EDITORIAL: Third Space harassment shows trans acceptance has a ways to go

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Things have been hostile in the SUB as of late. This summer has been marked by a battle for the Third Space, as a small but vocal contingent of radical feminists (known by some as trans-exclusive radical feminists, or TERFs) have been airing their opposition to the centre’s evolving policies allowing self-identified women, non-binary, and gender-fluid people into the space.

According to a 2014 survey published by Trans PULSE Project, 34 per cent of trans people living in Ontario said they had been verbally threatened or harassed just for being trans. 20 per cent said they had been physically or sexually assaulted for the same reason, and of that number, 97 per cent “[reported] avoiding at least one type of public space.” So it should go without saying that transgender people should be allowed safe spaces and legal protections to curb the violence they experience in their day-to-day lives. And yet, here we are saying it.

Progress on the transgender rights front has been slow going. The B.C. provincial government recently tabled legislation adding “gender identity and expression” to the Human Rights Code, even though NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert has been pushing for its addition for years. And the federal government has legislation adding similar language to the Canadian Human Rights Act — Bill C-16 — going through second reading in the House of Commons as of May 17. These are important steps towards greater acceptance of transgender people in Western society, but they are long overdue.

All the more reason why places like the Third Space are essential for all self-identifying women who need them. Whether they’re cisgender or transgender, non-binary or gender fluid, until protections are enshrined in law and people learn not to discriminate based on gender, these spaces are essential in providing safe and inclusive environments for marginalized individuals. If the community and the powers that be do not see you as a person worth protecting, there has to be somewhere you can go where you are.

Given the everyday challenges and oppressions faced by transgender people, it’s repugnant to think of a group on this campus trying to actively remove trans folks’ access to one of the few safe spaces they have, yet that seems to be one of the primary goals of the TERFs so far. In addition to opposing the Third Space’s inclusive policies, this contingent has also been accused of spreading transantagonistic material within the SUB, and one Twitter account run created in response to the Third Space’s policies has made a specific habit of wilfully misgendering trans people. Despite the debate that exists around who belongs to the feminist movement and what it means to include trans people in formerly women’s-only spaces, that debate should never devolve into attacks on one’s person and/or state of being.

We at the Martlet lack a lot of the perspective needed to participate in the discussion around the problems at the Third Space right now. It’s a more-than-complex issue with a myriad of perspectives. But we do know that if you want to solve something, you have to be willing to sit down and talk with each other to understand each other. If you don’t want to do that, then you don’t want to solve the problem. And if you don’t want to solve the problem, you shouldn’t be stirring up shit.

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