McGill Is Facing Backlash For Hosting A Talk By A Prof Accused Of Transphobia

A protest is scheduled to take place outside the event.

Staff Writer
Students walk through the snow on McGill's downtown campus.

Students walk through the snow on McGill's downtown campus.

McGill University recently invited lawyer Robert Wintemute to speak on "The Sex vs. Gender (Identity) Debate In the United Kingdom and the Divorce of LGB from T" on January 10. The event immediately faced backlash from trans and queer activists in the McGill and broader Montreal community, including an open letter decrying the event as transphobic.

MTL Blog reached out to McGill for a response to the letter. The university emphasized that the event series "serve[s] as a platform for critical conversations" and that individual events "are not an endorsement of any speaker’s views." The Centre committed to "ensur[ing] there is enough time for responses and discussion."

Wintemute is a member of the LGB Alliance, which the open letter terms "an anti-trans lobbying group" since it seeks to divest gay, lesbian and bisexual solidarity from transgender rights, a move many, including trans activist and McGill Law student Celeste Trianon, consider transphobic.

The LGB Alliance "pretend[s] to be pro-gay [and] pro-women," Trianon told MTL Blog over the phone, "but their actions do not reflect that at all. They really are, at the end of the day, a hate group."

The Alliance has, in the past, endorsed conversion therapy and suggested that it is not homophobic to oppose gay marriage, which the open letter describes as two intrinsically homophobic stances. The Alliance's founder once attempted to sue historic queer landmark Stonewall.

The open letter argues that "trans rights cannot be separated from gay or lesbian rights and are not at odds with the rights of children, nor of cis women," an argument the LGB Alliance promotes. "Undermining the human rights of trans people does not benefit any member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, nor the feminist movement," the letter continues.

Opposers of the event believe that Wintemute's talk will implicitly validate the conversation around removing the T from LGBT — in other words, excluding trans people from queer liberation — without acknowledging the transphobia inherent in that stance.

Trianon describes the work of pushing back against this type of event as "frustrating and exhausting," especially when she thinks of what trans activists could spend their time on if events like these were not so common. "There's so much more we can do," Trianon told MTL Blog, "but we're forced to make these rapid responses, to organize protests in four days or less, just to rebut these harms. It's just disappointing."

Trianon hopes that McGill responds to criticism by unambiguously supporting trans and queer students. "McGill has already responded in a way, trying to absolve themselves of any blame" by claiming that the event is simply a debate, she explained. "The quick answer for that is when they say 'debate us,' they literally want to debate our own dignity, our safety and well-being. This is not freedom of speech, this is full-blown hate speech," Trianon said.

"What [McGill] should do is send out a proper apology, cancel the event, post events that have a proper discussion about [trans rights] and make sure it truly reflects our best interests."

When asked what people can do to help support trans people, Trianon said, "I think the most important thing is just to be a strong voice, even if you're not used to speaking for the trans community."

"Just denouncing such an event already has a major impact. [It's important to] make it very clear that this discourse will not be tolerated, whether it's at McGill or at any other university."

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Willa Holt
Staff Writer
Willa Holt is a Staff Writer for MTL Blog focused on apartments for rent and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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