Hundreds flocked to a Toronto public library to protest a talk by Meghan Murphy, a Canadian feminist writer who has been critical of transgender rights.
Although the venue was rented to a third-party group called Radical Feminists Unite, and drew a sell-out crowd, the library has come under sustained criticism for weeks, including from the city’s mayor, for giving Ms Murphy a platform.
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Librarian Vickery Bowles said in an interview that she refused to cancel the booking, saying: “We are a democratic institution and we are standing up for free speech,” adding that Ms Murphy has never been charged with hate speech.
“I’m glad we’re having this conversation,” Ms Murphy, 39, told around 100 attendees on Tuesday night, most of them women, during the 30 minute talk, calling the backlash “ridiculous”.
“If you’re born male, you remain male for life,” said Ms Murphy, who has argued that transgender rights undermine those of women and girls by compromising their “safe spaces” such as public toilets, changing rooms and women’s refuges.
In brief | Transgender issues
As attendees left the event at the Palmerston library branch in central Toronto, escorted by police, they were met with loud boos.
Three years ago, Ms Murphy appeared in the senate, the Canadian parliament’s upper house, to condemn a law that provides human rights protections for transgender people.
Ms Murphy, who runs the Feminist Current blog, was banned from Twitter last year after tweeting: "Men aren’t women".
She claims Twitter accused her of violating its conduct policies by "misgendering" trans women on the platform.
"The trans-activist movement has made for the erasure of women," she said on Tuesday, although she says she is not prejudiced against trans people, and does not seek to exclude them from certain spaces.
Outside the event, a crowd of activists and demonstrators chanted: “Trans rights are human rights.”
In attendance was poet Gwen Benaway, a transgender woman who had that day received a literary award from governor-general Julie Payette, the Queen’s representative in Canada.
Ahead of the event, a petition demanding its cancellation drew 8,000 signatures, while John Tory, Toronto mayor, said he was “disappointed” in the library’s decision.
A number of authors have severed ties with the institution. Pride Toronto, which organises the city’s annual gay pride festival, warned the library of “consequences to our relationship for this betrayal”.
In May, Ms Murphy was invited to address MSPs at Holyrood, amid debate over allowing Scottish people to self-declare their gender.
The reforms were ultimately scrapped.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon, however, dismissed Ms Murphy’s arguments as “misguided” in April.
She added: “I don’t see the greater recognition of transgender rights as a threat to me as a woman.”