This past Friday, March 3, the University of Winnipeg (U of W) hosted a lecture that many in the city’s 2SLGBTQIA+ communities worried would direct hate at transgender people.
The lecture, by U of W political science professor Joanne Boucher, was titled “The Commodification of the Human Body: The Case of Transgender Identities.” The title, the use of certain dog-whistle terms on the event poster (for instance, “transgenderism,” a term often used by transphobes but not actual transgender people) and Boucher’s past support for right-wing movements raised alarms that this talk would be part of the recent wave of anti-trans vitriol and violence coming from sources like Jordan Peterson and the recent CPAC conference.
Despite protests, the U of W allowed the lecture to go ahead, citing academic freedom.
We’ll have more in-depth coverage of this event in next week’s issue of The Uniter. Whether the content of the lecture itself proved harmful remains to be seen.
But, here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually matter if the content of Boucher’s lecture was or wasn’t “as bad” as some worried it would be. The ugly truth here is that transgender people are currently under attack, and those in power who can do something about it are ignoring them. It is not an exaggeration to say that the mainstream conservative position on transgender rights is borderline genocidal. The same week as this lecture, an American commentator called for transgender people to be “eliminated.”
When trans folks tell us they are under attack, cis folks need to listen. The talk should have been suspended and evaluated the moment the trans community (the subject of the talk) raised concerns. People love to bandy phrases like “academic freedom.” That’s a broad, flexible term. The violence trans people face is real, concrete and tangible. “Freedom of expression” is not a justification for academics to idly theorize over a marginalized group’s right to exist, while that group fights tooth and nail for its own existence. Trans people deserve to decide how they exist in public space. Their voices must be heard.
Published in Volume 77, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 9, 2023)