Laurier University and the Transsexual Pronoun War

Written by Ben Cohen

Wilfrid Laurier University teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, never anticipated she would be at the center of a media firestorm. Earlier this year, Shepherd showed her class an excerpt of a panel discussion on gender neutral pronouns and Canadian anti-discrimination law. The panel featured five guests, including Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson.

After one or more students complained, the university reprimanded Shepherd for creating a toxic environment. When Shepherd leaked secretly recorded audio of two professors and an administrator reprimanding her, the university faced widespread condemnation and apologized to Shepherd.

Those unfamiliar with Canadian politics will likely be scratching their heads at this point. In 2016, a bill was introduced adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected categories under Canadian anti-discrimination law. On June 19th, 2017, that bill became law (C-16).

When the bill was first proposed, Jordan B. Peterson emerged as one of its most vocal opponents. Peterson, and others, argued that the bill would penalize people for not using newly created gender-neutral pronouns such as Zir to refer to “non-binary” people.

Pronouns here refers to third person pronouns; he, she, they. To this list the transgender community has added a number of new pronouns such as ze, sie, and hir (not to be confused with her).

These new pronouns correspond to new gender identities created for those who feel that the “gender binary” doesn’t capture who they are. Peterson’s copanelist Mary Rogan, who transitioned from female to male, defended the use of such pronouns by pointing to themself.

Mary was raised female, but they decided to transition to male. While they no longer felt comfortable seeing themselves referenced as she, they didn’t yet feel comfortable being referred to as “he.”

The panel discussion Lindsay Shepherd excerpted dealt with the question of whether C-16 would penalize people for misgendering nonbinary folk, and if it did, whether that would be a good thing. Jordan Peterson argued it would, and that that would be a bad thing.

Shepherd’s supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana hold s that Peterson’s views on C-16 exist beyond the scope of normal political discourse. Showing a discussion with Jordan Peterson was, in his words, like “neutrally playing a clip of Hitler.”

According to Rambukkana, Peterson’s position was tantamount to arguing that transgender people shouldn’t have rights. For the record, Peterson did not object to protecting transgender people from employment and housing discrimination; Peterson was worried that C-16 would be used to penalize people for not using the newly invented pronouns.

Adria Joel, Acting Manager of the “Gendered Violence Prevention and Support Program,” informed Lindsay Shepherd that she had violated university policy and provincial law by spreading transphobia.

M.A. program coordinator Herbert Pimlock objected to showing the clip on the grounds that Peterson lacked credibility, claiming that his work had not been subject to peer review and was therefore not credible. In fact, Peterson has published extensively in peer-reviewed psychology journals. However, because Peterson’s concerns about C-16 were not expressed in a peer-reviewed legal journal, Pimlock finds them, “not academically credible.”

Rambukkana added that college freshman are “very young students,” lacking the critical faculties to evaluate Jordan Peterson’s claims, “Something of that nature is not appropriate to that age of student.”

Following widespread criticism from the Canadian press, Wilfrid Laurier president Deborah Maclatchy extended an apology to Lindsay Shepherd. While Maclatchy apologized, she didn’t specify whether Shepherd had acted properly. Instead, Maclatchy wrote about the need to balance free expression with anti-discrimination.

“Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Giving life to these principles while respecting fundamentally important human rights and our institutional values of diversity and inclusion, is not a simple matter. The intense media interest points to a highly polarizing and very complicated set of issues that is affecting universities across the democratic world. The polarizing nature of the current debate does not do justice to the complexity of issues.”

— Deborah Maclatchy, President and Vice Chancellor, Wilfrid Laurier University

Deborah Maclatchy’s vague statement left observers wondering: just how narrow are the boundaries of acceptable discourse at Canadian Universities? If playing an excerpt from a mainstream current affairs show is grounds for sanctioning, then the boundaries look very narrow indeed.

This article was originally posted at