McGill protestors shut down a talk on sex versus gender as a “transphobic” presentation

January 12, 2023 • 10:45 am

This is from the CBC (click to read), and reports how a spate of activists shut down a scheduled talk at McGill University by alumnus Robert Wintemute, a professor of human rights law at King’s College London.

Now Wintemute may bot be someone whose views I’d want to endorse wholeheartedly, as I don’t know anything about the LGB Alliance. Some of the readers below have commented that I’m wrong to characterize the LGB Alliance’s take on “conversion therapy” in the way I understood conversion therapy.  Here’s what the CBC says

Wintemute’s work inspired the foundation of the LGB Alliance, a British group that advocates against transgender rights in the United Kingdom. Several British officials and LGBTQ+ groups have publicly called the LGB Alliance a hate group.

The group has opposed progressive gender affirmation bills in the U.K., like the Scottish Gender Recognition Act, which improves the system by which transgender people can apply for legal recognition.

A Canadian chapter of the LGB Alliance lobbied against Bill C-4, which put an end to conversion therapy, demanding it remove the term “gender identity” from the offence.

I’m against conversion therapy if it’s construed as therapy with a predetermined therapeutic outcome that doesn’t really want to explore the patient’s feelings. But again, I don’t know much about the LGB Alliance’s views on this issue. On the other hand, they do assert that “sex is binary” and “sex is observed at birth” (indeed, it’s not a subjective judgment made by doctors), so I’m on board with at least some of Wintemute’s organization’s views. But I’m not passing judgement on Wintermute’s organization here, for this post is about freedom of speech, which the man didn’t get.

And Wintemute should hve freedom of speech (at least in the US, and I hope in Canada), and his talk, described with the title “Sex vs Gender (Identity)”, was worthy of being held and being heard (see more about it below).  Presumably it was about whether there’s a disparity between rights based on biological sex and rights based on declared gender: surely an issue worth debating.

Or so you would think. But it’s not worth debating to those trans activists who declare that “trans women are women” and “trans men are men”, completely conflating gender identity and biological sex. There is no room for dissent or discussion with people like that, and so the activists simply shut down Wintemute’s talk:

Trans rights advocates stormed into a talk Tuesday afternoon at McGill University led by a speaker associated with a group they say is “notoriously transphobic and trans-exclusionary.”

The talk was ultimately cancelled shortly after it started.

McGill University’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP) hosted the event, titled Sex vs. Gender (Identity) Debate In the United Kingdom and the Divorce of LGB from T. It was led by McGill alumnus Robert Wintemute.

The CHRLP’s website describes the event as a conversation around whether the law should make it easier for a transgender person to change their legal sex, “and about exceptional situations, such as women-only spaces and sports, in which the individual’s birth sex should take priority over their gender identity, regardless of their legal sex.”

Regardless of whether you agree with Wintemute, is that not a conversation worth having? Apparently the activists who shut it down think that such debate is counterproductive. But how will they ever convince their opponents if their opponents don’t at least get to air their views? For it is surely correct to say that some “rights” claimed by transsexual or transgender people are indeed at odds with “rights” claimed by others, others like biological women athletes and women receiving rape counseling.

In response to that, a letter signed by McGill people simply deny it:

An open letter signed by McGill students, professors, alumni and others from the Montreal LGBTQ+ community says trans rights are not at odds with the rights of others.

“Undermining the human rights of trans people does not benefit any member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, nor the feminist movement,” it says.

The whole question of “rights” is a sticky one, but to assert that “trans rights are not at odds with the rights of others” simply misses the reason for a lot of pushback against trans activism by people who aren’t transphobic. (“Transphobic” is a slur often used to shut down debate by stigmatizing your opponents.)

To end, I’ll quote with permission reader Diana MacPherson, who sent me the link to this report (h/t Paul as well), and added this comment:

I really hate that the adults won’t stop this refusal to debate anything. This all would go away if everyone stood up and said “enough, free discussion of ideas is not something you shut down”.

