On Tuesday, January 10th the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP) at McGill hosted an event called “The Sex Vs Gender (Identity) Debate In the United Kingdom and the Divorce of LGB from T.” This event sparked concern in the McGill community, particularly the queer community, due to its potential to spread harmful anti-trans rhetoric. Organizations Queer McGill and RadLaw McGill along with Celeste Trianon, a law student at Université de Montréal, organized a protest outside the building during the event. Over two hundred protesters rallied against the debate, forcing the event to be cancelled part way through.
The event discussed lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) rights and the divorcing of the ‘T,’ (representing transgender individuals), from LGBTQ+. The debate was intended to cover issues pertaining to trans rights, for example, if laws make it easier for transgender people to change their legal sex and exceptional situations like “women-only spaces and sports.” The description of the event on the CHRLP website stated that regarding these exceptional situations, “the individual’s birth sex should take priority over their gender identity, regardless of their legal sex.” The description of the event on the CHRLP website mentions how the sex vs. gender debate inspired the organization LGB Alliance, which “rejects the coalition of LGB and T and challenges some transgender demands, because they conflict with the rights of lesbian and bisexual women or the rights of children.” Protest organizer Celeste Trianon disagrees with this claim and asserts that “queer rights and trans rights are very much interconnected.”
The event featured Robert Wintemute, a professor of human rights law at King’s College London. Wintemute is a lawyer for LGB Alliance, a U.K.-based organization that advocates for LGB rights and opposes the LGBT agenda and its stance on transgender issues. The LGB Alliance Twitter bio says that the organization “promote[s] the rights of lesbians, bisexuals & gay men, as recognised by biological sex.” According to a website critiquing the LGB alliance, the group is “a homophobic and transphobic internationally recognised hate group” who have campaigned against bans on conversion therapy, been unsupportive of gay marriage, sued the biggest European LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, and advocated for transgender exclusion from gendered spaces.
This event raised great concern among McGill’s queer community. In a Facebook post about the protest, Queer McGill stated that the event “has the real potential to increase transphobic violence and undo trans rights.” The post further states that “the trans community at McGill already faces incredible oppression from society and should not be subject to debate on their basic rights and freedoms.” In an interview with the Bull & Bear, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (GSFS) majors Adeline Quas (U2) and Shannon Salick (U3) voiced their concerns regarding this event. Quas explained that they saw the event as harmful because it is “confirming the insecurities” many trans people have about whether they belong in the greater community and in the LGBTQ community. Quas also shared that, as a trans person, the sex vs. gender and divorcing of LGB from T debate is an “attack on [their] identity.” Salick expressed their disagreement with the entire premise of the event explaining that “you don’t just go around debating rights” because rights are “non-negotiable, it’s something that should be and has to be given.” Additionally, she expressed concern for the BIPOC trans and queer community, explaining that this debate over trans rights “harms [BIPOC trans people] the most.” Protest organizer Celeste Trianon, in an interview with the Bull & Bear, commented on “the irony of [the Centre’s] name”, as an organization with “Human Rights” in their name is breaching transgender human rights by giving a platform to this debate.
The protest had a turnout of over two hundred people, which, according to attendees Quas and Salick, filled up the entire hallway outside the event room and overflowed onto the stairs and outside of the building. Quas shared that the protest “felt like the community coming together” and was “feeling like this is a space we can all belong in.” Salick described the experience of partaking in the protest as “stressful,” but “empowering as well.” Further, Quas and Salick, as well as Trianon, described the people at the protest as being members of the trans community and allies from both in and outside of the queer community.
As stated in The McGill Tribune, CHRPL co-director Frédéric Mégret shared that Wintemute approached the centre about hosting this event. Trianon commented on Wintemute’s request to speak at McGill, sharing that she believes this is “a clear sign that Robert Wintmute came in with an agenda, and that agenda is to spread transphobia,” since it is customary for hosts of such events to reach out to speakers, not the other way around.
Since the protest, Trianon has received hateful and threatening messages online. Trianon shared with the Bull and Bear that “many of [the hateful messages] include ‘go kill yourself’ type threats” and threats “calling [them] a Nazi.” As well, Trianon has received opposition from people who are “trying to defend free speech.” However, she has countered that these people are in fact defending a version of free speech called “free speech absolutism,” which argues the rights of free speech are inalterable, even when they impede on other rights.
McGill has stated that it “does not endorse the views of the Alliance or of any speaker.” Additionally, in an email from McGill to the Bull & Bear, the university stated that the CHRLP puts on speaker events to “serve as a platform for critical conversations on topics that can be productively and robustly discussed in an academic setting.” Trianon has made clear that she disagrees with this notion and that McGill, whether or not they agree with Wintemure, is still “platforming hate” by hosting him to speak at McGill. Further, the email shared that “McGill recognizes and supports the rights of its students to peaceful protest on campus.” Information about and traces of the event have been removed from the CHRLP website and other McGill-run platforms promoting the event.
On January 12, the SSMU shared an email with the entire school describing McGill’s decision to host this event as “not only insensitive, it was unacceptable.” Additionally, the SSMU has made it clear that it “supports students and groups that have mobilized to make their voices heard and stand together for a more inclusive university.”