This week, three Canadian writers launched a petition demanding the Toronto Public Library cancel a room rental for a sold-out event, ‘Gender Identity: What Does It Mean for Society, the Law, and Women?’ Sounds frightening, I know.
The local women organizing the event, a group called Radical Feminists Unite, asked me in June if they could bring me to Toronto to speak about gender identity legislation and women’s rights, unhappy that the debate was not being given space in their city. This is not an uncommon sentiment. The events I have been asked to participate in generally have been organized by regular women who have serious concerns about how gender identity ideology and policy could affect, and already is affecting, women’s sex-based rights. Canada in particular has been resistant to this discussion. Due to media blackouts, harassment, bullying, threats of violence, smear campaigns, censorship, and ostracization, a few brave women have had to force the conversation, at great risk.
In January, a couple women took it upon themselves to organize an event in Vancouver, ‘Gender Identity Ideology and Women’s Rights.’ These women had no budget, no public or political power, no history in activism or organizing events, and no agenda, other than to open up a conversation they feel is desperately needed. The panel, held at the Vancouver Public Library, featured me and two other longtime feminist activists with impeccable records fighting male violence against women. The organizers and I received numerous death and rape threats, were protested, and were libeled by politicians and the media. The VPL forced us to move the event after hours (to 9:30 p.m. on a weeknight), claiming that protesters posed a risk to patrons and staff. They attempted to charge us thousands in security fees in an effort to pressure us to choose another venue, surely aware we didn’t have that kind of budget. The chief librarian, Christina de Castell, issued a statement saying the library did not agree with ‘the views of Feminist Current,’ my website. Castell did not say which views the library disagreed with (protecting women’s sex-based rights or the idea that sexist gender stereotypes are not innate?), but regardless, she should not have taken a position, as a representative of a public institution meant to be neutral, nor should she have spoken on behalf of the VPL, as not everyone at the library is in agreement with her apparent opposition to both biology and women’s rights. Vancouver’s mayor labeled me ‘despicable’. Canada’s national public broadcaster, the CBC, located across the street from the library, refused to cover the event or contact me for comment, despite hosting a panel prior to the event, speculating whether panelists might say anything constituting ‘hate speech’. Of course none did. Despite protests, the event went off without a hitch and was incredibly respectful, inspiring, and galvanizing. The impassioned talks are available on YouTube for anyone to watch and see for themselves.
But why bother? Listening to words and forming an educated opinion based on said words is no longer a popular pastime.
Things have played out similarly in Toronto. The primary difference is that it is now writers leading the charge. You know, people who should be invested in reading and using words correctly.
Not only that, but writers of all people should be defending freedom of expression and a public library’s decision to uphold its mandate, which, per the TPL’s response to the petition, is to ensure meeting rooms are available to the public ‘on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use’. The statement goes on to say: ‘As a public institution, our primary obligation is to uphold the fundamental freedoms of freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.’
This response was unacceptable to the writers and thousands of Torontonians (many of whom I’m certain would consider themselves ‘progressive,’ even ‘feminist’) wanting my talk canceled. Indeed, those who have signed the petition, ‘Stop Hate Speech from Being Spread at the Toronto Public Library,’ have publicly stated I am guilty of ‘hate speech’ and compared the organizers to a ‘hate group’. The petition, authored by Alicia Elliot, Catherine Hernandez, and Carrianne Leung, reads:
‘Those who want to disseminate hate speech today know that they can misrepresent, then weaponize the phrase ‘freedom of speech’ in order to get what they want: an audience, and space to speak to and then mobilize that audience against marginalized communities. While everyone has freedom of speech, we want to once again point to the limits of those freedoms when certain acts and speech infringe on the freedom of others, particularly those in marginalized communities. We also want to point out that hate groups do not have a right to use publicly funded facilities to meet and organize. This is precisely why TPL has a community and event space policy: to determine who and who does not have the right to use its facilities. There is a difference between denying free speech—and what is known as deplatforming, which is when you refuse to allow hate speech to be disseminated in your facility. This has been an effective tactic to stop those who capitalize on spreading hate speech, such as Meghan Murphy.’
The problem is I’ve never engaged in hate speech. I have made very basic statements about biology, such as ‘men aren’t women’ and ‘male bodies and female bodies are different.’ I have also argued that some spaces should be women-only, including changing rooms, transition houses, and prisons. I have said that individuals cannot change sex through self-declaration and that a boy is not a girl because he prefers dresses to pants. I have said that women have particular rights in this world due to the fact of being born female. I have said that women have not experienced discrimination in the workplace, in the home, in universities, and in politics because of anything they feel or because they somehow ‘identify’ with feminine stereotypes. In fact, it is the desire not to be limited to gender roles that inspired feminists’ ongoing fight.