55 thoughts on “McGill protestors shut down a talk on sex versus gender as a “transphobic” presentation

  1. Reading the article, there were people who made interesting points that countered the speaker’s. It is a shame that instead of raising those points, they opted to shut the whole thing down. It is an opportunity lost to expose people to their perspective. The university organizers even said as much in that the university did not align with the speaker’s message and had set this up as an opportunity to discuss and challenge information.

  2. The CBC has completely misrepresented the LGB Alliance’s views, particularly those on ‘conversion therapy’, as there are two different meanings for that phrase now, and the LGB Alliance objects to the new meaning (speaking to a young person’s about their reasons for considering medical transition), not the meaning that Jerry, the LGB Alliance and I would use it for (trying to forcibily change someone’s sexual orientation). There are numerous other misrepresentations in such a short paragraph. Read what they have to actually say, and then re-read the CBC’s description. https://lgballiance.org.uk/resources/

    1. The link within the page leads to a dead end when I tried it, so I can’t speak to the LGB Alliance position on conversion therapy. I did want to point out that transgender activists are defining watchful waiting for children as “conversion therapy.” They are redefining conversion therapy to mean any approach that does not include immediate agreement that a questioning child is transgender followed by social and and then medical transition. If this is the definition of conversion therapy that an organization is pushing against, then I agree.

      1. This is what C4 says so I don’t think that is what the bill is pushing for:

        Bill C-4 would amend the Criminal Code to prohibit certain activities that relate to “conversion therapy”, which is defined as a practice, treatment or service designed to: change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual; change a person’s gender identity to cisgender; change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth; repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour; repress a person’s non-cisgender identity; or repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.

        From: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/pl/charter-charte/c4_1.html

        1. It’s the change a person’s gender to cisgender bit that they object to, I believe that bit was removed from the final bill, and they now support it. I will post what they actually say, and you can read it for yourself, including the response they made while the bill was bing discussed.

      2. Weird. I am able to use it. I am on a PC though, was this on a smartphone?

        Anyway, what you say is basically the LGBA position. They want therapists to be able to question children considering transition without being criminalised. This is a cut-and-paste from the link.

        1. https://lgballiance.org.uk/resources/

          The term “Conversion therapy” leads to multiple misunderstandings. After all, anything that sets out to “convert” someone is not therapy at all. Therapy should be neutral. Gay conversion therapy is a vile practice, largely outlawed in the UK, but practices persist in some pockets of religious intolerance.

          That is why LGB Alliance supported the UK Government’s proposals to close any remaining loopholes and ban gay conversion therapy. The initial proposals added the word “transgender” to the proposals. The Government eventually dropped “transgender” from the proposals.

          Our response to the consultation, submitted before this decision, explains why “transgender conversion therapy” is a misleading term and why we believe this is the right decision.

          https://lgballiance.org.uk/2021/11/30/lgb-alliances-response-to-the-government-consultation-on-banning-conversion-therapy/

          It is possible to disagree with their position, but to describe them as being in favour of gay conversion therapy, or whatever tortured wording the CBC used to try and imply that without actually saying so is plainly false.

          1. I thought they had simply said in the article, “A Canadian chapter of the LGB Alliance lobbied against Bill C-4, which put an end to conversion therapy, demanding it remove the term “gender identity” from the offence.” So I am not sure what the issue is with the article. This is under the section entitled, “LGB Alliance denies being transphobic”. I don’t think it says they are in favour at all in the article from what I read.

            1. I have a number of issues with the article, starting with the first assertion that they are a group that campaigns against trans rights. They campaign *for* gay rights, and argue that those two groups often want and need different things. Every part that follows is either factually wrong, or is so close to being factually wrong that they may as well just say the lie and be done with it. It is an appalling hit-job on an organisation that is not a bunch of hateful bigots, and who should be allowed to speak on matters of public policy. It is either so badly researched and written that it is worthless, or it is so dishonestly written that it is worthless. In either case it is worthless, is my opinion.

              1. “Pray Away the Gay” on the Right, has been matched with “Shout Down the Gays!” on the Left.

          1. I’m on a PC too, one of life’s little mysteries.
            The only difference in the links is that the one from the LGB site has the date in it. Why that would screw up some devices is odd.

