Arts

Carleton student Ashley Grenstone (right) speaks to protesters at the National Gallery on Thursday, March 9. Photo: Kyle Darbyson.

Students, professors, and activists unite in peaceful protest for trans rights

On Thursday, March 9, students, professors, trans activists, and allies came together to protest controversial University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, who was giving a lecture at the National Gallery.

The main reason for the protest is because Peterson has been outspoken about his opposition to using “they” and “them” pronouns when it comes to gender, which is dismissive of, and offensive to, transgender people. He is also opposed to Bill C-16, which essentially adds gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code.

While Peterson’s talk titled “Exploring the psychology of creativity” had nothing to do with his controversial rhetoric, the protest centred less on his qualifications and more on the dangerous reach of his presence and influence in regards to Canada’s transgender community.

Controversy surrounding Peterson’s transphobic views are not anything new, but they are definitely polarizing, with some making him out to be a proponent of free speech.

However, on March 9 members of the LGBTQ+ community used that same principle to expose the danger of letting these kind of views go unchecked.

“Jordan Peterson is fully aware of the harm and violence caused by his discourse,” wrote Zac Johnstone, a former University of Ottawa student who attended the protest, in an email to the Fulcrum. “His arguments are being used by social conservatives in the Senate to delay a trans rights bill that’ll have a significant impact on protecting trans and non-binary people in Canada.”

For them, another important factor that helped fuel the protest was the fact that Peterson was speaking at an institution that’s funded by public money.

“Our tax dollars supported this, and I for one am ashamed to see such a respected institution—an institution that has, in recent years, taken step to showcase Indigenous, queer, trans, and other voices from marginalized communities—give a platform to an individual who is promoting bigotry, profiting off it, all while perpetuating and encouraging violence against trans and non-binary people.”

One of the speakers at the protest was Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, the future vice-president equity for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, who objected to the gallery’s decision to let Peterson speak about a subject that is near and dear to her.

“Art was the first thing that accepted me as a queer woman. Art was the first thing that mapped out my anxiety and depression,” she said to the 100 or so protesters that gathered outside the entrance to the Gallery on March 9. “Explain to me how a man that has so very openly denied people the right to feel safe can come and discuss the relationship between psychology and the arts.”

Cara Tierney, one of the event organizers, a U of O professor, and a former employee of the National Gallery, expressed their distaste for the event as well, and explained the ways in which it affected their identity and rights as a trans, non-binary individual.

“For the Gallery to hire this individual sends a very clear message to trans lives that we’re not valued in these spaces, and these are public, federally funded spaces that we should all have equal access to.”

People in positions of power like Peterson are extremely harmful not only to these marginalized groups, but to society as a whole. By allowing discourse like this to continue, especially in Canada’s capital, we’re sending the message that passive oppression is acceptable in our country.

With all the progress we have achieved in modern Canadian society, from technology to science to education, we somehow seem to keep missing the mark when it comes to basic human rights.