After UBC allows anti–SOGI speaker to hold event, Vancouver Pride rejects university from 2019 parade

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      After a controversial speaker was permitted to hold an event at UBC, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has denied the educational institution an official entry into this year’s Pride parade.

      The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) announced today (July 8) that UBC’s application to the 2019 parade was declined.

      The VPS explained in a news release that all applicants to the parade are evaluated on their answers to questions that determine how much the values of applicants align with those of the VPS.

      The UBC application for participation in the 2019 parade received a low-score assessment. The VPS explained that the score reflected UBC’s decision to allow controversial anti–SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) speaker Jenn Smith to hold an event on June 23 on campus, which the VPS deemed “a platform for transphobic hate speech“.

      “This decision was made after reflection and review of information and correspondence from faculty and students at UBC who were deeply concerned and betrayed by UBC’s decision to host a purveyor of hate speech,” VPS board co-chair Michelle Fortin stated in a news release. “As hate speech rises across our country and beyond, we believe that taking a stand and saying ‘no’ to any organization that would platform a speaker who incites hate is the right thing to do.”

      The VPS and UBC administration had met on July 3 to discuss Smith’s event, which was entitled “The Erosion of Freedom: How Transgender Politics in School and Society is Undermining Our Freedom and Harming Women & Children!” and was cosponsored by the Canadian Christian Lobby.

      The event was part of a tour by Smith across the province, which included dates on Vancouver Island that had been met with protests.

      Christian-based Trinity Western University in Langley and Douglas College in New Westminster had cancelled events booked for Smith after becoming aware of the content of the talks.

      To counter the UBC talk, LGBT–inclusive activists organized a rally for trans rights to be held at the UBC Point Grey campus at the same time as Smith’s event.

      Several UBC organizations—including the Alma Mater Society (AMS), the Association of Administrative and Professional Staff at UBC, and the UBC Faculty Association—had also previously written letters prior to Smith's speaking engagement to express concerns.

      “In the past, Smith has made remarks that could be regarded as transphobic and anti-SOGI 123 (inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity curricula in schools),” the AMS letter, dated June 21, explained. “The AMS is concerned that Smith’s talk will stoke intolerance and discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or an intersection of the three. We fear that some students, faculty, and staff at UBC will feel threatened, unsafe, and targeted by his messaging.”

      UBC provost Andrew Szeri had previously explained on June 14 that even though they do not endorse Smith’s views, they had permitted Smith’s event to proceed in order to uphold free speech.

      Szeri added that UBC had been working with RCMP and other providers to ensure safety for its students, staff, and faculty.

      In the past UBC has permitted other controversial speakers to hold events on its campus, including Toronto professor Jordan Peterson and U.S. conservative political commenter Ben Shapiro.

      Szeri stated that anyone who had concerns about hate speech should contact the RCMP as hate speech is governed by the Criminal Code of Canada.

      However, the VPS pointed out in its July 8 statement that contacting the police is not an accessible option for all LGBT people. The issue of police participation in the parade has been a particularly contentious one for several years.

      “Referring concerns to the police ignores the contemporary and historical oppression of marginalized people by police and complex relationship many LGBTQAI2S+ communities have with policing agencies,” the VPS statement reads. “Trans and queer people, particularly those of colour, cannot be assured safety in their interactions with police.”

      While UBC is being exlcuded from the parade as an institution, the VPS is offering a free Pride parade space for up to 100 UBC students, faculty, and employees who want to march in the parade as individuals, which is being coordinated by the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office.

      In a statement on July 2, UBC President Santa Ono said that the balancing of “crucial principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom with our commitments to equity and inclusion” is a complex issue. He confirmed that it would be on the agenda at the board of governor’s meeting agenda and that both the Vancouver and Okanagan senates would be consulted.

      He also added that the university is committed to maintaing “a safe and respectful community” and that he is “deeply concerned that some members of our community are now questioning this”.

      The VPS will meet with UBC in September after the university’s booking and rental policy is reviewed by the board of governors.

      This 2019 Vancouver Pride parade will be held on August 4 in the West End.

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