VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — UBC is going ahead with an event by a controversial anti-SOGI speaker, despite anger from students who are calling for it to be cancelled.
Jenn Smith, who identifies as transgender but says he is not a woman, is critical of B.C.’s LGBTQ-inclusive education resource SOGI 123 and what he calls “transgender ideology” and “transgender politics.”
Despite both Trinity Western University and Douglas College cancelling Smith’s talk titled “The Erosion of Freedom,” UBC Provost Andrew Szeri says that’s not going to happen.
“The university is committed to upholding free speech on campus and will allow this event to proceed,” he says in a statement. “The university is equally committed to ensuring the safety and security of our campus community.”
Jonathan Turcotte-Summers with @ubc_students says he's concerned @UBC isn't taking student safety seriously, and that attacking SOGI puts LGBTQ people at risk. UBC has said it will work with police and security to make sure the event is safe. @NEWS1130 2/2 pic.twitter.com/EnfrZ3nhJv
— Lauren Boothby (@laurby) June 11, 2019
But the cancellation doesn’t sit well with student Jonathan Turcotte-Summers from the UBC Students Against Bigotry club.
He says he’s concerned allowing the event to go forward puts students and faculty at risk.
“(The university) cites free speech and they cite academic freedom, but there’s a much more fundamental freedom, to be free from discrimination,” he says. “Attacking (SOGI) seems to be putting a lot of people at risk, and for what? Threats that are either imagined or completely overblown.
“I think (anti-SOGI views) are a major threat to people who are already fairly vulnerable who are facing a lot of challenges.”
Is @ubc a safe space for hate? Why would it agree to host an event so vile it was cancelled by @douglascollege and @TrinityWestern? Students don't want any more transphobia on top of all the Islamophobia and racism we've seen lately at #UBC. Enough is enough! @AMS_UBC pic.twitter.com/T7xWbpig07
— UBC Students Against Bigotry (@ubc_students) June 9, 2019
Turcotte-Summers says he’s disappointed but not surprised UBC is allowing the event to go ahead, given that the school allowed speakers like Ben Shapiro in the past.
“It feels like the administration doesn’t take the safety and security of faculty and staff seriously,” he says.
He says rather than bringing RCMP officers to campus to make sure the event stays under control, the school could better protect students and faculty by not allowing speakers like Smith to come.
“There are a lot of folks in our community that are being threatened by these events, and we hope that students against bigotry and other groups will come together, and students and faculty and staff will stand up for our community and defend each other, because the administration doesn’t seem willing to do it,” he says.
Jenn Smith has previously used members of the Soldiers of Odin as body guards for his events.
While many students have expressed their concerns about the event, others on campus are a little more cautious.
“I do agree, kind of, with the university in that people are open to their own views and they’re allowed to have free speech,” TJ, who attends the university, tells NEWS 1130. “But there’s a difference between free speech and hate, so it really depends. But I definitely think that the university should tread lightly, whatever they do.”
Meantime, Kurtis, who is also a student at UBC, says as long as no laws are broken, he doesn’t have a problem with the event.
“I believe that anybody who wants to come to campus and speak should have the right to do so,” he says. “I believe in free speech.”
Full Statement from UBC on the event:
We are aware that an outside organization unaffiliated with UBC has booked one of our classroom spaces for an upcoming event.
The university is committed to upholding free speech on campus and will allow this event to proceed.
For more about our approach to matters of freedom of speech on campus, see this article – https://news.ubc.ca/2019/02/27/free-speech-on-campus/
The university is equally committed to ensuring the safety and security of our campus community.
In the coming days, we will be collaborating with the RCMP and other campus service providers, as we would be doing for any event with a controversial speaker, to ensure we have measures in place to make sure our students, faculty and staff are kept safe and are supported
– With files from Taran Parmar