TPL upholds decision to host transphobic hate activists
October 22, 2019 8:26 PM   Subscribe

At their board meeting tonight, the Toronto Public Library upheld a decision to allow transphobic hate activist Meghan Murphy to host an event, despite widespread protests from the community, a 6,000 signatory petition spearheaded by authors who will boycott the library, a potential ban from Pride Toronto, and criticism from the mayor of Toronto.

Head librarian Vickery Bowles argues that the event must go forward for reasons of protecting 'free speech'.

The Toronto Public Library has previously been criticized for hosting neo-nazi groups, and had changed their rental policies to address these situations.
posted by Conspire (72 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Vancouver Public Library also faced backlash by allowing Meghan Murphy to use their public meeting rooms earlier this year.
posted by RGD at 8:45 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


TERFs claim that, because gender is biologically determined, trans women can’t exist.

As someone who knows and has befriended trans women, I feel like telling them that they can’t exist and are mentally ill qualifies as hate speech against an already stigmatized and persecuted minority group, and I don’t feel like any facility operated by my democratically elected government and supported by my tax dollars has any place providing a platform for the same.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:55 PM on October 22, 2019 [54 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. Descent, check your MeFi Mail.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:05 PM on October 22, 2019


And should libraries be the arbiters?

Public institutions should not allow their facilities to be used to marginalise swathes of the public.

They explicitly changed their rules so their facilities couldn't be used by Nazis to preach hate. This TERF is no different - she's arguing to deny rights to a section of the community for a simple fact of who they are.

How are trans people meant to feel safe at the library if they allow this?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:12 PM on October 22, 2019 [54 favorites]


Is speech in print different from speech out of a mouth? And should libraries be the arbiters?

So, a library's responsible not only for making information available to the public, but properly selecting the books. It's called a "collection," for a reason, and no library can stock even a small fraction of all of the books ever published.

There is so much trash out there, so librarians need to make informed decisions. They have to select the best books for the budget, to accommodate both public demand as well as have breadth of selection, and also quality. We talk so much about how libraries shouldn't cave to public demand when it comes to "banned books," but they do need to cull somewhere.

So yeah, there's no reason why a library needs to stock books on really out-there thought like moon landing conspiracies, flat earth, or transphobia. They can stock books on Nazi history, but decide against Mein Kampf.

There is no reason why a transphobe needs to be given a public platform any more than a Klan member. The library is for the community, and invitations shouldn't be at the mercy of the most prudish members of the community, but they also shouldn't be so loose that genuinely hurtful people are given places of honor within the library programming.
posted by explosion at 9:15 PM on October 22, 2019 [48 favorites]


There is no shortage of meeting spaces in Toronto that absolutely don't give a crap what you give speeches about. Choosing to host your speech at the public library is a statement in itself - "the medium is the message", like some Canadian guy once said. The TPL is allowing themselves to be used as a tool - if they allow it, the TERFs will say it's because their speech is obviously legit, and they'll use that to crowbar themselves into other public spaces; if the TPL disallows the meeting after community outcry, they'll be fuelling the yowls of self-righteous "my free speech!" from the TERFs and providing free publicity. Any policy for room rental that tries to be entirely neutral will be used by bad people for bad purposes; it's a tragedy of the commons. A better overall goal for any policy would be "our mandate is to serve our community - does this serve our community or does it cause harm?"
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 9:15 PM on October 22, 2019 [35 favorites]


Also denying someone a meeting room is not censorship, FFS. They can still stand on a street corner and bellow at the uncaring world or whatever it is these assholes do. No one is preventing them from speaking.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:17 PM on October 22, 2019 [22 favorites]


For those who are looking for further detail on the contents of the talk, here's a link to the description of and tickets to the actual event.
posted by saeculorum at 9:26 PM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


The Board and Head Librarian Bowles seem to be arguing that their code of conduct that's part of the Terms and Conditions contract for renting space in the library only applies if whatever's going on is actually illegal under Canadian/Ontario law. But the code (which is in the Twitter links, but I'll go ahead and quote it below) says:
"b. the Contracting Party's event will not promote, or have the effect of promoting, discrimination, contempt or hatred for any group or person on the basis of race, ethnic origin, place of origin, citizenship, colour, ancestry, language, creed (religion), 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."
There's nothing in there about having to clear some kind of legality bar before the library has the right to refuse a booking or shut down an event. While IANAL, I could see a pretty strong case being made for the library failing to hold up its end of the contract or enforce its own non-discrimination policies, which is not the position I would want to be in, were I the TPL Board or head librarian Bowles.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:35 PM on October 22, 2019 [28 favorites]


TERFs claim that, because gender is biologically determined, trans women can’t exist.

This is no different from claiming that science demonstrates the inferiority of certain races. It is hate speech, and the library should cancel Murphy.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:40 PM on October 22, 2019 [12 favorites]


Sure, but public institutions such as libraries have a duty (as far as I know) not to censor their book collections based on expression of viewpoint

This is not true, they do it all the time. How much pornography do you think libraries stock? I mean, you might feel that they have a moral duty or whatever, but it's certainly not codified.