      1. OK, appreciated for following up. Not sure I agree with your take on it, but as you have only just found out that this is another term that has changed meaning then let’s see where it ends up. I don’t agree with this blogger a lot, but this article explains where Scotland is going with their definition of ‘conversion therapy’. I think it outlines the issues with the policy well, even though it is from an activist.
        https://wingsoverscotland.com/raise-all-of-the-flags/

    2. “An open letter signed by McGill students, professors, alumni and others from the Montreal LGBTQ+ community says trans rights are not at odds with the rights of others.”

      As they physically stop an attempt to discuss the issue. Not so big on the whole self-awareness thing, I gather.

    3. As a gay man I would be tempted to join something like the LGB Alliance just because I don’t think our issues have that much in common. Also trans activists have a history of trying to quash advances in gay rights (like marriage equality) that don’t directly benefit them.

      1. Criticising the LGB Alliance for not defending trans people is like taking a cat shelter to task for not looking after stray dogs. A distant cousin of “not collecting stamps”. It seems the TRAs have difficulty in understanding that everything in the world is not necessarily about them and their noisy interests.

  3. Still, despite the LGB’s assertion to the contrary, the organization is characterize as transphobic.

    Yes, their critics do call them “transphobic” — anyone who disagrees with any part of gender ideology, for example, not agreeing that transwomen literallly are “women” — gets called that. But the accusation has no merit, it’s just a means of dismissing their views rather than arguing against them.

    But how will they ever convince their opponents if their opponents don’t at least get to air their views?

    They don’t want to convince their opponents, they are not even trying, they want to shut them up, ostracise them, expell them from swathes of society, and have the law criminalise them.

    1. Yes, I don’t think they are all bad and it would have been good to hear what they have to say. For instance, they are quoted in the article saying that women may not always be comfortable with certain situations but they are silenced.

    2. Indeed, it was the “no debate” position of organisations like Stonewall that led a bunch of older lesbians and gay men to found LGB Alliance in the UK.

  4. Two quick comments:

    1. The term “conversion therapy” refers to something quite different and over broad in this context than the association you have in mind wrt say “chasing out the gay.” The definition employed by trans rights advocates (and now on the books in the States and Canada) is sufficiently broad as to include anything other than “affirmative therapy,” depending on the eye of the beholder. A clinical psychologist who, upon taking on a teenage patient who thinks he’s trans, investigates if he has other psychological conditions at play might be indulging in “conversion therapy.” So beware and be careful here. You know quite well how the woke manipulate language.

    2. The CBC report notably does not mention that the protestors were violent and intimidating. See e.g.

    https://quillette.com/2023/01/12/feminists-tried-to-meet-at-mcgill-law-school-fortunately/

    https://mobile.twitter.com/wesyang/status/1613201758410375168?cxt=HHwWgICwkficn-MsAAAA

    Recall your post from not too long ago about the credibility of the mainstream media, particularly up in Canada where the CBC is a publicly funded news agency?

    1. I didn’t get the impression that the article was supporting the protestors. They seemed to represent both sides of the debate and included the position of the university and the speaker.

      1. I didn’t say that the article was supporting the protestors. (Although, since you raise the point, quite obviously it did. Sins of omission and assumption, tilting the scales.) Rather I pointed out two complicating and relevant factors.

        1. You did suggest that the CBC is a mouth piece for the government. This is patently false. We all know that’s hyperbole. It’s a crown corporation and we all know that’s entirely different from models like say, Putin’s where he controls what is said on all media.

          As for poor journalism. Yes, I have found the CBC is rather poor as are so many other places but the CBC has gotten worse over time as they tend to report inaccurate information and they do have bias.

          1. “You did suggest that the CBC is a mouth piece for the government.”

            I said no such thing. Please stop attempting to mind-read. It’s bad faith, and more to the point, you’re not doing it well.

            1. Oh FFS don’t be hysterical. I’m not arguing in bad faith. You said this: “Recall your post from not too long ago about the credibility of the mainstream media, particularly up in Canada where the CBC is a publicly funded news agency?”. Then what do you mean when you juxtapose a sentence about how mainstream media has credibility issues and that CBC is a publicly funded news agency? What exactly did you mean when you included that statement?

