Hundreds protest controversial writer outside Toronto library
TORONTO -- Hundreds of people crowded outside a downtown Toronto library Tuesday to protest a sold-out event by a controversial feminist writer with transphobic views who many protesters say never should have been allowed to speak at the public institution.
Meghan Murphy believes trans women should not use public washrooms designated for women or compete in sporting events against cisgendered women. She claims trans women endanger cis women and women’s rights.
Despite holding these views, Murphy denies being anti-trans.
Her appearance at a downtown branch of the Toronto Public Library generated widespread criticism from authors, politicians, the library workers union and the LGBTQ community.
Protesters loudly chanted “Trans rights are human rights!” outside the library, located near Bathurst and Bloor Streets. Some attendees used a microphone to read literary works by trans writers to those in attendance. At one point, a few protesters made it inside the library and unfurled a trans flag.
Gwen Benaway, a trans author who won the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Poetry earlier that same day, spoke at the event and told the crowd, “we are loved by our community. We are valuable members of Toronto.”
"Having a transphobic speaker at the library endangers me because among other things they advocate ... that I'm a threat to other women," she said. "These statements cause people to fear trans women and act violently toward us in public spaces."
During the protest, #TakeBackTPL became one of the top trending hashtags in Canada. Another 2,500 people have signed a petition saying that the library provided Murphy a platform to spread hate speech.
Trans activist Niko Stratis said the library’s decision to allow Murphy to speak at the library sends a terrible message.
“Her views (on) trans people are well known to be transphobic, to be dehumanizing towards our community, so to see that being presented at the Toronto Public Library, is worrisome because it lends a lot of legitimacy to somebody who thinks that way,” Stratis told CTV News Channel Tuesday.
Murphy’s appearance is not sponsored or hosted by the TPL, but it has defended its decision to rent space for her talk to a group called Radical Feminists Unite.
Toronto library officials have defended renting out the room for Murphy’s appearance by saying she does not fall under the library’s definition of hate speech.
“As a public library and public institution, we have an obligation to protect free speech,” the TPL said in a previously released statement.
However, critics say that the TPL’s own policy for room rentals states that it will not allow rooms to be rented for events "promoting discrimination, contempt or hatred for any group or person" on the basis of a number of things, including "sex, gender identity, (and) gender expression."
The union representing TPL staff put out a statement ahead of the event saying that the decision to allow Murphy’s event compromises “work that staff have done to reach out to community members.”
Stratis and some other activists and supporters attended a library board meeting last week, hoping to convince city librarian Vickery Bowles to change her mind about the rental. It was an experience Stratis described as “difficult.”
“We presented our humanity and tried to say we don’t deserve to be a subject of debate. We are real people.”
Stratis said community members shared their experiences.
“A lot of the violence and hatred that we face is because of people like Ms. Murphy and others that work to paint us in a negative light and to dehumanize us and paint us as predators and aggressive people.”
Events such as this only make things worse, says Stratis.
Stratis says Murphy has skirted hate speech laws in Canada because the bar is quite high.
But it “says a lot about her” that Murphy’s been barred from Twitter, says Stratis.
“Twitter is the place where Nazis kind of thrive and she’s too bad for that space.”
Former MPP Cheri DiNovo said she was "horrified and quite sickened" when she learned that Murphy would be speaking at the library.
"Trans rights are human rights, what this woman is trying to do is take that away," she said.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said earlier this month that he was “disappointed” in the stance of the TPL and asked Bowles to reconsider. A group of authors says it will no longer participate in library events because Murphy has been given a platform to spread hate.
“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 authors wrote in a petition that has garnered more than 8,300 signatures online.
Murphy’s previous appearance at a Vancouver library caused a similar uproar.
With files from CTV Toronto