Last month, I let you know that the Seattle Public Library was considering its options after the Women’s Liberation Front, which non-ironically refers to itself by the acronym WoLF, rented space at the downtown library location.
Trans Seattleites and their allies have spoken out against SPL's decision to provide space for this event. WoLF is a group that frequently hosts events with anti-trans organizations, that has teamed with evangelical anti-trans groups, and has participated in what CNBC referred to as an “anti-transgender panel.” In other words, if WoLF partners with anti-trans organizations, and it talks like anti-trans organizations, it seems reasonable to treat WoLF as an anti-trans organization. The library held meetings to discuss the issue, and they said they would announce a decision in the new year.
The fact that SPL announced the decision in a Friday night news dump will probably give you an idea of their decision. Megan Burbank at the Seattle Times writes:
The Seattle Public Library board decided Friday that a February event hosted by a group that local activists say encourages discrimination against transgender people will be allowed to proceed.
SPL's Chief Librarian, Marcellus Turner, released a statement on Friday afternoon. It's full of bad reasoning and pointless equivocation. Turner notes that "WoLF’s event is not a Library-sponsored event," but he argues that "the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction" is essential to the library.
Turner argues that "The Seattle Public Library supports our transgender colleagues, families, and friends in their pursuit of personal freedoms and protections," and that SPL's decision "also does not slow the pace of, or detract from, the Library’s commitment to building an equitable and inclusive public library."
In other words, Turner's trying to have it both ways. Not even both ways, really — his arguments are all over the map. He's claiming that SPL isn't responsible for the decision to host WoLF's meeting, but he's also arguing that SPL supports the free flow of all information and perspectives, and he's also arguing that SPL supports a group that has been targeted and shamed by a group that SPL is hosting.
These are inconsistent thoughts.
Turner is ultimately relying on a ridiculously outdated idea of free speech — one promoted by libertarians and neoliberals alike. It's the idea that all ideologies should be given a platform in the so-called "free market of ideas," so that the public can make an informed decision. The idea is that the public will always choose the better, more valuable idea (like inclusiveness) and scorn the weaker, less valuable idea (in this case, anti-trans rhetoric).
Promoters of hateful concepts like Nazism and bigotry employ the good will of free speech absolutists to spread their rhetoric and activate more extremists to their cause
But the last four years have proven that just as there are no real "free markets" in economics, there is no "free market of ideas." Promoters of hateful concepts like Nazism and bigotry employ the good will of free speech absolutists to spread their rhetoric and activate more extremists to their cause. Just as hate-mongers game the algorithms on Facebook and YouTube to attract large audiences, hate groups use free speech absolutists in public institutions like colleges and libraries as useful idiots who help them capture an outsized audience. Read about Karl Popper's Paradox of Tolerance and you'll see the flaw in Turner's thinking.
The simple fact is, SPL is providing a platform to an organization that wants to make the world more unsafe and unwelcome for SPL's trans employees and volunteers and patrons. It is impossible to be impartial, here. SPL giving WoLF a platform is an endorsement. This platform will give WoLF tens of thousands of dollars in free media attention, and it will win the organization more followers. By choosing to allow WoLF to speak at SPL, Turner has made his choice. It's a bad one. History won't be kind to him.
So now, because Turner made his bad choice, we all have to make our own choice to stand against WoLF — and more importantly, to stand with our trans neighbors and friends and family. We have to let them know that though the institution of SPL has utterly failed them, the people of Seattle are there for them. We'll let you know when and where the protests are happening, and we hope you'll join us as we stand for inclusiveness and against hate.