It's even less of a concern in countries that lack the American preoccupation with "free speech".
posted by smoke at 9:48 PM on October 22, 2019 [33 favorites]


There are plenty of insane self published rants about lizard people and conspiracies that libraries aren’t stocking. Also plenty of shitty ghostwritten paperback autobiographies of sad also ran politicians. That’s not censorship. That’s curation.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:53 PM on October 22, 2019 [24 favorites]


Interesting to hear how this is playing out elsewhere. A timely comparison as the double edge sword is kinda cutting back in the other direction here (Brisbane, Australia) at the moment with Extinction Rebellion organizers being banned from using library facilities...

https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/brisbane-city-council-bans-extinction-rebellion-from-libraries-20191015-p530xv.html

... albeit at the city council's insistence not the librarians'.
posted by adamt at 9:59 PM on October 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


thinking about how a library would make a list about what speech they would ban in a meeting room and yet allow books with those views on their shelves and justify that choice

It feels like there's a narrow but important distinction there. To use the example above: while it's not universal, lots of libraries do have Mein Kampf and similar titles available in their collections. Whatever we think of the author or the ideas, there's some value in having a copy available. Educators, researchers, historians, lots of other people might find it helpful to review the text. Having a copy on the shelves does not indicate any kind of endorsement, obviously. Staff will probably not go out of their way to promote it, but it's there to be sought out if needed.

Would one of those same libraries invite a guest speaker to come to an event at the library and speak about the message of Mein Kampf? That's a different proposition. Some of the same rules might apply -- maybe there's value in discussing it academically, maybe it can spur debate, &c. But if the guest speaker's main message is, there exists a group of human beings that we should not consider people, that are not worthy of the rights and respect we afford everyone else, should they be welcome to come speak? I'm guessing most of even the most tolerant among us would not consider it appropriate to have that kind of speech hosted at a public library. And yet that's only a shadow of the book's actual content and message, the same book they might easily have on a shelf somewhere.

I don't see that as a contradiction or a choice that needs to be defended or agonized over. These two things -- having a book on the shelf in which a historical personage denies the essential humanity of a group of people, and hosting a public event in 2019 in which a living person stands up and denies the essential humanity of a group of people -- these two things are not the same and should not be treated the same. The first one can be justified, the second cannot.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 10:00 PM on October 22, 2019 [38 favorites]


They can stock books on Nazi history, but decide against Mein Kampf.

I don't think this is a great example to use to make your point. That book is historically a big enough deal (and is studied frequently enough as a primary source) that I'd expect most decent-sized city libraries to have it in their system, though I'd hope in an edition that includes historical context lest the unwary stumble upon it. (I just checked and, yep, my city has one copy, which is currently checked out.)

That said, I feel like the library should be much more discriminating about what public events to host than what historically notable books to stock.

On preview: Basically exactly what Two unicycles... said!
posted by aws17576 at 10:02 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Since the community room is open to everyone, here's how it could be booked for that evening:

Toronto Public Library
Schedule of Events: Tuesday, October 29, 2019

3:30p - 5:00p: (Speakers TBD)
Meghan Murphy's Sad, Pathetic Life: Slideshow With Audience Comments

5:00p – 6:45p: (Speakers TBD)
Heckling & Clapback Workshop For Meghan Murphy's Speech at 6:45 Tonight

6:45p – 7:30p: Meghan Murphy
Gender Identity: What Does It Mean for Society, the Law, and Women?

7:30p – 9:00p: Toronto Society of Armchair Psychologists
Meghan Murphy And Her Abandoned, Bat-Filled Barn of a Brain
posted by mattdidthat at 10:05 PM on October 22, 2019 [41 favorites]


The one question I wish these people hiding behind the free speech defense and pretending to neutrality:

"So what are you doing to support the free speech of those protesting your decision?"
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:12 PM on October 22, 2019 [23 favorites]


And what about the obligation TPL has to its workers? There's been so much work in libraries to be more diverse and inclusive workplaces, and doubling down on "free speech" that is hateful and questions the existence of people in their place of work is undoing any progress.
posted by kendrak at 10:59 PM on October 22, 2019 [15 favorites]


I think the dissent might make it clear to the board and Toronto library that their decision to platform a transphobe makes them structural oppressors and thus a transphobic institution. Based on the freezepeach interview, the city should replace the leadership. They are on the wrong side of history.
posted by polymodus at 11:45 PM on October 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


Meghan Murphy dehumanizes trans people while associating with people like Jon Kay - momma's boy, editor for an alt-right blog, and Anna De Luca - publisher of nazi propaganda and friend to nazis and misogynists.

