Hal-Con is the latest event to pull its programming from the Halifax Public Libraries, as it states in a release shared on its website Sunday, June 6. The event—scheduled for October 22-24, 2021—begins by saying: “We are aware that the Halifax Public Library has recently acquired a book that contains harmful misinformation—presented as fact—about transgender and gender diverse youth, and advocates for abusive practices and policies aimed at minors.”
The book it’s talking about is Irreversible Damage, written by journalist and notorious TERF Abigail Shrier. As The Coast reported last week, Halifax Pride has also severed its ties to Halifax Public Libraries over the title—and an online petition asking for the book to be removed has garnered north of 2,500 signatures.
While HPL’s chief librarian & CEO of Halifax Public Libraries, Åsa Kachan, stated in an exclusive interview with The Coast that the decision for the Libraries to purchase the book came from a combination of public requests and the fact that the book is being “talked about in the public space and in the media,”—Shrier’s book landed on The Economist’s “20 books people were talking about in 2020”—members of the trans community are concerned about the misinformation the book contains.
“There will always be things there that you disagree with and that's just the nature of a democratic institution like a public library,” Kachan tells The Coast, adding that concerns of censorship have kept the book on shelves. But, Kachan adds, alongside stocking Irreversible Damage, the library has also created a resource list of trans-affirming books, community groups and websites. That list is placed inside the cover of the book each time it’s taken out and it’s also available on the Libraries’ website.
In its statement, Hal-Con says “It is our understanding that members of the Halifax trans and gender-diverse community expressed their concern to the library that carrying this book without, at minimum, a disclaimer about its content would cause real harm to trans youth, and that expressing these concerns did not result in a review of their policies.” (To the Libraries, the resource list acts as something more neutral than a disclaimer but more full-picture than just reading Shrier out of context.)
Trans community members tell The Coast that Irreversible Damage perpetuates dangerous misconceptions that could lead to violence against trans people. Morgan Dambergs, a trans Haligonian, put it this way: “There are a lot of ways for a book like this to negatively effect the lives of trans people that unfortunately I don't think cis people consider when they just think of in terms of freedom of speech,” Dambergs says. “It's not about speech for trans people, it's about being safe to live in Nova Scotia and not have hate speech out there being legitimized by a public library system.”