Ohio State lecturer Dr. Sri Thakkilapati always wanted to attend the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, a week of performances, workshops and community activities - by women, for women - in the Midwestern woodlands.

Ohio State lecturer Dr. Sri Thakkilapati always wanted to attend the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, a week of performances, workshops and community activities - by women, for women - in the Midwestern woodlands.

"It had been going on for decades, so I had the feeling like, 'It's always gonna be there, I can just go whenever,'" Thakkilapati said.

But after 40 years of operation, the fest came to an end in 2015 amid controversy. Advocacy groups criticized the festival's focus on "women-born" attendees and contended the event was not fully inclusive of transgender women.

For Thakkilapati, the Columbus-based FemFest, which welcomes "diverse identities and gender expressions," builds on the work started by the Michigan festival but also pushes forward with a more progressive approach.

"I see it as the next wave of feminist organizing that's more inclusive, that's more intersectional [and] that actively includes trans people," she said.

"FemFest, in particular, would like to create a space for more marginalized voices - women of color, trans persons, non-binary folks," said Co-organizer Leigh Derouen. Because admission is free, people of all income levels can enjoy the performances, workshops, exhibitions, films and other activities that will take place at the festival, now in its third year, throughout the city over two weekends, August 12-14 and 19-21. Any donations received will benefit the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO).

Having had a positive experience in Thakkilapati's sociology class, Derouen invited her former professor to teach a FemFest workshop.

"She just has a really great way of bringing everybody into the fold," Derouen said. "She can always explain things in terms that everyone - of every level of understanding - can grasp. And I thought that would be a really nice quality for somebody doing a FemFest workshop … since they're open to everyone."

Thakkilapati's workshop, "Beyond Abortion: Reproductive Rights in the Age of the Orange Alert," will take place on Saturday, August 13 at Kafe Kerouac.

"When we talk about reproductive rights, it's usually about women having the right to have an abortion," Thakkilapati said. "But, in fact, reproductive rights are so much broader than that." She has researched the role of race, class and population control in reproductive rights, policy and discourse from the 19th century to present day.

Thakkilapati is also interested in exploring the state of reproductive rights "in this moment when we have so much anxiety about immigration."

Additionally, Thakkilapati has studied the practice of U.S. citizens outsourcing surrogacy to India and the limited rights of surrogates. She has also examined the strict citizenship regulations for children who, she said, sometimes become "stateless."

"Reproductive rights and race and class are still tied together and … still emerging in these really problematic ways," she said.

During the workshop, Thakkilapati will challenge attendees to consider specific, reproductive-based questions. She'll also present some research studies and then conclude with a Q&A segment.

Thakkilapati's progressive values date back to her childhood. Born in India, where abortion is not a taboo subject, she has always been pro-choice. And after moving to Cleveland at 7, she was enthralled by the advent of MTV and artists who presented an androgynous or "queer aesthetic."

"I think my interest in … [a] non-normative form of sexuality really stemmed from that period of music," she said.

After earning her bachelor's degree in English, Thakkilapati spent seven years in patient advocacy at an abortion clinic, where she witnessed the complexities of the abortion experience.

"It's a different issue for white women and for black women," she said. "And it's a different issue for poor women and for middle-class women. So that's what really got me thinking about reproductive rights more broadly."

She went on to earn advanced degrees in sociology. At the master's level, she studied race and class and reproductive rights; at the PhD level, she studied globalization and women.

"One of the challenges with being in academia is you usually only talk to other academics," she said. FemFest will provide her with the perfect opportunity to embrace more hands-on tasks outside of the university.

"I think [FemFest] does such great work in terms of being free, having all different kinds of both intellectual and artistic and practical activist stuff," she said. "I'm very excited to be part of [it]."


The Complete FemFest Schedule: Weekend One

Back for a third year, FemFest will once again celebrate the artistic and intellectual output of women, trans and non-binary peoples over the course of two weekends, beginning Friday, August 12. "We like to have as much variety as we can have performance-wise and education-wise … to show how many creative voices there are in Columbus," said Co-organizer Leigh Derouen. Here is the schedule for the first round of eclectic FemFest events.

Friday Opening Event at Brother's Drake Meadery

7:30 – 9:30 p.m. "FemFest Presents: Get It Together, a Community Networking and Organizing Mixer"

Saturday Workshops at Kafe Kerouac

1:30-2:30 p.m. "Beyond Abortion: Reproductive Rights in the Age of the Orange Alert" with Sri Thakkilapati, PhD

3-4 p.m. "How Do We Continue the Political Revolution in Columbus?" with Will Petrik, Yes We Can Columbus

4:30-5:30 p.m. "Turning the Page: Women, Comics and the Legacy of Jackie Ormes" with Tracie Santos of the Circle and Caitlin McGurk of the Billy Ireland Museum

Sunday Workshops at Kafe Kerouac

1:30-2:30 p.m. "The Power of Positive Body Image" with Lana Moy

3-4 p.m. "Breaking the Silence: Intimate Partner Violence in LGBTQIA+ Communities" with BRAVO

4:30-5:30 p.m. "Trans Activism: The Struggle for Rights and Dignity and What You Can Do to Help" with TransOhio

Visit femfest3.com to register for workshops.