The Canadian Anti-Hate Network
As Alberta emerges from its state of pandemic emergency, and businesses and social spaces reopen fully, there are several groups working to ensure those spaces do not include transgender people. Anti-trans protests, an increase in hateful rhetoric, and the publication of a new book opposing trans athletes are all part of a new push to marginalize transgender people in Alberta.
The sharp rise in Canadian transphobic rhetoric during the pandemic follows a wave of anti-trans sentiment in the UK, and last month’s exposé that several prominent right-wing US groups are using the mere existence of transgender youth as a “wedge issue” in the 2022 elections. While recent reporting described the activism of “gender critical” groups in Vancouver and Toronto, the prairies are now providing their own homegrown hate.
“We’re All Pissed Off”
Established in February 2019 by Raine McLeod, the members of AB Radical Feminists are described by McLeod in the online publication Feminist Current as “firebrands from every walk of life you can imagine, and we’re all pissed off.” The group was created in response to a perceived threat towards the rights and privacy of “biological” women. They met monthly at the Calgary Public Library until the pandemic began, when online meetings extended their reach.
The group has been vocal about its opposition to Bill C-6, frequently collaborating with other groups, such as Alberta Women’s Human Rights Commission (also led by McLeod), caWsbar, Canadian Gender Report, We the Females, and LGB Alliance Canada.
The majority of the groups would describe themselves as “gender critical,” as they do not recognize the concept of gender identity, rather only what they consider to be immutable biological characteristics. The inclusion of gender identity and expression into law and culture is perceived as the erosion of rights for all “biological” women, as though Charter rights are in short supply.
In attempts to shield themselves from criticism, these groups often state they do not “hate” transgender women but they just “know they’re not women,” as AB Radical Feminists has tweeted. They are supportive of gay and lesbian folks, and are -- somehow -- supportive of trans men, because they consider them to still be “female” on the inside.
While AB Radical Feminists describes itself as community-building based in shared biological experiences and working towards “liberation as women from patriarchy,” the language frequently used by the group is anything but liberating, and is deliberately cruel towards transgender women and gender-nonconforming people.
AB Radical Feminists regularly mock, bully, and denigrate the existence of transgender women. Comments on one Facebook post suggest the family “somehow get the young women [sic] out to a remote, no WIFI situation in an attempt to extract her from the cult.”
Other posts describe men as sexual predators “regardless of whether they are wearing dresses at the time.” In March, the group shared a post by Canadian Women’s Declaration which conflated trans identities with pedophilia, and seemed to assert that the harm of children is the ultimate goal of queer activists.
Throughout social media posts from the group, supportive parents of transgender youth are described as “Munchausen’s by proxy,” while gender non-conforming folks are described as “subjecting us to their abject and comical narcissism.”
Non-binary identities are described by the group as “fictional and performative, ”and in response to backlash over anti-trans billboards, AB Radical Feminists asserted, “you people are so fucking weak.”
In one Facebook post about trans folks in Manitoba calling attention to the vaccination clinic intake process not being gender diverse, the group says, “If your feelings are hurt by a ~missing box~ on a vaccine intake form you need SERIOUS therapy. We have to stop pretending this is normal.”
“If no one’s there to ~validate~ you do you even EXIST???!?”
Buoyed by burgeoning support for their cause across the province, Raine McLeod decided to launch a registered non-profit organization called the Alberta Women’s Advocacy Association in September 2020.
AWAA describes themselves as a “secular, non-partisan coalition,” “bringing real women together so that we can solve real problems,” while creating a supportive network across Alberta for “biological” women. Their website’s FAQ states they lobby government officials for “female only” spaces for women, and provide “evidence” for their position that only biological sex matters. Group membership requires a small fee or volunteer commitment, as well as verification that each applicant is a “natal (biological) female.”
The AWAA social media pages presents a different face than AB Radical Feminists and features consistent, branded content, often sharing community resources and information. One recent Pride Month post was a shoutout to “our LGB brothers and sisters.”
This trans-exclusionary whitewashing is not accidental, as it allows AWAA to present itself as a mainstream support for women. Only their website, and specifically their recommended reading list, makes their anti-sex work, anti-surrogacy, and anti-trans women stances explicitly clear.
Source: AWAA website
As a registered non-profit and member of the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (according to their website), AWAA has access to potential grants and other sources of funding. The organization was previously listed on the donation website Benevity.
From its inception, AWAA hit the ground running by participating in community outreach. According to social media, they took part in holiday causes like Calgary’s The Giving Tree, and AWAA’s own #WarmWishesforWomen initiative. AWAA also collaborated with Soap4HopeYYC and Alpha House, collecting “female-centred” hygiene supplies and advertised this relationship on social media.
While Alberta Women’s Advocacy Association has taken great pains to present itself as a mainstream, upbeat space that supports women and is doing good deeds, its associated organization AB Radical Feminists, tweeted in June that the T in LGBTQ2S+ is “a fucking parasite.”
“The Hill I Am Prepared To Die On”
Dr. Linda Blade, a frequent collaborator with AB Radical Feminists, who serves as the president of Athletics Alberta, partnered this spring with National Post columnist Barbara Kay and Rebel Media to publish “Unsporting: How Trans Activism and Science Denial are Destroying Sport.”
