The Scottish government has been accused of turning a hate crime bill into a “transphobes’ charter” after a move to exempt “criticism of matters relating to transgender identity” under sustained pressure from anti-trans activists.
Justice minister Humza Yousaf submitted an amendment on Monday (25 January) to his proposed Hate Crime and Public Order bill, which seeks to modernise and consolidate hate crime laws in Scotland.
Yousaf’s “protection of freedom of expression” amendment states that “behaviour or material is not to be taken to be threatening or abusive solely on the basis that it involves or includes discussion or criticism of matters relating to transgender identity”.
The amendment would prevent charges for cases where people’s views solely construe “criticism” of “transgender identity”, which is defined as “identity as a female-to-male transgender person, male-to-female transgender person, a non-binary person, a person who cross-dresses”.
Transgender issues are singled out by the amendment, which does not similarly apply to “criticism” of identity relating to race, sex, sexual orientation or other protected characteristics.
The only existing exemptions in the bill concern criticism of sexual conduct and religion, but the measures do not apply to individuals’ identity in either case.
MSPs propose further amendments to hate crime bill.
The amendment does not explain what could be considered legitimate “discussion or criticism” of a person’s identity, setting up the likely potential for legal disputes in future trans-related hate crime cases.
The hate crime bill has become an intense point of focus for anti-trans activists in Scotland, with pressure groups and trans-hostile lawmakers suggesting that providing trans people with the same protections afforded to other minority groups would stifle freedom of speech.
In addition to Yousaf’s changes on behalf of the Scottish government, other trans-hostile amendments have been put forward by parliamentarians from other parties.
Conservative MSP Liam Kerr has proposed an amendment that would carve out specific protections from hate crime laws for “urging of persons to modify their transgender identity, stating that sex is an immutable biological characteristic, stating that there are only two sexes, or refusing to use a person’s preferred name or pronoun”.
Kerr is also seeking an amendment protecting “criticism” of same-sex marriage, proposing a carve-out for “discussion or criticism of marriage which concerns the sex of the parties to marriage”.
Meanwhile, a proposed amendment by Labour MSP Rhonda Grant would add an exemption for self-identified feminists, suggesting: “Behaviour or material is not taken to be threatening or abusive when it is for the purpose of advocating for women’s rights.”
The amendments will be considered as the bill continues through its committee stage.
Scottish government accused of ‘pandering to transphobia’.
Scottish nationalist MP Joanna Cherry, an opponent of the bill in its initial form, celebrated the government’s amendment on Twitter, tweeting: “Bravo @HumzaYousaf. The @scotgov have introduced an amendment to #HateCrimeBill to protect #FreedomOfExpression in respect of discussion and criticism of matters relating to transgender identity. A huge victory for #womensrights and #FreedomOfSpeech”.
However, critics accused the SNP of “pandering to transphobia” with the change.
One Scottish Greens campaigner wrote: “Not sure there’s a more direct way for the SNP leadership to pin their colours to the mast than suggesting changes to the hate crime bill that openly suggest removing transphobia as a hate crime. Imagine removing criticism of ‘homosexual identity’ from hate crime legislation.
“There’s no difference here. Humza Yousaf is providing an escape hatch for transphobes…. this is SNP leadership flagrantly pandering to transphobia in their ranks.”
Others branded the document a “transphobes’ charter” over the proposed changes.
Humza Yousaf did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PinkNews.
In November, he had claimed the bill would apply to “threatening behaviour” from anti-trans activists but not anti-trans statements. He said: “If there’s threatening behaviour which accompanies that expression and it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was intended to stir up hatred, then of course it could be prosecuted, but that is not down to the perception of any particular victim, but an objective analysis by the court.
“By saying a trans woman is not a woman is not in itself going to lead to a prosecution.”