For the past week, members of Dalhousie University’s LGBTQ2 community and their allies raised concerns over space being rented by the post-secondary institution to a speaker widely known for views considered harmful by the community.
“I think it’s a conversation that we need to have, that universities have been ignoring for a while because it’s a very difficult topic,” said Truelee Love, the president of DalOUT, Dalhousie’s LGBTQIA2S+ society.
“You’re talking about freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and while I think those are inherently important rights, and I understand the university’s situation in a lot of ways — there is also a safety concern for students here, and even if it’s not a physical safety concern, it’s a mental safety concern.”
The Advance Summit was held at the Dalhousie Collaborative Health Education Building and featured Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, a former People’s Party of Canada candidate and Christian talk show host.
The event was described online as a “leadership boot camp.”
Thompson has drawn controversy for her opposition to SOGI 123, a curriculum focused on sexual orientation and gender identity within B.C.’s school system.
During the federal election, Thompson campaigned on cutting funds to LGBTQ2 programs, including Pride parades, as a way to stop financial “giveaways.”
Thompson tweeted that she wouldn’t be discussing LGBTQ2 issues at the forum and she thanked the university for “honouring free speech.”
Some faculty members with the university also criticized why the space was being provided and delivered a statement to university administration outlining their stance.
Part of the statement reads, “it is disappointing to learn that Dalhousie University was willing to offer a platform by renting space in the Collaborative Health Education Building (CHEB) to Ms. Thompson, given her intolerance of sexual gender and diversity.”
The statement goes on to read, “this intolerance and disrespect for gender and sexual minority populations has a negative impact on our students.”
The statement was signed by members of Dalhousie’s Queer Faculty and Staff Caucus.
One of those members includes a professor with Dalhousie’s School of Health and Human Performance.
“Well, it’s concerning because Dalhousie prides itself on having a welcoming learning environment, and to have individuals that represent what some would call ‘hate speech perspectives’ on LGBT+ Canadians, it’s incongruent, we would argue, and that is concerning that that individual is here, there’s plenty of other public spaces where they could rent,” Jacqueline Gahagan said.
Thompson tweeted online ahead of the event stating, “my session at Advance Summit Halifax is purely about leadership and not gay and transgender issues. I want everyone attending to feel safe to do so despite the recent concerns,” said Thompson.
Despite widespread concern raised by students and faculty staff, the interim president of Dalhousie University says, legally, the space couldn’t be revoked for the event.
Teri Balser attended the LGBTQ2 event held in response to the conference, to meet with concerned faculty and students.
“We’ve got to look at how do we balance the need to create a safe space, against the need to protect free speech.”
Balser says she plans to meet with members of the Queer Faculty and Staff Caucus to discuss how the university can move forward with addressing criticism that was raised in response to the conference.
“Part of being at a university when we have space that anybody can rent is grappling with the fact that we can’t censor people and we can’t censor what they are,” Balser said.
“We know racism and misogyny and homophobia exists and it’s part of what we have to wrestle with as a university, to say well, where’s that line between when it’s too much and when this (is) part of free speech and it’s something that universities all over are facing right now.”
Global News reached out to Thompson for her response to the concerns expressed by the Dalhousie community, but she didn’t address the protest specifically.