Posts Tagged ‘ fearmongering ’

Free speech, and the cruel shackles of empathy and mutual respect

jordanpeterson2

In Canada, we tend to value freedom of speech very highly, and it’s often said that the best way to counter objectionable speech is with more speech.

That’s the first thought that crosses my mind in the case of U of T professor Jordan Peterson, who declares in a series of YouTube videos that he will not honour trans* peoples’ chosen pronouns, and opposes trans* human rights protections, all in the name of combating “political correctness.”

Of course, that would be an ideal world. In the real world, it’s still not that unusual for discussion of trans* issues to devolve into a “balanced” debate between pro- and anti-trans* academics over whether they exist at all, without any annoying context like actual trans* people being present to discuss their lived experience of, well, existing.  In the real world, there are real problems about who gets to speak, and how widely they can be heard… and the marginalized are often not given much voice to matters that affect — and are specifically about — them. In fact, the established and prolific voices in today’s media are more often quick to reject attempts to “inflict” change, or energetically create a lopsided portrait.

Speech is not a truly universal and equitable thing in the first place. Rather, it is something that is dependent upon access to favourable platforms, and is usually pre-emptively muddied by characteristic value judgments made about the speaker’s class, gender, race, etc.

Nevertheless, we strive for it as best we can. And in doing so, we arrive at the next irony: the very act of protesting ignorance with speech becomes itself heralded as evidence of censorship — as if the only way one’s speech can be truly free is for everyone else to remain silent.

The outcry and protest of ignorance [edit: example removed, was based on bad information – M] is speech, too — that of the protestors.  But in a disparate society, privileged speech is defended, while protest of it is often minimized, marginalized and dismissed as rowdiness, whinging, totalitarianism (!), censorship, and noise.  It becomes: “a little free speech for me, and a little shut-up-and-take-it for you.”

But let me back up for a moment.

Jordan Peterson is a University of Toronto (UofT) psychology professor who began his rants — especially about, but not limited to, trans* people and a “radical leftist ideology” — in late September, saying from the beginning that he felt he could face consequences, and even feared government or university reprisal because of existing human rights and hate speech laws.  He told Postmedia:

“I think (Bill C-16) risks criminalizing discussion about aspects of human sexual behaviour and identity that we need to discuss,” said Peterson, explaining that there are layers to C-16 — the biology of sex, gender identity and gender expression, for example — that could cause problems down the road.

One of his top stated concerns has been with the inclusion of trans* people in existing hate crimes legislation. The thing that people forget about this when it pertains to speech, though, is that the law has already been tested and shown to apply only exceedingly sparingly. If Bill Whatcott’s homemade but mass-distributed “anal warts” flyers equating LGBTQ people with pedophiles, and lyrical invitations to “kill the homosexual” skirt the edges of hate speech — some permissible and some not — then Peterson probably has nothing to worry about. Speech can indeed be hateful, and yet still not be legally actionable as hate speech.

But given that he seems only (or at least primarily) worried about human rights and hate crimes legislation when it pertains to LGBTQ people, one has to wonder if the concerns are cover for fears about the growing acceptance of trans* people in society.  He stated from the beginning that he will not use non-binary pronouns for other people, even if they request that.  He also said in his first video that he is “scared by the people behind the doctrines,” and attributes them to a radical Marxist ideology (reminiscent of the “cultural Marxism” panic making the rounds among social conservatives). He even compares the latter to Naziism, because of what he considers “murderous” and “Marxist” policies around the world.

Peterson frames his views in an academic and perhaps libertarian perspective, rather than a religious perspective, but he has been enjoying the support of religious conservatives.  This is probably because his views are quite compatible with the right-wing narrative that accepting and acknowledging trans* people as they need to live is (as enunciated regularly at LSN) a “disservice” and “false compassion because it’s not true.”

Peterson’s remedy to all of this dreaded political correctness — and what he calls upon listeners to help him with — is to propagate a “No PC” sticker campaign across the campus, and beyond.

