Xtra Weekly
4 min

Meghan Murphy and the Toronto Public Library: what’s next?

Here’s your Xtra Weekly, Nov. 1

Credit: Cameron Perrier/Xtra; Francesca Roh/Xtra

To get Xtra Weekly in your inbox, subscribe here.

WEEKLY EXPLAINER

LGBTQ2 people, advocates and allies gathered outside the Palmerston branch of the Toronto Public Library (TPL) to show their opposition to the library’s decision to host anti-trans writer Meghan Murphy on Tuesday.

Here’s the background 👉Journalist and regular Xtra contributor Megan Jones first aired concerns about Murphy’s appearance at the TPL on Twitter on Oct.11. In the tweet, Jones posted a photograph of a flyer for Murphy’s speaking engagement, titled “Gender Identity: What Does It Mean for Society, the Law and Women?” The event was hosted by Radical Feminists Unite, an organization that claims to be “critical of the politics of transgenderism” and defines “woman” as someone who is raised female from birth.

Jones’ tweet sparked a widespread reaction, including a Change.org petition launched by authors Carrianne Leung, Catherine Hernandez and Alicia Elliott, in which they expressed “disappointment and dismay” over the TPL’s decision to host Murphy.

Murphy, a self-proclaimed “gender critic,” has a history of using and propagating anti-trans discourse. In 2016, she left the non-profit website rabble.ca, where she served as a writer and editor, when the publication removed one of her posts for including transphobic language.

Murphy is a well-known figure in the anti-trans movement. She’s expressed opposition to Bill C-16, which added gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Criminal Code in 2017, by rationalizing that it reinforces sexism and undermines the rights of cisgender women. Here’s more on Murphy, the library and the trans activists and allies fighting against them.

The protest 👉On Tuesday, a crowd of several hundred gathered outside the Palmerston branch to express their support of the trans community—chanting “trans rights are human rights”—and engage in “read-ins” of trans, non-binary and Two-Spirit authors such as Gwen Benaway and Vivek Shraya.

The protest reached a boiling point at the end of Murphy’s lecture when some attendees exited the library’s front door to jeers from the crowd. With some protesters still inside, TPL staff and Toronto police locked the front doors around 7:40 p.m., nearly an hour before the library closed, and barred others from entering. Many protesters, including Benaway and Toronto activist Desmond Cole, said they were unable to leave until the library closed; Toronto police said people were free to leave through the back door.

“We were a very beautiful, peaceful, positive crowd,” Benaway told Xtra. “We’ve been portrayed as being tense and hostile.”

She said there were close to a thousand LGBTQ2 people and allies who came and “collectively supported each other.”

Xtra reached out to TPL following the protest. A spokesperson says the library will be working with staff, including their employee-run resource group, Pride Alliance, and community partners, though they did not specify what they will be working toward.

The aftermath. “’I’m shaken,” Benaway told Xtra on Wednesday. “There’s been a constant wave of transphobic attack [online] on me and a lot of my friends, other trans women.”

Benaway said she received more than 500 transphobic comments on Twitter for taking a stance against the TPL’s decision to host Murphy. Benaway said the attacks came from all over the world. She said it exemplifies the real effects of giving Murphy and similar personalities a platform to talk about their beliefs about trans people.

“When we said it promotes hate speech, we weren’t kidding. We’re seeing it happen,” she said.

Moving forward, Benaway said she’s going to continue boycotting the TPL and encourages others to do the same. She added that she respects the library’s staff and acknowledged that some of TPL’s employees were also stuck in a difficult position.

“I’ve heard from a lot of them that they don’t support what the city librarian Vickery Bowles has done,” she said. “[Bowles] does not have the support of [all] the staff.”

In a statement prior to Tuesday’s event, Bowles said Murphy would be allowed to speak because she hasn’t been charged with or convicted of hate speech. Bowles added that the library has the right to deny or cancel a room rental if they deem the purpose of the event is to promote discrimination, contempt or hatred for any individual or group. Bowles said the TPL believes Murphy’s event would not engage in any of those things.

Benaway said she knows many people in the library who are “deeply frustrated” with Bowles’ decisions and the way she’s communicated with her staff. “She has not been forthcoming. She’s silenced library staff from speaking out against this. And she communicates by sending very cryptic, dismissive emails,” Benaway alleges.

On Tuesday, Toronto city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton put forward a motion to revise the TPL’s current method of renting space, which enabled the event to go forward. The motion is set to be addressed by the Toronto City Council in January 2020. Benaway said she and other advocates support this motion.

“I think that motion is very important work,” Benaway said. “[In addition] we’re going to try to figure out how to get community members on the board of the TPL so that they can influence decisions.”

In the meantime, she said there’s no immediate fix for the fractured relationship between the TPL and LGBTQ2 people.

“I don’t think it’s fixable. I think Vickery Bowles needs to resign, and TPL needs to develop better processes to not allow this to happen [again],” Benaway said. “I think what happened [on Tuesday] was very sad for the folks to have to experience that violence of being trapped in a library. And then also, having this event which prompted so much hate towards trans folks in Toronto and across the country.”

In the upcoming days, Benaway said, all of the organizers and community organizations involved with Tuesday night’s protest are going to discuss their long-term plan.

— With files from Erica Lenti and Cameron Perrier

Wait, there’s more! Click here to subscribe to Xtra Weekly for roundups of LGBTQ2 news, culture and stories.