Vancouver Public Library, And Its Anti-Trans Choices

Photographer | Alex Orico |

In this world, there are those who live merely to diminish others. They exist to say ‘no’ to the face of those seeking only basic respect, to deny recognition of the humanity of the vulnerable, and to add to the existing oppressions.

Of those, those spouting anti-trans rhetoric are but a small minority, but they are cut from the same cloth. They refuse to recognise the self-expressed gender of trans folk, ignore well-established science on the complexity of sex, and insist on imposing an elementary-school-level understanding of gender onto the complicated world in which we all live. They are largely immune to criticism as their position isn’t evidence-based to begin with.

When required to take a position, we can respond in one of three ways:

  1. We can support the bigotry
  2. We can position ourselves as “neutral”, which is to give bigotry a green light
  3. We can oppose this bigotry

For all practical purposes, not-opposing bigotry is only marginally different to supporting it: tacit support is support however much we silently object to it.

Vancouver Public Library (VPL) has chosen to provide a platform to Meghan Murphy, someone who is known for their anti-trans rhetoric. In response to criticism, VPL has issued a statement denying that they are either endorsing or hosting the event, and labeling Murphy’s bigotry as “controversial”. Frankly, I expect more from my libraries. (For some examples of Murphy’s anti-trans noise and an excellent analysis of it, see “The Issue with Meghan Murphy’s Gender Class Analysis” by Katelyn Burns)

VPL is renting space to Feminist Current/Meghan Murphy. This is the very definition of “hosting” an event, in the same sense that my body “hosts” the common cold from time to time. Each reader can decide for themselves how far they wish to extend that analogy. One doesn’t need to be “a host” (ie a human physically presenting the event) in order to “host” an event: by providing the space, even with a fee attached, the VPL is hosting Meghan Murphy and their anti-trans views.

Anti-trans views are not “controversial”; trans people having access to the same basic rights as everyone else (including gender identity and expression) isn’t merely a matter of opinion. Hopefully someone can explain to the library staff that, as humans, trans folk are entitled to human rights, including the right to self-determination. By claiming that Murphy’s views are “controversial”, ie merely a matter of opinion, the Vancouver Public Library IS endorsing Murphy’s views, as their views are (essentially) that whether a trans person should be regarded as a man or woman is up to the opinion of the speaker, not the trans person.

The VPL claims to support free speech and intellectual freedom, yet it’s long been documented that bigoted speech, such as Murphy’s, has a chilling effect on the minorities targeted by said bigotry. Moreover, there’s nothing “intellectual” about Murphy’s arguments: these are mere reactionary views, insisting on gender norms rooted in the late 19th century and Essentialism. These views have much in common with archaic and bigoted views regarding Natives and other non-white-dude groups. While many institutions maintain views like this for extended periods (cf the residential school system), it’s truly disappointing to see a library, often at the forefront of a community’s access to new information, materially supporting these views.

Finally, while the VPL claims to “seek to be a welcoming place for all, and actively find ways to support the trans, gender variant and two-spirit communities”, their actions in this situation speak loudly to the contrary. Moreover, their statement that they will be involving the VPD is viewed in the only way it possibly could: as a threat of physical harm against those opposed to the bigotry that VPL is putting on display. Ultimately, the Vancouver Public Library has achieved precisely the opposite of what they claim to seek.

While I’m not affected by the contrary-to-reality-claims that Murphy and other anti-trans activists make, I believe that it is important to stand up for those targeted by them. I’ll give the last word on this to the LGBT community:

I’m surprised Meghan Murphy, who says trans women are men and encourages supremacy, is booked to speak about women at main branch on Jan 10. How will parents explain to our kids why this is happening at their public library, ? B.C. NDP vice-president Morgane Oger, on Twitter

Oger said she believes that Murphy’s previous statements and videos contributed to the spread of hatred and discrimination toward trans people, comparable to other types of discriminatory language against minority groups.

“It’s inconceivable that the VPL would allow religious hatred, or racial hatred, or anti-Indigenous hatred to be spoken on its property and has policies stopping such events from happening,” Oger said. “So I find it very hypocritical.” – Trans advocates criticize Vancouver Public Library for welcoming controversial speaker

“QMUNITY stands with our trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit community members in protesting the Vancouver Public Library’s decision to allow Meghan Murphy, editor of TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) propaganda publication Feminist Current, to hold an event in their space. Murphy’s trans-exclusionary beliefs are well known and contribute to a climate of hatred, fear, discrimination, and violence against trans people.” – QMUNITY, non-profit LGBT support organization

I’d like to thank Sasja Smolders for pointing out some important gaps in an earlier draft in this article.

WORDS BY | Brian Lynchehaun