Transgender rights advocates are mulling protests and further boycotts after Toronto’s library system refused pleas to cancel a room rental for a controversial “gender identity” forum.
“They were putting up with listening to us,” Niko Stratis, a transgender person, said of Toronto Public Library board members who unanimously refused Wednesday to overrule their chief librarian’s decision to allow the Tuesday event featuring feminist writer Meghan Murphy.
“It was so dehumanizing just being an object in the room they were doing their best to avoid.”
Murphy, founder of the Feminist Current blog, is booked to speak at Palmerston Library Theatre on the topic “Gender Identity: What does it mean for society, the law and women?”
Murphy believes trans women should not be allowed to compete in sporting events against cisgender women (women who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) or use women’s change rooms. She denies being anti-trans but critics say she promotes discrimination against a community already marginalized and victimized.
Chief librarian Vickery Bowles has said her system has an obligation to protect free speech and a review of Murphy’s statements turned up no hate speech convictions or other disqualifiers.
Some prominent authors are boycotting library events to protest Murphy’s appearance. Mayor John Tory implored the library to reverse its stance. Pride Toronto has warned library leaders “there will be consequences to our relationship for this betrayal.”
At least three people with room bookings, including a big salon at Toronto Reference Library, have cancelled their events citing opposition to Murphy’s gender-identity event, the Star has learned.
Stratis and others told board members at Wednesday’s meeting about suffering assaults and accusations of not being a “real woman.”
“It was disappointing that those personal and real stories were not sufficient evidence to drive the board to re-evaluate their decision,” said David Morris, chair of The 519, a community and advocacy centre in Toronto’s Gay Village, who also appealed to the board.
“A public debate about whether trans and non-binary people even exist is incredibly toxic.”
Staff at the 519 are discussing next moves that could include protest at the event, Morris said.
Coun. Paul Ainslie, a longtime library board member, said he and his colleagues listened to the arguments but they can’t “get into the weeds” and overturn their staff’s decision.
“As a politician, I understand people have concerns over Meghan Murphy — the library is where we make everyone feel welcome regardless of their sexual or cultural background,” Ainslie said. “But we pride ourselves on being a forum where people can speak about things, and you can agree or disagree with them.”
Under library guidelines, Bowles can refuse a permit if she reasonably believes “the purpose of the event will promote discrimination, contempt or hatred for any individual or group.” Legal advisers have said those grounds don’t exist with Murphy, Ainslie said, adding that library staff will monitor the event.
The library’s refusal to cancel the permit caused Tim Wong-Ward to cancel his booking of the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the reference library for a Nov. 17 memorial for his wife, Ing Wong-Ward, a journalist and disability rights activist who died in July at age 46.
About 200 people were going to enjoy speeches, photos, food and more to celebrate the life of the beloved wife and mother who refused to have a “sad” funeral.
Get more of today’s top stories in your inbox
Sign up for the Star’s Morning Headlines newsletter for a briefing of the day’s big news.
Wong-Ward had to forfeit the $2,300 fee but Ing, a relentless fighter for social justice, “would have been apoplectic” at being feted in a facility where people including her best friend, a writer and gay activist, feel unwelcome.
“If she believed something strongly she would stand by it,” said Wong-Ward, criticizing the library for a policy that seems like it would exclude anti-trans talk but in reality appears to hinge on the existence of a hate-crime conviction.
“They have to be clear and have a sense of where that line is and be willing to draw it,” he added. “I know they’re between a rock and a hard place but to me this is pretty clear and a lot of people are feeling very hurt by this.”