British Columbia

Vancouver Pride bans library from parade over event featuring 'transphobic' activist

The Vancouver Public Library has joined the list of institutions barred from Vancouver's Pride Parade, in response to a talk at the central branch earlier this year that featured a "transphobic and anti-sex worker speaker."

Pride society says Vancouver Public Library has not addressed its concerns about Jan. 10 talk

Pictured, Mathew Doubledee on the Celebrities Nightclub float at the 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade. The Vancouver Pride Society says it supports debate, 'but not past the point that the speech is discriminatory based on protected grounds.' (David Horemans/CBC)

The Vancouver Public Library has joined the list of institutions barred from Vancouver's Pride Parade, in response to a talk at the central branch earlier this year that featured a "transphobic and anti-sex worker speaker."

The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) announced the decision in a news release Tuesday morning, saying that individual library employees are free to march with the city or with their union, but the library will not be allowed an entry in the parade.

"This is due to their decision to provide a platform for discriminatory, transphobic speech," the news release says.

The pride society says the decision is a result of the library allowing "transphobic and anti-sex worker speaker Meghan Murphy" to book space for an event on Jan. 10.

"During this event, five speakers asserted that trans women are not women and should not be treated as women," the pride society statement says.

"VPS asserts that the conduct reflected both at this event, and in past public comments by these speakers, are discriminatory in a way that violates the British Columbia Human Rights Code."

In a statement to CBC News, Murphy says the event featured several prominent members of the feminist community in Vancouver. 

"No one on the panel said anything derogatory, hateful, or discriminatory about trans identified people," she wrote.

"To frame my speech, which advocates explicitly for women's rights, as well as for free speech, democracy, and the importance of public debate about policy and legislation impacting us all, as "transphobic," dangerous, or "discriminatory," is absolutely inaccurate."

Pride representatives say they have met with the library to discuss community concerns about Murphy's event, but the issue was not adequately addressed. The VPS says it has also sent a letter to the library requesting changes to the room rental policy for events.

The Vancouver Public Library in response said it sought legal advice before and after the Jan. 10 event and found it was not in violation of the B.C. Human Rights Code.

Christina de Castell, chief librarian, said a review of the room rental policy at the library is underway after discussions with VPS. The library may introduce a "risk assessment" process that will look at the history of an event and the risks around it before renting the space. 

But, ultimately, de Castell said it's the legal framework of a situation that will guide changes to the policy and not pressure from VPS. 

"Where we have a reasonable belief that there might be a violation of law, we will take that to our board with advice from our legal counsel," said de Castell. 

The VPS said it recognizes the role of libraries as hubs for public debate and free thought, "but not past the point that the speech is discriminatory based on protected grounds."

Andrea Arnot, executive director of VPS, said renting space to Meghan Murphy has eroded the trust between the library and the trans community. 

"If the room rental policy stays the same way, speakers like this will continue to be allowed a platform for discriminatory speech at Vancouver Public Library ... making it unsafe for the trans community to be there," said Arnot. 

The pride society recently made a similar decision to bar the University of B.C. from participating in the parade, after the school allowed anti-transgender rights activist Jenn Smith to host an event on campus in June, criticizing B.C.'s sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum (SOGI).

Officers with the Vancouver Police Department are also barred from marching in uniform in the parade.

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