I have not stopped being mad about this since you first tweeted.https://t.co/bfmjHB4FV3
— rooo (@rooo_listener) January 21, 2019
As a parent whose children will one day enter the BC public school system, I was incensed to have recently discovered the labour union that represents some 40,000 plus BC teachers, and engages in vocal activism affecting children and families, blocked my Twitter account. So had their president, Glen Hansman.
As it happens, I am not alone.
Hundreds of Twitter users — including numerous BC parents and at least one public school teacher — claim they are blocked from viewing the accounts of the BCTF and Hansman. The majority are women.
Sarah [name changed to protect her identity] is a BC parent, high school teacher, and BCTF member. She says she is less concerned with how the blocking affects communication with the public and union members, and more concerned with the implication of this action. The latest Ministry of Education data, from 2016, shows 72 per cent of BC teachers are female; and this number has been increasing for more than a decade. Over the phone, Sarah told me:
“I think the BCTF represents women. And if they’ve blocked women — even if those women aren’t teachers — what they’ve said is: ‘We don’t value women.’ That’s the message that is the most concerning from a union that represents mostly women.”
A growing list just shy of 250 Twitter users claim they are blocked by both Hansman and the BCTF; many tweeted that they have never heard of the organization or Hansman, nor have they interacted with either online. However, there are commonalities among the users. Aside from being mostly women, their Twitter bios suggest they are generally radical or gender critical feminists, often lesbians.
Of 235 accounts I analyzed, more than 93 per cent appear on at least one of four “TERF” blocklists created by Twitter users: TERFblocklist; TERFblocker; theirnameislola; or rachelvmckinnon. Seventy four per cent of these accounts are on TERFblocker, and a number are on at least one of the others. These lists are created with a web application called Block Together; the lists grow when the owner of a list adds accounts. The lists can be shared and subscribed to by others. The owners often ask other Twitter users to report social media users for alleged offences, in order for them to be added to a list — in the case of the aforementioned, for being so-called “TERFs.”
For the uninitiated, “TERF” is a slur used against persons — almost exclusively women and often lesbians — who question gender ideology or (sometimes) simply associate with those who do. The acronym stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist” — an inaccurate term at best, and, at worst, an abusive term meant to intimidate women into silence or justify violent threats — or actions — against them. This is a documented phenomenon.
Regardless of one’s perspectives on gender, women, teachers, parents, and the public at large should not support or take seriously a public teachers’ union using software targeting women slurred by unknown social media users. Especially considering the way “TERF” has been weaponized.
I contacted Hansman over email and asked him if his personal Twitter account or the BCTF account employ TERF Blocker, TERF Block List, or similar mass-blocking services targeting alleged TERFs, but he declined to confirm or deny. Addressing the acronym, Hansman told me he is “not inclined to utilize the term TERF, unless that is how someone describes themselves.” In response to my question about his or the BCTF’s use of TERF Blocker, he said:
“[O]ver the years we [the BCTF] have used a variety of tools to help manage the account. There are many of them available. There is not any obligation on behalf of our staff or otherwise to interact with individuals on social media that are expressing discriminatory views.”
Hansman claims that the BCTF’s involvement in two BC Human Rights Tribunal cases — both related to allegations of transphobia; one as an intervenor and the other as a complainant against an elected school trustee — have led to an increase in “hateful” comments from Twitter users. (He did not specify what these “hateful” comments consisted of nor who they were directed at.) Hansman added that “…Twitter made a decision recently with regard to the account of Meghan Murphy from Feminist Current.” He is referring, of course, to Murphy’s widely-contested Twitter ban for “misgendering” a person who goes by two names — one male and one female.
Without directly calling Murphy “hateful,” Hansman has arguably done here what many transgender activists are wont to do: conflate dissenting opinions about gender ideology or legislation with discrimination or hate (often also comparing said dissent to religious- or “alt-right”-motivated discrimination). Many have accurately pointed out that to hold differing views about gender or the immutability of biological sex is neither discriminatory nor hateful. To suggest otherwise can be a silencing tactic — an effective one at that.
Teachers and BCTF members seem to have received this message clearly. Sarah and Ben, a second teacher I spoke with (Ben recently left the province) both described feeling silenced and alienated by the BCTF and suggested they are far from alone in feeling this way.
Sarah told me she has never felt supported or heard by the teachers’ federation. She watched the Twitter controversy over Murphy’s Vancouver Public Library (VPL) speaking event, and was disturbed at seeing the BCTF Twitter account discourage the VPL from holding the event, going so far as to frivolously claim “hate is hate.” For Sarah, the underlying message was clear. “It’s a very chilling thing for a male union leader to tell females to shut up,” she told me.