This is an open provocation by right-wing grifters that we've seen over and over again. When will public institutions start looking out for the greater good and tell them to fuck off?
posted by Yowser at 11:51 PM on October 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


Given that Murphy is far too thick to come up with even half convincing rationales for her hate, it's very hard to see what distinguishes this from a rally. No-one will be convinced by her witless garbage. The only people engaged on either side will be supporters and protestors. The actual speech is entirely irrelevant to this event.
posted by howfar at 12:02 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


[One deleted; let's avoid derails generally, including introducing tortured analogies as a way to position this issue via discussing an imaginary hypothetical. Just go ahead and discuss this actual, real-life situation on its own merits.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:07 AM on October 23, 2019


This has happened before. In 2002 many public libraries were sued by a white supremacy group in the United States for meeting room policies. You can read more about it in this blog post, which stemmed from the #NoHateALA discussion about a year ago, when ALA pushed through an amendment to their bylaws specifically allowing hate groups in library meeting spaces. This was later removed from the bylaws, and we talked about it here on Metafilter at the time.

The bottom line is that allowing hate groups to use our public library meeting spaces takes tremendous resources from the library to manage. The purpose of using a meeting room in this way is not to actually meet. It is to scare community members and library workers, to make the discussion about whether trans people should exist, to drain the library of resources, and to call its existence as a public good into question. Transphobes aren't using the library meeting space in good faith and libraries have no obligation to prioritize hate speech over the needs of the rest of the community.
posted by k8lin at 12:21 AM on October 23, 2019 [52 favorites]


That book is historically a big enough deal

It is a famous book because the author is a mass murderer. Its content could be fairly, I think and I hope most historians would agree, described as a collection of grievances from a mediocrity whose writing was about as mediocre as the mass murderer's art, but which gained notoriety and vague legitimacy due to the scale of annihilation wrought by its author.

The document maybe has academic and historical interest to the extent that it fits into the narrative of post-WWI humiliation of Germany by way of the Treaty of Versailles, and how that humiliation curdled into a political movement that expanded into automated extermination of Jews, communists, and gay men.

There are grey areas and reasonable discussions to be had about public spaces being used for giving space to dissenting views; I have time for that discussion. But with no intent to be glib, until Meghan murders several millions of people, it seems problematic using some libraries stocking Mein Kampf as justification for automatically offering space to her or others who are just, really, exploiting a permissive society to voice opinions they would never be able to get away with voicing, if they actually had to live in the real world with real people (trans people included) and suffer real consequences for speaking their minds.

Social conservatives mistake free speech with consequence-free speech. Using Mein Kampf is problematic in that respect, in hindsight of the work ending up having truly final consequences for millions of innocent murder victims.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:35 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


It’s worth remembering that this situation is happening in Canada, which has a different set of laws and public policies then the United States. While Canadian libraries have a history of working with American libraries and American library organizations, they are not actually controlled or directed by them.

It’s pretty clear the Board are violating their own non-discrimination policies. I have no idea if they are also violating city or provincial law as well. The Canadian Library Association folded a few years back in favor of a more federated system, and I’m having trouble finding the relevant professional policy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:45 AM on October 23, 2019 [15 favorites]


The Canadian Library Association folded a few years back in favor of a more federated system, and I’m having trouble finding the relevant professional policy.

According to my local-ish public library administrators, whatever Canadian library group also had a discussion like the ALA one and also recommends a private room booking policy to basically ignore the clause in their policy around general patron behavior that would otherwise prohibit this sort of stuff. And yeah, we had a similar-ish issue this fall. Brief summary: it's not just TPL, but some more widespread stupidity.

My local-ish library administrators were also saying that this was going to be discussed again at an upcoming meeting of whatever the Canadian group of public librarians is.
posted by eviemath at 3:26 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


[A few deleted. Let's avoid this getting sidetracked into a 101 level "Free Speech Über Alles!" yes/no fight rather than focusing on this particular situation. Freedom of speech laws are different in different countries, free speech is not necessarily seen by everyone as more important than human rights, and arguing about free speech rather than the rights of oppressed individuals is often used as a tactic to shut down discussion. So for the purposes of this thread, let's keep it within the realm of Canadian law and the library's own policies rather than a detour to make this a global "free speech" debate. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:41 AM on October 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


The TPL has a history in this area. After the 2017 memorial for Ernst Zundel (notorious racist and Holocaust denier) the TPL changed its rules to allow itself to bar use of their space to promote hate speech, although it was noted at the time that the memorial might not have qualified. At that time the TPL drew itself an interesting line between saying a room cannot be booked by a person vs. for a purpose. I am curious how that will apply in this case.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:00 AM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Damn, this event is across from a very important choir open house / rehearsal so I won't be able to go to the library to protest.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:59 AM on October 23, 2019


telling disgusting worthless terfs to fuck off with their disgusting worthless opinions isn't censorship, it's belonging to a society of decent human beings.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:50 AM on October 23, 2019 [16 favorites]


Do tickets to Murphy's event cost money? What's to keep activists from packing the room with hecklers (or leave her ranting to an empty room)?
posted by at by at 5:58 AM on October 23, 2019


at bay, tickets to the event cost $5.00. According to the EventBrite page it is already sold out.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:03 AM on October 23, 2019


