An upcoming talk at the Vancouver Public Library is stirring debate over LGBTQ rights and the the limits of free speech.
The event features feminist speaker Meghan Murphy, the editor of Feminist Current, who has been permanently banned from Twitter.
The January talk, slated for the VPL’s central branch, is billed as a discussion on gender identity and women’s rights.
Murphy’s writing on sex and gender — particularly questioning whether people can change their biological sex and arguing that “men aren’t women” — has drawn condemnation from trans advocates, earning her the label of “TERF” (trans exclusive radical feminist) from some quarters.
“What does it mean to be transgender, how does a man become a woman? How does a person change sex? What is a trans woman?” Murphy asked Global News.
“I feel like these are basic questions I want to talk about because again, I find this conversation and this ideology really incoherent.”
But Murphy rejects the notion her ideas are hurtful.
“Feminists are not going around attacking trans people. We would never do that. We’re not against trans-identified people. Again, we’re just trying to have this conversation,” she said.
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Murphy attributes her recent ban from Twitter to a new policy against something called “dead-naming.” That refers to calling someone by a gender other than which they identify, such as referring to Caitlyn Jenner as “he.”
The planned event has drawn a flurry of opposition.
Opponents have launched a petition calling for the VPL to remove Vancouver police “safe place” signage that indicates the library is a hate and harassment-free environment for LGBTQ people if it won’t cancel the talk.
LGBTQ advocacy group Qmunity is also calling on the library to scrap the event, arguing that hosting it is as good as promoting Murphy’s ideas.
“In providing a platform for Murphy’s hateful views, the VPL is tacitly endorsing these views,” wrote the group in a Facebook post.
“I would say that her banning from Twitter was about much more than dead-naming,” said Heather Wong-Mitchell with Qmunity.
“It’s about words that contribute to a climate of hatred, discrimination, violence and fear on the part of trans people.”
Former provincial NDP-candidate and trans advocate Morgane Oger has also been vocal in calling for the event to be scrapped, arguing, “There’s a difference between sharing ideas and inciting discrimination.”
In response to the brewing controversy, the VPL chief librarian Christina de Castell has released a statement saying the library has no plans to cancel the event, despite recognizing that Murphy’s views are “concerning.”
“VPL is not endorsing, or hosting this event; it is a rental of our public space,” reads the statement.
“VPL has zero tolerance for discrimination and does not agree with the views of the Feminist Current. However, commitment to free speech and intellectual freedom are fundamental values of public libraries and are bedrock values for democratic society.”
The statement further adds that the library has no standing to cancel an event” or otherwise censor speech that is otherwise permissible under Canadian law.”
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart also raised concerns about the content of the talk, but said Friday it would be inappropriate for the city to intervene.
“Although I find it despicable and it’s not something I support at all, part of living in a free society is a right to free speech as well,” he said.
“If it was classified as a hate crime officially then of course we we would take different actions, but at this point I’ve been apprised it doesn’t so the talk will go ahead.”
Murphy’s event is scheduled for Jan. 10.