Meghan Murphy, 40, the woman at the centre of a controversy over transgender ideology at the Toronto Public Library, is a Vancouver journalist who has taken a feminist approach to everything from prostitution and pornography to hipster trends, anti-rape advertising and trigger warnings.
But it is her opposition to transgender acceptance in both law and culture that has brought her the greatest exposure, including boycotts of her public appearances, threats to her safety, a ban from Twitter, and invitations to speak on legislation in both Canada’s and Scotland’s parliaments.
Her main argument that people born male can never be women has also caused crises of public confidence for libraries in two major cities, which have allowed her to speak in their buildings.
Now, as she prepares to give a lecture Tuesday night in Toronto, focused on threats to women’s rights posed by laws and policy aimed at trans acceptance, Murphy said she has received “a ton of support throughout Canada,” and a massive demand for tickets that exceeded the library branch’s capacity.
“People are very angry about the lies being spread about me online and in the media, as well as all the hate directed my way. People are also very angry about the way these writers and politicians are trying to silence free speech, silence women, and bully the library into not upholding their mandate,” Murphy wrote by email from her flight to Toronto Monday afternoon.
Scandal has preceded her. The Toronto Public Library is facing a boycott by activist authors and a potential ban from the city’s annual Pride parade and associated events. Even Toronto Mayor John Tory said he is “disappointed” the library allowed a group to book the Palmerston branch for Murphy’s talk, and refused to back down under public pressure. He said there are “thousands” of other places she could speak.
Pride Toronto called the event a “betrayal” and promised “consequences,” which is likely to mean a ban on any library participation in Pride events. A similar ban was put in place by Vancouver Pride over a Murphy talk at a Vancouver Public Library earlier this year. There is also a Pride rally planned in Toronto to coincide with Murphy’s talk.
From scandals about access to public bathrooms and the rise of Jordan Peterson to Twitter censorship and elite athletics, trans acceptance has exploded in recent years from a niche political concern into a political hot topic that reliably sets social media aflame.
‘Woman’ is not simply a set of stereotypes, an outfit, a feeling
“Murphy asserts publicly and repeatedly that trans women cannot be women and will always be men. This is a denial of the lives, experiences and identities of trans people. It is a crude, hateful and hurtful assertion. It says that the existence of trans people is invalid and that therefore their human rights are up for public debate,” Pride Toronto wrote in an open letter.
A petition by writers Alicia Elliot, Catherine Hernandez and Carrianne Leung called for cancellation. “Those who want to disseminate hate speech today know that they can misrepresent, then weaponize the phrase ‘freedom of speech’ in order to get what they want: an audience, and space to speak to and then mobilize that audience against marginalized communities,” they wrote.
The Toronto Public Library was well aware of the controversial background, and made clear that its acceptance of the room rental was done on principle.
Vickery Bowles, the city’s librarian, said libraries “have always supported vulnerable communities by welcoming and creating space for different perspectives, rather than through censorship. One of our core responsibilities is to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. Another is to make available our public spaces and services to individuals and groups without discrimination.”
Murphy runs the website Feminist Current and has written opinion pieces for mainstream North American outlets including CBC and the National Post. She has a master’s degree in gender, sexuality and women’s studies from Simon Fraser University, where she focused on “women in the media and the medicalization of sex,” she said.
She made news in recent months for her conflict with Jessica Yaniv, the transwoman who brought a failed human rights complaint over discrimination at beauty salons. Twitter banned Murphy for describing Yaniv as male, in violation of its hate and harassment policy, which had recently been changed as regards transgender people. Murphy later filed a lawsuit in California seeking to overturn the ban on free speech grounds, but failed.
She testified against Bill C-16, a Canadian law that added gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. She did something similar in Scotland.
Her key concern is the absence in policy debates of a rigid and exclusive definition of a woman. Her fear is that accepting a small minority of people as women because they say so puts the rights and safety of all women at risk.
“A woman is a female. That’s it. And if you are born male there is no way to become female. It’s simply not biologically possible,” she wrote in the email interview. “And beyond that, why would a male ever NEED to ‘become female’? I mean, by all means, be yourself, dress how you like, express yourself as you wish, in ways that make you feel good and authentic. Push back against gender stereotypes. But why that would demand one is literally the opposite sex, I do not know. ‘Woman’ is not simply a set of stereotypes, an outfit, a feeling. There is nothing wrong with being male or being a male who rejects masculinity. But it is ridiculous to say that if you reject gender stereotypes you are literally no longer male.”