Sure, the ticket price is nominal and there won't be a large profit from that. But the publicity of course is priceless, which is the whole (real) point of trying to use the library. It'll make for a great blurb on a book cover, won't it? "The things they don't want you to hear!"
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:15 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm 100% against this person being allowed to use the library as a forum. TERFs are bigots. But following this by the Twitter thread isn't readily answering one question: is this going to be a specifically anti-trans presentation? Is that Murphy's entire thing? Or is she some amalgamation of stuff that includes TERF? I don't think public libraries should be a forum for bigotry as an entree or a side dish, so I don't suppose it really makes a difference, except in a small degree perhaps in how you explain to people why she shouldn't be there.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:19 AM on October 23, 2019


I'm probably repeating someone else, but a woman asked Vickery Bowles if she would at least say she was a woman, and Bowles was completely silent.

The woman then asked Bowles if she thought she should be forced to use the men's room.

No answer.
posted by Yowser at 6:22 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Would one of those same libraries invite a guest speaker to come to an event at the library and speak about the message of Mein Kampf?

In this case, the library did not invite her nor they are hosting. From the Now Toronto link: "The event is organized by Radical Feminists Unite – Toronto, who rented out a space at the Palmerston branch. ... city librarian Vickery Bowles said the event is in compliance with the library's policy for third-party room rentals."

The threshold for not inviting is and should be quite different than the threshold for prohibiting from renting. (Similarly, the threshold for a university officially inviting a speaker should be different than the threshold for allowing a professor or student group on campus to invite a speaker.)

I don't know how to compare having a book to allowing a space rental. On the one hand, the library would have to make an active choice to purchase a book, and they only purchase a tiny percentage of published books, whereas they only reject a tiny percentage of rental requests. On the other hand, just having a book available has a much smaller effect on the atmosphere of the library than allowing an event.

Agree with hippybear's conclusion that "I am of entirely two hearts and maybe three or four brains about this..."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:23 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Is that Murphy's entire thing?

Yes. Her positions rest on the bedrock of some sort of supposed biological gender essentialism. It's why the comparisons to neo-Nazis are entirely apt - you can't have a neo-Nazi rally or presentation and somehow claim that if they don't specifically mention other races then it's not a racist rally, the racism is a core element of the belief system and can't be separated out. TERF is a core part of her belief system.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:26 AM on October 23, 2019 [12 favorites]


If you want the library to be accessible to trans people, you don't allow TERFs to rent the physical space. However you try to distance yourself from it, you're giving bigots an opportunity to make the library very unwelcoming to a portion of the public it's supposed to serve. This isn't rocket science.
posted by Dysk at 6:44 AM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


Thank you, soundguy99. I'm against bigotry in any case, but knowing that she's bigotry openly trying to plant a flag instead of bigotry trying to sneak in effects how I calibrate my breakdown of society doomsday clock. It feels so close to midnight already y'all.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:45 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


... city librarian Vickery Bowles said the event is in compliance with the library's policy for third-party room rentals

If compliance is the issue pure and simple, then so be it; but if so, why then does Bowles choose to mention 'free speech' ten times in the interview, without at any time indicating that she understands what that means, or more specifically that she understands it does not mean what the far-right says it means.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:06 AM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Gonna echo the point that getting into analogies in this kind of discussion is bad news -- it often leads to an angry muddle rather than clarity, and leads people to say things that come across as downplaying or dismissing important pieces of real-world context. But I also ask that we not dig into any kind of "race and gender, compare and contrast" thing, because that is really a recipe for saying things that are going to hurt people.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:28 AM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


Some scuttlebutt in my twitter feed last night leaned on the idea that this decision was made not on the merits of free speech but was more of a "which of these two sides is more likely to sue us" comparison. This is the "safe" option for the library and the city. It avoids an expensive free speech lawsuit.
posted by thecjm at 7:33 AM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


One of the big frustrations I'm seeing online is that the library has been the focus of repeated cuts, and trans people, queer people, and their allies have been some of the folks who fought hard against cutting back on this branch of the city government. And they don't want to do anything to support the library anymore. People who are very active in municipal politics opening musing about not lifting a hand the next time a right-wing mayor or councillor suggests cuts to a system that has already been cut to the bone. The library is losing a lot of allies over this.
posted by thecjm at 7:39 AM on October 23, 2019 [10 favorites]


I feel like this is how liberal institutions fail - either by not recognizing or by being prohibited from dealing with the true conflict at hand.

This is a specific kind of political conflict that has already been playing out in the UK. Based on the situation in the UK, my bet is that there are right wing fundamentalists, probably American, bankrolling this TERF group. This is probably kept quiet by the TERFs because it's bad publicity, but my bet is that this is why the library is afraid of getting sued - the TERF backers have deep pockets.

Their position is unpopular, but they're doing their best to whip up hatred and violence. As far as I can tell, in the UK the playbook has been forming an alliance between upper class white professional women who take deep but unacknowledged psychological pleasure in hating trans women* and the fundamentalist far right - a bit like the fundies and the anti-porn feminists in the US in the early eighties, except secret and with more money involved. The end goal is to create a movement, fascist in character, which attacks and excludes trans women and will probably move on to queer women generally and anyone else who doesn't conform to heterosexual monogamy.