Usually, I say this all warmly. I’m not generally an angry person but quite jovial, in fact. I don’t spend much of my energy hating anyone beyond slow walkers and morning people. I’m just telling the truth.
The writers who initiated the petition say they will no longer participate in events held at the TPL unless the library cancels my talk, which is fine, I suppose. It is their prerogative if they wish to hold readings for their friends in spaces untainted by free thought. Surely the condos their parents bought them have shared rec rooms available for such gatherings? Cozy bubbles seem better suited for those needing to protect themselves from triggers such as people with different opinions and experiences, anyway.
The whole scene strikes me as nauseatingly elitist, especially the entitlement with which these ‘progressive’ people approach members of the public — in this case, women with no particular social, political, or economic power — as though they should have the power to determine what we all think or say. As though they have the right to dictate what a library, of all places, should allow to be discussed within its walls.
These protesters are primarily middle- and upper-class people who have had access to opportunities most people in this world have not. Who live in relative safety, free from state persecution — who have the privilege of freedom in a world that continues to host dictatorships and incredibly repressive regimes that quite literally jail and murder those who fail to toe the party line. They have taken a postmodernist theory invented primarily within the walls of academia — that is, the notion that material reality is determined by inner feelings — and are attempting to impose it on the general public via force. These people have taken on the position of dictator, threatening to throw those who won’t adopt their nonsensical mantras in jail. Indeed, a former politician with the NDP, Canada’s leftist party, publicly claimed the event was ‘illegal’ while her supporters said I should be jailed.
On Thursday, Toronto mayor John Tory said he had contacted the library in an attempt to have the event canceled and is ‘disappointed’ the library declined to do so. What is in fact ‘disappointing’ (indeed, appalling) is that the mayor of Toronto does not understand the TPL’s mandate as a public institution and opposes freedom of expression.
These leftists seem unaware that opposition to free speech has not treated their presumed heroes kindly. They have so easily forgotten Emma Goldman, who was imprisoned for distributing information about birth control. And Rosa Luxemburg, arrested and killed by the GKSD, a German paramilitary unit instructed to suppress the communists. Surely the suffragettes deserved to be jailed and beaten for fighting to win women the right to vote, as their ideas were deemed too ‘radical’, not only by their opponents but other feminists and abolitionists. They have apparently not paid much attention to the female activists arrested and tortured in Saudi Arabia for advocating that women be allowed to drive. Journalists continue to be murdered in Mexico for reporting on police corruption and the drug war. But no matter. Protecting free expression is clearly a relic of the past, before we had multi-billion-dollar social media companies on hand to police dangerous speech. (‘On top of that, she has been banned from Twitter for violating their Hateful Conduct Policy’, the petition reads, as though In Big Tech We Trust is an appropriate mantra for supposed social justice advocates.)
At what point in history has suppressing subversive speech benefited the marginalized? Or anyone, really?
The CBC again failed to include the organizers or myself, the speaker, in its ‘coverage’ of the event. On a segment that aired Wednesday, Gill Deacon, host of Here and Now Toronto, spoke with Elliot, who stated that I was ‘trying to take away the rights of people’, ‘preach[ing] against human rights’, and did not believe ‘transwomen should have protections’ under the Human Rights Act or Criminal Code, claiming this constituted ‘spreading hate’. That none of this is accurate was of no concern to Deacon or Elliot. The CBC sees no need to allow me to speak for myself and explain my apprehensions because, I assume, my arguments are so reasonable people might agree with me. While Elliot claimed that I was ‘lying’ when arguing that gender identity legislation could override women’s rights, this has, unfortunately, already happened, as we’ve seen men transferred to women’s prisons, where they have assaulted female prisoners; women forced to leave shelters and transition houses on account of being made to share rooms with men; women and girls made to compete with and against males in sport; women’s organizations denied funding for having a women-only policy; and of course as we’ve seen a number of estheticians dragged to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal for declining to wax a man’s balls, because that man claimed to be female. What Elliot says there is no evidence for, there is ample evidence for. Which of course she would know, had she ever read my work, listened to my talks, or engaged in conversation with me, rather than using her platform to spout bigoted nonsense.
Ironically, if not for free speech, these individuals would not feel so safe to libel those they don’t like — which appears to be the go-to strategy of the Woke and Online. One wonders why they believe their speech should protected — even when hateful or slanderous — but not the speech of others. It is a modern hypocrisy I will never understand.
Unfortunately for these protesters and petitioners, the TPL will not be canceling the event, and I will continue to speak the truth in the face of threats, slander, harassment, ostracization, and actual hate speech. I will do this not because I have anything personally to gain from doing so but because I could not live with myself otherwise. I will not be silent while women’s rights are eroded, and I will not lie either under duress or to make friends. My integrity is worth more to me than my comfort or popularity, and yours should be too.
Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her website is Feminist Current.