Edmonton organization empowers communities that too often live in fear
Dr. Jordan Peterson’s every move sprouts another interview or article that sparks miles-long Twitter brawls and sharp YouTube comment section duels. The controversial clinical psychologist is on tour promoting his new self-help book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
The psychologist-turned-professor first came into the spotlight in 2016 after refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns for any of his potential students. Peterson backed this up while testifying against Bill C-16—legislation protecting gender identity and expression from discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act—by claiming “free speech.”
His event, scheduled in Edmonton on the 11th, was declined by the Citadel on the grounds of his rhetoric not aligning with the theatre’s “mandate, values or vision statement,” which they further explained later. His event was then moved to the Hyatt, which quickly sold out, and was rescheduled yet again to be held at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre in Sherwood Park, which has again, sold out.
But there is also a counter-force not specifically working against him per se, but working to promote those communities that feel endangered with his rhetoric coming to the city.
“We can see it right now with the Colten Boushie trial. Stereotypes of Indigenous people [can] lead to their murders, lead to their deaths. The way that Jordan Peterson continues to use specific stereotypes and archetypes of people in violent ways, results in violence towards those people,” says field organizer with Progress Alberta, Batul Gulamhusein. “By him claiming that he’s not going to use they/them pronouns, because he believes that the Canadian government shouldn’t get to decide what words you use, is saying to a whole bunch of people, ‘Hey, it’s okay for you to delegitimize trans identities and therefore, the violence that [subsequently] occurs.’”
A research and advocacy organization formed in Edmonton in early 2016, Progress Alberta feel that their responsibility in the situation is to the marginalized populations that very likely will experience increased amounts of hate and aggression, if online responses are any predictor of human behaviour. With this in mind, Progress Alberta asked themselves who are the groups most affected by this emboldening rhetoric and potential of violence. By and large, they knew this was the queer and trans, as well as racialized communities.
“If these are the communities he’s choosing to target, these are the communities that we are going to choose to celebrate,” Gulamhusein says. “We almost never get the opportunity to celebrate the fact that people are living and surviving and thriving in our communities.”
That’s the point of the dance party they’ve planned, which will have live comedy and music from the Edmonton-adored Wares. Edmonton’s first transgender musician, Cassia Hardy, plans to provide a space for her community to feel “a cathartic sort of group exhale.”
But along with their Free Expression Party planned for the same evening as Peterson’s book event, Progress Alberta is holding 12 Rules of Resistance organizer training sessions the day before (February 10) from 5 to 8 pm to strengthen the ability and skills of those in the queer and trans community as well as allies of it.
“It’s important to know how to tell an effective story regardless of whether you’re gonna use it to talk to media or not. It’s important to know how you can use political systems, even if you never want to run in an election, or never want to vote,” Gulamhusein adds. “They’re useful tools for people to have in their arsenal so that they can later weaponize them.”
The anti-oppression workshops will cover such topics as organizing in the age of surveillance, addressing cis-supremacy, accessibility, and media training. The workshops will be run by various social organizers and activists in the city including U of A advisor Rebecca Blakey and services expert Parker Leflar covering anti-oppression and transgender advocates Nicole Jones-Abad and Ezra H to discuss addressing transphobia.
Marni Panas, a transgender advocate who also testified at the Bill C-16 hearings last year, but in favour of the legislation, says that freedom of speech is not grounds to say whatever to whomever. She explains that in the same way the Citadel had every right to reject his event, those who attend Peterson’s talk have every right to do so. But that freedom does still have a legal limit when it infringes upon the rights of others.
“Freedom of expression as we recognize it here in Canada, doesn’t mean you’re free from the consequences of that expression,” Panas says. “Once we can start seeing past those labels, and realize that it is one label of many which describe people, then we can start to humanize people.”
Upon reaching out to Peterson, his publicist told Vue in an email that Peterson is on a book tour in the U.S. and not available for comment.
Sun., Feb. 11 (5 pm)
Free Expression Party
La Cité Francophone
RSVP at eventbrite.ca