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

Know Your Enemy: An Analysis of the November 2, 2019 Panel of Hate

Web of Hate v2.0

(Click on the above image or here to access the interactive map.)

UPDATE as of November 1, 2019 12:30pm: The panel has found a new venue which they will release shortly before the event takes place. Follow this facebook event page for updates about the rally/protest: https://www.facebook.com/events/529386161147677/.


Overview

This analysis was created and written on unceded Coast Salish territory by nonbinary, trans, and Two-Spirit people. We seek to work in solidarity with Indigenous peoples in the struggle for autonomy and self-determination. We recognize that the gender binary is a colonial construct and affirm the diversity of gender identity and gender expression of people around the world, especially those who are reclaiming identities and roles lost, erased and vilified due to colonization.

So-called Vancouver, Canada has a history of trans exclusionary radical feminism (TERF) and sex worker exclusionary radical feminism (SWERF) dating back to the 1970s when the local feminist movement splintered. Under the smokescreen of a radical feminism, these oppressive groups and individuals have sought to exclude trans women from their crisis centres and organizing circles, and have played both sides of colonial Canada’s criminal legal system in their attempts to further criminalize sex work and prevent human rights protection from discrimination for trans people, particularly trans women.

Throughout 2019 there has been a considerable rise in anti-trans hostility in Vancouver and the surrounding region, with noted collaboration among TERF/SWERFs, Christian fundamentalists, Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, including: GIDYVR, Culture Guard, Soldiers of Odin, People’s Party of Canada, and Proud Boys. Some of the talks were hosted at venues provided by the Vancouver Public Library, University of British Columbia, and the District of Oak Bay.

On November 2, 2019, Lindsay Shepherd, Jonathan Kay, Anna Slatz, and Meghan Murphy were scheduled to speak at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Their talk was focused on propagating misinformation about trans people, Two Spirit people, and multiply marginalized communities, as well as inciting hatred and violence. Due to security concerns, the sponsoring professor, Mark Collard, cancelled the booking. This document provides a brief background of the panelists, examples of anti-trans hate speech written by them, and their connections to the larger network of supremacists in so-called Vancouver. All quotations have been published in two online right-wing publications: Quillette and The Post Millennial. All four presenters have close connections to these publications.

Mark Collard

Quillette and The Post Millennial

Quillette and The Post Millennial are online, right-wing publications in which the presenters have published their anti-trans articles (alongside targeting Indigenous peoples, people of colour, disabled people, and many other multiply marginalized communities). Jonathan Kay, one of the panelists, is a senior editor for Quillette and Lindsay Shepherd, the moderator, is engaged to the editor for The Post Millennial. These publications began to include anti-trans rhetoric two years ago, which contributed to the increasing volume of anti-trans hate speech in right-wing politics. This acceleration of anti-trans sentiment parallels the uptick in anti-trans events over the past ten months in our region, as well as the historical events when fascist organizations attacked 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and other marginalized groups.

Lindsay Shepherd

Lindsay Shepherd gained notoriety when she was a Wilfrid Laurier student and teaching assistant (TA) in November 2017. She was a TA for a class on technical writing and grammar when she showed a video of Jordan Peterson—a known white, cis, hetero, male supremacist with little-to-no expertise in the topics he writes and speaks about—spouting anti-trans bigotry regarding gender-neutral pronouns. She was disciplined by the school in a meeting she secretly recorded, adding to her viral moment.

Shepherd has since become a darling of alt-right Canadian circles. In 2018 she hosted a speaker series that included Faith Goldy (an alt-right white supremacist and contributor to Rebel Media) and Frances Widdowson (an academic who focuses on promoting colonialism and racism against Indigenous peoples).

Shepherd, like the three panelists, has used Jessica Yaniv’s case as justification for broader slander and violence toward trans women. This past August, Shepherd co-authored an article with Kay in Quillette, stating that “[Yaniv] exemplifies the perceived threats to women and children when male-bodied individuals can declare their gender to be whatever they like.” Shepherd and Kay use Yaniv to perpetuate transmisogyny, reinforcing the stereotype that trans women are inherently sexual predators, and inciting hostility and violence toward trans women.

