Petition circulates asking Dalhousie University to rescind invitation for controversial speaker

WATCH: While universities are encouraged as a space for open speech and debate, one retired law professor says it shouldn’t come at the cost of human safety. Alexa MacLean has more.

An online petition has been created asking Dalhousie University to uninvite a speaker widely known for her homophobic and transphobic views from attending an upcoming “leadership summit.”

The event is described as a “leadership bootcamp” and will be held at the Dalhousie Collaborative Health Education Building on Nov. 23.

When members of Dalhousie University’s LGBTQ2 community found out Thompson was attending, there was an immediate push to question why the university was renting out space for a speaker with views like Thompson to speak.

“Her views about the LGBTQ community and the rhetoric that she spreads is very public. It is on her Twitter, it is apart of her brand, a part of who she is,” said Truelee Love, president of DalOUT, Dalhousie’s LGBTQ2 society.

LGBTQ community raises concerns with controversial conference at Dal
LGBTQ community raises concerns with controversial conference at Dal

“So even if that’s not why she’s being invited to this talk, the fact that she’s allowed a space to continue with that and to advertise and to kind of sort of spread that in here — in our local community in Halifax — is problematic in itself,”

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READ MORE: Concerns raised over anti-LGBTQ2 speaker scheduled for campus event at Dalhousie University

During the federal election, Thompson campaigned on cutting funds to LGBTQ2 programs, including Pride parades, as a way to stop financial “giveaways.”

“When you look at the dollars that are going into funding Pride parades, funding LGBTQ initiatives, that is an area that we can cut taxes and giveaways,” Thompson said during an October federal election debate in Red Deer, Alta.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia’s Liberal government to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth 

During that same debate, she called LGBTQ2 representation in communities — like Pride crosswalks — “unfair”.

“If you’re going to stand and you’re going to have a crosswalk and you’re going to have flags that are flown all over this city, you better be fair to everyone else,” Thompson said.

“Where’s the heterosexual crosswalk?”

Where should universities draw the “free speech” line?

Dalhousie University wouldn’t agree to an interview regarding discrimination concerns raised by students.

In an email statement from a spokesperson, the university says it’s not affiliated with the event, just renting space to organizers.

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“Although we do ask the external organization for a brief description of their conference, we do not censor the type of conference,” wrote Janet Bryson, a spokesperson with the university.

University of New Brunswick hosts Pride in Education conference 2019
University of New Brunswick hosts Pride in Education conference 2019

Bryson’s email goes on to state events organized within the university community are consistent with academic institution values.

“The university has undertaken a large amount of work to ensure that we are a respectful, diverse and inclusive campus community. Any events that we organize within our community are consistent with those values,” Bryson wrote.

Wayne MacKay is a retired Dalhousie University law professor and says that while free speech and debate on university campuses is important, it shouldn’t come at the cost of student safety.

“Part of the role of a university is to challenge and push people,” MacKay said. “You can’t be comfortable all the time, but you shouldn’t be subjected to people who are challenging the very identity which you are expressing and I think that, perhaps, is what they’re seeing here.”

READ MORE: Controversial Acadia University professor fired amid public backlash

Expressing a difference in opinion is something MacKay feels can stimulate healthy debate, but he says marginalized groups have a right to express when they feel their sense of safety is threatened by discriminatory views.

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“They’re saying, ‘this is not just somebody who is saying things we don’t like, this is somebody who’s saying things that really attack who we are as a community and who we are as individuals,’ and does the university have some role in providing a space that is safe from that kind of direct intellectual attack,” MacKay said.

He goes on to add that while Thompson may not “directly” attack members of the LGBTQ2 group while on campus, her public viewpoints may trigger other people to lash out.

“Given the vulnerability and the various ways in which people from that community are vulnerable and have been subjected to abuse over the years, that if you have someone who is providing a justification for that, it’s not just what they would do but what would others who are inclined that way then do,” he said.

“Does this stir up further unrest and unhappiness that is played out against this vulnerable group? I think that’s a bigger concern.”

Toronto library criticized over refusal to cancel event by controversial speaker
Toronto library criticized over refusal to cancel event by controversial speaker

As for whether or not Dalhousie has a moral obligation to better screen people who speak on campus, MacKay says it’s something that should be considered.

“There’s kind of a role of balancing that any university has. You have to encourage free discussion and debate but you have to do it in a civil and respectful way so that people are not threatened in the institution that they’re paying to attend,” he said.

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Global News reached out to Thompson and the event organizers for comment but did not receive a response.