Event at Seattle Public Library causes firestorm, group accused of being ‘hate group’

SEATTLE — An event is causing backlash at the Seattle Public Library.

A group called the “Women’s Liberation Front” booked the Microsoft auditorium at the library for an event that critics say is anti-transgender. It has many people calling for the library to cancel the event.

The library emphasizes it's not hosting the event and doesn’t endorse it, but said any group can book meeting spaces at the library.

On the library’s Facebook page there are more than a thousand comments with many people asking, how can a group that's spreading what they consider hate speech be allowed in a city building?

“It’s a little upsetting,” said Seghaen Yohanas, who was at the library on Tuesday. “Sad and disappointing especially for people in the LGBTQ community,” she said.

The talk organized by the Women’s Liberation Front (WOLF) is called "Fighting the New Misogyny” and it’s scheduled for February 1.

The Eventbrite page for the event questions transgender activism, saying, “are the claims made by these activists actually true, or even coherent? What does it mean to say that people can be 'born in the wrong body'?"

It has many people calling for the library to cancel the event.

Trans rights activist group, the Gender Justice League said in a statement on their website, “A hate group using the library as a venue to ‘critique’ the existence of a minority group creates a hostile environment and is unacceptable."

But others say the first amendment protects this group coming to the library.

“I'm transgender,” said Robin Smith, who was heading to the library Tuesday. “I don't really like it but who am I to say they can't have their own free speech?” she said.

The ACLU of Washington says the case is fairly cut and dry.

“If the public library canceled it based solely on the views espoused by WOLF, then yes, I think it would be problematic and in violation of the first amendment,” said Lisa Nowlin, a staff attorney for the ACLU. Nowlin has worked on both first amendment cases and cases involving transgender rights.

“If the KKK wanted to hold a private event and rent a room there, they still could?” asked KIRO7’s Deedee Sun.

“Yes, they could. There are caveats there based on the scenario. But they couldn’t be denied based solely on their views and the fact that we disagree with their views, and the fact that their views are harmful,” Nowlin said.

This attorney says that doesn't mean the message from WOLF is okay.

“The views espoused by WOLF are harmful to the transgender and gender non-conforming intersex community,” Nowlin said.

“I will fight for people's rights for free speech, and the ACLU will also fight to end discrimination,” Nowlin said.

The library said in a statement the event has created a "difficult situation" and that “controversial groups like these can test our limits as democratic centers of free speech" and that it's exploring options.

The ACLU said basically, an event could only be refused if there’s an immediate and real threat—such as one of violence.

“That’s where we want the state of the law. Trans people face violence in their everyday lives. And we wouldn’t want it to be a situation where because people were threatening them with violence, that we would be silencing their voices,” Nowlin said.

The ACLU reminds you – if you’re upset, you can exercise your right to free speech and protest.

The WOLF event is scheduled for February 1.