Over a hundred listeners crowded the steps in front of Sidney Smith Hall on October 5 for a teach-in and rally on issues affecting non-binary and trans individuals.
The event was held in response to the public remarks and YouTube videos released by psychology professor Jordan Peterson.
According to Qaiser Ali, one of the rally organizers, the goal of the event was to “humanize the issue” and “show that these are people you could walk by on the street, have a class with, or be your neighbour.”
The teach-in featured trans and non-binary speakers sharing personal experiences, struggles with institutional discrimination, and challenging interactions with Jordan Peterson. The crowd was introduced to stories of suicide attempts, fighting institutions, and personal triumphs over trauma.
Peterson’s videos criticize what he describes as “politically correct” culture on campus. In his first video, which was initially reported by The Varsity, Peterson criticizes the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression and indicates that he would decline to address non-binary students by pronouns other than ‘he’ or ‘she.’
Peterson’s second video decries the mandatory anti-racial bias training for faculty and staff at the university. The teach-in prioritized people of colour amongst its speakers to push back on this, and the event included a presence from the Black Liberation Collective.
“In addition to the educational aspect, we want to draw attention to and call out the university for supporting and enabling people who are causing harm to trans people,” said Cassandra Williams, a trans woman and the Vice-President, University Affairs at the University of Toronto Students’ Union. Williams told The Varsity that she “wants the university to uphold its commitment to ensuring that we have learning environments in the university that are free from discrimination and harassment.”
Ali believes that the teach-in was a success and that the goal of spreading trans and non-binary experiences was met. They told The Varsity that they aimed to “create a space for people to be able to air their stories with one another, with cisgendered people, and potentially even with some of our opponents, and in doing so make a personal impression.”
The event was interrupted by Lauren Southern from The Rebel, a right-wing online media outlet. Southern, pretending to be transgender, took to the microphone to defend Peterson and was quickly shut down, having not identified herself as a media correspondent. Her comments were met with chants of “shame” from the crowd. The Varsity reached out to the The Rebel for comment on Southern’s actions and received a satirical response from the media outlet’s founder Ezra Levant.
Peterson defends his words and actions as being part of his own academic opinion, which are protected through his status as a tenured professor.
On this, organizer Lane Patriquin said, “some of the things [Peterson] says in his video are actually non-factual. You’re not talking about something that’s an academic opinion, you’re talking about something that is falsehood and is validated by your emotional relationship to it, and that is what makes it hate speech.”
In a video directed at the people attending the rally, Peterson expanded upon his earlier remarks, saying that he does not deny the existence of trans and non-binary gender identity. “If you’re going out tomorrow to this demonstration because you want to indicate your discomfort with my disbelief in the very existence of non-binary people you might as well just stay home,” he stated.
Ali, in their own speech to the crowd, said: “As long as there are Homo sapiens in existence, there will be beautiful variance. We are inevitable.”