The response to his videos has been mixed, with fierce supporters and opponents.  It has reportedly spawned threats, and affected some students’ class attendance.  In recent days, personal information about trans* students was circulated in far right subreddits, and protesters were nearly overwhelmed by an angry mob that allegedly included neo-Nazis.  This puts the University of Toronto in a quandary, as calls for reprisal — including possibly firing Peterson — have arisen.

From my perspective, reprisals like firing are not really a preferable end goal. We do value freedom of speech in Canada, after all — especially in academic settings — so there is that kernel of validity, even if Peterson’s speech is disrespectful or hateful. He’s entitled to his opinion, and also to be a jerk about it, on his own time.  Restrictions on freedom of speech are too often used to oppress minorities rather than people of privilege, anyway — much like the “homosexual propaganda” ban in Russia, which conservatives are still trying to figure out how to lobby for in North America.  It’s that extra step that Peterson wants to take it with students and colleagues which makes the question particularly difficult.

When I say this, though, it’s also partly because I’m an avid reader of social conservative media, and understand the undercurrent of persecution narrative activism. It’s why I can recognize what likely motivates someone who — without anyone ever asking him to respect trans* people in the first place — took it upon himself to loudly and energetically pursue free speech martyrdom anyway.

And personally, I see no value in giving it to him. Peterson’s actions — whether deliberately or by coincidence — are destined to place him in a growing collection of social conservatives who self-immolate for a few moments of anti-LGBTQ fame. It’s become trendy to seek a place on the Kim Davis speaking circuit, alongside Fundie cake bakers, and the twice-suspended Alabama Chief Justice who tried to singlehandedly overturn marriage equality in the United States.  Free speech martyrdom is also Ezra Levant’s entire schtick (which he’s still trying to parlay into a media network), so it also has just as valid and active a presence in Canada outside of overtly religious circles.  Whining that someone’s “special right” to dignity and equality is trampling your perfectly ordinary right to discriminate seems to make you a far right folk hero, these days. One of the end objectives of this, of course, is to insert a special religious exemption in human rights laws, so that people can practice their faith by refusing to sell to, hire, or otherwise co-exist with heathens (I might have got the precise wording wrong on this, because I don’t remember the particular scripture where Jesus commanded his followers to willfully disrespect and refuse to do business with sinners — I keep getting hung up on the “love one another” and “give unto Caesar” parts, for some reason).

Anyway, free speech martyrdom will allow Peterson to play hero… or at least until some other dupe comes along. After all, the whole value of the Kim Davises and Melissa Kleins to conservative activists only lasts as long as they’re useful to the two legal groups (Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel) trying to etch anti-LGBTQ discrimination into American law, plus the allied think tanks, religious organizations and media outlets that are parasitically fundraising off both their successes and their failures. The Kleins, for example, recently closed their bakery, ruined because they thought that refusing to do business with a lesbian couple was a noble idea — and now they’re almost forgotten, except by the vaguely-phrased legend of the cake bakers. In that circuit, the fate of someone like Jordan Peterson is irrelevant.  The point of beatifying the speech martyrs is to entice more dupes into creating more situations that help build a narrative which frames LGBTQ peoples’ rights to live, work and do business as automatically and inherently persecuting to people of faith… something that Peterson’s firing would fit into just as beautifully as any technical victory he might (though it’s a longshot) find some way to score.

Either way, giving Peterson the glory he seems to seek really only feeds an ongoing anti-LGBTQ political tactic — even if deceptive — and gives it power.

Yet, there does have to be some form of limit. There’s no denying the destructive effect of cumulative aggressions and microaggressions. It’s one thing to be told by someone that they think you’re deluded and that they refuse to respect you. It’s quite another to be told that in billionuplicate, at every turn, by several people you don’t know (and even worse: some you do), without you ever having done anything to warrant the hostility. If you pay attention to news related to trans* people, you know that stories of suicides due to bullying and harassment arrive on a weekly basis… and that’s only the reported instances.

Because as valid as the need to protect free speech is, it is also very often weaponized, and used to gaslight entire communities that just want to be able to participate in society and be accorded the same dignity and respect as anyone else. It’s used to minimize them, tell them they ask too much, and shame them into going away — back into their closets would be just fine, for example. Remember what I said about free speech in the real world being often a one-sided or lopsided thing.

