Moments after Lierre Keith of Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) began to address a sold-out crowd at Seattle Public Library (SPL) on February 1, five male audience members began to shout, blast a horn, and play a piccolo. (Yes, a piccolo.)
The men shouted, “Go back to Canada!”, presumably towards Canadian writer and speaker Meghan Murphy, and “Trans rights are human rights! Trans women are women!” The mostly female audience then began to chant “Let women speak!” Within minutes, approximately a dozen Seattle police officers moved towards the disruptive men. One officer told the men: “You’ve been asked to leave. If you refuse to comply, you’ll be arrested for trespass.” None of the men, now linking arms, budged. Two were handcuffed and forcibly removed by officers; three walked out with police holding their arms.
The event continued with only minor interruptions. Speakers Lierre Keith, Meghan Murphy, Saba Malik, and Kara Dansky all received standing ovations. Following the talk, available online, the panel took questions from audience members including a detransitioned woman who said she suffered kidney failure while on cross-sex hormones. The question and answer period was respectful (with the exception of a man who launched into a puzzling rant about female sheriffs as proof that women’s oppression doesn’t exist) despite some disagreement between audience members and the panel.
Outside, a protest that formed hours earlier raged on. The crowd of approximately 200 protestors — many wearing masks — could be heard shouting, “TERFs go home!” during quiet moments inside the library. Thumping and banging sounds echoed through the venue. Some of the protestors had dispersed by the end of the event, but a large group remained near the exit, phalanxed by police and shouting insults at the women exiting the library. One man ran around the escort vehicle in an attempt to cut off Meghan Murphy before she entered the vehicle, but was blocked by security. Had it not been for the police, the speakers would likely have faced attacks. A second group was gathered on a side street, yelling at speakers as they were escorted out of the building.
A video posted on Twitter shows protestors surrounding and shouting at a woman in a pink “pussy” hat. A larger male shoves the woman. (The woman was seen in the audience inside the event. I don’t know if she was injured or if she filed a police complaint.)
Earlier in the day, the Seattle Police Department cleared the library following a bomb threat, apparently made as a last-ditch attempt to shut down the event organized by WoLF. Transgender activists unsuccessfully lobbied the library to cancel the booking earlier in the year. Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner refused to do so, and released a statement in support of intellectual freedom. He also explained the library’s responsibility to uphold the law and not discriminate against anyone wishing to book their public space.
Public displays of anger, threatening behaviour, verbal abuse, and even violence directed at women wanting to meet and discuss their rights should astonish us all in 2020, in the West. So too should widespread calls from citizens to shut down and deplatform female speakers who unequivocally do not engage in hate speech. Sadly, these are commonplace phenomena. For instance, Meghan Murphy’s speaking events at both the Vancouver and Toronto public libraries have also resulted in threats of violence, calls to deplatform women, and abusive protests. Likewise for British feminist group, Women’s Place UK, members of Speak Up For Women New Zealand, Vancouver-based #GIDYVR, We Need To Talk… The list goes on.
Women should not require bodyguards and police escorts in order to speak in public. We should not have to fear men will show up in masks and shove us — or worse — for wanting to discuss our rights. As the women inside the Seattle Public Library said: Let women speak. And while you’re at it, you could try listening, too.
Amy Eileen Hamm is a writer and registered nurse educator in New Westminster, BC. You can find her on Twitter @preta_6.