Warning: This article contains some deeply transphobic images and text.
Following Bill C-16’s passing, I monitored Twitter and other social media platforms with respect to the bill. Initially, coverage was mostly positive. As the news of the bill’s passage left the current news cycle, the coverage turned sharply negative.
Some of it was particularly nasty. Below are example of tweets from the past month:
The situation on other social media platforms frequented by both proponents and opponents of the bill, YouTube and Facebook, wasn’t much different:
Through the month, the news media landscape remained largely positive. MacLean’s had a great article, as did The Globe & Mail. There were notable exceptions. The Ottawa Sun argued that transgender people didn’t exist:
Most dangerously, with Bill C-16, [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] is expanding the legal enclave of “hate speech” by creating special “gender equity” rights for an entirely fictitious group.
The National Post, which had written article after article opposing the bill before its passing, continued to portray it as an infringement of free speech, granting special rights, and likening it to the oppressive Soviet regime:
Bill C-16 will give transgendered and non-gendered people the ability to dictate other people’s speech.
In other words, failure to use a person’s pronoun of choice — “ze,” “zir,” “they” or any one of a multitude of other potential non-words — will land you in hot water with the commission. That, in turn, can lead to orders for correction, apology, Soviet-like “re-education,” fines and, in cases of continued non-compliance, incarceration for contempt of court.
The CBC portrayed Bill C-16 as detrimental to [cisgender] women while arguing that trans women shouldn’t be permitted to use a women’s spa:
Bill C-16 has the capacity to actually undermine women’s rights.
The article was written by Meghan Murphy, who testified in Parliament that trans women were not women but were men who chose “to take on stereotypically feminine traits“.
Why was the negativity continuing so loudly on social media when the bill was becoming old news everywhere else and the fear-mongering assertions hadn’t come true?
While this was all going on, Jordan Peterson’s income from the crowd-funding site Patreon continued to increase, and he was now making over $55,000 a month. His fortune was in response to his YouTube videos asserting that Bill C-16 threatened his free speech. In the month since Bill C-16 has passed his monthly donations increased by nearly $10,000. Contrary to his assertions, his free speech hadn’t been impinged, much the same as it hadn’t under Toby’s Act, but generously rewarded.
I mention Peterson because he is at the heart of this opposition. He popularized the argument that would define this opposition of this iteration of the trans rights bill. The last two iterations relied on the bathroom predator myth and targeting trans women and their access to gendered spaces. This one took a fresh angle, suggesting that non-discrimination protections for non-binary individuals threatened free speech. His stance went viral, and he quickly became far more popular than the very bill he was opposing. He became more popular in the United-States than in Canada, resulting in Americans getting riled up about Bill C-16.
The bigger Jordan Peterson got, the bigger others made him. The media had a big hand to play with this. He was on television. He was testifying in Parliament. He was in newspapers. He was the subject of countless supportive editorials. His arguments that relied on othering non-binary individuals and presenting their equality as a threat to cisgender individuals were repeated over and over.
I don’t fault Jordan Peterson for his popularity. He has awful views, but so do many people. He’s not the one who propelled himself into stardom; that requires other people to do that. Those others – especially those in the media who should have known better – are just as responsible for the spread of this vitriol.
If this was an election year, I’d be concerned that this bill would be repealed. As it stands, the effects appear to be a poisoning of social media platforms for trans, non-binary and otherwise gender diverse individuals. I expect that the negative attention for the bill will die down with time as the attention of the libertarian click-tivists is captured by the next issue gone viral.
I also expect that Jordan Peterson will try to stay prescient, as his significant monthly income on Patreon depends on it. This means he’ll need to release new material, which given the financial success of his campaign against Bill C-16, might mean continuing to portray minorities seeking equality as a threat. Time will tell.