But where to draw the line on hateful speech is almost impossible to determine. It’s easy to limit speech in cases of libel and direct harassment or incitement. Cumulative hatefulness, though, is difficult to realistically pin on an individual, especially given that an individual doesn’t always intend the hostile fallout generated by their supporters or the like-minded. I don’t know that it can be done legislatively, except in extreme and / or intended instances.

What has to happen is a mass awakening, and a mass rejection of ignorance — and unfortunately, the pace of that kind of change is glacial. Of course, mass backlash will still be framed as persecution and censorship, but it will be better recognized widely as a reasoned response to bigotry.  And that takes time and awareness… and continual revisitation.

And if there is no clear legislative solution, then there’s not a lot of guidance outside the court system, either. So I understand the position this puts the University of Toronto (and potentially the Ontario Human Rights Commission, if it came to that) in… particularly with the issue of pronouns.

The thing to keep in mind about pronouns is that deliberately misgendering someone is itself an act of hostility — an act of asserting that you know better than someone else who they are, what they need and what their life experiences mean. It’s putting your inconvenience of having to adapt ahead of the reality of their entire lives. It’s not just about invalidating one’s choice of pronoun — it’s about claiming the right to authoritatively invalidate everything that they know about themself(/ves)*.

[* And if you paused for less than five seconds to look at that, understood it — however awkward that pronoun might have looked — shrugged and moved on, then congratulations: you’re far better able to cope with gender neutral and / or singular “they” pronouns than a UofT prof!]

Allowing Peterson to speak his opinions about “gender ideology” is one thing. Having him publicly vow to deliberately antagonize and disrespect students and other faculty members is quite another.  And as the increasing tensions and threats over the course of his campaign have shown, sustained, hateful free speech can have serious consequences.

So what is to be done?  The best scenario would be if Peterson would recognize where he has stepped beyond speech into deliberate antagonism and borderline incitement, maybe apologize, or at least leave things be, but that’s obviously not going to happen.  Probably, the only result that both he and trans* advocates and supporters will be satisfied with is some form of free speech martyrdom, in the form of firing or some lesser kind of censure.

And this will inevitably once more feed the conservative persecution complex, and the dreams of a Trump-like saviour to free them — in the words of the inimitable Samantha Bee — “from that prison, and the cruel shackles of empathy and mutual respect.”

(Crossposted to rabble.ca)

Canada’s Trans* Rights Bill Now Endorses Bans in Washroom and Gendered Spaces

Canada’s trans* human rights bill C-279 was amended by a Senate committee, in a way that makes it legal to ban trans* people from washrooms and gendered spaces appropriate to their gender identity.

Sen. Donald Plett, Conservative member of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, added a legal exemption for “any service, facility, accommodation or premises that is restricted to one sex only, such as a correctional facility, crisis counseling facility, shelter for victims of abuse, washroom facility, shower facility or clothing changing room.”  The amendment passed with six of the committee members supporting it, four opposed, and one abstention.

There were two other unanimous amendments made.  One added the category of “sex” to the protections in the Criminal Code (which has long been a bizarre and serious omission from hate crimes legislation).  The other removed the definition of “gender identity” which had been added in the House of Commons as a condition of passing the bill, back in 2013.  Because the bill has been amended, it would need to return to the House for a final vote before being enacted.  It is thought unlikely that the bill would be brought forward before an election call — and now, if it did, the bill’s original proponents would oppose it — meaning that C-279 is almost certainly dead.

“The very act that is designed to prohibit discrimination is being amended to allow discrimination,” the bill’s Senate sponsor, Grant Mitchell, pointed out.  “It holds people who are law-abiding, full-fledged and equal members of our society accountable for the potential — the very, very long-shot potential — that someone would misuse this to justify a criminal act.” (The transcript has not been posted yet, but the videocast is still available)

Sen. Plett has long claimed that the bill would be exploited by pedophiles and rapists to attack women and children in washrooms, a claim that has been repeatedly debunked by law enforcement officials and other experts:

Minneapolis Police Department: Fears About Sexual Assault “Not Even Remotely” A Problem. Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder told Media Matters in an interview that sexual assaults stemming from Minnesota’s 1993 transgender non-discrimination law have been “not even remotely” a problem. Based on his experience, the notion of men posing as transgender women to enter women’s restrooms to commit sex crimes “sounds a little silly,” Elder said. According to Elder, a police department inquiry found “nothing” in the way of such crimes in the city… [Phone interview, 3/11/14]”

Additionally, criminal activity in a washroom or gendered space would continue to remain criminal regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.  On the other hand, trans* women face very real dangers when institutionally housed with men or made to use segregated facilities according to their birth sex.

