We’re at a point in time in our society where many of the tropes we’ve dealt with for years are at a point of not just being unacceptable, they’re reprehensible. There will always be an argument between the idea of being socially acceptable of everyone and being a nanny state from two sides that just will never see eye-to-eye, but there are a lot of things that our would could just do without. The organization SLC Feminist is set on helping remove many of those from the local culture, including racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and victim blaming to name a few. Today we chat with the founder, Chelsea Kilpack, about Kilpack's activism history and starting up the organization. (All pictures courtesy of Kilpack.
Gavin: Hey Chelsea! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a proud Utahn and die-hard proponent of intersectional feminism. I graduated from the University of Utah with a dual major in Gender Studies and Political Science, and I recently finished an MA in Community Leadership at Westminster where I researched institutional barriers to sexual assault prevention programming in Utah's public schools. When I'm not going on feminist rants (verbal and written) I'm doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, and CrossFit. I live in West Jordan with my husband and our dog, Eddie McDragon.
Gavin: What was it like for you growing up in Utah and being exposed to the strange stereotypes here?
I grew up in a Catholic family in Utah, which helped me develop a strong stance on everything dear to me pretty early on. I left Catholicism for the safety of Atheism almost a decade ago, but growing up with pressure from my Mormon friends helped me learn how to defend my beliefs before I even hit puberty. It also helped me get comfortable being an outsider, which is tough to do sometimes as an adolescent, but my experiences as a "Mormon outsider" helped prepare me for life as a feminist-atheist-socialist.
Gavin: How did you first start becoming involved with activism groups and taking part in local support groups?
I started getting involved with local groups pretty heavily during my freshman year in high school. It was the 2004 election, and I wasn't old enough to vote, but I knew George W. Bush was up to no good. I remember watching the invasion of Afghanistan and thinking, "Holy shit, there are kids just like me over there. This is so wrong." I also knew in 2004 that Utah's Amendment 3 was an unconstitutional piece of garbage, so I started sneaking up to the U with my best friend for Pride Center meetings. My involvement leapfrogged to a whole different level when I enrolled in the Gender Studies department at the University of Utah in 2009. The second you start seeing how systems and institutions are set up to keep certain groups in power and others in a constant state of repression/oppression, everything changes.
Gavin: Prior to this organization, what work had you done in the community prior?
I've worked as a victim advocate for Unified Police Department, campaigned for the Obama Administration in 2008 and 2012, and done a ton of citizen lobbying. My biggest undertaking, other than SLC Feminist, was in 2013 when I re-activated the Utah Chapter of the National Organization for Women. I'm currently serving as the president of that organization until we transition to a new board.
Gavin: When did the idea come about to start SLC Feminist?
I took a graduate seminar on writing content for social media, and I decided to start SLC Feminist after the first class. I wanted to put the stuff I was always talking about into a forum that's available for everyone, and I wanted to make sure it was a space others
felt like contributing. Spending $20k on a Gender Studies degree is a privilege not many have, so I wanted to take what I learned and give it to anyone who is interested.
Gavin: One of the primary goals of the group is to do away with eight specific prejudices. (Racism/white privilege, sizeism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and victim blaming.) Why the focus on these specific eight rather than being all-encompassing? Was it a matter of importance or location, or both?
I'm the creator and main contributor of the site for now, but I do have some really solid folks who contribute when they're able, but I'd say that 95% of content comes from me. The reason I focus on racism, sizeism, sexism, ableism, and almost everything in between, is because that's what feminism is about. The blog Tiger Beatdown
put it best, "My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit." Every one of us occupies so many different identities, and to ignore those in ourselves and other people is dishonest to the feminism I represent. Some folks just happen to check a bunch of different boxes that make their lives radically different than yours or mine. For instance a trans* woman of color—that experience is so different from mine, because of the systems colluding to marginalize, erase, and even kill them. To focus on just, say, sexism, ignores the people who mainstream culture ignores, and I'm not okay with that on SLC Feminist.
Gavin: What was it like for you forming the organization and getting others involved with the cause?
Forming SLC Feminist was a no-brainer when I started telling my friends, (chosen) family, and colleagues. Everyone was super supportive, and continues to be, but it's tough maintaining a blog and getting people involved. It's difficult to find contributors for a couple of reasons: First, I'm a control-freak in everything I do, but I'm working on it. Second, feminism is complicated, and it's especially tough to relinquish control or find steady contributors when you're worried that someone is going to say, "I'm a feminist," but then they publish something that's racist garbage. That's not to say that I don't have a ton to learn, because I'm a white, cis-woman
, so I'm sure I'm unconsciously producing shit sometimes, but hey, refer to reason one. It's also tough getting people involved because the Internet is a wonderful/awful place, and the stuff I write about on SLC Feminist is sensitive. Asking someone to put themselves out there for something so personal is a big deal, and for a lot of people there are serious safety concerns. We saw the way Anita Sarkeesian was treated over saying, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Hey, video games are sexist because you can have sex with a sex-worker then beat her up and leave her on the side of the road." People were like, "BITCH, WE'RE GOING TO KILL YOU!" and that was just for talking about video games! So asking a trans* person to talk about their experiences, or asking a woman to talk about her abortion is a big leap. You don't know if something is going to get trolled, or if someone is going to dox you. Also, people are taught that they don't have anything important to say, which is bullshit, so convincing some of the most amazing people I know to write is like pulling teeth. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "But I'm not a writer," and that's fine, because you may not "be a writer," but you're a great person with a story to tell.
Gavin: How was it for you early on setting up events and reaching out to the community?
So right now I haven't done any community events under the SLC Feminist flag, but I have some panels and workshops in the works. Reaching out to the community has been great though. People are excited to do interviews, and I've been invited to speak at several events because of the content on the site.
Gavin: So what other groups do you work with locally and how has it helped you out being involved with other organizations working toward the same goals?
I've worked with Planned Parenthood quite a bit. Their staff is really supportive of the site, and I wholeheartedly support every part of their organization. A lot of organizations in the state send me their events to include in my "Weekly Feminist Happenings" posts where I aggregate upcoming events that seem to have a feminist theme.
Gavin: What events do you have in the works over the next couple months?
Like I said earlier, I'm working on setting up some community events, so keep your eyes out! Right now I'm looking at some panels and workshops, but nothing is finalized yet.
Gavin: For those wishing to get more involved, what do they need to do?
I'm always looking for people to share their story—whether it's personal experiences with any of the "isms," op eds on something bananas happening in Utah, book reviews, you name it. Send me your stuff. I have content guidelines, so check those out first. I had someone submit a poem last week, and I loved posting that for everyone to read, so it doesn't have to be a long, serious research document.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and SLC Feminist over the rest of the year?
I'm hoping to get some more interviews with community members up over the next few months, and I'm in the middle of pricing out a site re-design. I setup everything on my own, and I'm not a graphic designer or web developer, so things are in need of a tune up! Also expect a ton of content—I just finished my master's program, so I finally have the time to stay on top of things again.