From Pride to the Vancouver Public Library, women are being shut out: A lesbian VPL employee speaks out

Image: Wikimedia Commons/GoToVan

As the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) worried about strained relationships with and the safety of “trans, gender-variant, and two-spirited individuals” due to the impending arrival of Meghan Murphy (founder of Feminist Current), a First Nations community was subject to a police incursion. The RCMP were there to enforce a court injunction that  ordered the removal Wet’suwet’en First Nation members protecting their unceded land from the ravages of pipeline construction, but no First Nations flags were hastily raised in the library to show support, despite the VPL’s repeated acknowledgement that, “Our work takes place on the unceded homelands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.” No public statement was made decrying the destruction of unceded lands.

Some trans activists were present at the January 10th event, “Gender Identity and Women’s Rights,” and cheerfully applauded when Aboriginal Women’s Action Network co-founder Fay Blaney spoke about being silenced by white women, after being labelled a “TERF” and a “SWERF.” Apparently they agreed that Blaney should be silenced and vilified in her own political community, by outsiders, so long as she was silenced for reasons they agreed with. Where was the VPL’s statement expressing concern about breaching valuable ties with First Nations communities, whose unceded lands VPL buildings occupy? Where was the public expression of concern about safe spaces for First Nations women? Where were the First Nations flags in support of Blaney and the women she represents?

VPL management is dominated by women, who would not be where they are today were it not for the struggles and sacrifices of previous generations of feminists, not to mention contemporary feminists who are now fighting a massive backlash against our collective sex-based rights. Yet they seemed determined to make things difficult for the organizers of a feminist event and their panellists, one of whom (Lee Lakeman) was a longtime collective member at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRRWS).

Many of the women who seek refuge at VRRWS rely on library services. Does the VPL know if they feel safe in the library? Has the VPL considered how these women might feel about the celebration of funding cuts to an organization dedicated to fighting the male violence that drove them to seek refuge in the first place? Has the VPL considered how women housed by VRRWS might feel about the fact that these funding cuts were made because the refuge refused to allow biological males who identify as women into their safe and intimate spaces? Is the VPL aware that claiming a biological male can feel like — and therefore be — a woman has been challenged by trans dissidents? Is the VPL concerned about the fact that residents of the refuge are among the most traumatized women, due to male violence?

VRRWS is Canada’s longest standing rape crisis centre, in operation since 1973, and have run a transition house since 1981. They offer services no one else does, and go above and beyond to educate the public, for free, about male violence against women, indigenous rights, and anti-poverty activism. VRRWS operates a peer-based counselling organization, meaning past residents and callers can train to become counsellors, and they work on the basis that women share a common experience, growing up female in a patriarchy. Because the shelter operates on a peer counselling model, VRRWS only permits women to become counsellors.

Trans activists might look towards VRRWS’ model in order to set up peer-based anti-violence services specific to trans-identified people. The emphasis on peer-based counselling services is important to establish a relationship of trust, and the shared experiences of trans-identified counsellors would likely enhance their understanding and empathy, ultimately resulting in improved services for trans-identified people. VRRWS has said publicly, more than once, that they are happy to offer their insight on the principles and practice of peer counselling, though they have not been taken up on this offer.

Over the past month, we have heard the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) and its supporters speak about celebrating “inclusion” and “diversity,” ad nauseum. Yet, disobedient lesbians were pushed out, in the name of “inclusivity.” At the 2018 Dyke March, lesbians who wore or carried any lesbian symbols were asked to remove them if they wished to participate in what should have been their own event. At the 2019 Dyke March, lesbians who still remember that lesbians are homosexual females, and therefore cannot have penises, were forced to take their message to the skies, because apparently to say, “Lesbian = Women Loving Women,” is discriminatory and not welcome. Who is welcome at this march for lesbians, if not lesbians?

In another example of rainbow-branded “inclusiveness,” organizations failing to meet all demands made by the VPS were uninvited. Both UBC and the VPL were barred from the Pride parade for hosting speakers who challenge the homophobic and sexist gender ideology propagated by the VPS. Unquestioning acceptance of their ideology provides a ticket to the parade, plus the much vaunted VPS certification of approval. In response, the VPL issued this public statement:

“We value and support our queer and transgender staff as part of the Library, and are proud of the work they do. We hope to march as an organization again next year, celebrating our queer, transgender, and Two-Spirit staff, Board, and community members, and continuing our commitment to LGBTQ2+ equality.”

The obligatory “L” hangs on in protest, with the word “lesbian” (dare I say adult human female homosexual) unspoken, in the name of “inclusion.” The “L” suffocates under the massive weight of queer. Who cares about homophobia, let alone lesbophobia? Certainly not Vancouver Pride, which ceased to be a political protest march in defence of lesbian and gay rights in order to become a corporate public relations festival, with the usual opportunists joining the parade to score political points. And apparently not the VPL, which has uncritically adopted the language dictated by Pride, also in the name of “inclusion.”

It is because so many lesbians feel unwelcome at Pride that we join the Dyke March instead. But now many of us are not welcome there either, unless we unconditionally accept self-identified lesbians with penises as homosexual females, rather than the heterosexual males they are. Apparently, lesbians are afflicted with genital hang-ups, which must be overcome in order to receive an invitation to our own march. Homosexual females are being compelled into heterosexuality in order to be accepted in the queer community. This is yet another thinly veiled corrective rape narrative, but we can’t say so, lest we be accused of “transphobia.” In their efforts to enthusiastically embrace “inclusion,” some progressives seem blind to the boundaries (many of which have taken decades of struggle to win) being trampled upon in the process.

It’s all very exasperating, and an assault on my dignity, but I shut up for fear of retaliation. I’m insulted every time I see Pride flags at work, where I also read misinformation and slurs, but I shut up. It’s a shitty time to be a lesbian, again.

Speaking of bad times, the history of fascism is as “colourful” as the Pride flag. Spanish fascism, for example, intertwined with the Christian fundamentalism of the Catholic Church, and created its own unique brand, complete with mass graves, which I suspect also contained the remains of murdered feminists and lesbians. In light of that history, it seems that progressives casually throwing the “fascist” slur at feminists, lesbians, and other independent-thinking adults need to get informed. Feminist Current is an excellent resource, which explains why the site and its writers are routinely slandered and misrepresented — an apparent attempt to discourage potential readers. Hopefully, it has the opposite effect. I’ve found that, when I’m told what to read and what not to read by those in positions of power, the forbidden fruit is usually more enticing, for history teaches that oftentimes it contains the seeds of truth. Book burning was a favourite pastime for historical fascists, after all.

Marlene del Hoyo is a VPL employee, former peer-counsellor, and a very disobedient lesbian. These are her personal views and not those of the Vancouver Public Library.

Guest Writer

One of Feminist Current's amazing guest writers.