Nevertheless, bathroom-related fearmongering has been the cause of several petitions and campaigns to kill trans* human rights legislation in North America.  It has also started to spawn draconian bathroom-policing bills (some of which ignore the actual genital status of the person, even though genitals are allegedly the rationale for the law):

“Building managers who “repeatedly allow” trans people to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identity would, however, face up to two years in jail and a maximum $10,000 fine under the proposed law.

“… If passed, the law could tighten how Texas defines gender, not only singling out transgender people, but those who have chromosomes that don’t fit the strict definition laid out in the bill, like intersex individuals. The bill reads:

” For the purpose of this section, the gender of an individual is the gender established at the individual’s birth or the gender established by the individual’s chromosomes. A male is an individual with at least one X chromosome and at least one Y chromosome, and a female is an individual with at least one X chromosome and no Y chromosomes. If the individual’s gender established at the individual’s birth is not the same as the individual’s gender established by the individual’s chromosomes, the individual’s gender established by the individual’s chromosomes controls under this section…”

Plett’s reasoning essentializes trans* women as being “biological males” (“… and I will use ‘men’ because I believe they are biological men — ‘transgender,’ but biologically, they are men”), and asserts that they are inherently a threat to cis* (non-trans*) women.  When it was pointed out that his amendment would require trans* men to use womens’ facilities, Plett appeared indifferent, and he later referred to a young trans* man as “she.”  Plett added that he believed his amendment would allow “separate but equal treatment.”

Bill C-279 would affect only areas under federal jurisdiction, such as federal facilities, the Armed Forces, federal agencies, and First Nations reserves.  But it had been seen as a potentially important symbol of human rights protection to have specific federal inclusion.  Canadian human rights commissions consider trans* people written into legislation, but without explicit inclusion, there remains a possibility of an overturn in court precedent (where application is not as certain).  Meanwhile, companies that take direction from federal legislation continue to not see a need to develop policies for trans* employees.

The Northwest Territories was the first Canadian jurisdiction to pass trans-inclusive legislation, in 2002.  Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan all have provincial protections.  In British Columbia, a similar bill, M-211, has been blocked by B.C. Liberals, who refuse to allow it to face a vote or discussion.

Former Member of Parliament Bill Siksay first introduced a trans* human rights bill in 2005, and continued to reintroduce it in every Parliamentary session, until it eventually passed in the House of Commons. However, it was awaiting ratification in the Senate when a federal election was called, which killed the bill.  In 2011, Siksay left federal politics, and Randall Garrison reintroduced it as C-279.  In 2012, many trans* people stopped campaigning for the bill when the characteristic of gender expression was deleted from the bill, and a definition of gender identity was added.

(A version of this article also appears at Rabble.ca and The Bilerico Project)

C-279 Committee Roundup: The Necessity of Inclusion

On Tuesday November 27th, the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights (JUST) met for a second of three meetings to examine the trans human rights bill, C-279. I’ll be discussing the filibuster that occurred in the third, shortly.  However, it’s worth paying attention to the discussion on the bill’s necessity in the second meeting, as it was one of the Conservatives’ key arguments for opposing the bill.

In the first hour, it heard from representatives from the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT), and a representative from R.E.A.L. Women of Canada, Diane Watts.  Which, if you were listening to the webcast, was something like listening to Peter Mansbridge, Pamela Wallin, and then this person:

Watts made news because rather than speaking much about trans people and human rights issues, she mostly ranted at length about pedophiles.  Then, when she was cut off and told her remarks were offensive, the floor was turned over to a member of the committee, Robert Goguen, who bade her to continue in the same vein for another five minutes.

