Scotland’s Transphobia Law: J.K. Rowling Controversy


“If the simple observation of a person’s biological sex is considered criminal, it is because freedom of expression and opinion is seriously threatened in Scotland,” denounces J.K. Rowling, the Scottish author of the Harry Potter saga. .

The novelist, who has made numerous controversial outings towards transgender people in recent years, has found a new opportunity to assert that “a man is a man” with the entry into force of a law, on April 1, to reinforce the fight against incitement to hatred. The legislation, which brings hope to many people, protects against discrimination based on age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

In a series of posts posted on social networks, Rowling denounced this “Hate Crime and Public Order Act”, inviting the police to arrest her if by chance she had made offensive remarks. “It is impossible to accurately describe or address the reality of violence and sexual violence committed against women […] unless we have the right to call a man a man,” continued J.K. Rowling, very virulent on the protection of women’s rights which she often opposed to the cause of transgender activists.

An extremely polarized debate

Like her, conservatives, certain feminist associations and fervent defenders of freedom of expression consider that the new law considerably restricts freedom of speech. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agrees, saying that no one should be prosecuted for “stating simple facts about biology.” “We believe in freedom of speech in this country, and the Conservatives will always protect it,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

J.K. Rowling, but also Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and even Kamel Daoud are the figures of a fight which dates back at least to 2020, when they signed a column denouncing “intolerance towards opposing points of view”. Nearly 150 intellectuals expressed their indignation in Harper’s Magazine against what they considered to be an obstacle to freedom of speech, after a wave of criticism and a boycott that the author suffered due to her comments deemed transphobic.

But for certain feminist associations, in this country where the debate on gender has become extremely polarized, the risk relates in particular to the fact that the new law does not include the female sex as a group victim of hatred. They fear that the law will do a disservice to women victims of sexual and gender-based violence in the event of attack by a transgender person.

A “new wave of hatred”

Scotland joins England and Wales in which incitement to hatred on grounds of racism, religion or sexual orientation is prohibited. The new legislation thus complements other laws in this area, and aims to confront “a new wave of hatred” which is affecting Scottish society, according to Prime Minister Humza Yousaf. Faced with concerns about the way in which the police will handle complaints of hatred, he reassured by recalling that for several decades, hate crimes, particularly racial, which are punishable by the 1986 law, have been judged in a “very reasonable” manner by the Scottish Police.

The vote on this very controversial law brought together around 200 detractors on Monday April 1, in front of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, led by the Scottish Union for Education association, which also fights against the right to abortion and assisted suicide. This debate is reminiscent of that on the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform law, allowing gender change without medical advice. Adopted in 2022 by Holyrood, it was then censored by the British government, deemed incompatible with the United Kingdom’s equality laws.

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