UoT’s Letter of Response

Upon Jordan Peterson’s refusal to use gendered pronouns, he was sent a letter by the University of Toronto. The letter warns that Peterson’s refusal is “contrary to the rights of those persons to equal treatment without discrimination based on their ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression” (Yun, 2016). This excerpt elaborates:

“Depending on the context, if personal pronouns are being used, the refusal by a teacher or colleague to use the personal pronoun that is an expression of the person’s gender identity can constitute discrimination,” reads a portion of the letter.” (Yun, 2016)

The letter also invokes the Ontario Human Rights Code in urging Peterson to reconsider his statements due to the impact it has on non-binary and trans students. See the full letter on The Varsity.

Peterson argued that the only reason the university felt compelled to send him a letter and attempted to “silence him” (Yun, 2016) so that they would not be responsible or liable for his potential hate speech. However, the right to be recognized is critical for a liberal democratic society to function. According to Richard Juang, “recognition has three crucial components: 1. Value: being valued as a human being 2. Dignity: a protected characteristic 3. Self-expression: especially in the public sphere” (Juang, 2006, p. 706). This, of course, includes gender identity and gender expression outlined in Bill C-16.

One of many students responses to Peterson’s comments eschewing this importance of recognition was Iris Robin,  a first-year journalism masters student at Ryerson University. They said, “While I don’t think it would classify as criminal hate speech, it’s not pleasant to hear he’s not accepting of the fact that I exist. I could walk up to him and be like ‘Hi, I’m real.’ But he probably wouldn’t accept that. For people like Peterson, it’s important to understand why they believe these things and if they’re willing to engage in a dialogue,” (Donato, 2016). In a nutshell, Peterson’s not accepting to use gender-neutral pronouns erases and disrespects the existence of those who feel most comfortable with gender-neutral they/them/zhe/zir pronouns.

Read on for another similar legal case that illustrates the importance of legal protections for LGBTQ rights and social justice.


Donato, A. (2016, September 30). Non-Binary Students React to the U of T Prof Who Won’t Acknowledge Their Pronouns. Torontoist. Retrieved from http://torontoist.com/2016/09/non-binary-students-react-to-u-of-t-prof-who-doesnt-think-theyre-real/

Juang, Richard. (2006). Transgendering the politics of recognition. In Stryker, S. and Whittle, S. (eds.), The transgender studies reader, pp. 706-720.

Yun, T. (2016, October 3). U of T Community responds to Jordan Peterson on gender identities. The Varsity. Retrieved from http://thevarsity.ca/2016/10/03/u-of-t-community-responds-to-jordan-peterson-on-gender-identities/

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