Toronto

Hundreds protest Toronto library event featuring controversial speaker

Hundreds protested outside a Toronto library on Tuesday evening over an appearance by a controversial speaker whose remarks about transgender women has sparked anger in the LGBTQ community.

'I never said that trans people should not have rights,' Meghan Murphy tells attendees

Protesters gathered at the Palmerston branch of the Toronto Public Library as Meghan Murphy spoke inside on Tuesday evening. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hundreds protested outside a Toronto library on Tuesday evening over an appearance by a controversial speaker whose remarks about transgender women has sparked anger in the LGBTQ community.

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) has faced weeks of backlash after agreeing to rent space to a third-party event featuring feminist writer and activist Meghan Murphy.

Murphy has argued that allowing men "to identify as women" undermines women's rights. Her appearance has been widely condemned by authors, politicians and activists.

Inside the Palmerston library branch on Tuesday, Murphy told the crowd she "never said that trans people should not have rights or that they're dangerous. I don't believe that." 

"I have not suggested that trans people be excluded from spaces. I'm not actually interested in whether or not people identify as trans. It has no bearing on my arguments. I'm interested in who's male and who's female." 

Murphy added she has "never advocated for violence against anyone" nor "engaged in any hate speech."

Inside, Murphy spoke to about a hundred attendees, mostly women, for 30 minutes. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The crowd outside, meanwhile, chanted "Trans rights are human rights!"

Poet Gwen Benaway, fresh from winning a Governor General's Literary Award earlier in the day, said she was at the protest to continue the fight for transgender rights.

"We are part of the community. This is our library and we have a right to be here," said Benaway, a transgender woman who said she is offended by Murphy's stance.

She was backed up by an emotional but peaceful crowd.

"This is transphobia," said Cheri DiNovo, a longtime LGBTQ activist and former Ontario legislator. 

"It is not feminism because [Murphy] doesn't include all women, she doesn't include trans women."

The TPL has defended its decision to allow the event, saying it has an obligation to protect free speech and that Murphy's appearance does not violate its policy on renting space for community events.

Mayor John Tory has said he was "disappointed" in the library's refusal to cancel the event.

The protest was emotional but peaceful, though protesters jeered attendees as they left the building. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Mayor 'seemingly confused'

Inside, about a hundred attendees, mostly women, listened to Murphy talk for 30 minutes.

"It's ridiculous, but here we are," Murphy said of the crowd outside.

"I'm told organizers had to go to 20 different spots before coming to the library. I'm glad we're having this conversation despite some local activists and the seemingly confused local mayor."

Murphy said she wanted to clarify her position, saying she has been maligned by the media and transgender activists.

"If you're born male, you remain male for life," she said.

She also said that the "trans-activist movement has made for the erasure of women."

Outside, the crowd grew and waited for audience members to leave. Many held signs that read "No hate in our city" and "Trans lives matter."

They jeered when audience members, who had to be escorted out by police, left.

Police officers from 14 Division were posted inside and outside the library.

"We don't take sides in these sorts of things. We just try and make sure that everyone is safe," said spokesperson Const. Rob Reid.

With files from CBC News

now