J.K. Rowling takes on Scotland’s new hate crime law in win for women and free speech

J.K. Rowling takes on Scotland’s new hate crime law in win for women and free speech

By Rachael Wong

On 1 April 2024 (April Fool's Day no less), Scotland’s totalitarian new hate crime law came into force. Offenders face up to seven years in prison for ‘stirring up hatred’ on the basis of certain protected characteristics, including age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics.

People can even be prosecuted for things they say in the privacy of their own home.

As The Times aptly stated, “The SNP’s new law is a poorly drafted and illiberal statute, one which lends itself to capricious misuse and will have a chilling effect on free expression.”

The controversial law was passed three years ago while Nicola Sturgeon was still First Minister, but its implementation has been delayed due to concerns about how its provisions should be enforced.

And as women's rights campaign group For Women Scotland and Edinburgh-based policy analysts Murray Blackburn Mackenzie both pointed out, concerns around enforcement remain, and indeed have been "exacerbated" in the days since the law came into force, with police and politicians misrepresenting its terms.

Of particular concern to women, is the fact that transgender identity is a protected characteristic under the law, while biological sex is not.

Helen Joyce, Director of Advocacy at human rights charity Sex Matters, told Talk TV: “It’s taking away our ability to advocate for our own human rights. It’s exactly a reversal. What they’re saying is that it’s hateful for us to say that this man is a man. But actually for us, it’s hateful to stop us from saying that this man is a man. We can’t stand up for our rights unless we can say who’s a man and who’s a woman.”

Not only is excluding biological sex from the law a disturbing omission, it leaves it wide open to be weaponised by trans activists trying to silence women who speak out about their sex-based rights, and who refuse to kowtow to the gender borg by calling men women.

Women took to the streets to protest the law outside the Scottish Parliament and women’s advocates in Scotland and across the globe strongly condemned the law.

But one woman took the new law head on.

On the day the law came into force, author J.K. Rowling posted a defiant thread to her 14 million followers naming ten prominent trans-identified males and calling out the fact that they are men, not women.

She then went on to explain her concerns about the law and challenged police to arrest her if what she had written is considered a hate crime under the new act:

“In passing the Scottish Hate Crime Act, Scottish lawmakers seem to have placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls. The new legislation is wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women's and girls’ single-sex spaces, the nonsense made of crime data if violent and sexual assaults committed by men are recorded as female crimes, the grotesque unfairness of allowing males to compete in female sports, the injustice of women’s jobs, honours and opportunities being taken by trans-identified men, and the reality and immutability of biological sex.

For several years now, Scottish women have been pressured by their government and members of the police force to deny the evidence of their eyes and ears, repudiate biological facts and embrace a neo-religious concept of gender that is unprovable and untestable. The re-definition of 'woman' to include every man who declares himself one has already had serious consequences for women's and girls’ rights and safety in Scotland, with the strongest impact felt, as ever, by the most vulnerable, including female prisoners and rape survivors.

It is impossible to accurately describe or tackle the reality of violence and sexual violence committed against women and girls, or address the current assault on women’s and girls’ rights, unless we are allowed to call a man a man. Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal.

I'm currently out of the country, but if what I've written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment.”

In a stroke of brilliance, the following day, The Telegraph published the crux of Rowling's post in a full page in the paper.

On 3 April, Police Scotland announced that while complaints had been received, Rowling’s comments would not be treated as criminal. Indeed, police logged more than 3,000 complaints in the first 48 hours after the law came into force, confirming fears it would be weaponised by bad faith actors.

In response to the news that she had not broken the law, Rowling posted on X: "I hope every woman in Scotland who wishes to speak up for the reality and importance of biological sex will be reassured by this announcement, and I trust that all women - irrespective of profile or financial means - will be treated equally under the law.”

In a further post, she said: “If they go after any woman for simply calling a man a man, I'll repeat that woman's words and they can charge us both at once.”

What a hero.

The significance of what Rowling has done cannot be understated. While the new law still stands, Rowling has defanged it. She has set a precedent that when other women call a man a man in a manner similar to her, neither will they be breaking the law. That is not to say all gender critical speech will be treated the same – and there is certainly still cause for concern in how the law will be applied over time – but Rowling has undoubtedly delivered it a devastating blow.

As Suzanne Moore wrote in The Telegraph, “This fuzzy but authoritarian legislation now lays bleeding because of one stupendous woman.”

And this stupendous woman has done it for all women.

As Joyce told Talk TV: “She’s doing this to act as a shield for women who can’t afford to take the hit the way that she did. She’s an absolute superhero. She’s the biggest beneficiary to women’s rights in the world today and she does it for the good of other women and not for herself. It would be so easy for her to stay silent on this and just let other people take the heat, like all the other celebrities are.”

Hear, hear. Thank you J.K. Rowling from women everywhere.

Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women's Forum Australia

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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