Auckland Council moves Meghan Murphy event to 'more suitable venue' after protests

Complaints from the LGBT community about Auckland Council hosting an anti-transgender speaker have seen the event moved - to another Council venue.

'A Conversation with Meghan Murphy' is part of Speak Up For Women's (SUFW) upcoming Feminism 2020 programme. Like previous Auckland visitors Lauren Southern, Stefan Molyneux and Jordan Peterson, Murphy is a Canadian cultural commentator known for her 'anti-PC' views, particularly her hostility toward the advancement of transgender rights.

The November event was originally booked for Studio One Toi Tū‪ (previously known as Artstation), located near the corner of Karangahape Rd and Ponsonby Rd - "in the heart of the city's rainbow community", SUFW said.   

On Friday, Auckland Council moved the event to a "more suitable venue,'' the Western Springs Garden Community Hall, after receiving a number of complaints about the group using Studio One. 

"We spoke to the organisers after we were made aware that there may be protests at the event, and we wanted a safer and more appropriate place should this happen," chief executive Stephen Town told Newshub.

Western Springs Garden Community Hall is also a Council-owned venue.

"We know that the speaker is seen by many as having views that are harmful to transgender communities," Town says. "We have also heard the complaints and concerns raised by our Rainbow Communities and our partners at this Proud Centre. In this respect, we want to put on record that we do not support or endorse the views of the speakers at the event.

"We do, however, recognise that Aucklanders hold a wide range of views on issues and that the right to free speech is protected by the Bill of Rights."

Chief executive Stephen Town.
Chief executive Stephen Town. Photo credit: File/Auckland Council/Supplied

SUFW event manager Jenny Whyte says the group has been "driven out of the city centre" by protesters. While she's pleased the Council took any potential safety concerns seriously, she's disappointed the venue change was at least partially motivated by pressure from transgender advocates. 

‪"A secondary reason for relocating the event, Auckland Council said, was to placate the 'rainbow community'," Whyte said in a statement. "Many of our members and supporters are lesbian, gay and bisexual. If other members of our community take issue with us we invite them to engage directly with us."‬

SUFW is a lobby group created in response to proposed changes to the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill that would make it easier for transgender Kiwis to change the sex marker on their birth certificate. It claims to represent gay women who feel marginalised or unsafe by the progression of transgender people's rights. 

The same statement included a supportive comment from Hamish McGregor, described as "co-founder of the group Homosexual Adult Human Males". Newshub was unable to find any trace of said group online beyond McGregor's own social media posts. 

The Free Speech Coalition's Dr David Cumin has also voiced his support, saying the Council made a "commendable" decision to allow the event to go ahead.

"We must be able to challenge and be challenged by ideas, we must not be forced to submit our thoughts to whoever is in charge or whoever threatens violence," he says.

Dr David Cumin of the Free Speech Coalition.
Dr David Cumin of the Free Speech Coalition. Photo credit: The AM Show

A second event featuring Murphy will be hosted by Massey University as part of the Feminism 2020 programme, and has been met with similar protest. In response to the uproar, the university released a statement reiterating their support for the gender diverse community and commitment to all students' safety.

"While we strongly support our community, we are also committed to free speech as a fundamental tenet of a university, and we recognise that free speech, academic freedom and freedom of expression are contentious and nuanced issues worldwide," the statement reads.

Massey will donate the proceeds of the venue booking to an LGBT advocacy group.

Wellington writer and transgender advocate Caitlin Spice has been vocal about her disapproval of Massey's decision, and says there's no appropriate venue for hate speech.

"To put it as bluntly as possible, the university wouldn't host an anti-Māori event, an anti-gay event, or an anti-Jewish event," she told Newshub. "Hosting an anti-trans event is stating loudly and clearly that the university does not support their transgender students or staff. People have a right to protest that.

"SUFW can dress up their event as dealing solely with 'women's issues' all they like, but their openly transphobic history and prejudiced policies show this to be a bald-faced lie."

Spice takes the same view when it comes to the Auckland event.

"I personally think the Council should wash its hands of SUFW and refuse to host them."

She says Auckland's transgender advocates should protest at the community centre so long as they remain organised and peaceful.

"These anti-trans groups thrive on manufactured drama and will seize any opportunity to play victim, so let's not give them anything to work with."

Instead of attending a Feminism 2020 event, Spice encourages those interested in discussing women's rights to buy a ticket to the new Charlie's Angels film. 

"Unlike the SUFW event it might actually contain a few feminist messages."

Last week the High Court backed Auckland Council's decision to bar Southern and Molyneux from speaking in a Council-owned venue last year.