Shepherd has written several articles for the Post Millennial. In one, she writes that the “assertion that Albertan universities are required by human rights law to provide students with Islamic facilities undermines Canadian identity,” clearly showing her racist and Islam antagonist belief that Muslim people are incompatible with public spaces in so-called Canada. In another article, she writes, “Are European and Euro-descended people not allowed to express a soft regret that the societies they grew up in are rapidly changing due to mass migration?” This deeply ahistorical and white supremacist statement erases centuries of European colonial and imperial genocide enacted around the world, and the white supremacist structural violence that forces people to migrate from their homes–many of whom are women.

One must ask oneself, if Meghan Murphy is a feminist, as she claims, why would she align herself with Shepherd?

Jonathan Kay

Jonathan Kay is a senior editor of Quillette. His mother, Barbara Kay, is also a contributor. He was a founding member of the editorial board for the National Post, to which he still occasionally contributes to, and the editor-in-chief of The Walrus. He resigned from The Walrus in 2017 because he felt pressure to “self-censor” himself. This occurred just after outrage was expressed by Indigenous writers surrounding the “appropriation prize” controversy that had suggested white writers explore the lives of ‘people who aren’t like you’, to which Kay defended.

Kay has a history of publishing racist, anti-Indigenous, anti-Muslim content, including work that has been disseminated by the far-right Jewish Defense League, stating, “The continued vibrancy and economic success of Jewish civilization — so close to Islam’s very heartland — is precisely what has fed Muslim rage and jealousy for 14 centuries”. More recently, Kay has published articles targeting trans people. This past March, he gave platform to a researcher who dismisses many trans teenagers as suffering from “peer contagion,” arguing that for the sake of children, trans teens shouldn’t be believed and their trans identity should be denied.

Through his commentary on the National Post, Kay has criticized the #MeToo movement, stating that men losing their jobs for being outed as rapists is worse than the Inquisition, in which people were burned at the stake. Conveniently, Kay does show concern about sexual assault when it positions trans women as the perpetrators. In an article published this past August and co-authored by Shepherd, they write, “This policy [of trans self-identification as women] has put women at risk of violent sexual assault.”

One must ask oneself, If Meghan Murphy is a feminist, as she claims, why would she align herself with Kay?

Anna Slatz

Anna Slatz, also known as Anna de Luca, is a writer for The Post Millennial with a long history of publishing vitriolic articles, particularly against trans women. In March of this year, in an article for The Post Millennial, Slatz wrote about Vancouver Rape Relief receiving termination funding from the City of Vancouver for excluding trans women from their services, stating, “Othering females so as to differentiate and separate them from their own sex—cis women, how I hate that term – as though we were anything but authentically, simply, women. The lovely Barbara Kay precisely defined this as the “dilution of women.””

Slatz’s arguments rely on gender essentialist and biological determinist rhetoric that posits womanhood as being directly in opposition to trans people’s experiences, creating a false divide between cis women and trans women and erasing intersex women altogether. This narrative reinforces the gender binary, which harms people of all genders and reduces womanhood to reproductive function and genitalia.

In the same article, Slatz writes, “The misogyny of these trans-activists should be inherent in their delusion that they can become women, totally.” Her arguments equate being trans with having a mental illness, implying mentally ill people do not have the same right to bodily autonomy that neurotypical people do.

During her brief period as editor of the University of New Brunswick student newspaper, The Baron, Slatz published an article written by Jonathan Furlow with explicitly Nazi ideology. For this, she was fired from The Baron, who issued an apology. Slatz has also written hit pieces on Zoë Quinn, a cis woman who has been the target of misogynistic and ableist harassment for years, seeking to discredit Quinn’s allegations of sexual assault.

