A crowd of 1,000 stood shoulder to shoulder outside the Toronto Public Library’s Palmerston branch Tuesday night chanting “Trans rights are human rights,” and “Who’s library? Our library,” to protest a lecture there by Meghan Murphy.
Murphy is a feminist writer who questions both the validity of transgendered individuals and the anti-discrimination laws that protect them.
“This is our chance to take back TPL. It’s so amazing to see so many people here,” said one of the organizers, adding that they had lined up a series of readings by trans authors and poets in the street outside the library to “make it a public space where we celebrate trans voices tonight.”
Authors and organizers then read lines of trans prose to the crowd, which chanted it back in celebratory, loud voices.
“How does it feel to listen and then amplify a trans voice?” asked another of the organizers.
Many of the demonstrators held signs that said “No hate, no fear,” and “tpl: transphobes please leave.” Another organizer said the “TPL is hiding behind free speech” and said it had broken its connection with the “queer community” by allowing discrimination and hate.
Chief librarian Vickery Bowles has said the library has an obligation to protect free speech and a review of Murphy’s statements turned up no hate speech convictions or other disqualifiers.
About 30 police officers were outside the Palmertson library, some on the steps, others in the parking lot across the street or blocking off part of Palmerston Rd. The crowd was orderly.
Murphy’s lecture proceeded in a room that was at capacity, according to a library spokesperson.
The protest at the Palmerston branch followed a rally earlier in the day at Barbara Hall Park, where speakers that included Cheri DiNovo, a United Church minister and former MPP, questioned Toronto Public Library’s (TPL) decision to let the lecture go on despite vocal opposition.
Trans individuals are the “people who Meghan Murphy’s rhetoric” treats as “dangerous imposters,” said speaker Daniel Sarah Karasik, who identifies as a non-binary trans person. Karasik said that by allowing Murphy to speak at the library, TPL was normalizing her views.
Earlier in the day, Murphy said in an interview with the Star that there was “no cohesive definition for transgender. It’s based only on self-identification. It’s based only on a declaration.”
“So it really doesn’t mean anything,” said Murphy, who is 40 years old and grew up in Vancouver. “So I’m not sure it makes sense to be creating a whole new set of rights for a group of people that doesn’t exist in any definable way,” she said, referring to Bill C16, which protects against discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
She said she believed that some people experience body dysmorphia or gender dysphoria, “but that doesn’t change their sex. And that doesn’t mean that women have to give up their rights and spaces because somebody is suffering from some form of mental illness or because they don’t identify with gender stereotypes.”
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In 2017, Murphy testified at senate hearings in opposition to Bill C16.
Murphy was banned earlier this year from Twitter after tweeting that “Men aren’t women,” and referring to a transgender person by their biological sex.
In August, she was part of a conference in New Jersey that had to change venues after a public outcry over the speakers, which included a man who had been convicted of hate speech in Britain.
Tuesday’s lecture at the library went on despite a change.org petition started by writers Alicia Elliot, Catherine Hernandez and Carrianne Leung that denounced Murphy’s opinions as “hate speech” and called on the TPL to cancel the lecture. The petition had more than 8,000 names on it.