Here's Why Brandi Carlile Pulled Out of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit

Brandi Carlile
Austin Hargrave

Brandi Carlile photographed on Jan. 9, 2019 at Smashbox Studios in Los Angeles. 

"I don't think that human rights violators and merit-based abusers of displaced people should be given a platform to 'reimagine' history. Ever."

Brandi Carlile has rescinded her participation in Fortune's upcoming Most Powerful Women summit following their inclusion of former Director of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen in the event's lineup. 

On Monday morning (Oct. 21), Carlile released a statement on social media explaining her decision to walk away from the summit. She started by stressing that this is not a call she made lightly. "At the end of the day I'm a mother with a ridiculous birthright and a heart for displaced people," she writes. "I'm proud to have been invited to the Fortune Most Powerful Women summit in DC. Dropping out of such a special appearance is rarely my style."

She goes on to stress that Nielsen, one of the architects and leaders of the Trump administration's family separation crisis at the Mexican border, is her reason for pulling out of the summit. (Nielsen resigned from her position in April 2019.)

"I don't think that human rights violators and merit-based abusers of displaced people should be given a platform to 'reimagine' history. Ever.," Carlile continues. The atrocity of family separation at our Southern border needs to go down in history as one of the United States of America's most merciless acts. Respectfully, I absolutely cannot support Kirstjen Nielsen having a voice among the most powerful and inspiring women in America. Her access to power is righteously over." 

She adds that she forgives her and wishes her well. Carlile's representative has confirmed that she will not be participating in the summit. As of press time, Nielsen's engagement at the summit, an interview referred to on the agenda as "The Hard Questions," is taking place as planned.

Fortune provided the following statement to Billboard: "We believe that the most powerful women in business, who also happen to be some of the most powerful women in the world, have strong views about how the U.S. Administration has handled its immigration policy. We sought out an opportunity to bring the woman who was effectively responsible for that policy to ask her tough questions publicly and on stage about that policy.  We brought in Amna Nawaz from PBS NewsHour to do the interview with the clear understanding that this would be a no-holds-barred interview, and that there would be an opportunity for our MPW members to ask questions, as well. That’s how we practice live journalism."

Carlile isn't the only one to walk away from Fortune's Most Powerful Women summit following the news of Nielsen's appearance. Hillary Rodham Clinton, citing a scheduling conflict, dropped off the lineup on Friday (Oct. 18). Journalist Dream Hampton -- executive producer and showrunner of Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly -- also pulled out of the event. 

In a statement provided to the Huffington Post, Hampton is clear that she, too, is disappointed in Fortune's choice to host Nielsen: "Fortune should not be giving Kirstjen Nielsen a platform to rehabilitate her image. I’ve worked all my life to tell the stories of women, girls and families. Sharing a stage with Nielsen, who separated immigrant families and put babies in cages, would have put a stamp of approval on her immoral and reprehensible actions and help legitimize the terror that Trump is inflicting on immigrants and communities of color. So I’m cancelling my attendance and encourage other speakers to do the same."

Read Carlile's statement in full below.


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