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Logan Stanley of the Kitchener Rangers. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images 570 NEWS – Leah Johansen Hundreds of people gathered outside of Wilfrid Laurier University on Friday afternoon in support of free speech, and a local teaching assistant who was chastised for playing a clip of a controversial debate.

TA Lindsay Shepherd made headlines after she claimed she was berated by the University and her superiors for showing students a clip of a debate on gender-neutral pronouns, and not condemning one of the participants who refuses to use pronouns other than ‘he’ and ‘she”.

Laurier has since apologized to Shepherd, but Friday’s rally at Veterans’ Green was organized to support her stance on free speech, and to ensure “something like this doesn’t happen again”.

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris was there to show his solidarity and said the rally was not about ‘left versus right’, but rather about academic freedom and freedom of speech.

“Universities are built upon the foundation of an informed debate, and investigating all aspects of an issue to bring about higher learning,” said Harris. “Ignorance breeds tolerance, just as much as intellectual insight breeds rational thinking. Debate or deliberation should not be suppressed because some find it offensive.”

Shepherd also spoke at the rally, and addressed organizations both inside and outside of the campus community that have now deemed her as being ‘transphobic’.

“Just because someone holds different opinions than you, it is not the correct response to silence and suppress them. This is not how respectful dialogue and mutual understanding is fostered, that is actually how you foster resentment.”

Shepherd also criticized Laurier for their apology, saying it diverted from the main point.

“The apology focused on how I was treated, but I feel like they were still trying to tell me that some opinions are unacceptable. The apology also made it seem like I didn’t know how to handle sensitive topics, and that I should’ve received more mentorship.”

Organizers said they handed a ‘Laurier Free Speech’ statement to the University President on Friday morning, and their request is that the statement will get turned into policy.

Meantime, counter-demonstrators and LGBTQ supporters also gathered across the street from the rally on Friday to silently voice their concerns.

“We have organized this counter-demonstration against the ‘freedom of speech rally’ in order to draw attention to the silencing of trans-people’s voices within the broader freedom of speech discourse,” said organizer Toby Finlay. Silent protestors of today’s rally just right across the street. — Leah Johansen (@leahjohansen) November 24, 2017 After the rally, a few crossed the street looking for dialogue with Trans Supporters — Leah Johansen (@leahjohansen) November 24, 2017 “We acknowledge that they’re using the banner of freedom of speech in order to cover over some of the transphobia that is really at the center of this issue, and we wanted to draw attention to the impacts that this conversation and this issue have had on non-binary and trans students,” said Finlay.

Those organizers also told 570 NEWS that they moved the counter-demonstration across the street from the rally, as they were concerned for the safety of some of their LGBTQ members. Big turnout of staff and students in front of WLU supporting free speech and TA Lindsay Shepherd – students supporting the Trans Community silently standing across the street. — Leah Johansen (@leahjohansen) November 24, 2017 More photos from today’s rally and silent protest in front of Wilfrid Laurier University: — Leah Johansen (@leahjohansen) November 24, 2017 570 NEWS file photo.

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