A lot was said about Watts testimony, although the coverage glossed over some things.  R.E.A.L.’s “lead researcher” tried to frighten the committee about inclusion leading to the correctional system having “to provide treatment for those inmates,” even though Canada already has a ruling on that in Kavanaugh v. Canada (2001). Committee members referred to it several times in that meeting, in fact.  Watts also cited the American College of Pediatricians, which is an organization founded by reparative therapists and has been repudiated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is the actual recognized authority in ACP’s field.

But the overlooked testimony of the CHRC and CHRT representatives is far more significant.

The Conservative Party argument against Bill C-279 has long been that they believed the bill was not necessary, and that the terms were not defined.  And yet, after the second meeting of the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights to discuss the bill, some of the opponents of trans human rights inclusion switched tactics by dropping the argument about necessity, and focused emphatically on defining the terms narrowly, such as by tying them to a diagnosis.  The use of the “not necessary” argument came to an end.  So what happened during the meeting?

The anti-gay spin machine LifeSiteNews has deliberately distorted the testimony of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal folks in order to validate the idea that clear human rights inclusion is unnecessary.  But it only works if you cherry-pick little snippets from Canadian Human Rights Commission acting secretary general, Ian Fine, and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal acting chairperson and chief executive officer, Susheel Gupta, out of context:

Fine, responding to Goguen, admitted that “strictly speaking, I suppose the legislation isn’t necessary…”

Gupta was more adamant about not taking a position either way, but here are full quotes from Ian Fine from the transcript.  See if you come to the same conclusion that LSN did:

“To answer your question, as I said at the outset, we currently accept complaints—and have forever—from transgendered individuals under the ground of sex, and sometimes under the ground of disability, and we will continue to do so. To answer your question, strictly speaking, I suppose the legislation isn’t necessary, but we see other reasons why it would be important to include these two grounds under our act, and we do support them.

“For one thing, it would provide the clarity that I think we believe is missing at this point, because as much as it’s true that the commission and tribunals and courts do accept transgender issues as falling under the ground of sex, parties still debate that issue before those very tribunals and courts and question whether or not transgender issues fall under sex. In one case I know of, an issue was raised as to whether or not you could even raise the issue under sex and instead should raise it under disability.

“There continue to be these debates, so for clarity reasons, we believe it would be a good thing to add these two grounds. Also, as I said at the outset, it would be a recognition of the discrimination that this group faces: the sometimes hostile and violent acts that this group faces in our society. So it would recognize the vulnerability of this group, of these individuals.

“…

“It is true that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal certainly has held that these matters fall within the existing prohibited grounds. There’s no doubt about that. Other courts and tribunals across the land have done so. As I have said, we receive complaints on transgender issues under the ground of sex and sometimes disability.

“But the reality is that even though the courts have accepted that and we accept that, parties still go before those tribunals and courts and raise arguments about whether or not they are included. So clearly there are some Canadians who aren’t in agreement with that notion, who are still fighting about it, who feel that the protection is not explicit or shouldn’t be covered by one of the other grounds.

“We’re simply suggesting to add these grounds to provide more clarity to all Canadians, to make it explicit, and then there’s no doubt.”

Spin attempts to the contrary, Conservatives can’t justifiably call clear trans human rights inclusion unnecessary, anymore.

MP’s trans predator fearmongering escalates.

On Friday, Sun News commentator Brian Lilley interviewed Rob Anders, the Member of Parliament who has drawn condemnation for conflating transsexual and transgender people with sexual predators in a petition he has been circulating on his website, and to at least one church in his riding. In “Children’s bathroom bill reaches Parliament Hill,” both doubled down on conflating trans people with sexual predators, and suggested that granting human rights inclusion will somehow enable and legally absolve predatory acts.  Anders claims there is “all sorts of examples of this going on.”  Which is news to anybody else.

Lilley introduced the interview by once again calling for the defunding and privatization of CBC, the network which first broke the Anders story, and which Lilley has tried to portray as ludicrous for taking note of the petition.  During this time, though, Lilley has also been taking note of a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) policy that accommodates trans kids.  Like fellow Sun News Network commentators Michael Coren and Faith Goldy, he’s made that all about washrooms.  While discussing the TDSB policy with Anders, they arrive at this exchange:

LILLEY: We are going and changing all kinds of things that… I agree with you, could put people at risk of being exposed to perverts to fix something that is, what, one percent of one percent of one percent of a subset of a subset?

