LGBTQ community clashes over new group

Published: Jan. 29, 2020 at 12:35 AM EST
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A new group in Burlington run by a lesbian woman is being called out for transphobia.

The group called Gender Critical Vermont had plans to meet at the Fletcher Free Library on Tuesday but the organizer, Peggy Luhrs, canceled it after people protested. The discussion was labeled as a "group for Vermonters who oppose the subversion of Women's Rights by the transgender agenda."

Luhrs says she supports transgender rights and protections but is worried about the future of Title IX and other protections for women if they open up to transgender women. She doesn't think transgender women are women.

“I don’t buy that you can change your sex. But you can believe that. And I certainly don’t have any problems about how people want to dress,” Luhrs said. “They say biology is transphobic. Well, I'm sorry but you're not going to win that argument. Biology is. And yes, I understand there are all kinds of variations. I understand there’s intersex people but none of that changes the fact that we are basically sexually dimorphic species.”

Luhrs says she doesn’t support transgender women being allowed in women’s shelters, hormone blockers for children or the censure of free speech. She denies Gender Critical is a hate group.

"I don’t want to put out any hate speech about anybody. But I do want to say you can't compel my speech. You can't compel me,” she said. “You can believe whatever you want. You can believe things I don't believe and you have every right. What you don't have a right to do is either compel or deny my speech.”

Luhrs says she has been called a transphobe and a trans-exclusionary radical feminist for expressing her beliefs that biology is immutable. People in the transgender community condemn her ideologies.

“It’s just disgusting. That might be harsh. I don’t really care. It’s harsh. They’re disgusting. I don’t want it in my community,” said Emily Keuppers, who is transgender and nonbinary.

Keuppers says feminism that excludes transgender women is not feminism.

“How can you take the hate that makes you feel bad about yourself and turn it on your own community? Just boggles my mind,” said Keuppers. “You can’t have movement and progression without taking everyone with you, without helping everyone.”

Keuppers is also concerned that feminism that excludes transgender women further threatens their lives.

“The life expectancy for trans women of color in our country today is 35 years old,” they said. “That’s appalling. That’s disgusting.”

Luhrs considers herself a transgender ally and says she supports their rights and anti-discrimination laws but she thinks it’s time to talk about, what she calls, an overreach of activism and a censure of free speech. She says some people of the LGBTQ community have reached out to her about joining Gender Critical and have the same concerns she does.

“There are people within this community who are not happy with the overreach. And we’re immediately told, ‘You’re trying to erase our existence.’ I can’t erase your existence. You exist. If you need me to say you exist, that’s an internal problem of yours,” said Luhrs.

Some people in Burlington question if Gender Critical’s ideologies fall under free speech or hate.

"I think there's a big difference between free speech and violent speech. I think free speech— anyone is open to have an opinion but it's a completely different issue when your opinion puts the lives of other people at risk,” said Caleb Weathers.

WCAX News also asked Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, for his thoughts. He says Burlington is an inclusive community and he was glad to hear the Gender Critical meeting was canceled. Weinberger also said Burlington will continue to uphold the First Amendment while also protecting its citizens from hate.

"Going forward, the city will always do what we're required to do to defend First Amendment rights while at the same time seeking to give the signal that this is not a community for hate speech,” Weinberger said. “This isn't a community for acts of hate. Hate crimes will certainly be prosecuted to the fullest extent of our ability.”

Luhrs says a few dozen people have shown interest in joining Gender Critical and they have plans to become an official organization sometime this year.