              1. Diana, I wasn’t being hysterical. Just annoyed. You kept putting words in my mouth that I didn’t say. Don’t do that.

                To answer your question, I had in mind Jerry’s post on the Munk debate in Toronto a month ago,

                https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2022/12/12/a-must-read-or-must-listen-a-heated-debate-on-whether-the-mainstream-media-is-trustworthy/

                Coverage like this article is an excellent instance of why media like the CBC are losing credibility. I know some of the people on the other side of the fracas at McGill, enough to know details (the most important of which are the two that I mentioned originally, concerning what is meant by “conversion therapy” and the protestors’ violence) that were relevant but conspicuously absent from the reporting. If you didn’t know those facts, the reporting looks even-handed. If you do, then you can’t un-see the slant.

                As for public funding, well, I think it is bad for any journalism to be sloppy and incurious; if there was a hippocratic oath of journalism, it should be to backbreaking honesty and completeness. But I consider it particularly egregious for publicly supported journalism to slant in this way. The professional standards ought to be much higher in other words. I’m probably an outlier in this regard, but I think of it like I do a scientist using government monies to prop up lazy or unrigorous research, bordering on scientific misconduct.

          2. I’m a recent academic immigrant to Canada from the States, and have learned very quickly to take reporting here with a pound of salt. I wouldn’t say at all that the CBC is a mouth piece for the government a la Putin; I agree with you there. What I’d actually say is to make an analogy as an American; imagine a media ecosystem where all major players were variations on NPR. Publicly funded; identity-politics focused; deferential to certain forms of power; beholden to Twitter; and thus quite distorted.

            1. You are a quick study, Kristan. 🙂 Welcome.

              The CBC, like NPR, is a publicly funded creature of government but with a much greater ambition since the 1930s to be a regular news-gathering and entertainment organization on radio and television and now of course on-line. They used to have serious foreign correspondents on site in dangerous places and credible investigative reporting, rather than just opinion pieces and news read off the wire. For many years if you weren’t in direct line-of-site for VHF broadcast transmission from the U.S., the CBC was the only TV there was.

              But there’s more, which residents not of Canada may not be aware of. All the private commercial main-stream media outlets also get government funding, ostensibly to help them through the pandemic. Indeed, the current definition of main-stream is, “Does it get government money?” Everything else is called fake news or alt-right. Since this money is discretionary — the CBC’s funding is by act of Parliament — the MSM is even more careful to be deferential to certain forms of power. They are chasing clicks now, not readers. The CBC is deferential by long-standing habit and hiring practices.

              Many topics simply cannot be broached except deferentially. Trans “rights” can only be asserted and reported as self-evident facts, and there is the hate-speech law back in the shadows into which everyone is looking over his shoulder.

            2. Perhaps the CBC is all those things, none of them, or some of them but I think it is nothing like NPR and I have to ask….why is it a problem when there is a left government in charge but no one complains that they are shilling for the government when there is a conservative government in charge? Both give money to the CBC as a crown corporation?

              1. Diana, you’re the one seeing liberal-conservative partisanship here. Neither Kristan nor I said anything about the political party that happens to be controlling the government at any particular time. Not in connection with the CBC or anything else to do with this disgraceful incident in Montréal.

                I’ll be glad if I hear anything but crickets from McGill. I don’t expect anyone in federal politics to say Boo about this.

    2. Your statement about the definition of conversion therapy is the point I made under comment #2. This is the issue: the redefinition of the term by activists who want to shut down all approaches except affirmation.

  5. I must object to the McGillians reference to the “2SLGBTQIA+ community”. This term conspicuously lacks acronymic reference to those of us who assert that we were born into the wrong species and identify with a species other than the one we were assigned at birth. On the other hand, maybe “2S” can be taken to include those who identify with
    two different species—such as Golden Bamboo Lemur during the week and Blue Peter Rhododendron on weekends. Could this meaning of “2S” become accepted in Canada, or at least at McGill?