The library either doesn't understand this or can't respond to it due to material constraints, and again, this is how liberal institutions are corrupted and collapse.

*Similar to what is described in Male Fantasies, the books about the psychology of Nazi masculinity - I don't know how better to describe it. People who have a kind of almost orgasmic psychological pleasure in describing themselves as oppressed and endangered by this flooding outside mass, whether it's trans women or Jews, women and communists. I truly believe that the "classic" TERF is someone who, without admitting it to themselves, derives a specific, very intense pleasure from feeling threatened by trans women, and seeking this pleasure drives their politics. I think that omitting the psychological piece in hatred of trans women is basically omitting the explanation, and I think the explanation is that Theleweit's "Male Fantasies" of Naziism are recast as "Cis Female Fantasies" and this is the link between Naziism and TERFs.
posted by Frowner at 8:18 AM on October 23, 2019 [27 favorites]


saeculorum: "For those who are looking for further detail on the contents of the talk, here's a link to the description of and tickets to the actual event."

Thank you for that link saeculorum.
"The discourse surrounding gender and gender identity is evolving rapidly - so rapidly that valid questions and concerns about new legislation and policies have been steamrolled. Meghan Murphy has been one of the few journalists in Canada giving voice to Canadians' concerns about these changes and their implications from a leftist, feminist perspective.

Skepticism began to accumulate after the passage of the controversial bill C-16 in 2017, amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include the words "gender identity or expression" as protected characteristics. Murphy has been a consistent voice pleading with policymakers and the public alike to consider how the principles of gender identity often, in practice, reinforce sexism and undermine women's rights. Recently, a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, where several immigrant women were put on trial for refusing to perform aesthetician services in their homes on male genitalia, has apparently borne out Murphy's claims."
For the case that Murphy is holding up as an example of how bill C-16 is "reinforc[ing] sexism and undermin[ing] human rights" the tribunal just ruled against the transgender woman who brought the discrimination complaints against the aestheticians. And I mean just ruled as in it hit the papers yesterday and I woke up to news of it on CBC Radio this morning.

It was an exceptionally messy case to start with (with a deeply problematic complainant*) and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found that Jessica Yaniv's primary motive for filing the complaints was not to prevent or remedy discrimination but rather financial gain and acting out hostility towards the Asian and South-Asian community in Canada. The tribunal also concluded that human rights legislation "does not require a service provider to wax a type of genitals they are not trained for and have not consented to wax". Unfortunately I think Meghan Murphy will continue to use this case as an example despite its exceptionality and despite the outcome.

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal rejects transgender woman’s discrimination claim over waxing services [The Globe and Mail - Oct 22nd 2019]

Genital waxing complaint racially-motivated and ‘divorced from reality,’ tribunal rules [Vancouver Courier - Oct 22nd 2019]

Murphy was banned from Twitter for violating their terms of service by deliberately misgendering Jessica Yaniv, and she responded by suing Twitter (she lost but has said she plans to appeal). So yeah, I can see the Toronto Public Library being nervous about her retaliating against them if they refused to rent her a room for her talk.


* I do not suggest Googling Jessica Yaniv unless you're prepared to encounter details of her alleged inappropriate behaviour towards young teenage girls as well as a metric ton of transphobic media & commentary.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:39 AM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


For what it’s worth, The Canadian Federation of Library Associations has a couple of relevant policy pages:

Diversity and Inclusion
Intellectual Freedom

and a not too helpful “bridge document”

No acknowledgement of navigating the competing goods....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:49 AM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


Agree with hippybear's conclusion that "I am of entirely two hearts and maybe three or four brains about this..."

To be blunt, you figure this shit out by doing research on the specific laws involved in the case and listening to trans people. You shouldn't be using a conversation with people being materially harmed by transphobes as a sounding board for hypotheticals and the general, nebulous concept of free speech (as opposed to actual laws).

It's very tiring that people have to be told over and over again that this isn't a thought exercise that they let play out on the site. These are real attacks on real people, not some sort of ideological conundrum.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:54 AM on October 23, 2019 [51 favorites]


And just be absolutely clear, when I say "listen to trans people" I mean listen, not try to engage them in a debate. This means don't immediately respond with a "yeah, but...", or try and tell them how they misunderstand the concept of free speech, or whatever. Listen to what they have to say, absorb it, maybe ask for pointers to more information so that you're doing the heavy lifting and not them.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:06 AM on October 23, 2019 [23 favorites]


I've been following the discussion a lot of my Canadian (particularly GTO) library friends on Twitter (hi, if you're reading this!), and it's maddening. This tweet really captures the frustration and destroyed trust: : "My naivety and stab at optimism was all for not. Despite hearing raw evidence of the damage of this decision, @torontolibrary is sticking to their guns. Librarianship is clearly fractured on this topic. I don’t know where we go from here."

