camp’s directors stepped down in June to make space for new leadership, specifically Black and POC leadership. Autostraddle and A-Camp founder Riese Bernard will also be stepping down from A-Camp senior staff after the process of supporting new leadership is completed to make room for POC voices. Riese is, as most of you know, also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Autostraddle. At this time, we’ve asked Riese to take a step back from her responsibilities here as well, in order for us to build out a new community culture and for her mental health.
We are in the very early stages of working with our staff, our HR manager, and other outside consulting services to dismantle our current company culture and rebuild it from the ground up with an intentional focus on and commitment to respect, balance, safety, transparency, and full inclusivity. That process will begin today and remain ongoing until our full staff is assured that Autostraddle is a place they can safely and contentedly thrive creatively.
Below you can read the A-Camp directors’ full statement in response to the Medium blog post, as well as the statement Riese posted in the comments of a recent A+ post. The A-Camp directors would also like to note that today they will be reaching out to all the parties from the Medium blog post who were harmed by racism during 2016 A-Camp. In addition to this, camp leadership will be taking immediate steps to compensate all past Speakeasy leaders, address specific harms reported by 2019 camp participants, and will be working on an actionable timeline of next steps towards A-Camp’s transition. This work will be transparently shared within A-Camp’s public website on an ongoing basis.
Autostraddle’s editors are eager to continue to learn from our mistakes and keep striving to make Autostraddle a space where everyone under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella feels seen, heard, represented, and safe. We have already begun paying out money you donated during our recent fundraiser to our longtime QTPOC writers (as well as raising our individual rates across the board, and setting aside funding specifically for longform work from our QTPOC writers). We will continue to do what we promised, including prioritizing the hire of another full-time senior editor of color. We will continue updating you on the actions we’re taking with the money you donated to our fundraiser and are excited to share new voices, new stories, new content, and our successes at overhauling our company culture with you.
We don’t always succeed, but we do strive to be honest with you about our failures and the pain we cause. You will find a renewed transparency at Autostraddle from this moment forward. Thank you to those of you who have taken on the burden of calling on us to do better, to those of you who have watched us grow from our mistakes and believe we still can, and to everyone who works with us to try to make Autostraddle a source of pride and a place of safety for the entire community.
Marni and Kristin’s Statement on the Medium Blog Post
This is Marni Kellison and Kristin Russo. Marni has been one of the directors of A-Camp since its inception in 2012 through to our 11th A-Camp this past May, and Kristin has served as co-director for the past five camps. We were the co-directors of the 2016 spring session to which this post refers, referencing experiences of racism, anti-blackness and exclusion as recalled by former staff. Many campers and staff left feeling frustrated, isolated and/or targeted. We are sorry for the ways in which our actions and inactions have impacted our Black and other POC campers and staff. What we would like to address here, alongside A-Camp founder Riese, is our awareness of the systemic racism in A-Camp’s structures of power and the harm that has resulted, much of which originated from our own whiteness and its unexamined impacts. We have often been reactive instead of proactive in addressing those harms, which is something we are continuing to try to shift.
We collect staff and camper feedback after every camp, and take that feedback seriously. After that 2016 camp we reached out to every staff member involved and spent many months processing the incident in question – a conflict that involved multiple intersecting marginalized identities – to parse out what happened and where things went wrong. Our team came together to build a better, more comprehensive and intersectional conflict resolution policy, which we continue to revisit.
After that 2016 camp, we created permanent paid senior leadership positions focused on prioritizing Black and other POC, trans women and access-related inclusion in our programming and practices, positions that have been expanded in the years since and the compensation for which has increased (though not enough). We also put in place a requirement that all talent line-ups be 50%+ Black and POC, started a BIPOC-only campership fund, and continued our policy of giving the vast majority of general campership donations to BIPOC and trans campers. We’ve continued to prioritize staff applications from Black and other POC, and reach out of the Autostraddle network to get more Black and POC staff members on our team.
While we do want to be clear that we have never paid Black and other POC Talent or staff less or differently than white people in those roles, there has often been confusion and miscommunication around how those roles are defined and we will be reaching out directly to relevant parties to diagnose and rectify those issues. We also acknowledge that we are still not where we need to be in terms of truly representational staffing and programming. We know that, we want it to be different, and we are working to change it. In the years since the camp in question, we’ve built racial justice programming and training into our camp programming, and are continuing to look for ways to build it out further and increase staff capacity around anti-racist approaches to all aspects of camp delivery. This year we both announced that we would be stepping down as camp directors in order to make space for new leadership, specifically Black and POC leadership, as noted in the all-camp email that went out last month. This is already happening.