  6. This was an absolute sh*tshow. The TRAs not only blocked the entrance “as if lives were at stake,” they repeatedly shouted slurs and insults at the people who wanted to attend to intimidate them into leaving. When one stubborn feminist insisted on staying someone screamed “Why don’t you leave?” She answered something to the effect that she refused to be bullied.
    “YOU’RE the bully!” responded the man who was surrounded by his chanting, shoving mob.
    The cops and campus security weren’t there. The mob was caught up in a forward panic. They were already violent; it would have taken little for them to start actually beating the people who wanted to hear the talk.
    Disgraceful.

    1. I wonder how many of the people shutting down the talk could state correctly the biological definition of sex? IIRC, John Stuart Mill pointed out that – among other things – listening to views to which you are opposed can help you build a solid foundation for your own views.

  7. Re Diana’s comment “I really hate that the adults won’t stop this refusal to debate anything.”
    I think that it constitutes a tacit admission that they can’t defend their ideas.

    Re the CBC, I was an all day, every day, listener to CBC AM for years, but finally left because of what they didn’t cover, ie. almost anything that didn’t fit the narrative.

    1. I still listen to them but they have reported things that were blatant distortions of facts that I knew were blatant distortions because I was close to the stories they were reporting on. They did this because certain reporters just liked saying those things and I think they got a lot of attention when they said them. These were nothing to do with ideology but just stories where facts were misconstrued because it suited them.

  8. I don’t think Wintemute is a founder of the LGBA – as I understand it the organization was founded by a group of women, mostly lesbians, and he signed up later in some capacity – possibly as a Trustee (on the oversight board). Wintemute is an eminent academic figure in human rights law as it pertains to sexual orientation and gender. He’s also a gay man with a long history of gay rights activism.

    A particularly pertinent point is that Wintemute was a co-drafter of the ‘Yogyakarta Principles’,

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogyakarta_Principles

    These principles built on human rights legislation relating to gay equality and were key to extending this to trans-identifying people. Much of the legislation now being passed across the developed world on gender identity builds on the Principles. But Wintemute now says that the discussion that produced the Principles simply didn’t consider whether what they were advocating would impinge on, or conflict with, the rights of those born female. And that he now thinks that it does. I’m guessing that is a major reason he signed up with the LGBA, and why the trans advocates didn’t want him to be heard.

    There’s an article here written by some of the people associated with the LGBA that discusses Wintemute and the Principles:

    https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/april-2021/the-trans-rights-that-trump-all/

  9. Banning conversion therapy that attempts to convert a homosexual person to heterosexuality is not controversial. If Canada’s Bill C-4 had criminalized only that and stopped there, I don’t think there would be much objection. Certainly not from the medical profession where the idea of homosexuality as a mental disorder has been out of fashion since the 1970s. Even if you think it’s a sin, you have to concede that it’s not a disease. The regulatory Colleges say so. There may be lay religiously oriented pseudo-therapists who offer it. I note that one act that C-4 prohibits is the transport of a person out of Canada for the purposes of obtaining conversion therapy.

    The difficulty comes in the affirmation of trans ideology, tacked on at the end. It is a crime to provide any therapy that has as its goal the achievement of the person’s psychic harmony with the body he or she was born into. This is what we all must do eventually, regardless of what drugs and surgery we importune doctors into doing to us to pretend we are doing the opposite. While the bill exempts talk therapy that is purely oriented to finding out where the person is at, to determine if the person indeed has gender dysphoria, the wording is ambiguous. A therapist might say, by way of offering diagnosis, “In my best opinion, I don’t think you have the condition you have diagnosed yourself with. I don’t think that you are really a boy trapped in a girl’s body. I think you might in fact be a lesbian and so I am not going to accede to your request that I castrate you with hormones and render you unable to have an orgasm,” She could be charged with a crime under the federal Criminal Code. This is a big deal.

    The path of least legal risk is simply to validate whatever diagnosis the person comes with, i.e. to provide gender-affirming care as the law clearly intends for you to do. Remember, they are seeing you just to get the hormone prescription they have already decided they need. They aren’t here to talk about their feelings. If you don’t give them what they want, they can complain to the police. If it’s an adolescent, you will have the school advocates, the kid’s TikTok followers, and possibly two warring parents on your case as well for denying gender-affirming care and thus trying to perform conversion therapy.

