Things Shepherd is not
Lindsay Shepherd, 24, has been accused of many unseemly things in the past year.
But a sit-down with the former Sir Wilfrid Laurier University teaching assistant, who was thrust into the news in late 2017 when she exposed the way her Ontario professors accused her of creating a “toxic environment” in her class after raising the issue of gender pronouns, quickly reveals there is no substance to the demonized portrait.
Her former professors, Nathan Rambukkana and Herbert Pimlott, recently upped the pressure on her reputation by counter-suing her, after she claimed their accusations had made her unemployable in academia. That’s despite the professors’ early apology and severe admonishment from their own university for attempting to silence her.
Who is Shepherd? One thing she is not, despite accusations, is of the religious right, let alone an opponent of homosexual relationships. She supports Canada’s gay marriage laws. And as a young person, she found Vancouver Pride parades to be “kind of fun.”
Religious beliefs had nothing to do with her decision to confront the profs who compared her showing students a TVOntario interview with University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”
As she says: “I’m an atheist. I’ve never believed in God.”
Shepherd, who returned in December to the Vancouver suburbs where she grew up, is also not a Conservative party supporter.
She voted for the Greens in the federal election and the NDP in the last provincial one. She arrived by SkyTrain, in the pelting rain, for our interview, in part because she thinks people should limit automobile use. This doesn’t mean she lacks a critique of the Greens and NDP’s approach to identity politics.
In the face of accusations from around the world about her being “transphobic,” Shepherd also said she would not have trouble agreeing to the sincere request of a transgender person to be called “they.” She does, however, recognize that an absolutist approach to transgender rights is fraught.
Shepherd helped arrange a talk in Ontario last year by Meghan Murphy, a radical Vancouver feminist who has criticized a B.C. man who identifies as a woman for filing humanrights complaints against numerous estheticians who refused to perform a Brazilian wax on his male genitalia.
Before adding some more things that Shepherd is not, it’s worth summarizing the lawsuits that now surround her 2017 interrogation.
Jordan Peterson (with whom she once briefly shook hands at a public event) has sued the professors for comparing him to Hitler in their meeting with Shepherd. She had recorded it after being told it would include Adria Joel, acting manager of gender violence prevention in Laurier’s Diversity and Equity Office. “That was a real red flag.”
The recording, she said, was the only way she would be believed. Her lawsuit maintains the controversy caused by WLU’s negligence made her unemployable in higher education. As she justifiably says of Canadian academia: “It’s a small world.”
Now that the profs have countersued (while refusing to give interviews), the public waits to see if the case will clarify Canadian guidelines on libel and free expression in the internet age, issues which Shepherd used to find uninteresting.
What other things aren’t accurate about Shepherd, who is due, with fiancé Cosmin Dzsurdzsa, to have a baby in April?
Amusingly enough, she has always generally appreciated CBC News and says of the centre-left-leaning public broadcaster, “I’m not really a de-fund-CBC person.”
And when outraged people on Twitter began accusing her of being of the “alt-right,” she had to look up the term. She found a core belief of the fringe movement is that ultrapowerful Jews are conspiring to control global politics and the economy. Shepherd hadn’t even thought of such a scenario before, and it doesn’t make sense to her.
Somewhat surprised by all the fuss over her situation, Shepherd comes across as natural and even a bit bashful.
It’s been an unusual path for a young woman who attended Cariboo Hill Secondary school in Coquitlam, worked for McDonalds and “just kind of read a lot” before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in communications and politics from Simon Fraser University. Her mother is an elementary school teacher in suburban Vancouver and her father a youth counsellor in Victoria.
“I was pretty quiet at SFU, I guess. But near the end I started to get a little frustrated with myself, when I would react to something and not say anything. (I would think) I had a really good point to make, and I missed my chance.”
Shepherd remembers one labour studies course near the end of her time at SFU when classmates made a presentation lamenting how Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Chinatown were being gentrified by the so-called creative classes.
“They were kind of blaming the housing crisis on artists. So I actually put up my hand and said, ‘Well, we’re talking about gentrification. But, really, you’re not talking about something important here, and that is that a lot of money is coming in from offshore to get these houses. And is it really gentrification if everybody in Vancouver is being gentrified?’”
Her comment didn’t go over well with her SFU classmates. But she says, “These are the kinds of things I’m still interested in: What can’t we talk about for fear of seeming racist? What are the issues that seem pretty common sense, but people are too scared to say anything about?”
By refusing to allow herself to be quietly disciplined by Laurier’s faculty, she has shown a certain calm determination in the face of adversity. Among other things, she has been stalked. And she wonders if she may have personally benefited more from the whole Laurier affair “if I’d just been a victim. But that’s not really me.”
Even though she obtained a master’s degree from Laurier, she has no money, which means her ex-profs will not get anything if they win. She is also going to be busy being a mother, but holds out thin hope she could some day be a college instructor, saying, “I like teaching.”
Her Twitter page, @ NewWorldHominin, has grown to 76,000 followers. And she occasionally writes articles for the centreright Montreal-based magazine, The Post Millennial, where her Romanian partner is an editor. She also believes it’s her duty to respond to speaking and media interview requests.
The irony is that her many online and other opponents, by attempting to bully her, each week make her more influential. She’s not about to cower.
“I feel very committed to Canada,” she says. “And I feel I’ve got nothing to hide.” [email protected]media.com
Lindsay Shepherd speaks during a rally in support of freedom of expression at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo on Friday November 24, 2017.