LEAF urges Toronto Public Library to reconsider event featuring Meghan Murphy

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) is troubled by the decision of the Toronto Public Library (the “TPL”) to rent one of its branch spaces to a group hosting an event with Meghan Murphy, who has a track record for denying the existence and rights of trans women. We are particularly concerned with Murphy’s history of publicly opposing efforts to codify the rights of trans people, specifically trans women, including her vocal opposition to federal human rights legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.

LEAF was founded in 1985 with a mandate to advance substantive equality for women and girls in Canada.  LEAF has long been committed to a vision of feminism that is inclusive of all, regardless of sex, gender identity or gender expression.  LEAF’s advocacy is and remains focused on challenging sex and gender discrimination that results in inequality for self-identified women and girls. The long-term success of this mission demands that LEAF work towards challenging and dismantling patriarchy, in all its forms.

Research has shown that trans people face high rates of violence and harassment, which contribute to high rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. As a result, trans women are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society. In her advocacy, Murphy has consistently maintained that trans women are not women, but men, thus denying their very existence and, by extension, denying their entitlement to the protections guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights laws.

We are troubled that the TPL would characterize Murphy’s hateful rhetoric against trans women as free speech, when it has threatened the safety of trans women and denied their existence, causing harm.

LEAF believes freedom of speech plays an important role in strengthening and upholding substantive equality. Holding space for respectful dialogue among diverse viewpoints is essential to this work. However, LEAF has long maintained that freedom of speech is not absolute. Like all rights enjoyed by Canadians, freedom of speech must be balanced with other fundamental rights and freedoms, especially equality. Speech that perpetuates harmful stereotypes only serves to further marginalize and exclude an already vulnerable population and does not merit protection.

As a feminist organization, we are cognizant of the differing views within the feminist community about how the fight for sex equality intersects with the fight to secure protections for all gender diverse people. Complicated issues arise at the intersection of these movements; the fraught dynamic between different generations and viewpoints could undoubtedly benefit from an open, respectful and nuanced discussion. However, such a discussion demands the involvement of diverse voices, which are notably absent from Murphy’s TPL event. Moreover, Murphy’s consistent and categorical dismissal of trans women’s legitimacy would seem to disqualify her as someone who could participate in a compassionate or nuanced dialogue on these issues.

Every year, LEAF hosts a Persons’ Day Gala. Part major fundraiser, part annual celebration with supporters and friends, the Persons’ Day Gala is an opportunity for feminists to come together and connect as a community.   For the first time last year, LEAF hosted the Persons Day Gala at the Toronto Reference Library.  This year’s Gala is again scheduled to take place at the Toronto Reference Library on October 23, 2019.  Given the time constraints, a change of venue is simply not possible and the Gala will be going ahead as scheduled. We will be actively revisiting this choice next year, in light of the TPL’s apparently unwavering decision to host an event featuring a speaker whose viewpoints harm marginalized members of our community under the guise of free speech.

LEAF will continue to advocate for substantive equality for women and girls, including those living at multiple intersections of oppression.