How the SFU community reacted to the canceled ‘gender debate’ at Harbour Centre

Many SFU campus groups condemned the event, and SFU for holding it

The Transgender Pride Flag

By : Jess Dela Cruz, News Writer

Due to significant controversy and outcry from the public, an event that was scheduled to be held at SFU Harbour Centre on November 2, “How media bias shapes the gender debate,”  was relocated last minute to the Crystal Pavilion at the Pan Pacific.

SFU student groups and community members had been planning counter-events, protests, and writing open letters criticizing the SFU administration for holding the event in the first place, all urging them to do better by it’s LGBTQ2+ communities. 

Out On Campus (OOC), an LGBTQ2+ resource group, helped to organize a protest on the day of the event. Ashley Brooks, OOC Coordinator, worked with students on organizing the protest and creating signage to “educate passersby on why we were protesting.” The initial focus of the protest was on SFU’s decision to give the space and not on the attendees of the event specifically. Brooks emphasided how this approach would “minimize hostile interactions with the event attendees and would put further pressure on the university to improve its trans inclusion.” 

Brooks worked with Campus Public Safety “so that our group could know what to expect from those staff, and importantly, know what was unacceptable conduct.” Brooks also contacted the Vancouver Police Department given concerns over the possible sidewalk and road blockage that the protest may cause. Reportedly, this caused backlash from “grassroots activists who claimed that we were working with police to get external protestors arrested” which Brooks argues, “couldn’t be further from the truth.”  

High-level SFU administration, like president Andrew Petter and vice-president Jon Driver were  approached with concerns about the event, either in writing or in-person meetings, by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), Graduate Student Society (GSS), and OOC. Brooks stated that they “raised numerous concerns about the message that holding such [an] event at SFU would send to [the] trans community members.” However, the administration continued to hold the event, and wrote a letter on its website stating it’s support for ‘freedom of expression.’ 

Many departmental student unions did make efforts to publicly condemn the event and state their allyship with the trans community. The Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Student Union (GSWSSU) Executive Team released an open letter to SFU administration, faculty, and students that was distributed via social media. The executive teams from the Sociology and Anthropology Student Union (SASU), Criminology Student Association (CSA), Word Literature Student Union (WSLU), English Student Union (ESU), and History Student Union (HSU) were included at the end of the letter as supporters. 

Giving brief explanations of the panelists, the GSWSSU took their stance and wrote that “We call on you to take action, be allies to the LGBTQ2IA+ community, and stand up for what is right.” They also called out the university to “provide more financial resources and support to organizations on [the] campus which are actively working to affirm and uplift the trans community. Alongside the members of our SFU Community we will come together and call out our institution and the message they are sending by still continuing this event.” 

Vice-President of Operations of the WSLU, Kayla Tso, told The Peak, “I feel that it is important for all people to feel safe and included in their communities. Regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, opinions, or anything else, the inclusion of everyone is the basis of human equality.” 

Katie Bruyneel, President of SASU, said “We were unhappy with the message this event was sending that SFU is a space that will allow this type of discrimination to take place . . . we feel very strongly that trans and gender-non conforming students belong at SFU and have the right to live and learn in spaces that support them and their needs.” 

The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) also released a statement which reports, “As a feminist union, the TSSU denounces the #GIDYVR event, stands in solidary trans and non-binary people, and calls on the univeristy to cancel this event. We further stand with [GSWS, OOC,] and all other members and groups who have spoken out against this event. SFU must live up to its values and take accountability for the harm the event will cause to the communities on campus.” 

The Peak contacted Lara Campbell, chair and professor of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Department, for further details on the counter-event they held, “Supporting Trans Inclusion in Every Life,” three days prior to the protested event. She explained how “The Department decided to organize [the event]to articulate and amplify an alternative vision that reflected our core values: that gender and sex are not binary and that trans people are exactly who they say they are.” 

The reactions to their event was positively overwhelming and filled with support from members of the SFU community. They wanted their expert panelists and focus of discussion to cover health, law, Two-Spirit communities, municipal policy, anti-violence work, and religious faith. The panelists included Dr CJ Rowe (Sexual Violence and Prevention Office; Director, SFU), Lisa Salazar (Pastoral Leadership, Vancouver Coastal Health), Laura Track (Community Legal Assistance Society: Human Rights Protections for Trans People; Lawyer and Director of Education), Harlan Pruden  (Two Spirit Activism and local, national and international policy advisor), and Dr. Tiffany Muller Myrdahl (SFU Senior Lecturer: Trans inclusive municipal policies). 

The panelists main messages covered that though “counter-events are important and necessary, they cannot replace the hard, difficult, and day-to-day work that goes into building a truly inclusive world” says Campbell. She further described the main messages of the panelists who reminded guests the importance of treating other people with respect in everyday life, no matter where we are, through the relationships we have with other people. 

Brooks concluded his interview by saying that, “It’s a shame that SFU did not have the courage to stand up for what was right — and the trans community sees this.” 


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