One must ask oneself, if Meghan Murphy is a feminist, as she claims, why would she align herself with Slatz?

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy is an anti-trans, anti–sex work blogger who lives in Vancouver. She has slowly and gradually garnered support and notoriety, specifically for her anti-trans, anti–sex worker ideology through online blogging and various media publications. In 2008, Murphy ran a radio show on Vancouver Co-op Radio entitled “The F Word,” where she invited anti-trans, anti–sex worker bigots to speak until she was eventually ousted around 2012 by co-op members who threatened to pull membership funding. That same year, Murphy founded Feminist Current, an online blog that propagates hatred and misinformation about trans women, trans people as a whole, and sex workers. This blog is widely recognized as being a part of a larger hate movement called “gender critical feminism.”

Murphy has written for Quillette, as well as for the eco-fascist group Deep Green Resistance, who have been denounced by student, eco, and Indigenous groups. She is a former contributor to rabble.ca, and in 2015, a petition was created by trans and sex worker communities and their allies across Canada to have Murphy fired for using the website to espouse her bigotry and hate. Murphy was never fired and was able to freely contribute until she eventually quit because an article she wrote was pulled for containing trans antagonist language.

In May 2017, Murphy flew to Ottawa to speak out against Bill C-16, legislation in Canada that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. Murphy sat alongside a representative of Vancouver Rape Relief and Christian fundamentalist Paul Dirks (formerly of New West Community Church), which falls in line with her repeated arguments that, “new gender identity policies and legislation hurt girls and women.”

At one of her events in Vancouver this year, Murphy spoke to the audience saying, “there is no such thing as a “trans kid.”” In her publications, she consistently invalidates trans women, referring to them as “biological males” or “trans-identified males”. There are endless examples, online and offline, of the ways in which Murphy has perpetuated harm toward trans women, trans people as a whole, and sex workers. At her events, Murphy creates hostile and oppressive environments for trans people and incites hate speech from her supporters.

Aside from spreading misinformation, Murphy has posted online the personal information of trans people and sex workers without their consent, including photos, deadnames (birth names), place of work, etc., which has led to her being banned from Twitter. She has also instigated online swarms, where her followers hone in on individuals and harass them. Some people have taken their own lives as a response.

These examples indicate that the extent of these harms would not exist without Murphy having access to platforms to normalize these ideas and behaviours. These examples also give further context to understand why we and other people have asked, and continue to ask, for Murphy (and anyone who shares her hatred of trans people and sex workers) to not be provided a platform, especially by institutions both public and corporate.

At this point, one must ask oneself, how is Murphy a feminist?

A Web of Hate, Spin, and Lies

Trans people, sex workers, people of colour, disabled people, working class people, people with low income, and multiply marginalized folks have continuously asserted that Murphy and her followers’ so-called “feminism” is white supremacist. The panel on November 2 demonstrates, now more than ever, the kinds of people and ideas Murphy is willing to associate with. Her ease and willingness to collaborate with individuals and publications with a known history of promoting misinformation, targeting marginalized communities, and fostering fear and hatred  clearly demonstrate her anti-Indigenous, anti-Muslim, anti-disabled, anti-women, anti–sex workers, and anti-trans sentiments.

While the links among the panelists and the aforementioned publications are clear, it is merely the highly visible tip of a larger supremacist sentiment–a larger web of supremacists remains to be seen. Vancouver Rape Relief, the Vancouver Women’s Library, Grumpy Old Dykes, Vancouver Lesbian Collective, and countless known and unknown individuals, groups, and organizations in our city have ties to Murphy, especially, as well as many of the panelists. On January 10, 2019 when Murphy hosted an event at the Vancouver Public Library, the former Executive Director of Vancouver Rape Relief, Lee Lakeman, was a featured guest. During the Yaniv case, Slatz promoted a fundraiser through The Post Millennial in which “[a]ny funds unable to be distributed to an esthetician will be split and donated to Vancouver Rape Relief….and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.”

