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Girls Rock Philly will change its name to center trans identities

May 27, 2021 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose
As a trans woman, Jess Montgomery said part of the reason she joined Girls Rock Philly was because the nonprofit’s name highlighted it as a space for girls and women.

“It was the first place I saw that was a music camp not for cis-men, and I thought that was cool,” Montgomery, 29, added.

But Montgomery and other community members agree it’s time for the organization to find a name that better encompasses what GRP has become.

Jess Montgomery. (Courtesy photo)

“As you’re here, you realize you need something a little more inclusive because it’s not just ladies,” Montgomery said.

GRP promotes advocacy, self-empowerment and community building through music programming and offers a safe space for both women and girls, as well as trans and gender-expansive youth and adults.

Throughout the spring and summer, GRP will be holding events and facilitating discussions to decide on a new name. The initiative is part of the nonprofit’s strategic planning, and the goal is to find a name that better represents all the people who participate in GRP while still highlighting the organization’s gender justice focus.

“We always were an organization that’s dedicated to people of marginalized genders,” said Candy Johnson, operations director. “We were never gender or trans exclusive, it’s just a matter of, now we’re ready to say, ‘We don’t want there to be any ambiguity. We need this to be super clear.’”

In May, GRP held its first events to discuss the name change. In both an adult and youth town hall, participants discussed their relationship with GRP, reflected on how to improve the organization and explored what the name change process will look like.

From our Partners

GRP facilitators split town hall participants into groups to discuss various topics. (Courtesy photo)

“There was no other way, except to be in dialogue with the wants, the needs, the dreams of our community and also how our name can really call that into being,” Codirector Sam Rise said.

“From anyone else, I would expect they talk behind closed doors and find the least offensive name possible, but that’s not GRP,” Montgomery said. “GRP is always a space for the community.”

And community members will have many opportunities to have their voices heard throughout GRP’s summer programming.

Youth ages 9 to 19 can create digital music in the Summer Soundtrap Program, which runs from June 29 to July 15. And community members of all ages can join C.A.R.E. Lab virtual workshops on July 15 and 16, as well as an in-person Rock Camp Reunion on July 17. The summer’s programming theme is “transitions,” and so the name change and strategic planning will be a thread throughout all events.

In addition, there will also be focus groups held specifically to discuss the name change and potential options for a new name.

To guide the organization through this process, GRP enlisted help from outside of the organization with three facilitators and “transition doulas,” consisting of academics and organizers.

“Staff knows that we hold a lot of power in the organization, and this is too meaningful and too important of a conversation to have our power in any way taint the conversation or stifle it,” Codirector Mel Hsu said.

Hsu said other strategic planning topics include: refining the organization’s codirector leadership model, increasing outside partnerships and examining whether to move GRP’s headquarters. But its new name will be the most visible change to the organization.

"This incorporation of trans inclusivity is actually just a natural articulation of that sort of liberatory future that the initial organizers envisioned."
Sam Rise

GRP is a member of Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international movement of music organizations, which is also changing its name to be more equitable. Other music camps across North America have similarly moved toward less gendered names, including YAAL Rock!Rock Camp Montreal and Carolina Youth Action Project.

GRP codirectors reached out to these organizations to get advice as they began their own transition process, which will ideally result in a new name for the organization sometime in fall 2021. However, the codirectors said they have no strict timeline for the process and want to allow for as much time as is needed.

“Even by the time we come up with a name I imagine and I know that gender will have already evolved,” Hsu said.

The codirectors hope a new name will better represent the current state of GRP and put its gender justice theory into practice by centering trans and gender-expansive identities.

(Courtesy photo)

“For some organizations, a name change might be an indication of a change they want to make internally,” Hsu said, “but I think this name change is just actually a step that’s catching up to changes we’ve already been making for the past few years.”

For example, in 2017 GRP changed its Ladies Rock Camp to Adult Rock Camp.

Rise said the name Girls Rock Philly initially emerged out of the “Riot Grrrl” feminist movement of the 1990s in which women were claiming more space within the punk music scene. A new name would carry on a similar spirit.

“This incorporation of trans inclusivity is actually just a natural articulation of that sort of liberatory future that the initial organizers envisioned,” Rise said.

“If we’re really talking about gender justice, then we have to be talking about trans liberation as well as women’s liberation, that trans women are women, that trans men are men, that transness which can’t be divided into a binary is still valid, and that all of us deserve to be believed when we tell you who we are,” Rise added.

Mariyah Amerson. (Courtesy photo)

Mariyah Amerson, 21, has been part of GRP for more than a decade and now sits on the nonprofit’s board. Amerson said they have learned a lot about intersectionality from GRP and came to understand their own gender identity as a result.

“I haven’t felt connected to the ‘Girls’ part of ‘Girls Rock Philly’ for the majority of the time I’ve been involved,” they added, explaining they support the name change.

But the name change will still be bittersweet.

“I have so many GRP T-shirts that are like, ‘Girls Rock Philly,’ and so it’s going to be weird to have one that says something completely different,” they said.

Rise said GRP has continued to be a space for youth to explore gender identity. It was GRP’s Youth Action Council that formalized the request for a new name during a workshop in 2020.

“This observation from participants became a mandate,” Rise said.

“We’ve seen the numbers of young people who identify as gender-expansive or nonbinary increasing, and I think a lot of that has maybe something to do with our work and GRP feeling like a safe space,” they added.

For youth participants Jadyn Henderson,16, and Grace Sanger-Johnson, 20, GRP is like a second home.

“I can be who I want to be there without being judged,” Henderson said. “We also talk about important things like mental health and also acceptance and finding yourself.”

“There are people there who I know will support me and cheer me on no matter what,” Sanger-Johnson added.

"I can be who I want to be there without being judged."
Jadyn Henderson

Both Henderson and Sanger-Johnson attended the youth town hall this month and are excited about GRP’s new name. They agree that change is needed.

“I am so glad it’s happening,” Sanger-Johnson said. “I know the organization has been talking about it for years, and I’m really excited that GRP’s name will hopefully reflect the broader mission that it has, beyond just girls or beyond just rock music.”

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