Vancouver Public Library rejected from 2019 Pride parade for allowing controversial speaker to hold event

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      Another local institution has been denied participation in the 2019 Vancouver Pride parade due to its permission of a controversial speaker to hold an event upon its premises.

      The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) announced today (July 23) that is has decided to not allow the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) to participate in the 2019 Pride parade.

      The VPS stated that VPL employees who do want to participate can march with the City of Vancouver or with their union CUPE 391.

      The VPL allowed local controversial speaker Meghan Murphy, founder of the Feminist Current, to book a public space and hold an event at the central library branch in Downtown Vancouver on January 10. The VPS deemed Murphy to be a “transphobic speaker” and that the event “undermined the dignity of trans women”.

      VPL chief librarian Christina de Castell had issued a statement on November 28, 2018, in which she stated that the library is "not endorsing, or hosting this event" and that it has "zero tolerance for discrimination and does not agree with the views of the Feminist Current".

      De Castell explained that it was permitting the event to proceed due to its "commitment to free speech and intellectual freedom".

      "As such, we will not refuse to rent to an individual or organization simply because they are discussing controversial topics or views, even those we find offensive," De Castell stated. "We seek to be a welcoming place for all, and actively find ways to support the trans, gender variant and two-spirit communities."

      Pride display in 2013.">
      The Vancouver Public Library's central branch has held LGBT events, such as this Pride display in 2013.
      Charlie Smith

      LGBT activists and allies, including Qmunity, expressed concerns prior to the event, held a protest during the event, and organized an LGBT–inclusive feminist event to be held one day afterward.

      The VPS met with the VPL and community organizations on April 24 to discuss these concerns.

      Then on June 25, the VPS signed a joint letter written by the Coalition Against Trans Antagonism expressing concerns about the VPL’s rental policy.

      On July 15, the VPS sent a letter to inform the VPL that the lack of changes to the policy would exclude them from participating in the parade if the concerns weren’t addressed before August.

      The VPL declined to make the changes before the parade.

      On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which is credited with development of the LGBT movement, VPS executive director drew attention back to the origins of Pride.

      "Pride was born from resistance led by trans women of colour,” Arnot stated in a news release. “We honour our roots and the spirit of Pride by taking a strong stance against discrimination. Even when, especially when, the stance is unpopular."

      A 2013 Pride event at the Vancouver Public Library's central branch.
      Charlie Smith

      In response to the VPS decision, the VPL stated that it is "disappointed about this decision" but "appreciate that Library staff and partners are still welcome to participate as members and allies of the LGBTQ2+ community, as they have been doing for decades".

      The VPL went on to explain that they are a public institution that "is committed to providing a venue where diverse ideas and opinions can be shared and discussed" and that "it is through exposure to different ideas and opinions that society can make informed choices about their core beliefs".

      The library acknowledged that concerns about their rental policies has resulted in some LGBT community members to lose trust in the VPL but that they  "hope to regain that trust as we continue our longstanding commitment to promoting dialogue and raising marginalized voices through our programs and services".

      The VPL goes on to state that the "Vancouver Pride Society is asking the Library to go beyond the law and rely on their interpretation of what is legally permitted speech in Canada" and that "the limits on freedom of expression must be decided by the legal system, not the Library". 

      The VPS added that this decision aligns with their decision to deny UBC entry to the parade as well.

      On July 8, the VPS announced that UBC would not be permitted to participate in the parade due to its allowance of anti–SOGI speaker Jenn Smith to hold an event on campus on June 23.

      Jenn Smith's event was met with criticism and concerns, and a counter-rally was held simultaneously. 

      Both UBC and VPL had stated that although they do not agree with the views expressed by these speakers, they permitted them to hold events in order to uphold free speech.

      The Vancouver Pride parade will be held on August 4.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.