From July 5 to 7, the RadFem Rise Up! conference was held in Toronto. The conference was controversial—the radical feminist movement and its affiliate Deep Green Resistance (DGR) have been accused of transphobia because of their push for female-only safe space, which excludes trans women.
Originally scheduled at Beaver Hall, an artist co-operative in downtown Toronto, the conference was moved after the co-op received complaints from Toronto’s transgender community and allies.
Instead, the conference was held at a private home, with protestors gathering in a park 200 metres away. Protestors engaged in a storytelling circle, discussing, according to the event listing, why trans, 2 spirit people, and sex workers are crucial to the feminist movement.
Trish Oliver, a spokesperson and participant at the conference, calls the protest and its actions “extreme terrorism.” She says the conference organizers and Beaver Hall received hundreds of emails, which the group has passed on to police as part of a complaint. While 57 people had registered for the conference, only 20 met—the group was afraid of being infiltrated after the public outcry.
“There’s a lot of space for transgender people,” says Oliver, citing prominent Toronto institution the 519 Church Street Community Centre and Maggie’s: the Toronto Sex Work Action Project. She says women need women-only space: “There is nowhere for women to meet.”
This women-only space does explicitly exclude transgender people, Oliver adds: “They are still men: those who believe they can be female just by saying so”—a statement in line with the transphobic rhetoric for which the group has been criticized.
Maggie’s held a counter event July 2 at the 519, called “Reclaiming Revolution.” In the press release announcing the event June 16, Maggie’s articulated its opposition to the RadFem conference: “2 Spirited, trans* women and sex workers have been subject to so-called ‘radical feminists’ who claim that we are not real women, that we are traitors to feminism, and that we cause the violence that befalls us—and a group of them are coming to Toronto July 5-7.”
A RadFem conference was also relocated in London last year. Conway Hall, the venue originally scheduled to host the event reneged, saying, in a public statement: “We are not satisfied [the conference] conforms with the Equality Act (2010), or reflects our ethos regarding issues of discrimination.”
DGR and the radical feminist movement are considered fringe groups by many—they have been banned from the Portland Law & Disorder conference, and Toronto MPP Cheri DiNovo asked the Ontario Human Rights Commission to deem the Toronto 2013 RadFem Rise Up! conference illegal.
Oliver says those attending the RadFem conference discussed male violence against women, including the Rehtaeh Parsons case and the Pickton trial. “We didn’t come to talk about transgender issues,” she says, “It’s a global radical feminism movement.”