That author also shared their public comments from the TPL board meeting last night, and they make so many excellent points. This part really stuck with me:
The discourse of intellectual freedom and the library’s role in protecting it is ripe for debate. I feel sad because I keep thinking of all of the rich conversations we could be having – alongside our community partners – about widening our understanding of intellectual freedom and social responsibility; about an interpretation of intellectual freedom with an anti-oppressive and trauma-informed lense. TPL had an opportunity to be a leader in that conversation when they were faced with this event. Instead, it has turned into a crusade for freedom of speech above all else being propped up by a global network of TERFs and alt-right agitators. Strange bedfellows indeed.
posted by kendrak at 9:29 AM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm probably repeating someone else, but a woman asked Vickery Bowles if she would at least say she was a woman, and Bowles was completely silent.

The woman then asked Bowles if she thought she should be forced to use the men's room.

No answer.


the woman who asked this is gwen benaway, a métis trans woman poet and essayist whose words are far more powerful, complex, and illuminating than the problematic writing of the one who currently has an fpp
posted by anem0ne at 10:46 AM on October 23, 2019 [18 favorites]


Frowned: I truly believe that the "classic" TERF is someone who, without admitting it to themselves, derives a specific, very intense pleasure from feeling threatened by trans women, and seeking this pleasure drives their politics.

Thank you for this. It very much describes a local TERF who has been banned from all local feminist events that I’m involved in. I knew her from other activist events before she began on her road to TERFdom, and have often wondered what on earth would appeal to her about this very hateful ideology, but I think this explanation nails her personality. She constantly portrays herself as a victim and is very focused on having been oppressed by trans women (spoiler: she has never been oppressed by trans women).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:47 AM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Carol Queen wrote an essay years ago about “absexuals,” people whose primary sexual pleasures are thinking obsessively about, and disapproving of, others’ sexual pleasures. And, 20-30 years later, I would add “entire existence.”
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:16 AM on October 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sure, but public institutions such as libraries have a duty (as far as I know) not to censor their book collections based on expression of viewpoint, and sometimes those viewpoints are vile but they are also in the library collection as a book sitting on a shelf.

everybody's so fucking focused on "censorship", without realizing that a lot of places like libraries are more in the business of curation instead of being a dumb repository and platform.

the tpl's decision to allow this to go forward is pretty much letting people know what type of curation they aspire to: that is to say, they do not give a shit about trans folk and do not care if these decisions and policies contribute to pushing trans voices from the public square.

---

a political movement that expanded into automated extermination of ... and gay men.

it wasn't just gay men that the nazis exterminated when it came to the queer population, you know. they went after lesbians, too, and the burning of hirschfeld's institut für sexualwissenschaft set back the understanding of trans folk and our liberation decades.
posted by anem0ne at 11:28 AM on October 23, 2019 [12 favorites]


if you'd like to read @gwenbenaway's summary of events yesterday
posted by anem0ne at 11:30 AM on October 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


Hi, I'm avocet, you might remember me and Jane Schmidt, mentioned in kendrak's post above, from such Toronto library controversies as our infamous article about Little Free Libraries in Toronto. I am an academic librarian, an Ontario public sector worker, a lifelong Toronto resident and TPL cardholder, and since the publication of that article, I have come out as transgender.

I don't feel comfortable having my name associated with local advocacy on this topic right now not because I am trans, but specifically because I am a trans librarian in the public sector. I can't risk all of the good work and relationship building I have carried out so far in my new-ish role -- including the advocacy and meaningful changes for trans folks on campus that I have already managed to effect in my short time here -- by taking such a public stand in front of a TERF brigade. I can't risk them going to my university librarian, no matter what a good working relationship we have. I do not have academic freedom in my role. An academic librarian colleague of mine at my former institution was *incorrectly identified* as the author of an anti-JBP tweet and the mobs made his life hell for a period of time.

Also, why isn't the library's role in facilitating information literacy being played up as much as our supposed role in intellectual freedom?

I am exhausted, sickened, demoralized, and depressed. I didn't have much faith in any of our provincial/national library associations (in whatever form) before this, and less now. I am so, so sad.
posted by avocet at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2019 [39 favorites]


The end goal is to create a movement, fascist in character, which attacks and excludes trans women and will probably move on to queer women generally and anyone else who doesn't conform to heterosexual monogamy.

Based on my observations online, that movement is both familiar and already seeping across the pond. I will say that I don't think it's actually necessarily gatekeeping all female sexuality beyond heterosexual monogamy--the TERF targeting I am seeing also often winds up trying to cut trans women away from communities of other queer women. We've had reports of TERFs trying to recruit new adherents from communities of largely young queer women and nonbinary folks, particularly on Tumblr, for over two years now.