Still, we recognize that the harms caused at 2016 camp did not end the moment that the work began and we would like to acknowledge and apologize for the harms that have continued at the camps that have followed, including most recent camp in June, the feedback from which we will be addressing with participants directly.
We are currently synthesizing staff feedback on how white supremacy and whiteness is centered in camp structures, as gathered through camper feedback surveys, the longstanding work and advocacy of Black and POC staff and community members in identifying structural inequalities and calling for changes (work that should never have been so disproportionately done by Black and POC staff), and an in-depth post-camp staff debrief this past June with white and BIPOC senior leadership. One of the primary goals of that debrief was identifying strategies for dismantling white supremacy within camp structures. As camp transitions into its next phase under new leadership, one of our commitments as outgoing directors is to ensure that the feedback and work gathered at that session is captured and actioned according to a timeline of deliverables to foster change and decenter whiteness in all aspects of camp.
This isn’t intended as a self-congratulatory comment in which we pat ourselves on the back for all the great work we’re doing; this is an acknowledgment that we have had and continue to have shortcomings and that we sit firmly in this knowledge and have been trying to do the work, because it’s important work to do. We are sorry for the ways in which we have failed our Black and POC campers and staff in the past. We have been, and remain reachable to those who advocate for inclusion and the dismantling of white supremacy in queer spaces, and have worked to increase transparency with our staff about where we’re trying to go and what we’re doing to be held accountable in getting there. We know that we’re not there yet, but we are deeply invested in changing that, and in this community.
Riese’s Statement from the July 2019 Autostraddle Insider
Our A-Camp co-directors posted a statement in response to the Medium blog post on the blog itself, to try to make sure it was part of the public record on the post, but it was hidden by the post’s author multiple times, while they made videos claiming that A-Camp had not responded — so our camp co-directors decided to post the comment directly on A-Camp’s Twitter and immediately retweeted it from Autostraddle because Autostraddle’s account has so many more followers. You can see the statement here. (We would link to the comment on the Medium blog post, but, as I said, every time we do that, it’s immediately hidden from view.)
We acknowledge and will continue to acknowledge that Autostraddle has areas of oversight when it comes to race, gender, and disability; and areas informed by white supremacist structures and a mostly-white leadership team. We’ve been listening to feedback in those areas and working to address them, and will continue to do so; when we’ve received criticism or feedback about harm we’ve caused in good faith, we’ve consistently reached out to those speaking out and addressed the issues directly; we’re happy to say that many readers and staff members who have called out Autostraddle in the past are members of our community today, and we believe in working through conflict when possible and doing the work to repair those relationships. We are incredibly grateful for and indebted to the hard and often frustrating work and advocacy done by our trans and POC staff in consistently holding us accountable and pushing us for change, and many of our accomplishments are a result of that advocacy.
We do not habitually pat ourselves on the back for our accomplishments in this area because we know we have a LOT of room for improvement. But we do pay our staff and writers equitably, and in fact consistently strive to pay trans and POC writers more. Whenever there is even a smidge of extra profit, we put that towards trans and QTPOC writers first. One of many examples is paying POC contributors to Boobs on Your Tube back when nobody was getting paid for those contributions. And we have already begun paying out money you donated during our recent fundraiser to our longtime QTPOC writers (as well as raising our individual rates across the board, and setting aside funding specifically for longform work from our QTPOC writers). Since bringing on Heather in 2014, all of our hires or promotions to the senior staff team have been women of color, including a black Senior Editor, and we will continue in that spirit with future hires.
Our white camp directors stepped down in June and we have been working toward hiring new QTPOC camp leadership, and hope to do so soon!. Although my own involvement in A-Camp planning and leadership has been inconsistent over the years, I will be also officially stepping down from any association with A-Camp leadership to make room for more diverse voices at the top.
As I mentioned in this month’s A+ letter from the editor, we recognize that A-Camp and Autostraddle are very different entities to run, and formally separating the two to ensure better operation of both is in our immediate plans. Our next funding priority is bringing another POC editor on our senior staff team.
We have failed our POC, trans, and disabled writers and readers in many ways over the years. We are sincerely sorry for the harm and pain we’ve caused in all of those areas. We’re also eager to continue to learn from our mistakes and keep striving to make Autostraddle a space where everyone under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella feels seen, heard, represented, and safe. And we urge you to stick with us and watch. We’ve done what we said we’ll do with our resources in the past, and will continue to do what we promised — raise rates for writers across the board, with funds devoted specifically to paying for work from QTPOC writers, and prioritizing the hire of another full-time senior editor of color — with the money you donated to our fundraiser. We are committed to doing what’s right and to taking responsibility when we fail. We’re thankful to you for holding us accountable and for believing we can do even better. ‘Cause we believe that too!