Despite these connections, many individuals and organizations continue to struggle with grasping the severity of anti-trans and anti-sex worker ideologies and its impact on our communities. It is also likely that many of us as individuals are connected to, or have a few degrees of separation from, TERF/SWERFs and white supremacists. Perhaps when supremacist sentiments are pointed out, especially coming from the people and communities whose lives are most directly affected by these views, we can take them seriously and act accordingly.

Many of the aforementioned quotations are measured against the “Hallmarks of Hate”, a tool determined by the Supreme Court of Canada in Saskatchewan to be an acceptable form of evaluating hate speech. Despite clear examples of hate speech by the panelists, institutions like SFU continue to platform supremacists under the guise of “freedom of expression”. By providing rental space and by having an SFU professor sponsor the event, SFU is complicit in enabling and normalizing anti-trans violence, among other forms of oppression. The cancellation of the room booking by Collard due to security concerns highlights the reality that institutions are not sincere in “diversity” and “inclusion” or creating safer environments for multiply marginalized people, and are solely interested in the security and maintenance of the status quo. SFU is more interested in prioritizing ideas, profit, and property over the safety and dignity of people.

#NoTERFsNoSWERFs #ShutDownHate #TakeBackSFU #FuckYouSFU #ShameOnSFU


This dossier was made possible due to the generous volunteer labour of trans people and their allies. If you appreciate this work and the ongoing work of the Coalition Against Trans Antagonism, send us some love and donate to us here

Trans and Sex Worker Communities & The Vancouver Public Library: A Reflection by CATA

This letter was submitted at the Vancouver Public Library board meeting on April 24th, 2019.

Vancouver Public Library
350 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 6B1
unceded Coast Salish territory

To Christina De Castell, Head Librarian;
Councillor Christine Boyle, Board Member;
Jennifer Chan, Vice Chair, Library Board;
Kurt Heinrich, Board Member;
Zahra Hussein, Board Member;
Rebecca Jules, Board Member;
Kevin Lowe, Board Member;
Stuart MacKinnon, Board Member;
Raji Mangat, Vice Chair, Library Board;
Barb Parrott, Board Member;
Harlan Pruden, Board Member;
John Schaub, Chair, Library Board; and
Rhonda Sherwood, Board Member:

April 24, 2019

We are writing to you as residents of Vancouver, patrons of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL), and members of Coalition Against Trans Antagonism (CATA) regarding the VPL Meeting Rooms & Facilities Rental Policy and the talk hosted at the VPL-Central Branch on January 10th, 2019 entitled, “Gender Identity Ideology & Women’s Rights: A Talk and Q&A”.

CATA is a grassroots community group whose mission is to identify and challenge oppressive ideologies and practices within (and not limited to) governmental bodies, non-profits, academia, unions, community organizations, and individuals, to reduce and eliminate the harms experienced by trans and sex worker communities. We are made up of members who are trans, Two Spirit, intersex, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming, some of whom have experience with sex work. We envision a world where there is safety, support, acceptance, dignity, autonomy and self-determination for trans people, especially trans women, and sex workers.

On January 10th, CATA organized a rally and shared a press release speaking out against the talk and the VPL’s rental policy, and now we are reaching out to the VPL in hopes of working together in finding solutions to ensure that further harms towards trans and sex worker communities no longer occur.

CATA has witnessed the VPL Head Librarian, board, and employees minimize the safety and concerns of trans and sex worker communities by allowing Meghan Murphy to rent at the VPL despite the very strong and well-articulated community opposition. Murphy is widely known and understood as a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) and SWERF (sex worker exclusionary radical feminist) who promotes hate speech and rhetoric that targets trans women, trans people as a whole, and sex workers. Framing this issue as a difference of opinion demonstrates a lack of understanding and relationship to local trans and sex worker communities, many of whom rely on the VPL as a safer space and a site of community connection and resources. We expect the VPL to believe people who have experienced violence, marginalization and oppression, and respond to these instances with the seriousness it requires and deserves.

