#NotUpForDebate; SBA Responds to the University of Toronto On Bill C-16

#NotUpForDebate; SBA responds to the University of Toronto forum on Bill C-16 

Students for Barrier-free Access (SBA) is an organization led by mad and disabled students at the University of Toronto (U of T), an institution located on the territories of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca and the Mississaugas of New Credit.  SBA advocates for the removal of barriers to accessing education. As mad and disabled students located at the intersections of multiple identities, we are committed to creating safer spaces with marginalized students on campus. We believe in the right to gender self-determination and the right to access post-secondary education free of transphobia, anti-black racism, racialized and gender-based violence. As an organization committed to actively resisting transphobia, anti-black racism and settler colonial violence on campus and within the larger community we condemn Jordan Peterson’s anti-black statements and his hate speech directed at trans, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and two-spirit students, staff and faculty.  Attempts to reduce these statements simply to a speech act is a violent erasure of the material impacts of Peterson’s and his supporters’ oppressive practices.

Over the past few weeks, Peterson has continued to assert that the refusal to use people’s pronouns will result in the criminalization of individuals under Bill C-16 and the Canadian Human Rights Act. This privileged position taken by Peterson, a middle class cis-white man, clearly indicates his lack of understanding of the criminal code and the prison industrial complex. As illustrated through the work of Black Lives Matter, the criminal code is enforced in a way that specifically criminalizes genderqueer, gender non-conforming, trans and two-spirit people. Black, indigenous and people of colour are disproportionately targeted through these processes of criminalization.

Gender self-determination which includes the right to use and demand that others refer to us by our pronoun is an act of survival in the face of societal violence that forces all people to conform to a binary notion of gender. In fact, this violence has always been at the core of the colonization of Turtle Island, where settlers enforced conformity to a gender binary and Western gender roles and tried to erase indigenous beliefs and systems of gender.  Transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and two-spirit people who do not fit into colonial cis-heteropatriarchal notions of gender often face violent repercussions, including death.

As illustrated clearly in many of Peterson’s comments, transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming and two-spirit people are often pathologized, where gender non-conformity is seen as a symptom of an illness that is in need of diagnosis and cure. Through this framing, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming, and especially black, indigenous and racialized transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and two-spirit people are represented either as objects of pity to be saved or as dangers to our society that need to be punished. In either case the proposed solutions are incarceration either in the prison system or in psychiatric institutions. Peterson’s hate speech and refusal to recognize non-binary pronouns works to further pathologize, medicalize and criminalize communities who are disproportionately labeled as ‘mentally ill’, putting them at further risk of criminalization, incarceration and death.

Peterson has grossly misrepresented his comments as “free speech” creating an environment that is unsafe and violent for Black, Indigenous, and racialized trans, gender non-conforming, genderqueer and two-spirit students, staff and faculty on campus. He has defended his resistance to what he refers to as nonsensical calls for ‘political correctness’ by claiming that the duress of a so-called politically correct (PC) culture (for example, of having to respect gender self-determination) can lead to ‘insanity’ in immigrants and Muslims in particular. We reject this claim as a racist, Islamophobic, transphobic and sanist representation of our communities which simultaneously erases our members that are located at these intersections and our radical history of collectively reimagining community and organizing spaces and movements that honour and uphold the complexity of peoples’ existence and lived experience.

As a direct result of the anti-black, racist, and transphobic public comments made by Peterson and his supporters, and the violence at the protests held in support of  so-called ‘free speech’, students at U of T are concerned for their safety when attending classes. The University of Toronto administration, despite requiring that Peterson  respect pronouns, have actively contributed to this unsafe environment by hosting a public forum which will allow for hate speech to continue under the guise of a debate on “free speech” and Bill C-16.  As stated in the Open Letter released  by the Queer Caucus of CUPE 3902, “We object to the basic premise of this event. Human rights are not up for debate. 

The demand for the use of our pronouns is not an issue of free speech, nor does it infringe upon any rights associated with free speech. The refusal to use the pronouns of  trans, gender non-conforming, genderqueer and two-spirit people is a direct attack on those bodies and on the right to gender self-determination. To claim otherwise is not a defence of free speech. To claim otherwise is a practice of racialized, gendered, and colonial violence.

In Solidarity,

Students for Barrier-Free Access

Below are various resources including crisis services for students who require emotional support during this unsafe campus climate. We are also linking some resources to encourage the U of T community to learn more about gender, and the barriers affecting non-binary and binary transgender communities. In addition, we are sharing resources on anti-black racism. We strongly encourage the U of T community to learn more about anti-black racism and the barriers affecting black communities. We will continue updating these resources over the next few days.

Crisis Teams Across the GTA:

  • The Gerstein Centre: 416-929-5200
  • Youthline 1800-268-9688
  • Scarborough Mobile Crisis Program: 416-495-2891
  • Trans Lifeline: (877)-330-6366 (CANADA)
  • Distress Centre Peel: 905-278-7208
  • Barrie Crisis Team: 705-728-5044
  • Crisis Services of Waterloo Region: 519-744-1813
  • COAST (Hamilton area): 905-972-8338
  • Durham Mental Health Services: 1-800-742-1890/905-666-0483
  • 4 County Crisis Community Mental Health Crisis Response Program: 705-745-6484/866-995-9933; serves Peterborough, City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton and Northumberland. Short-term crisis counselling and crisis bed available.
  • Peel Crisis Services: 905-278-9036
  • Mental Health Chat Rooms


Peer Support and Referral Services:

  • Students for Barrier-free Access

215 Huron St, Toronto, ON M5T 1R2

Phone: (416) 967-7322

Binary and nonbinary Trans Resources: 

  • Trans Girls/Guys Against Violent Assault


  • Emotional First Aid


  • Find local resources


  • Sherbourne Health Centre – LGBT Health


Statements by U of T community members challenging Peterson’s arguments

Beyond the Binary; Resources on gender and gender self-determination

Resources on anti-black Racism 

At the Intersections of Race, Disability, Gender and Sexuality

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