That being said, that alliance already does exist between American TERFs and conservatives. Courtesy of Vox, that piece points out how cozy those groups are, although I don't believe it's reported on actual funding changing hands. Still, I would be incredibly surprised if that wasn't happening in the US, too. TERFs have less in the way of power within feminists in traditional positions of authority like columnists and professorships over here, but that doesn't mean they're not trying to use their credentials to swing groups of feminist women as hard into transphobia as possible across the country. Especially under this administration.
posted by sciatrix at 1:00 PM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


Something kept bothering me about the interview with head librarian Bowles, and I finally figured out what it is - she's totally establishing a fucking Catch-22.

To wit: "It's not defined under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ... as a hate speech. Otherwise, Megan Murphy would not be allowed to speak about these things. She would be facing criminal charges. "

So she and the board are claiming that their anti-discrimination rules are meant only to apply if hate speech laws are broken by the people trying to rent the room; but (according to her) if they were breaking the hate speech laws, then they would be in jail or have been charged with criminal actions and so would be unable to rent the room in the first place. They'll only apply the rules to people who have broken the law, the only way to know if they've broken the law is if they've been charged and couldn't rent the space anyway, so they'll never have to use the anti-discrimination rules because by their definition anyone walking around free to rent the room is not a criminal so the anti-discrimination rules don't apply.

UN-fucking-believable.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:21 PM on October 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


As a patron and supporter of the Toronto Public Library, I'm pissed.

This is an open provocation by right-wing grifters that we've seen over and over again. When will public institutions start looking out for the greater good and tell them to fuck off?

Yeah, and the timing couldn't be worse because:

1.) Ontario has a premier right now who's actively hostile to both the existence of trans people and public libraries (which he refers to as "lieberries"), and some TPL funding comes directly from the province; and

2.) John Tory, as a fiscally conservative mayor, has been as hostile to the TPL as his predecessor Rob Ford was.

Murphy and her retinue know this.

One of the big frustrations I'm seeing online is that the library has been the focus of repeated cuts, and trans people, queer people, and their allies have been some of the folks who fought hard against cutting back on this branch of the city government. And they don't want to do anything to support the library anymore.

As a queer supporter of the TPL, this breaks my fuckin' heart.

I heard the CBC As It Happens interview when it aired, which was when Vickery Bowles said this:

People in the community, on social media, have been describing this as hate speech. It's not defined under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ... as a hate speech. Otherwise, Megan Murphy would not be allowed to speak about these things. She would be facing criminal charges. But she's not.

If, as head librarian of the TPL, you're going to go on a national radio program and talk about free speech, you'd better be able to cite things correctly. She didn't.

"Hate speech" isn't mentioned anywhere in the Charter.

Also, something can be hateful without rising to the threshold for charges to be laid under "public incitement of hatred" provisions of the Criminal Code.

If she doesn't understand that, it's an absolutely staggering admission for the head librarian of the public library system in North America's fourth largest city to make.

Bowles' argument about "free speech" is premised on what appears to be her apparent ignorance of the Charter and its provisions (which are turn subject to "reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society"), and she's fecklessly played into the the setup that this is about "free speech," (which in turn is not an absolute Charter guarantee but subject to "reasonable limits") rather than about transphobia.

TPL had an opportunity to be a leader in that conversation when they were faced with this event. Instead, it has turned into a crusade for freedom of speech above all else being propped up by a global network of TERFs and alt-right agitators..

It's apparent that Bowles has allowed herself to be weaponized by the machinations of a TERF bigot.

Murphy's end game here is to engineer a situation to which she and the rest of the alt-right Quillette crowd can point and say "Oh gee, someone just tried to exercise their right to free speech and those people tried to burn the library down over it. See? We were right. They are dangerous."

As a loyal queer patron and supporter of the TPL, I think Bowles needs to step aside so that someone who's capable of competent leadership when confronted with these right-wing attacks on the library can step in. This was a test of her leadership, and she failed by helping paint people who are protesting someone who literally wants to strip them of their legal rights and protections as unreasonable enemies of "free speech" rather than Canadians demanding that their mere right to exist be respected.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:23 PM on October 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


That being said, that alliance already does exist between American TERFs and conservatives. Courtesy of Vox, that piece points out how cozy those groups are, although I don't believe it's reported on actual funding changing hands. Still, I would be incredibly surprised if that wasn't happening in the US, too. TERFs have less in the way of power within feminists in traditional positions of authority like columnists and professorships over here, but that doesn't mean they're not trying to use their credentials to swing groups of feminist women as hard into transphobia as possible across the country. Especially under this administration.

Yeah, I was thinking specifically of the women in the UK around the Guardian and Mumsnet and their ties to American fascists/fundamentalists - while there are certainly affluent white women TERFs in the US, it feels like the TERF network here isn't as firmly located within the "professional liberal white women who write for liberal outlets" circuit. It's like, the US version of the Guardian and analogous outlets are not nearly as TERF-friendly as the Guardian UK, which was running a truly despicable series of trans panic articles as recently as last year.

It's not a moral observation, like "oh the US is better" - it's a class composition/social milieu observation, like there's a specific social formation in the UK that doesn't have a perfect analogy here, and it gives a different shape and force to anti-trans activism.
posted by Frowner at 1:29 PM on October 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


OK - look - they want the speaker, the speaker has to be checked out by one person at a time, just like a physical book, no big grand speeches, and it can't be done at the library facilities.

