The incident sparked debates between the balance of free speech and hate speech on University Campuses
On Tuesday Jan. 10, the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP) from McGill University hosted a talk called “The Sex vs. Gender (Identity) Debate in the United Kingdom and the Divorce of LGB from T.”
The event was disrupted by more than 100 protesters due to the presence of controversial guest speaker and McGill alumni Robert Wintemute. Wintemute is a Human Rights Law Professor at King’s College London and a trustee of the LGB Alliance — an advocacy group funded in the UK that opposes certain policies for transgender rights on the grounds that they undermine those of lesbians, bisexuals and gay men and cisgender women.
The protestors occupied the first floor of Chancellor Day Hall and interrupted the professor’s talk by unplugging the projector, which then led to him being escorted out by McGill staff.
Celeste Trianon, a law student at Université de Montréal and trans rights activist, helped organize the campaign against Wintemute’s seminar.
According to Trianon and other queer advocacy groups, one of the LGB Alliance’s main goals is to oppose policies that aim at protecting and advancing trans rights.
Trianon explained that the organization had, among other things, lobbied against the “legal recognition of gender identity in the British and Scottish contexts” and works “in collaboration with other anti-trans organizations in the United States.”
She added that, in Canada, the LGB Alliance opposed the inclusion of transgender people in Bill C-4, which prohibited conversion therapy.
“Their whole idea is based on a far-right concept called ‘drop the T’ which is a strategy to divide the queer community by separating transgender people from the rest of the community,” said Trianon. “It is an organization that disguises itself as a pro-women’s rights and pro-gay and lesbian organization.”
Trianon is worried about the international scope that the Alliance is gaining, including in Canada.
“This is reflected in the fact that all the hate I received after the demonstration came from all over the world and not only from Quebec,”Said Trianon.
Trianon went on to elaborate on the hate messages and death threats she received via email and social media.
In an interview with The Concordian, Wintemute said that part of his talk was to argue that trans people’s rights, particularly those of trans women, sometimes infringe on cis women’s rights and that legislation against discrimination was “full of contradictions.” He asserted the belief that many cis women agreed with his position but were too afraid or intimidated to speak up against pro-trans rights policies.
“What I was doing was no hate speech at all. Freedom of expression covers even ideas that can offend or disturb. There’s a tendency today that says disagreement equals hatred, but it doesn’t,”Said Wintemute.
Wintemute argued that the protestors had no right to disturb his talk, comparing the event to “a mini version of the US Congress in Jan. 2021 or the Brazilian capital in Jan. 2023.”
McGill University declined to comment on the incident. A spokesperson from the CHRLP sent out an email saying, “Every year, the CHRLP organizes a range of events on a variety of human rights issues […] They are not an endorsement of any speaker’s views. McGill recognizes and supports the rights of its students to peaceful protest on campus.”
“This defense of academic freedom as an absolute concept is used to defend hate speech,” said Trianon. “We really have to ask ourselves who was really violent? Was it the protesters or this speech that puts trans people in danger? How do we define violence?”