Why ‘only’ relying on colonial, capitalist social control systems is a problem

A Statement re: Out on Campus

Update (01/25/2020): Out on Campus called security campus and police on our members today who attended OOC’s open house to hand out flyers, further reinforcing deep concerns outlined in our statement below.


This is the Coalition Against Trans Antagonism’s statement of clarity to push back on a cissexist and racist narrative perpetuated by Simon Fraser University’s student group: Out on Campus in October and November 2019 and to share our experiences with OOC’s paid staff member, Ashley Brooks, in particular.

CATA’s experience with OOC began with one of our members emailing them, seeking connection and possible collaboration regarding the TERF/SWERF fascist event organized by meghan murphy under the banner of “GIDYVR” — a full-on trans antagonistic, backwards-looking, strawmanning, gaslighting event.

On November 2nd, 2019, ‘free speech’ advocates, white supremacists, and transmisogynists gathered at the Pan Pacific Hotel in what is colonially known as Vancouver, Canada to platform bigoted, hateful, and violent ideas about trans people and marginalized communities more broadly. This event was originally scheduled to take place at SFU Harbour Centre.

This type of event is not new for CATA, considering that some of our members have over a decade of history confronting and calling out murphy, with variations of success. Over the past year, CATA has organized and supported rallies in opposition to anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigotry, hosted trans community town halls, organized to support safer spaces free of TERF/SWERFs at the Vancouver Dyke March, and collaborated with various non-profit organizations to write and propose new policy for the Vancouver Public Library.

Our diverse organizing committee’s lived experiences and involvement in local trans and sex worker communities gives us a very unique perspective to contribute to strategizing against anti-trans bigotry. Some of our members are also SFU alumni. Before having the opportunity to share more information with OOC, Ashley replied to CATA stating that they would not meet with us. We were dismayed, upset, shocked, and angered with OOC’s response and their subsequent antagonizing of CATA and its members.

Meeting minutes revealed OOC had painted CATA as a threat to student safety. OOC also displayed a lack of meaningful connections to and with local trans communities, their desire to maintain top-heavy structures, and their complicity with the academic industrial complex in controlling, derailing, and neutralizing student organizing.

Some of CATA’s members attended the final meeting hosted by OOC to address these issues and to seek accountability from Ashley for gatekeeping grassroots community organizing. At this meeting:

  • Ashley runs the meeting without going over the agenda
  • A draft flyer is passed around to be distributed at OOC’s rally, which contains a quote featuring Ashley, a white cis gay man, about transphobia
  • Eventually a few members from CATA intervene to bring up unresolved issues that have been escalated by OOC
    • CATA’s initial email was read out to everyone present, and Ashley was asked how an email asking to meet indicated incompatibility with OOC
  • Ashley refuses to take accountability, and states that he made the decision on behalf of SFU students to not organize with CATA because an individual he knew shared negative experiences with one of our members, a Two Spirit, Cree-Norweigan, disabled trans woman
    • It is noted by Ashley that this individual did not say to not organize with CATA
  • Ashley refuses to be transparent about what the claims were and to offer an opportunity for clarity and understanding
  • CATA members leave the meeting in disgust

At no point did CATA’s organizing committee members discuss strategy with regards to protest.

After this meeting, someone from SFU alerts the director of campus security, Tim Marron, who then warns Mark Collard, the professor sponsoring the room booking for November 2nd. According to media, Collard is told that CATA is a security threat of “11 out of 10”, which prompted him to pull his sponsorship. murphy then has two days to scramble and find a new venue.

Ashley speaks to the media on behalf of OOC, stating that OOC is cancelling their scheduled protest, and further stigmatizes CATA by stating that he “does not feel safe” attending the protest taking place at the alternative venue.

Communication with Out on Campus

On October 1st, 2019 one of our members emailed Out on Campus:

Hi Ashley and Noah,

I’m reaching out to you as a member of CATA (coalition against trans antagonism), a grass roots organization of trans people in the Vancouver metropolitan area (you can read more about us on our website, link below).

I’m sure you’re more than well aware that SFU is hosting a panel of bigots, including Megan Murphy, to argue that trans people should not exist, on November 2nd.

We would be very interested in meeting with members of Out on Campus (and other interested queer/trans groups/individuals if any have contacted you) to discuss the matter and possible actions, including the possibility of hosting a town hall on the campus for trans students to analyze the event and brainstorm solutions.

