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After trans rights protest at controversial event, Toronto votes to review community space policies

Toronto to review its policies governing the use of its community spaces – in consultation with LGBTQ2S + stakeholders – after a large group protested at Toronto Public Library's Palmerston branch on Tuesday over a discussion by feminist Meghan Murphy, who has called into question the rights of trans people.

Councillors voted 20-1 in support of the review, proposed by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Center) in a motion at the end of a two-day city council meeting late Wednesday afternoon.

The review will consider whether existing rules governing the use of city community spaces by third parties govern the city's policies supporting equity, diversity and human rights and its policies against discrimination and harassment.

Wong-Tam's motion comes after weeks of heated debate in the city over the right to free speech and how it interferes with the rights of trans people who believe Murphy's views promote discrimination and that she should have been denied the use of a public space.

Murphy believes trans rights are at odds with women's rights; that trans women should not be allowed in women's washrooms and should not participate in women's sports. City librarian Vickery Bowles' decision to let Murphy speak, even in the face of mounting protests, deeply wounded members of the trans community, many of whom are long-standing library supporters, Wong-Tam told fellow councillors on Wednesday.

"Let's find a way forward to fix this so it doesn't happen again," she said.

The motion requires the city manager and city lawyer to consult with the LGBTQ2S + community, the library, and report back early next year.

The only councillor present who voted against it was Stephen Holyday (Ward 2 Etobicoke Center).

"I regard this motion as an attack on the city librarian who stood by his decision to allow a recent event that was controversial," said Holyday.

“And I also respect the autonomy of the library board to create policies that need to be in place and enforce those. And not convinced that the council should be wading into this. ”

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Twelve events have been reported at the library over Murphy's appearance, according to spokesperson Ana-Maria Critchley.

Among the cancellations – appearances by drag performers Fay & Fluffy, child educators who use books, songs and jokes to introduce children to reading, with a focus on families with LGBTQ2S + parents and gender variant children.

Fay and Fluffy have been performing at the Toronto Public Library for more than three years.

"I could not call myself an athlete and fighter for my community if I continued to have a relationship with someone who would actively seek to take away my legal rights as a human being," wrote Kaleb Robertson in a statement on Facebook.

Robertson identifies as a trans man and performs as Fluffy Soufflé.

“This has not been an easy decision. As an independent artist, every gig helps pay my rent. By ending our relationship with the Toronto Public Library, I am giving away a portion of my income that I have come to rely on.

"Heartbreaking to be put in this position by a place I have loved since I was a child."

The letter was also signed by John Paul Kane, who performs as Fay Slift.

Speaking for Pride Toronto, Olivia Nuamah said the organization will not work with the Toronto Public Library until it amends its policy.

Pride staged an event with the Toronto Public Library this summer, featuring comedian, writer, actress and illustrator Abbi Jacobson of Nuamah. The event was such a success Pride Toronto was working on a series of free library events to take place over the next year, but pulling the plug on that.

"We have made a decision that we will not elect to hold events in either their space or informal partnerships until the policy changes," said Nuamah.

Soofia Mahmood, a spokesperson for The519, who advocates for the inclusion of LGBTQ2S communities, said the organization does not currently have booked space in the library and has no plans to book anything until the library “acknowledges – through action – the harm that they have have caused queer, trans / non-binary communities as a result of their decision to let this event move forward. We will also encourage our partners and everyone to book alternative space until the matter has been respectfully resolved. ”

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Critchley, the library spokesperson, said the library is open to conducting a review, even though it undertook a thorough review of its community and event space rental policy in 2017.

As part of that review, the library says it considers its legal obligations, including the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the position statements of the American Library Association and the Canadian Federation of Library Associations; the library's mission to preserve and promote universal access to a wide range of human knowledge, experience, information and ideas in a welcoming and supportive environment; and feedback from members of the public and other stakeholders.

An external law firm was hired to review the policy, which included a peer review by an Osgoode Hall constitutional lawyer.

The review also included relevant legislation and City of Toronto policies. The objectives of the library's community and event space rental policy were reviewed, and feedback from the public and stakeholders was considered.

Francine Kopun

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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