The website for the book claims efforts by “radical gender activists” advocating for the inclusion of transgender athletes in categories that align with their gender identity “[show] the harm inflicted on female athletes and identifies the institutions driving this movement.”
Blade, who holds a PhD in kinesiology, is also the president of the Edmonton Track Council, and is responsible for overseeing dozens of athletics programs across Alberta, including at Kinsmen Field House. Blade’s staff bio at the Royal Glenora Club, an Edmonton-based private fitness and social club, describes her “struggle to preserve sports for biological females” as “the hill I am prepared to die on.”
Blade and Athletics Alberta oversee the province’s running and track and field programs, whose Code of Conduct indicates that transgender athletes are subject to “biology-based eligibility characteristics” in the name of “fairness.”
Athletics Alberta is under the umbrella of Athletics Canada, whose online policies are decidedly more inclusive.
During a June 2021 interview with Andrew Lawton for True North Centre, Blade describes transgender people as “almost an existential threat to our sport,” and cites trans-inclusive policies as a reason to speak up against this perceived threat.
Blade states that she would find it inspirational for a “male identifying as a female” to compete in a race with males, because it would show “strength of character.” Without irony, Blade asked “If you really care about sport, why would you care which category you go into, if you can do it?”
Not merely content with a book release or venting frustrations on social media, Blade has also created the Nequals8 initiative, based on her belief that a “single flawed study” of eight post-transition runners is the reason trans athletes are allowed to “defile” biological categories in sport.
AB Radical Feminists frequently share Blade’s content and piled onto the abuse of trans athletes by deadnaming and misgendering New Zealand Olympic weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, whom they call a “cheater,” citing Hubbard’s inclusion as “fucking criminal.” ABRF also encouraged their supporters to write to the Japanese consulate regarding the “dishonour” of including trans athletes in the Tokyo Olympics.
Blade’s antagonism toward trans women athletes is decidedly mocking, calling them “weak” and accommodated because “male #feelz,” and taunted a non-binary athlete by saying, “I get it. I identified as ‘look at me, I’m special.”
In response to an online query about trans athletes and privacy concerns, Blade relates the inclusion of transgender athletes as akin to watching a “jewelry store robbery.” In Blade’s analogy, transgender people are like thieves and deserve neither empathy nor support.
“Recommendation to thief: Stay away from the jewelry store and enjoy all the privacy you desire.”
Despite the oft-seen idea that biological sex is the foundation for patriarchal oppression, these exclusionary groups insist on measuring all women by the same oppressive stick.
Marni Panas, a professional diversity and inclusion consultant, trans advocate and athlete, describes this inclusive ‘front’ presented as a pretense, and says it is “ironic that they claim to stand for women's rights and separation from the patriarchy all while reducing women and their value and identity to their physiology and genitalia.”
“[These groups] fail to understand (or choose not to) that when they put in restrictive policies on trans women, begin to police the bodies of some women, they harm all women. When we create spaces that are inclusive and safe for people on the margins, everyone benefits.”
TERFs On Parade
Not content to merely share anti-trans content online, AB Radical Feminists and Alberta Women’s Advocacy Association partnered with Alberta WHRC, caWsbar, Canadian Gender Report, We the Females, and LGB Alliance Canada to host two rallies in Alberta this summer, at the Edmonton Legislative grounds on May 2, and again in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza on June 13.
The second, larger event featured speakers Linda Blade, Raine McLeod, Alline Cormier, GNC Centric, Heather Mason, Lara Forsberg, Charlotte Garrett, with prepared speeches sent by Barbara Kay and Kathleen Lowrey, a U of Alberta professor who maintains she was terminated from an administrative role in 2020 for holding gender-critical views.
Writing for Feminist Current, McLeod describes a purposely secretive rally planning process, citing fears of “interference or assault from groups who oppose women’s rights advocacy.”
Envisioned by McLeod as “fighting in the tradition of the suffragists,” it is extremely fitting that these groups chose to hold their June rally at the site of the Famous Five statue in Calgary, commemorating Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Edwards, and Louise McKinney — each famous not only for their fight for women’s rights in Canada, but also for who they chose to exclude.
Each of these five famous women is noted to have held racist and ableist views, lobbied for the sexual sterilization of people with disabilities, and for the ongoing fight for women’s suffrage and personhood rights — white women’s, that is.
Nellie McClung once referred to people with disabilities as defective. She was in good company with Emily Murphy, who said in 1923, “Since I know of no way of driving home a nail other than by hammering it, let me emphasize again that insane people are not entitled to progeny.”
The similarities in the language used by the groups — one hundred years apart — is troubling.
“This pandering has to stop. Stop elevating those with the weakest minds and constitutions to positions of power and telling us they’re the most oppressed,” wrote AB Radical Feminists, on Twitter in June.
Alberta Radical Feminists, Alberta Women’s Advocacy Association and Linda Blade did not respond to a request for comment in time for publishing.
Correction: A previous version of the story stated that Kathleen Lowrey was terminated as a professor from the University of Alberta. Lowrey was terminated from an additional administrative role but remains employed as a professor with the university. We apologize for the error.
Correction: A previous version of the story stated that Alline Cormier was involved in launching Alberta Women's Advocacy Association. She says she is not a member. In fact, Cormier is the Alberta coordinator for the Women's Human Rights Campaign, a different TERF project.