Presentation to the Board of Directors, Vancouver Public Library
Please use any part of this letter for your own use.
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
We are pleased to present our position on your draft room rental policy. We have several concerns, and we hope you will hear them as we offer them – with good intention and a spirit of collaboration. One of our main concerns is with the vague wording of this draft. We, the women of the Vancouver Adhoc Committee of Women for Women, are concerned that a relentless drive to be “inclusive and diverse” actually achieves only exclusion and conformity. A robust and healthy democracy depends upon a variety of viewpoints and opinions; the broad understanding of citizens that disagreement is not disrespect. We are aware that, as feminist, labour, and/or anti-poverty activists, our actions have been, for many years, unsettling for a lot of people. That’s good! We want to be unsettling; discomfort is not necessarily dangerous! We learn best when we step outside of that which is comfortable, and a public library is a great place to do that. It is a place where we can gather in public to discuss issues of interest and import to all of us – with people who may not always agree with us. The room rental policy must be explicit that these are places of public discourse with people who have different, often conflicting ideas and beliefs. How thrilling that should be. But at this moment in history, feminists are experiencing increasing intimidation, silencing, punishment and censoring (de-platforming) of dissent. Including from public institutions such as libraries and universities. Several of the women in our committee have experienced such punishment, including myself and my colleague.
My father was also a social justice activist, and someone who felt the ugly and vicious hand of McCarthyism that tore apart North American society and the lives of many friends and families. He lost 2 jobs as a young father, because someone whispered in the ear of the owner of the company. His union didn’t utter a word. Many unions participated in McCarthyism. This was one of the saddest lessons in our history. It showed us how damaging hate speech can be, giving in to campaigns of labels, fear mongering, misinformation, and a lack of critical thinking. And the most important result – silencing. No one supports the horrors of that era or would admit they did at the time.
I became an activist at the age of 15. I grew up during the Vietnam War and the Cold War. My work started with the Stockholm Peace Appeal, Doctor Helen Caldicott and her famous phrase, “if you love this planet”, working to end to the very real threat of a nuclear war and annihilation. I received constant insults when I worked on that campaign. I worked for Tenants’ Rights at the age of 18, the Right to Choose on abortion at 19, anti-apartheid campaigns defending atrocious treatment of Black South Africans, solidarity with the peoples in the many war-torn Latin American countries, and against unemployment & poverty. My home required a security assessment when I was a spokesperson for the pro-choice movement.
I know what hate speech is and it’s affects, I know what discrimination is. I also know, after all that, what it’s like to be recognized for being on the right side of history when the smoke has cleared.
I have not suddenly come undone and turned into a hate monger. And neither have the many women I work with, or those who organized, and who attended the Gender Critical January event. We are women who want to discuss our very real concerns about our human rights. We are women who were seeking and gathering information about our mutual concerns from learned and thoughtful people.
Women assert that we have the same rights afforded us by the UN Declaration on Human Rights as all human beings. The Declaration reads, in part:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.”
Don’t succumb to political expedience and popularity by accepting unfounded accusations and agreeing to limit the rights of others, and specifically Gender Critical women. We have the right to freedom of thought, assembly, and speech. We certainly understand the harmful impacts of hate speech, having been subject to it for most of our lives. We will not debase ourselves to engage in hateful speech or any other hateful acts against anyone, even those whose ideas we find repugnant or dangerous. We will dissent, dialogue, debate – and we will do so in public. It would be great to have the option to use the library spaces, for you and for us. We challenge you to give us evidence of any hateful or harmful speech acts from any feminist gatherings at the library
For example, there is no evidence that any hate speech occurred at the controversial January 10th event featuring a panel of women discussing feminist critiques of gender ideology. This meeting was recorded and broadcast. There have been no legal actions. Because there was no hate speech.
The Chief Librarian said (about the January 10 event), that gender-critical feminists don’t fit in with the Libraries values. She did not then describe the library’s values, so there’s no way to tell what this statement meant. We don’t believe it’s the Library’s role to take sides on political issues. The speakers at the January 10 event included two Aboriginal women who are both life long feminist and Indigenous activists. The library acknowledges that we are on the un-ceded territories of the coast Salish people, yet, at this event, imposed limits to this opportunity for Indigenous, and other women to speak about how their experiences as members of the sex-class female is diminished by trans ideology. This seems counter to the library’s values.
Now even the VPL has been on the receiving end of vengeance by the Pride Parade Society, because you wouldn’t immediately cave to the demands of the Trans community to stop the Jan event. So, we applaud you for that, at least. Even though you did your best to ensure we knew we were not welcome to gather, you stopped short of cancelling the event altogether.
That’s shameful behaviour of the so-called “Pride Society”
If the Library concedes to the demand to apologize, you’ll be apologizing for allowing women to express concerns about our human rights.
A sad reality is that hate speech against Gender Critical women has been prevalent, and disconcerting. TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist), a slur used to describe Gender Critical women, is constantly used to dehumanize and demonize. We’ve found things such as a headline on a poster that says, “Tired of TERFS, SWERFS, and Other Fascists?”, and it was promoted on the Facebook page of the Pivot Legal Society. It’s shocking that a legal organization feels they can perpetuate that kind of extreme comparison and the hatred it will attract. You will regularly find tweets, comments on Facebook and other social media that threatens, mocks, demonizes, and even threatens physical harm to women labeled ‘TERFS’. We’ve provided a sample of those in our written presentation (you’ll find many examples on the website Terfisaslur). The Library itself recognized the level of threat to those of us at the January meeting, because you insisted on special security. That security concern was for a reason. It was not because those who organized, were presenting and attending the meeting were threatening violence.
We provide you with two quotes that we think represent our perspective on how political discussion has been thwarted and distorted:
Paul Willcocks, a journalist with the Tyee recently wrote in an article about the present political landscape, “We’re entering into a post-Trumpian political era in Canada, one where we are divided in ways that don’t allow rational discussion,” … “One where we no longer listen to one another, and where we see enemies, not people with different solutions to shared problems.”
Pete Seeger, also denigrated by McCarthyism and at great personal cost, became an icon to North American society. He wrote a famous peace song called “Rainbow Race”. One of the lines in the song says, “You can’t kill all the unbelievers. There’s no shortcut to freedom.” That is, you can’t kill all the people that don’t think like you. There’d be no one left. Wise words.
Don’t fall prey to prejudice, intolerance, and narrow mindedness.
Ensure libraries welcome constructive and open discourse about tough issues that face our society, as all public spaces should. Critical thinking is key to our ability to evolve into better human beings. Dissent and debate are essential components of a healthy democracy, and Public Libraries are the ideal arena for such discourse. We will fight for the library to maintain accessible spaces for diverse views, heated debate, uncomfortable conflict, and the development and growth of knowledge and shared wisdom. Our society depends upon it.
We ask that you ensure your policies reflect the role the library and other public institutions are meant to play – encouraging exploration of ideas and differing perspectives. Don’t shrink from that, embrace it.
Women's Space Vancouver