Prominent local authors are threatening to boycott the Toronto Public Library if it allows a feminist writer who holds controversial views on transgender issues to speak at one of its branches.
Meaghan Murphy, the founder and editor of Feminist Current, is scheduled to speak at the Palmerston Library Theatre on Oct. 29 on the topic Gender Identity: What does it mean for society, the law and women?
Murphy believes trans women shouldn’t be allowed to compete against cisgender women (women who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) in sporting events or use women’s change rooms.
“Male bodies, regardless of gender identity, are different than female bodies,” said Murphy on Tuesday, in an interview with the Star.
Critics have labelled Murphy as anti-trans.
Zoe Whittall, the author of four books, including “Bottle Rocket Hearts” in 2007 and “The Best Kind of People” in 2016, is urging people on Twitter to sign a petition against the event, at change.org. More than 2,000 people had signed the petition as of Wednesday. The petition says that if the event goes ahead, the “signed writers and publishing professionals will no longer, in clear conscience, participate” in library events.
“I doubt very much that the (Toronto Public Library) would rent a room to an anti-gay activist in 2019. Why rent to an anti-trans activist,” said Whittall, in an email to the Star.
“This is a difficult decision to make, as we all love the (Toronto Public Library), but we love our trans friends and family more,” wrote Alicia Elliott on Twitter. Elliott released her first book, “A Mind Spread Out On The Ground,” in March, 2019.
Michael Redhill, author of “Bellevue Square” has joined the protest on Twitter, as has Catherine Hernandez, author of “Scarborough.”
“Using ‘freedom of speech’ to disseminate transphobic rhetoric is unacceptable,” Hernandez told the Star.
Murphy says she is not, and has never, engaged in hate speech against the transgender community. The Toronto Public Library notes she has never been charged with or convicted of hate speech.
Toronto Public Library spokesperson Ana-Maria Critchley said the library supports everyone’s right to protest and voice their opinions through a petition or other means.
“We strongly value our relationship with Toronto’s literary community and would regret any decision to boycott library events, but as a public library and public institution we have an obligation to protect free speech,” said Critchley.
A statement from city librarian Vickery Bowles, posted to the library website Tuesday, says the event is a third-party rental of one of its theatres.
“When Toronto Public Library (TPL) makes meeting rooms available to the public we serve, we need to make them available to all on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use,” Bowles wrote.
She went on to say that they can cancel the room rental if they feel the event will promote discrimination, contempt or hatred for any individual or group, and the stated use of the room rental in question does not violate that policy.
In January, dozens of people rallied outside the Vancouver Public Library to protest a talk by Murphy.
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Cara Zwibel, a spokesperson for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said while she is not familiar with Murphy’s work, the law sets a high threshold for what constitutes promotion of hatred under the Criminal Code.
“She has the same rights to free expression as anyone else. Those rights can be limited but only for compelling reasons and in a proportional way. On the facts as I understand them, there isn’t a basis for preventing her from speaking,” said Zwibel.