Sarah “preemptively” blocked Hansman, the BCTF, and several school officials on Twitter after someone on the BCTF account quote tweeted her, criticizing her defense of women’s right to question gender identity. She said the response to her tweet from the BCTF made her fear professional backlash. She was surprised to learn her Twitter handle appears on one of the four TERF block lists examined for this story; Sarah does not have an anonymous account and explained she is therefore cautious about any political views she expresses online.
For his part, Hansman declined to comment as to whether he has ever personally attempted to discover if a BCTF member or employee was on any block lists targeting alleged TERFs. He suggested any members blocked on Twitter could “easily contact us for that to be rectified.” Both teachers told me they would never do that, as they believe it would result in outing themselves as critical of gender ideology and that they would therefore face professional repercussions.
Both teachers also described the BCTF as having created a “culture of fear” surrounding dissent. Historically, they explained, this applied to dissent over job action; today, they feel this culture pertains to gender ideology as well.
As an outside observer, this is not a stretch: that the BCTF brought legal action against a school trustee for alleged transphobia speaks volumes about the union’s commitment to protecting a single, acceptable narrative on gender. This, in addition to their public calls to stifle the free speech of Murphy prior to a feminist event the organization wrongly suggested would “promote hate,” sends a clear message to members in terms of what opinions and questions are permitted. In an email, Hansman explained that the BCTF’s governance bodies (the Representative Assembly and Annual General Meeting) have “taken clear and specific trans-inclusive positions over the past several years.” The BCTF has also centred its recent advocacy work on gender ideology.
Ben [name changed to protect his identity] says he believes the problem with the BCTF position on gender is intolerance of opposing viewpoints. “They believe that it’s not actually politics — that it’s morality,” he said. “The[ir] argument would be that it’s impossible to hold [gender critical] opinions and not discriminate. Which is ludicrous.” He described feeling worried about a new phenomenon dubbed “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” saying he feared some students might start a medical transition they would later regret. Sarah expressed similar sentiments. Their anger at feeling unable to speak out or hold a dialogue about such grave concerns was obvious.
Ben, a parent and (until recently) a BC teacher (he was a paying BCTF member until he moved to another province) is one of those blocked by the federation and its president. His Twitter account appears on numerous TERF block lists, despite that fact that he rarely publishes tweets in his own words, and primarily shares other users’ content, retweeting gender critical or radical feminist accounts.
Ben and Sarah both described themselves as compassionate towards and worried for their transgender students. Neither want to exclude or discriminate. They have respected students’ preferred pronouns and been available to listen to their students’ stories and struggles.
It is here that the crux of the culture war between trans activists and feminists or gender critical people lies: in the notion that to voice concerns about transgenderism is a call for discrimination, hate, exclusion, or erasure. It is none of those things. It is, in fact, the opposite. Particularly where children and youth are concerned, many people are labelled “TERFs” simply for urging caution with regard to medical transition, because they care about the well-being of such a vulnerable population.
Currently, the dominant narrative surrounding transgender issues in Canada is one-sided and dangerously specious.
Who among us doesn’t want to be “progressive” or “inclusive” or “on the right side of history”? The language of transgender activism lays claim to these concepts, and purports to advocate for safety, feminism, consent, and social justice. It is an appealing narrative that the BCTF not only embraces, but enforces. Whether it’s in a human rights tribunal, by mischaracterizing feminist speech as hate speech, or by blocking hundreds — if not more — from their social media pages, the organization has made it clear they do not find it acceptable to challenge their gender dogma.
So, what happens when our educators are afraid to speak out when they believe students are being harmed or misled? Or when parents are essentially shunned and called hateful by the public education system for having genuine concerns about an issue that impacts their children? Surely this is not in the best interest of the BC public or their kids.
Why should any of us meekly accept that this debate is over? That justice prevailed and it is not acceptable to stray from the ordained narrative about gender identity?
Conversations about gender should be ongoing. As a cultural concept, gender doesn’t stagnate and nor should our discussion of it.
The BCTF’s website states the organization is “committed to communicating with parents about our public education system” and that “all teachers understand how important communication between school and home is to help the students we all care so much about.” This commitment rings false. It appears the organization is only interested in communicating with those parents who are in total agreement with their professed ideologies. I am not one of those parents, and I wonder how, when my children begin school, to navigate a public school system I feel at odds with.
I keep checking Hansman and the BCTF’s Twitter feeds. I’m still blocked.
Sure, I can access their accounts if I log out, but, as Sarah points out, it’s not really about the information I’d find there — it’s about the message sent by blocking me in the first place. The message is for me to shut up and stay silent, and moreover, that the BCTF doesn’t want to hear from women like me.
Many of us received this message — but we are not going to listen.
Amy Eileen Hamm is a writer and registered nurse educator in New Westminster, BC. You can find her on Twitter @preta_6.