The VPL Head Librarian, board, and staff are in need of deeper education about current and relevant trans and sex worker issues led by trans people and sex workers local to Vancouver. We have consolidated a list of requests based on community discussions CATA has hosted over the past 6 months at our Trans Community Town Halls, as well as our own collective expertise rooted in our lived experiences.

CATA requests the VPL to:

  1. Release a public apology to trans and sex worker communities, acknowledging the harms caused by the VPL hosting an event by Meghan Murphy, an internationally-known racist, anti-trans, anti-sex worker fascist, whose oppressive ideas are well documented.
    • We also ask that in this apology, the VPL’s statement from November 2018 is re-posted onto the VPL website and that the VPL takes responsibility for its role in enabling anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigots such as Meghan Murphy in having a platform.
  2. Develop a robust space rental policy that prevents anti-trans, anti-sex worker ideology—and by extension, any and all fascist ideologies—from having access to a platform to spread exclusionary ideas, including ideas that question the validity of people’s identities and existence.
    • Provide opportunities for trans and sex worker communities to review the VPL board’s progress and offer input.
  3. Commit to, at the very minimum, annual trans and sex worker sensitivity training for all VPL staff and board members led specifically by trans women and sex workers (and preferably trans women and sex workers of colour).
  4. Co-host trans and sex worker community dialogues with CATA for VPL staff and board members to hear directly from trans and sex worker community members in the spirit of transformative justice, especially because CATA is not representative of the entire community.
  5. Provide free rental space for trans and sex worker groups and individuals as a form of reparations and as a commitment to ongoing relationship-building with trans and sex worker communities.
    • Vancouver is sorely lacking in free and accessible spaces to gather, organize, and build community; the VPL has an opportunity to fill this gap.

Action #1:

Release a public apology to trans and sex worker communities, acknowledging the harms caused by the VPL hosting an event by Meghan Murphy, an internationally-known racist, anti-trans, anti-sex worker fascist, whose oppressive ideas are well documented.

  • We also ask that in this apology, the VPL’s statement from November 2018 is re-posted onto the VPL website and that the VPL takes responsibility for its role in enabling anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigots such as Meghan Murphy in having a platform.

We cannot solve a problem without first acknowledging that it exists. Many trans, sex working, and queer individuals, groups, and organizations (and cis hetero allies) have spoken up about their disappointment with the VPL’s actions through letter-writing and emails, in private meetings with VPL staff, by pulling their organization’s programming from the VPL, and at the final Open Book series event.

Sadly, the calls from the local community to cancel the event featuring Murphy were not met, and instead a public statement was released by the VPL claiming that while the VPL did not agree with the views of Murphy, the VPL is committed to free speech and intellectual freedom. As such, “[VPL] will not refuse to rent to an individual or organization simply because they are discussing controversial topics or views, even those we find offensive.” This statement is no longer accessible on the VPL website. For the sake of transparency and historical record, we ask that the VPL re-post this statement, as well as address this statement in the apology.

In order to more fully comprehend the anger, outrage, and hurt expressed by trans, sex working, and queer communities, it is important to know the history of TERF/SWERF organizing in Vancouver, including Murphy’s history here in Vancouver and beyond. In the mid to late ‘80s, the feminist movement in Vancouver began to diverge, with a small contingent of cisgender women coming together behind the banner of “Radical Feminism.” This contingent took a conservative and staunch gender essentialist anti-male position, thereby rejecting the validity and existence of trans women, who they see as men, and rejecting the reality of consensual, by-choice sex work, which they believe cannot exist and is inherently exploitative. The remaining feminist movement embraced intersectionality and decolonization as important, foundational principles integral to fighting oppression and injustice. Despite TERFs and SWERFs not being representative of contemporary feminist ideas, they continue to organize in Vancouver, with the most notable organization being Vancouver Rape Relief (who has also previously rented with the VPL). Other examples include the TERF/SWERF contingent who show up annually at the Vancouver Dyke March with anti-trans signage, the Vancouver Women’s Library which only recently closed down due to lack of funding, and, of course, Meghan Murphy’s Feminist Current.

