The Halifax Public Library’s decision to keep a contentious book on its shelves, which campaigners say contains transphobic misinformation and hate speech, has sparked outrage in the community and a breach with Halifax Pride.
Last month, a community petition was launched to have Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters removed from library shelves. The Halifax Public Library, on the other hand, issued a statement on Thursday claiming it had decided to “not censor” the book and retain it in circulation.
In light of this, Halifax Pride stated on Friday that their affiliation with the group was coming to an end. They also requested the library to take the book out of circulation and reassess their collection development strategy, which governs which books are added to the collection.
As a result of the split, no library events are scheduled for the 2021 festival. Halifax Pride has announced that it will not book library spaces until the problem is resolved through a combination of internal assessment, policy reform, and training. Despite recent pleas for it to be withdrawn, the book is still available on Amazon and in the Ottawa Public Library.
Pride’s vice-chair and transgender and non-binary committee lead, Chris Cochrane, said this was not a decision the organization took lightly. Pride, in an ideal world, would like to see the book erased, according to Cochrane. But, if that isn’t possible, they are hopeful that acquisition policies will be altered.
At least one author, Tom Ryan, has announced that he will cancel an upcoming library-sponsored event due to his worry for the LGBTQ teenagers he portrays in his books. Mila McKay created the petition to pull the “transphobic” book in April after noting 25 individuals had placed a hold on two copies. As of Sunday, the petition had over 1,100 signatories.
She stated her first instinct was to be concerned for the children and teens who might be in the vicinity of those who read it, so she began talking to Halifax Public Library administration about how she felt the book was a safety issue. Transgender Canadians are already more likely to report having been subjected to violence since the age of 15, as well as having seriously considered suicide at some point in their lives. They were also more likely to have been diagnosed with a mood or anxiety illness than non-transgender Canadians.
That’s according to a study done by Statistics Canada in 2018 and published in September by the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. During her conversations with the library, McKay learned that one of the reasons the book was included in the collection was because of Shrier’s journalistic honesty and repute. After weighing the book against their collection policy and the Canadian Federation of Library Associations’ declaration on intellectual freedom, the library opted to keep it.
The library said it is looking for new methods to promote “the most recent and relevant trans-affirming works in our collection,” as well as providing space and making connections to help the transgender community. On Saturday, the Halifax Public Library refused an interview request.
Professor of health promotion Jacquie Gahagan of Dalhousie University in Halifax, whose research focuses on LGBTQ health and gender, describes the book as detrimental “junk science” that should be discussed freely but not removed from the library.
Instead, Gahagan suggested that the library or others use this as an opportunity to conduct discussions on why the book is detrimental, and to keep the topic going in a public place.