Please let us know if you would be interested, and what dates/times would be good to meet in person.

thank you,
Coalition Against Trans Antagonism

Two days later, on October 3rd, Ashley Brooks from OOC writes back:

Hi there,

Thanks for getting in touch with us about this, this event is certainly on our radar and we have already held one open forum on the Burnaby campus on Monday to help orient our public letter and plan out our other response(s) to the event.

To catch you up, some of the ideas discussed include:

  • Leveraging financial support from SFU to support – among other things – staff training and a project worker to revisit and update our trans and gender diverse guide to SFU
  • Supporting the positive event that the GSWS Department is organising
  • Organising our own counter event or protest
  • Targeting SFU’s donors

Having done my own research on CATA and consulted with individuals who have previously attempted to collaborate with CATA, I would prefer that we focus our efforts separately – though you are welcome to pursue any of the above options we have brainstormed. I feel like we would not be able to meet the expectations of a grassroots organisation that has fewer professional relationships with SFU staff and has different standards of acceptable communication. Essentially, I believe we would likely hold each other back.

I hope you understand my position on this – and feel free to ask for clarity if my reasoning is not apparent.

Best,

——-
Ashley Brooks, PhD.

Almost two weeks later, on October 16th, Ashley emails CATA:

Hi again,

I wanted to update you on our protest planning and get a sense of where you are currently with your plans and what approach you’ll be taking.

Our protest will be starting at 5:00 on November 2nd. Out of courtesy, we have notified the University of our intention to protest and that we intend to gather outside the main entrance of the University and in the main concourse. We are currently awaiting their response. It may be useful for CATA to email then separately (I believe you have already contacted somebody in MECS before regarding the TDOR incident) to notify them also, in case they accuse your contingent of trespassing on University property.

Our messaging will be primarily targeted at SFU itself in order to hold them to account for hosting transphobic speakers and to leverage positive changes and greater resources for trans and gender diverse community members. For the sake of safety, we will not be targeting event attendees with our messaging. You can see our statement of intention attached. To help our groups cooperate on the day, it would be good to learn more about the direction you’re intending on taking your protest and the kinds of conversations you’re having about the planned protest.

We are also in the process of confirming an informal community debrief on-campus after the protest, with space to decompress, spend time with trans community members and allies, and enjoy some food and drink in supportive company. Once this is confirmed and I have more information on room capacity, I will see if I can extend this invitation to CATA.

All the best,

——-
Ashley Brooks, PhD.

Massive assumptions were made by Ashley without any attempts to seek clarity or ask for more information or to at least meet, which was what CATA had requested. In this email conversation alone, it is confusing why OOC would communicate the way that they did — first stating to not wanting to work with CATA, and then contacting us again to find out what our plans are. It only became clearer once OOC publicly published the minutes of their meetings:

Marginalizing Trans Communities in the Media

While the cancellation of the fascist event at SFU was a success, the reasons for why it happened are of great concern. CATA is accused of pressuring OOC to participate in direct action and is painted as a threat to community safety.

One news article states:

Collard said the security director, Tim Marron, assessed the security risk as “11 out of 10” and suggested violence could be used by a group called the Coalition Against Trans Antagonism, which is not affiliated with the university, but Out on Campus, which supports LGBTQ students, was not considered a threat.”

Ashley Brooks, who speaks for Out on Campus, said the group intended to protest peacefully and uphold the university’s code of conduct without engaging in any crimes.

“It’s in my job interest to keep students thriving here,” Brooks said, adding the group decided not to collaborate with the coalition because its members had different goals and do not advocate for direct action that could include disrupting the event.

He has decided not to attend any protest at the new venue “from a safety perspective.”

In another article:

“[Collard] went to the Harbour Centre to do the final walkthrough and … the director of our public safety on campus informed me that they had credible threats being made of direct action on the night of the event at the Harbour Centre. Including, you know, in-person disruption [of the event] and pulling of fire alarms and also property damage being planned,” he said.

“And that … changed the calculation in terms of thinking about the safety of not just the participants but the audience and all the people in the building.”

While he agrees “people have the right to protest,” Collard says in this case “people were crossing a line into direct action.”

“That is unconscionable in a liberal democracy for people to threaten direct action against other people for having views that they disagree with.”