    The Conservative party in Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition under its previous leader agreed not to fight this bill during its unanimous passage through the House of Commons in order to deny the Liberals a wedge issue which the Liberals had used successfully against them during previous iterations of the bill. The exemption of exploratory talk therapy was a small victory.

    The Canadian chapter’s opposition to Bill C-4 — now irrelevant because it’s a done deal and is unlikely to be repealed — is principled and justified. Feminists opposed it also. Gender affirmation therapy is the ultimate conversion therapy. The medical profession in Canada has uttered not a peep about this except one article published on the Canadian Healthcare Forum. You can lose your license already for spreading “misinformation.”

  10. Since being founded, the LGB Alliance (LGBA) in the UK has had to spend most of its time, money, and energy fighting off attacks by LGBTQIAP+ organisations that claim that it is “transphobic” because it seeks to focus solely on the rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and not on transgender people. (This has been compared to criticising a cats charity for not focussing on dogs; the needs are different.) LGBA is currently waiting for a legal decision about its charitable status, after a case brought against its Charity Commission registration by the controversial campaign group Mermaids. (Since the legal case began, one of Mermaids’ own trustees has had to resign over activities that seemed to support greater acceptance of paedophilia and the Charity Commission has launched an unrelated investigation into Mermaids itself.)

    LGB Alliance argues that the replacement of “same-sex attracted” by “same-gender attracted” effectively erases lesbians and gay men. The UK’s leading LGBT+++ organisation, Stonewall, has compared lesbians who exclude transwomen with penises from their dating pool to racists. Several of Stonewall’s founders have spoken out against the direction that Stonewall has taken in recent years and indeed one of them co-founded LGB Alliance.

    LGBA believe that many “trans” children are gay and will eventually come to that realisation with support and once they have gone through puberty. They have a point: so many gay children were being diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” (effectively being labelled as transgender rather than gay) at the Tavistock Gender and Identity Services (GIDS) clinic that staff there bleakly joked, “soon there won’t be any gay kids left”. GIDS has been found “unsafe” and will close in the next few months.

    Genuinely abusive conversion therapy is abhorrent – and the practices involved are already illegal in the UK. However, attempts are being made to label any counselling that doesn’t immediately “affirm” an individual’s self-diagnosed “transgender identity”, but instead seeks to explore its origins, as “transphobic”.

      1. To be fair, women, girls, lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals make up <60% of the human population. Honestly Ginger I can't believe you're erasing the lived experience of straight men and boys. I'm literally shaking. /s

        1. O noes! I’m so sorry, Mike. I honestly erred when listing “99% of the human population.” I was typing quickly and I forgot straight people and non-trans people. Srsly, my honest mistake.

  11. The Dean of the Faculty of Law at McGill, Robert Leckey, is quoted in the Quillette piece referenced upthread at 4. Kristan as forthrightly supporting the academic obligation, and the professional one for lawyers, to let be heard views we don’t agree with. He also spoke afterward against the mob action that forced the cancellation of the talk. I suggest writing him to thank him for saying the right things and encouraging him to do the right thing with respect to discipline. It seems that many of the mob were law students and the protest appears to have been orchestrated.

    dean.law@mcgill.ca
    This e-mail address is taken off the Faculty masthead at https://www.mcgill.ca/law/about/staff

    1. I received today a prompt and encouraging response from Dean Leckey to my e-mail saying the above. I’m just a nobody, a parent of a McGill graduate.
      Thanks to the Dean.

  12. For those who are following the Hamline Saga, the latest statement from the President of Hamline University is…

    “Prioritizing the well-being of our students does not in any way negate or minimize the rights and privileges assured by academic freedom. But the concepts do intersect. Faculty have the right to teach and research subjects of importance to them, and to publish their work under the purview of their peers.

    At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior.”

    FIRE.org have their own comments on this…

    https://www.thefire.org/news/hamline-university-president-triples-down-defending-instructors-nonrenewal-showing-muhammad

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