Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.
-- THE BUDDHA
See also: Daniel Heath Justice on university teaching decency (The Walrus, Wed.23.Aug.2017)
In late September 2016, UofT psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson (
JBP for short) ignited an online and media firestorm centred on transphobic and racist remarks he made in YouTube videos. Tom Yun of The Varsity broke the story on Wed.28.Sep.2016. Sean Craig of the National Post picked up on it the same day. When I got home and read these articles, I got angry and decided to do something about it. It occurred to me that if a local psychology prof can use his UofT Full Professor bully pulpit to advance transphobia, then I can use mine to do the exact opposite, only better. So I went on an anti-transphobia tweet rant, and sent a rebuttal of JBP's reported opinions to the National Post. An avalanche of interviews followed, by over a dozen reporters (including multiple journalism students), for print, web, radio, and TV -- mostly on Thu.29.Sep.2016, Fri.30.Sep.2016, and Tue.04.Oct.2016. The following are news media articles/interviews I feel represented my point of view reasonably fairly:-
Other newspapers wrote some constructive pieces (without interviewing me) which also deserve to be listed: Torontoist (Fri.30.Sep.2016, by Al Donato, which quoted me), Torontoist op-ed (Tue.04.Oct.2016, by S.W. Underwood and Ben Vincent), The Star (Mon.10.Oct.2016, editorial, which quoted me at the end), and The Varsity (Wed.12.Oct.2016, by Jack Denton).
As a result of speaking out publically against transphobia and in favour of inclusion on campus, I endured months of harassment from JBP and his disciples and supporters. (Note: one epic loser is still at it, over a year later in early 2018!) Attackers came at me via twitter, email, text message, and even telephone in the middle of the night. They posted many outright untruths, and anything they perceived as unflattering that they could find online. One of them even descended to making a neo-Nazi threat by quoting Adolf Hitler at me one day after the Trans Day of Remembrance. Other more vulnerable folks at UofT endured even worse harassment and abuse. UofT announced that police would investigate in mid-October when trans students were threatened.
Students mobilized in response to JBP's bigotry by organizing a Rally and Teach-In at Sid Smith on Wed.05.Oct.2016, among other events. The Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies organized a Trans-Positive Teach-In on Thu.06.Oct.2016, featuring a panel of experts and people with pertinent lived experience, including me. Among the material I shared there was a little video I made centred on an analogy between coming to terms with particle/wave duality in quantum mechanics and coming to terms with nonbinary gender identities. Other UofT teachers also responded; here are two great examples. Dr. Nicholas Matte wrote this: How do we respond to Transphobia and Cisnormativity on the part of University of Toronto faculty?. Prof. Brenda Cossman wrote this: Bill C-16 – No, its Not about Criminalizing Pronoun Misuse. (There was also a funny response from a U.Penn PhD student in linguistics here.)
How do you rein in a professor who is clearly crossing the line on human decency? In early October, the Chair of Psychology wrote a letter to JBP warning him to pull up his socks. On Tue.18.Oct.2016, almost three weeks after his tyre fire ignited, the UofT Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, David Cameron, and the Vice-Provost for Faculty and Academic Life, Siobhan Nelson, weighed in, warning him in writing to comply with UofT equity policies and the Ontario Human Rights Code. On Thu.20.Oct.2016, Metro reported that over 250 UofT faculty members signed a letter condemning JBP's transphobia and racism and anonymous threats made against marginalized students.
Later on, when UofT sponsored a Sat.19.Nov.2016 Forum on Bill C-16 featuring JBP debating experts Brenda Cossman and Mary Bryson, I boycotted the event in favour of hanging out with trans students. I felt it was seriously bad trans allyship to (a) platform a known cis bigot one day before the annual Trans Day of Remembrance on Sun.20.Nov.2016, and (b) act as if trans human rights were up for debate in the first place. They weren't. JBP was full of false equivalences, post-truths, and desperate attempts to hang onto sixty year old theories about psychology and sociology. The world has moved past centring him and his kind, and he is beginning to understand that fact. His best strategy would be to upgrade his human decency circuits, not to insist that we must all go back to the 1950s.
Follow up articles:-
On 15.Jun.2017, Bill C-16 protecting trans and gender nonconforming Canadians with federal human rights legislation passed its third reading in the Senate, and it attained royal assent on 19.Jun.2017. (This was five years to the day since royal assent was attained for Toby's Act, a.k.a. Bill C-33, in Ontario.) JBP had testified against the federal Bill C-16 vociferously, doing his level best to spike it. Our trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming revenge is knowing that he was on the wrong side of history. Canada has moved on from considering his or his ilk's views on anything to be the default.
Even as we savour the Bill C-16 victory, we must continue to be vigilant about protecting the human rights of marginalized Canadians and pushing consistently for further improvements in social justice. ✊🏻
In July 2017, JBP released a YouTube video discussing his plan to launch an AI-backed website blacklist of university teachers and courses teaching progressive ideas he believes to be dangerous. Several weeks later, a group of UofT professors who would be targeted wrote a concerned letter to the administration, and the Faculty Association weighed in. The issue got picked up by mainstream media on Fri.10.Nov.2017 after Press Progress broke the story. CBC asked me for another interview, in which I panned the whole concept.
In late 2017, JBP published a self-help book aimed at the alt-right market and went on a book tour. Here are some critiques of his scholarship and strategy, listed by author (all of whom were harassed by his fans).