ANDERS: Yeah.  You know, why would we lower peoples’ natural defenses of a man going into a woman’s bathroom in order to “accommodate” [scare quotes added because at this, Anders appears to grin mockingly or suggestively]  this very very small, you know, part of the population.  In order to expose all sorts of women and girls to this…?

At that point, Rob Anders relates a phone call that told an anecdotal story of a crossdressed peeping tom who allegedly peered over stalls in the Canterra building in downtown Calgary four years ago.  Searching various media online, there appears to be no corroboration that it even occurred, let alone that it happened as related.  The network sensationalistically underscores this story with staged photos that are supposed to be representative of trans people in restrooms, including one featuring a urinal covered in police tape, and another showing someone with a long wig and a dress standing at a urinal.  Or at least I’m assuming they’re staged, because it would be concerning if someone is snapping candids in washrooms.

At an earlier point in this interview, Brian Lilley also points to one of the men accused of chaining and abusing a Nova Scotia teen — the attacker was said to have occasionally dressed in womens’ clothing.

Most Canadians either don’t know someone who is transsexual or transgender, or else aren’t aware that an acquaintance is trans (and given my experience as a community advocate, I suspect it’s more often the latter).  For this reason, Anders and Lilley float these examples as being representative of all trans people, and as justification for excluding those entire characteristic classes from basic human rights protections.

LILLEY: “Then he’s free and clear.”

Enter Bill C-279, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Gender Identity and Gender Expression), which is a human rights bill addressing employment, housing, access to services and discrimination.

The bill says nothing about washrooms, which Lilley briefly acknowledges before calling washrooms a side effect of the bill, and then continuing to focus on them at the expense of all else.  C-279 also wouldn’t change the fact that trans people have already been using washrooms appropriate to their gender identity for decades.  But it’s at this point that Lilley and Anders claim that the bill would somehow essentially absolve the people in their examples of any culpability for their actions.

ANDERS: “Then he’s free and clear, that’s right.”

Readers are invited to find any example in which rape, molestation and other illegal and inappropriate behaviours were suddenly excused because the perpetrator was a member of a class listed in human rights legislation.  As equal human beings, we are all still responsible for behaving ethically and respectfully toward our fellow human beings, and to face the legal consequences if we don’t.

We also don’t exclude entire groups of people from public washrooms (let alone human rights) on the off-chance that one of them might be a sexual predator.

When I wrote about the history of the “Bathroom Bill” meme, one thing I didn’t mention is how opponents of trans rights initiatives tended to conflate trans people with predators, and then when called on it, would habitually backtrack to say it wasn’t trans people they were worried about, but that they thought trans-inclusive legislation could provide cover for actual predators to commit acts of sexual predation.  And then they’d go on talking about “transgenders” with hairy legs and skirts stalking children and doing unmentionable things in washroom stalls, as a reason to block human rights legislation.

But with the way Lilley’s interview is presented, there’s visibly no effort at all to make any kind of distinction.

And all of this, of course, completely overlooks the dangers to safety of going the opposite direction and forcing transsexual women to use a men’s room.  Or whether women would be happy having trans men in theirs.

Which brings us to Brian Lilley’s bottom line:

LILLEY: “Why do we have all these groups mentioned to get special treatment in the Human Rights Act, in the Criminal Code?  I thought we believed in treat all people equally and fairly in this country.  And why don’t we just get rid of all this nonsense and say all people are equal above and beyond [sic] before the law?”

Overlooking the fact that you just referred to equality as “special treatment,” Mr. Lilley, it is most likely because there is ample evidence that there are clearly bigoted attitudes and beliefs about entire groups of people, conflating them with abhorrent actions and behaviours — even to the point of circulating petitions, making comments on the floor of the House of Commons, and reporting them on television as fact — in ways that make discrimination against those groups likely or even inevitable.

Sun Media’s Brian Lilley interviews Rob Anders

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)