Its trans students and staff who deserve an apology from Wilfred Laurier University

Over recent days and weeks, a seemingly endless stream of articles have been published claiming that freedom of speech is.


Over recent days and weeks, a seemingly endless stream of articles have been published claiming that freedom of speech is being attacked at Wilfrid Laurier University in the fallout over the Lindsay Shepherd controversy.

Its a situation filled with irony, to say the least, when youre a non-binary staff member and that conversation is about your right to safety and security and whether you (and everyone like you) are legitimate and worthy of care and support.

Its our voices that are actively being silenced. And when we say this, we are told that we are just too sensitive. That were overreacting. That the real issue is how we want to take away staff and students free speech.

But whose voices are we hearing the most? Who is getting endless time to explain their perspective on this story, and who is not?

Freedom of speech is an interesting thing it only works for those who already have a voice and a platform. If you are not given the space to speak (or if you are harassed and attacked when you do) then freedom of speech doesnt actually exist for you.

Those who have the platform to share their perspectives are not concerned with the fact that those who they are viewing themselves to be up against have little or no ability to do the same thing. But we have given almost no time to how trans and non-binary students (as well as staff and community members) have been affected by the growing amounts of transphobia on Lauriers campuses.

We need to acknowledge that debates that invalidate the existence of trans and non-binary people or dehumanize us based on gender are both a form of transphobia and gendered violence. There is no neutral way to demand that someone defend their very existence and their right to a safe school and work environment.

We have seen actors and writers, such as Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, carve out spaces for themselves in industries that actively resist such advances. We have seen an increased push for awareness around trans-specific issues. But we have also seen increases in public conversation to dehumanize and to demonize us.

Our desire to use the bathrooms that we feel most comfortable in has become the subject of international debate. Our lack of access to resources like health care and housing has been ignored. And on November 20, while ongoing media coverage of the Shepherd incident was taking place, we marked Transgender Day of Remembrance to mourn the high rates of death among trans women of colour in North America.

When we speak out, we are often reminded that the world is hard and you just need to toughen up. Believe me, we know. We live and die in it every day. We have not and will not ever stop fighting for our right to safety and security both inside the university and out.

Trans and non-binary people exist. We have always existed. And we always will. This is a fact. Our rights are not up for public debate. Our safety is not up for public debate.

For these reasons (and many more), I stand with the trans and non-binary students who are not making their voices heard. And who are keeping to themselves and staying silent out of fear, intimidation or exhaustion. You are amazing. Your survival is resistance. And I support you.

Jay Rideout is communications and outreach director for Laurier Students Public Interest Research Group. They identifies as a trans non-binary queer person. A different version of this article appeared in Wilfrid Laurier Universitys student newspaper, The Cord.

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