I'm being facetious, but I'm indicating I agree that there's some qualitative difference between a book and an event, a human speaker vs an object.

These are good questions. I know where *I* stand on this bullshittery (no TERFS, no NAZI SCUM), but there always is a line, and what line is are prudent questions - I don't envy librarians their sacred duty and recognition of the needs of communities and balancing that with the dangers inherent in that duty (just like going to wary might be a duty, but it can get you killed - so to, does protection of free speech place a danger in front of us).

The goal of the soldier is to fulfill his duty, whilst not getting shot; likewise, the the goal of a librarian is to fulfill their duty of access to ideas, while enabling a society of respect (well, ok, again - that's just like, my opinion man, but sobeit - I still think Librarians are like Doctors and Firefighters, a necessary social good that are needed to maintain order and growth of individuals and society).
posted by symbioid at 1:44 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yep, I see you and agree, Frowner! I'm just making observations about a different groundswell of TERFs and allied politics that I've seen in my communities, which is younger than we usually associate with the "establishment TERFs" mentioned in the UK. These kinds of tactics are almost word for word copied from the alt right, and given that in my searches earlier for ex-TERFs in those ages and communities I found at least one women who went directly from radfem circles to the alt-right...

... Well, I wouldn't trace this kind of thing to quite the same branch of TERFs as those who have cozied up to positions of feminist power in the UK. For a new generation of right wing provocateurs, a new generation of TERFs in alliance marches alongside.
posted by sciatrix at 2:03 PM on October 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


For more on this topic, I highly recommend the article Speech and Silence: Race, Neoliberalism, and Intellectual Freedom, recently published in the Journal of Radical Librarianship.
posted by toastedcheese at 3:17 PM on October 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


[Couple comments removed; it's fine if you're not familiar with the folks at the center of this, but basically putting it on folks to start from scratch to explain why someone's behavior is upsetting isn't a great direction to take a thread in. Better to leave it as a research-on-your-own-time thing.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:40 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Here's a stupid idea: what if we created specially designated Asshole Zones(TM)? If you are a particularly toxic piece of shit, you can say what you want, but you can only say it in the clearly marked space for assholes.

Or is that just Fox News. And 4chan.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 6:05 AM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I commented too quickly, feel free to delete.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 6:14 AM on October 24, 2019


It occurs to me that if the TPL's policies against harassment and such don't apply to private room bookings, then it would be height of hypocrisy to expect audience members to follow a policy that the speaker isn't required to follow, no?
posted by eviemath at 7:26 AM on October 24, 2019


TERFs claim that, because gender is biologically determined, trans women can’t exist.

As someone who knows and has befriended trans women, I feel like telling them that they can’t exist and are mentally ill qualifies as hate speech against an already stigmatized and persecuted minority group, and I don’t feel like any facility operated by my democratically elected government and supported by my tax dollars has any place providing a platform for the same.


I feel like I'm a little late to this thread and I appreciate this comment but it's also a little frustrating to have a comment pushing back against the idea that "trans women can't exist" while implicitly erasing trans men and nonbinary people. Like, I totally get it, and I appreciate the support for transness! But trans people who aren't women exist and some of us are in fact in this conversation and I would be really appreciative if people could keep that in mind when making comments both here and other places.
posted by an octopus IRL at 7:43 AM on October 24, 2019 [7 favorites]


[Couple more comments removed, including an early one up thread. There's no way to clean up all the conversational chains referring directly or indirectly to that without basically nuking the whole thread, so I'm going to opt to let some confusing dangling references hang around instead. As always: please actively flag problematic stuff, with a flag note or with a note to us at the contact form if you want to add some extra context.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:03 AM on October 24, 2019


To be fair, TERF rhetoric is almost exclusively concerned with trans women, so it's natural for pushback against the same being focused on that. Both do if course perpetuate trans male and non-binary invisibility.
posted by Dysk at 9:47 AM on October 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


apologies, i didn’t mean to erase trans men or nonbinary folks. along the lines of what Dysk said, when i think of the topics that TERFS freak out about i think of bathroom panic and attempts to keep trans women out of women’s spaces.

of course, TERF bullshit about biological gender essentialism harm trans men and nonbinary folks too. very sorry if my statements made anyone feel invisible.
posted by murphy slaw at 6:02 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


apologies, i didn’t mean to erase trans men or nonbinary folks. along the lines of what Dysk said, when i think of the topics that TERFS freak out about i think of bathroom panic and attempts to keep trans women out of women’s spaces.

of course, TERF bullshit about biological gender essentialism harm trans men and nonbinary folks too. very sorry if my statements made anyone feel invisible.


Thanks so much! I really appreciate this (:
posted by an octopus IRL at 5:57 AM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


[A couple deleted from a few days ago. Concentrating on the question of free speech versus the basic human rights of trans and NB people isn't okay. Sorry that we (mods) weren't clearer from the top on that.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:34 PM on October 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


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