Ironically, the cancellation also reveals that despite the diverse, organic efforts by community members, SFU students, and SFU staff (writing letters, speaking with media, organizing a petition, and coordinating rallies, etc.), the only reason the event was cancelled was because of “security concerns” with regards to SFU property.

Ashley diverted media attention away from the root issues affecting trans communities, and instead used their platform to point a target at a grassroots group of trans people and vilify direct action. Ashley and OOC have yet to demonstrate any ability to meaningfully advocate for trans communities, and instead of shown their ability to do great harm.

The Failures of Current-day Student Organizing

CATA’s political philosophy is grounded in decolonial intersectionality, paying special attention to power and agency awareness (this also includes structures and abilities). While the language of anti-oppression, intersectionality, and decolonization have become buzz words on university campuses, radical student organizing is at an all-time low.

Student organizing local to Vancouver has become, once again, an extended arm of the state — creating an illusion of progress while simultaneously derailing work that resembles meaningful, long-lasting change. CATA has observed an ongoing pattern of student organizing that exists without genuine relationships and connections with communities who are directly affected by the issues they claim to fight against.

In our experience, this has resulted in tone-policing, playing into respectability politics, looking down condescendingly at grassroots organizers who do not fit ableist, racist, transmisogynist, sexist standards of organizing, and deferring to other cis hetero/gay white men as leaders in the fight trans antagonism. It is bizarre and devastating. All of which strengthens the status quo.

Despite having reached out to OOC via email and at an in-person meeting, and in consideration of OOC’s behaviour toward members of CATA in private and in public, we feel that this is one of our few remaining options to hold OOC accountable for interrupting and derailing local trans community organizing.

We believe powerful, colonial, capitalist, academic structures like SFU should be paying very particular attention to this reality in all that they do. One would hope they do their very best, or even their very least. They seem very interested in upholding status quos and performing any sort of progressive outlook. In its early years, around the 90s, SFU was considered the most progressive (and even partially radical) university of its size in all of colonial western Canada. This now appears to be furthest from the case.

Out on Campus is not a safer space for LGBTQ2S+ students, particularly those who are trans women, trans people in general, sex workers, disabled, and especially those who are also Black, Indigenous, and/or people of colour.

As students and as community members, demand OOC to take accountability for the harm they are responsible for in our local trans communities!


Abbreviated Timeline

This text is an abbreviated overview of CATA’s interactions with OOC. It was created for a flyer that CATA is distributing to inform SFU students and the community at large about OOC’s behaviour. We encourage community members to share this section, and this statement as a whole, throughout your networks with hopes of receiving adequate attention and care from OOC regarding these problems.

  • On October 1st: CATA reaches out to Ashley & Noah at OOC in good faith to meet, brainstorm, and share information to possibly collaborate on addressing megan murphy and other fascists speaking at SFU Harbour Centre (November 2nd).
  • Ashley Brooks replies by immediately refusing to meet. He misuses his privilege and power to gate-keep grassroots community organizing and control student campus organizing, and reinforces top-heavy non-profit structures.
  • CATA is shocked, hurt, dismayed, and upset by his reply, and does not further engage with OOC.
  • CATA looks inward and outward to local trans communities regarding strategies in addressing SFU platforming fascists; hosts weekly meetings open to community members and a town hall.
  • OOC hosts their own meetings and collaborates with SFU’s director of campus security, Tim Marron. In their first meeting, OOC paints CATA as a threat to student safety, and it is suggested to work with the Vancouver Police.
  • CATA attends the final meeting hosted by OOC to confront Ashley and seek accountability for working with campus security and considering cooperation with the VPD, for having himself, a cis gay white man, centred in a fight against trans antagonism, and for refusing to collaborate with experienced and local trans community members.
  • Someone at SFU alerts Tim Marron about CATA’s attendance at this meeting. Tim then alerts Mark Collard, the SFU professor sponsoring the anti-trans, anti-sex worker event.
  • Mark cancels his sponsorship of the booking, thereby cancelling the event at SFU and reveals to the media that it was due to being warned that CATA was a security threat of “11 out of 10”.
  • Ashley rats CATA out to the media, stigmatizes CATA as a disruptive and extremist group, and minimizes and derails local trans community organizing.
  • Ashley cancels the protest at SFU and states in the media that he will not attend any rallies hosted at the new venue location, further revealing how OOC organizes and how invested they really are in the safety and dignity of our LGBTQ2S+ communities.

References

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