SFU can support trans* rights by not conflating free speech and hate speech

The decision to book transphobic speakers in SFU spaces demonstrates hypocrisy on trans* rights

Transphobic feminist Meghan Murphy is set to speak at the November 2 event. Photo: /The Georgia Straight

By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief

I’m so sorry to all my trans*, genderqueer, nonbinary, and queer peers. You shouldn’t have to deal with noted transphobes speaking on your campus. 

Meanwhile, SFU is claiming neutrality vis-à-vis the “How media bias shapes the gender debate” event. Hosted by an SFU professor at the downtown campus, the lecture features a line-up of speakers known within the LGBTQ2+ community for transphobic discourses and ideals — including Meghan Murphy. She previously booked a room at the Vancouver Public Library, after which VPL was barred from walking in the Pride Parade. Why? Because performative allyship means nothing if you are, in concrete ways, giving hatred a platform.  

Following public outcry and concerns, SFU issued a statement that can only be described by my grandpa’s favourite ice cream flavour: vanilla. SFU claims that it “support[s] the right [ . . . ] to engage in free speech within the limits of the law” and respects the event because “freedom of expression is a core component of intellectual enquiry and central to the pursuit of knowledge.” Yet one paragraph later, SFU insists that it “support[s] the right of trans community members to define their own gender identity and to be respected . . .” You know that saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”? Well, you can’t stomp on queer rights and love us too. 

Here’s the thing: hate speech is never free. If you have the privilege to think so, it’s quite simply because you aren’t bearing its brunt. The existence and legitimacy of trans* folks is not up for “intellectual enquiry,” discussion, or debate — our school should know better. By tolerating an event where trans* rights and existences are up for debate, SFU is implying that there are multiple answers to the question “are trans* lives valid and valuable?” 

The only answer to that question is yes. We don’t need to host events to figure this out. We don’t need to cough up tangible resources — such as space on campus and audiovisual equipment — to mull this over. Our university shouldn’t entertain the notion that there’s room for debate where human rights are concerned.

As a foil to this and an example of institutional responsibility and authenticity, the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies put out a statement expressing their disappointment, reaffirming their values, and announcing that they will support an event countering this one. Finally, they refer students to organizations working with and for trans* communities. This is how you make sure that your institution is not perpetuating violence. SFU should follow this example. 

I would encourage you to use your own right to free speech at the protest organized by SFU students against this event on November 2 instead.