Amid Backlash, Group Cancels Burlington Talk on Transgender 'Agenda' | Off Message

Amid Backlash, Group Cancels Burlington Talk on Transgender 'Agenda'


Fletcher Free Library - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Fletcher Free Library
An organization called Gender Critical Vermont has canceled a public discussion about "the unforeseen consequences of the transgender agenda," saying planned protests would make for an unsafe environment.

The event had been set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington. 

Critics caught wind of the event and vowed to protest the discussion they considered to be an attack on transgender people and their rights.

"The response of the transgender activist community in Burlington follows a familiar pattern of eroding the principles of free speech and rational discussion," Gender Critical Vermont wrote in an email Monday afternoon announcing the cancelation.

Peggy Luhrs, a Burlington resident and lesbian activist since the 1970s, is one of the founders of the group and was scheduled to speak at the event. She told Seven Days the decision to cancel is only temporary.

"We will reschedule," Luhrs said. "We're going to look for a bigger venue, we're going to look for a place where we can have security. There's just no point in having a screaming match."

According to a statement from Fletcher Free Library director Mary Danko, Gender Critical Vermont reserved a library meeting room for the purposes of hosting a “discussion group for Vermonters who oppose the subversion of Women's Rights by the transgender agenda.”

The library consulted with the Burlington City Attorney's Office and concluded the event fell within library guidelines for reserving space and should be allowed, Danko wrote in the statement, which was posted Monday to the library's website.

"Public libraries have always been organizations that vigorously try to uphold the tenets of free speech on which our country was built. We have fought censorship on many levels, including efforts to ban books that occur still to this day," Danko wrote.

Critics of  the event equated the planned discussion to hate speech and questioned why the city's public library would allow it to take place.

Is the institution "truly abiding by their standards and directives of not promoting hate speech and violence?” asked Taylor Small, a trans woman who serves as director of health and wellness at the Pride Center of Vermont.

Dana Kaplan, the executive director at Outright Vermont, said he got calls from parents all over Vermont who were concerned that the library was hosting the event.

"I think that there are a lot of folks in our community who feel extreme relief that the event is canceled," said Kaplan, who is trans.

There's no trans agenda trying to subvert women's rights, Kaplan added. The trans agenda, he said, is "of gender liberty where everybody gets to be themselves, and I feel that that is also a feminist agenda.

"I don't understand the pitting against each other," Kaplan said. "We've got a lot of bigger issues to focus on."

Luhrs said the group is not a hate group nor was it going to use hate speech. The discussion was titled, "What are the unforeseen consequences of the Transgender agenda?" The description read: "If you are a Woman, Gay Man, Lesbian, Child or Parent, or cherish Free Thought/Speech, you have a stake in this conversation!"

"I'm not a transphobe. I don't hate trans people," Luhrs said. "This is about protecting women's rights and lesbian rights. "

For example, she said, lesbians are often told "they are transphobic if they won't consider trans women as partners," even when the trans women have male genitalia.

Luhrs said she also planned to talk about how the trans movement could be hurtful to women's sports and could undermine laws such as Title IX.

She wanted to discuss her opposition to puberty blocking hormones and gender reassignment surgery for people under the age of 18. Adults should be free to make those choices, but a "wait-and-see" approach is better for minors, Luhrs said.

Ultimately, the medical interventions don't change her opinion that gender is fixed at birth. "I believe you can't really change sex," Luhrs said. "You can pretend you can, but you can't."

Trans activists immediately shut down any challenge by labeling opposing views as hate speech, she added. 

"This is totally Orwellian as far as I'm concerned," Luhrs said, adding: "I have never seen so much authoritarianism from the left, except maybe Stalin."

"I'm a longtime, very out lesbian, and I have no problem with gender nonconforming people," she continued, "but I have a problem with a certain group that is trying to make all the rules their way."

The discussion has yet to be rescheduled, Luhrs said.

The debate made its way to the Burlington City Council on Monday night, when Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District) introduced a resolution affirming the rights of trans people and condemning discrimination.

"The City of Burlington acknowledges and supports the existence of transgender and nonbinary individuals in our community and supports their rights and freedom to live openly, without fear of retribution," reads the resolution, which passed unanimously. The city also "condemns any bigotry, hate speech, and exclusionary spaces that are hostile toward the very existence of transgender people."

Despite the cancelation, two counter-events are still scheduled for Tuesday. From 6:30 to 8 p.m., Burlington resident Laura Hale has reserved the Fletcher Room at the library — next to the room that Gender Critical Vermont had reserved.

Hale's event will include conversation, art and reading.

'The intent is to celebrate the queer and trans community in Burlington," said Hale, who is married to a trans woman.

Outright will host a letter-writing "heck yeah" event. Supporters are invited to visit the nonprofit's office at 241 North Winooski Avenue in Burlington from 1 to 4 p.m. and write letters of affirmation to Vermont's trans youth. Kaplan will then ask Fletcher Free Library to display them. Supporters can also email notes to [email protected].

Reporter Courtney Lamdin contributed to this story.