2016-11-06 06:13:56 UTC
A Canadian university professor ignited controversy by refusing to use
gender-neutral pronouns. Is he a villain or a victim?
University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson had enough
of what he saw as a campus culture where "social justice warrior,
left-wing radical political activists" ran rampant.
In September he released a video lecture series taking aim at
He zeroed in on Canadian human rights legislation that prohibits
discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
Dr Peterson was especially frustrated with being asked to use
alternative pronouns as requested by trans students or staff, like the
singular 'they' or 'ze' and 'zir', used by some as alternatives to
'she' or 'he'.
In his opposition, he set off a political and cultural firestorm that
shows no signs of abating.
At a free speech rally mid-October, he was drowned out by a white
noise machine. Pushing and shoving broke out in the crowd.
He says the lock on his office door was glued shut.
At the same time, the University of Toronto said it had received
complaints of threats against trans people on campus.
His employers have warned that, while they support his right to
academic freedom and free speech, he could run afoul of the Ontario
Human Rights code and his faculty responsibilities should he refuse to
use alternative pronouns when requested.
They also said they have received complaints from students and faculty
that his comments are "unacceptable, emotionally disturbing and
painful" and have urged him to stop repeating them.
The university is also trying to organise a "civil and respectful"
debate, which would include Dr Peterson, to discuss gender provisions
in federal and provincial human rights legislation.
Either way, Dr Peterson is not backing down.
Penalties range from fines and damages to mandatory
Dr Peterson says he does not object to trans people or to choosing
which traditional pronoun they prefer.
"If the standard transsexual person wants to be regarded as he or she,
my sense is I'll address you according to the part that you appear to
be playing," he said.
But he argues terms like "gender identity' and "gender expression" are
too broad, are the "propositions of radical social constructionists,"
and are being used to bully opponents into submission.
"There's only two alternatives to that," he said.
"One is silent slavery with all the repression and resentment that
that will generate, and the other is outright conflict. Free speech is
not just another value. It's the foundation of Western civilization."
Dr Peterson's University of Toronto colleague, Dr Lee Airton, argues
he is being alarmist and indulging in "slippery slope fallacies" on
the limits of free speech.
"If you actually listen and you parse out the arguments, it becomes
very clear that this not about freedom of speech, that this is about
reducing transgendered people's needs as excessive and illegitimate."
Dr Airton, who personally asks to be referred to as 'they', recognises
people can find alternative pronouns "very jarring", but says if both
sides are open to being accommodating, in practice it becomes "no big
"This is not a freedom of speech debate. This is not a scandal," said
"This is people very publicly working through their own lack of
familiarity or understanding of trans people's otherwise fairly