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by Staff reporter
17 August 2020
J. K. Rowling would not be prosecuted under the new hate crime bill, Humza Yousaf says

Humza Yousaf - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

J. K. Rowling would not be prosecuted under the new hate crime bill, Humza Yousaf says

J. K. Rowling would not be prosecuted under the new hate crime bill for her comments about biological sex, justice secretary Humza Yousaf has said in an interview with Holyrood.

Some fear the Scottish Government’s hate crime bill, which creates a new crime of stirring up hatred, could turn differences of opinion, for example, on transgender rights, into crimes.

But Yousaf told Holyrood that saying a trans person is not a real man or a real woman would not be considered a hate crime under the new legislation unless it was done in a threatening way.

Rowling was accused of transphobia for objecting on Twitter to the use of the term ‘people who menstruate’ instead the word ‘women’.

She said that “erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives” and “it isn’t hate to speak the truth.”

Her comments last month attracted widespread controversy, with some, including former Harry Potter stars Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe, criticising her views and others backing her stance.

An ‘I love J K Rowling’ poster in Edinburgh’s Waverley Station put up in support of the author was taken down by station by staff, who claimed it was too “political”.

But Yousaf made it clear that what she said would not become a crime.

He told Holyrood: “If you were to say a trans man is not a real man or trans woman is not a real woman, you would not be prosecuted under the bill that I am intending to bring forward, so long as you didn't do it in a threatening or abusive way that is intended or likely stir up hatred.

“So if I went up to a trans man, put them up against the wall and said, ‘You’re not a real man,’ or burst into a meeting with 100 people, and it was a meeting of trans men, and said, ‘Trans men are not real men,’ then potentially, you know, if I was being threatening or abusive and likely to stir up hatred, then I would be committing a crime, but JK Rowling putting out a tweet as she did, expressing her views, would just not be prosecuted under the hate crime bill.”

Yousaf admitted that “undoubtedly” the fact that reform of the Gender Recognition Act is still under discussion had affected how the hate crime bill had been received, saying it would be “foolish of me to pretend otherwise”.

The wording of the bill has attracted criticism from a range of bodies including the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Police Federation, the Catholic Church, the Humanist Society and the Secular Society.

Last week a group of over 20 authors, journalists, artists, academics and campaigners, including Val McDermid, Elaine C Smith, Rowan Atkinson and Peter Tatchell, published an open letter highlighting their concerns about the bill’s potential “significant chilling effect on free expression”.

Yousaf said the letter would be given “serious consideration”.

In the interview, he also expressed frustration about infighting within the SNP and the wider Yes movement over these and other issues just as support for independence is increasing.

“I feel like if the party was a person, I'd just grab it by the shoulders and give them a good shake, and just say to the party, ‘Just pull yourself together here,’” he said.

“I've been I've been in the party for 15 years, many people have been far longer than me, but in the 15 years that I've been the party, we have never ever been closer to our goal.”

You can hear the full interview in Holyrood's Politically Speaking podcast on Wednesday.

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