At her events, Murphy creates hostile and oppressive environments for trans people, and incites hate speech from her supporters. For example, when a trans person spoke at the January 10th event during the Q&A, a Murphy supporter and attendee shouted, “Pedophile!” at the trans person, and Murphy did not address or correct this comment. While Murphy may not necessarily say these things out loud, in public, these beliefs and statements are inferred through her speeches and in her writings.

There are endless examples, online and offline, of the ways in which Murphy has perpetuated harm towards trans women, trans people as a whole, and sex workers. Aside from spreading misinformation, Murphy has posted online the personal information of trans people and sex workers without their consent, including photos, deadnames (birth names), place of work, etc. (which led to her being banned from Twitter). She has also instigated online swarms, where her followers hone in on individuals and harass them. Some people have taken their own lives as a response. All of these examples indicate that the extent of these harms would not exist without Murphy having access to platforms to normalize these ideas and behaviours in the first place. Also, the examples give further context to understand why we and other people have asked, and continue to ask, for Murphy (and anyone who shares her hatred of trans people and sex workers) to not be provided a platform, especially by a public institution.
As such, the VPL needs to acknowledge and apologize for its role in enabling anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigots such as Murphy in having a platform, enabling the resurgence of TERF/SWERF activity in Vancouver, and undoing the decades-long work of community organizers and activists burdened with speaking out and pushing back against TERFs and SWERFs.

Action #2:

Develop a robust space rental policy that prevents anti-trans, anti-sex worker ideology—and by extension, any and all fascist ideologies—from having access to a platform to spread exclusionary ideas, including ideas that question the validity of people’s identities and existence.

  • Provide opportunities for trans and sex worker communities to review the VPL board’s progress and offer input.

CATA recognizes the importance for public institutions to uphold intellectual freedom. At the same time, the freedom to express oneself does not mean entitlement and access to a platform, and shouldn’t come at the cost of marginalized communities. An individual’s gender identity and expression and whether someone engages in consensual sex work should not be minimized and treated as academic and intellectual fodder.

The VPL’s decision to allow a platform for an anti-trans and anti-sex worker speaker to espouse their hateful ideas is a direct violation of the principles put forth in the VPL’s mission, vision, values and statement on diversity and inclusion. It is the responsibility of the VPL to listen to and work with marginalized communities, and to ensure that such under-represented groups are outreached to and engaged with in regards to VPL services, resources, and facilities.

Hate speech is not only limited to what is recognized legally through legislation and court decisions – it should be defined by the people who are affected by the rhetoric. It goes beyond overt, obvious bigoted language, as hate speech also includes narratives, philosophies, or ideas that question the validity of the existence of marginalized people – in this case, trans and sex worker communities.

All the above have negative, material effects on individuals and groups. These beliefs and attitudes have a profound impact on trans people in relation to securing stable employment, finding permanent housing, accessing health services, pursuing education, and living day-to-day life with a sense of security and dignity. Trans and sex worker individuals are also negatively impacted in their personal relationships, including whether or not they are accepted and supported by their families, partners, friends, neighbours, and coworkers. Some people have taken their lives because of these attitudes, and many people, especially trans women and trans feminine people, are murdered.

The decision to allow Murphy to speak contravenes Vancouver City Council’s diversity and inclusion policies, statements, and Council decisions regarding trans and gender-variant inclusion within the City of Vancouver and its public facilities and services, including the Vancouver Public Library. The VPL has pushed the narrative that any group is able to rent a space because it is viewed as a “private event”. While contractually this may be true, the VPL is still funded by the City of Vancouver. Therefore, the VPL has a responsibility to have policies in place which ensure that discrimination, oppression, and violence are not promoted and/or does not occur as a result of the use of resources provided by the VPL.

