ONTARIO WRITERS BLAST TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY FOR BOOKING SPEAKER ACCUSED OF TRANSPHOBIA

Writer Meghan Murphy is set to appear at a library branch at the end of this month

A group of Ontario authors say they plan to stop participating in Toronto Public Library events if a talk featuring writer Meghan Murphy goes ahead. (Katherine Holland/CBC)

The Toronto Public Library is coming under fire over its refusal to cancel an event featuring a speaker who has made controversial remarks about transgender women.

An online petition that has gathered more than 2,400 signatures says the library is providing a platform for Meghan Murphy to spread hate speech.

Its organizers, authors Alicia Elliot, Catherine Hernandez and Carrianne Leung, say they will no longer participate in events at the library in light of its decision to allow the event, scheduled to take place on Oct. 29.

“We are shocked that our public institutions we hold in regard would allow Murphy to have a platform while purporting to uphold community values. More than that, we feel betrayed,” the petition reads.

“Offering Murphy a platform means denying the resources and promise of safe and equitable space to trans communities.”

Murphy, a freelance writer who runs the website “Feminist Current,” has written that “allowing men to identify as women” endangers women and undermines women’s rights.

Library says it is obliged to ‘protect free speech’

Murphy has also said trans women should not be allowed in women’s washrooms, writing that “there is absolutely no reason why it is necessary to allow people to access washrooms based on their personality, feelings, or clothing choices, versus their sex.”

The library, meanwhile, says it is aware that the event has caused “anger and concern” but maintains it has an obligation to protect free speech.

“We would also suggest that engaging in respectful civil discourse with people of opposing views may be a more productive strategy than abstaining from public library events,” it said in a statement.

“Libraries have always been committed to supporting vulnerable communities by welcoming and creating space for different perspectives rather than through censorship.”

The organization also says it does not believe Murphy’s talk, titled “Gender Identity: What does It Mean for Society, the Law and Women?,” violates its rental policy.

The policy says the library can cancel any third-party event that would promote “discrimination, contempt or hatred for any group or person on the basis of race, ethnic origin, place of origin, citizenship, colour, ancestry, language, creed, age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, membership in a union or staff association, receipt of public assistance, level of literacy or any other similar factor.”

Similar controversy in Vancouver

The petition says it is “hard to believe” Murphy’s talk will not have the effect of promoting discrimination against trans people.

“Those who want to disseminate hate speech today know that they can misrepresent, then weaponize the phrase ‘freedom of speech’ in order to get what they want: an audience, and space to speak to and then mobilize that audience against marginalized communities,” the site says.

“There is a difference between denying free speech and what is known as deplatforming, which is when you refuse to allow hate speech to be disseminated in your facility.”

The Vancouver Public Library faced similar backlash in January when it allowed Murphy to speak at one of its locations. The library was later banned from participating in that city’s Pride events, with organizers citing the decision to greenlight Murphy’s event.

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