Action #3:

Commit to, at the very minimum, annual trans and sex worker sensitivity training for all VPL staff and board members led specifically by trans women and sex workers (and preferably trans women and sex workers of colour).

A significant reason why the VPL is in the position it is in today, is because of the lack of in-depth education regarding trans and sex worker issues, and to a larger extent a lack of understanding anti-oppression theory and principles. Sensitivity training should be consistent and frequent, and led by those most affected by the issues of trans antagonism and sex worker antagonism.

Participating in workshops and trainings about these subjects will provide the VPL opportunities to develop a better understanding about the marginalized communities who use the VPL and the oppressions they face daily. This will also build the VPL’s overall capacity to better engage trans and sex worker patrons and respond more appropriately when conflict and issues arise.

Action #4:

Co-host trans and sex worker community dialogues with CATA for VPL staff and board members to hear directly from trans and sex worker community members in the spirit of transformative justice, especially because CATA is not representative of the entire community.

This is a chance for the VPL to take accountability and to directly engage with community members that have been harmed by the platforming of an anti-trans, anti-sex worker bigot. It is important for the VPL to bear witness to these harms and an opportunity for the VPL to practice what they preach regarding trans inclusion. It is essential for the VPL to move towards a place where trans and sex worker patrons genuinely feel accepted.

We feel these community dialogues are important for moving forward and that they are in-line with the VPL’s stated mission and vision of a free place for everyone to discover, create, and share ideas and information to make an informed, engaged, and connected city. We want to be clear that CATA’s intentions are to engage in transformative justice and host a meaningful dialogue that is not about placing blame on specific individuals. We are interested in looking at the structures and policies that allowed this to be possible, and to figure out solutions collaboratively to transform these harms. We hope that one day the community can look back and point to this time as the pivotal moment where the VPL shifted from being an enabler of oppression to an institution working in allyship with marginalized communities.

Action #5:

Provide free rental space for trans and sex worker groups and individuals as a form of reparations and as a commitment to ongoing relationship-building with trans and sex worker communities.

Due to gentrification, the City of Vancouver is sorely lacking in free and accessible spaces to gather, organize, and build community. The VPL is uniquely positioned as a public institution with the opportunity to fill this gap. While the VPL hosts programming for trans people, it would be important for community-led initiatives to also take place at the library so they can maintain their own autonomy.

This is a tangible act of repairing harm that can be undertaken by the VPL to rebuild trust and to demonstrate a desire to commit to the VPL’s stated values of diversity, access for all, patron-centred services, community-led planning, community partnerships, respectful spaces and communication, and effective use of resources. It is also a way to signal to the community that the VPL aims to be a safer space for trans and sex worker individuals and communities, and to a greater extent, marginalized communities overall.

Conclusion:

CATA’s members have our own personal memories of VPL as a site of inclusion and as a starting point for community – reading books, accessing the Internet, building skills, learning English, and accessing a variety of resources. The VPL has also acted as a form of sanctuary, for those of us who were homeless or did not have safe homes to live in. Libraries should be as accessible as possible to continue being a recognizable, relevant, and important institution in our communities.

As trans people who have come together to address issues faced by trans and sex worker communities local to the region, we feel it is an unfortunate reality that we must dedicate our time to protesting events like January 10th. We would rather dedicate our energy and resources towards trans and sex worker community-building. We don’t want the harms of the January 10th event to go unaddressed, nor do we want this to be the defining moment of the relationship between the VPL and trans and sex worker communities. Our hope is to move forward once the VPL apologizes and implements the requests made above.

We encourage board members to deliberate over this letter, as well as undertake your own research regarding these issues. Please do keep in touch with us as we seek to keep this conversation going and work toward solutions.

With fierceness and sincerity,

Coalition Against Trans Antagonism
againsttransantagonism[@]protonmail[.]com