Scottish government withdraws amendment to exempt ‘criticism of transgender identity’ from hate crime law after backlash

Humza Yousaf put forward the proposed amendment to his hate crime bill.

The Scottish government has pulled an amendment that sought to exempt “criticism of transgender identity” from hate crime laws.

The country’s justice minister Humza Yousaf announced via Twitter on Monday (1 February) that he had pulled a planned amendment to the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order bill, which seeks to modernise and consolidate hate crime laws in Scotland.

Yousaf apologised “for any hurt caused” by the “freedom of expression” amendment put forward in his name last week, which sought to assert 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”.

When PinkNews reported on the amendment last week, the justice minister claimed that critics had “misunderstood” it and insisted it would not  create a “carte blanche” exemption to spout hate.

Scottish government minister Humza Yousaf sorry ‘for any hurt caused’

However, Yousaf said on Monday that he would now work with other parties to bring forward a new amendment that applies to all protected characteristics equally, instead of proposed measures that singled out gender identity, separate from other provisions on religion and sexual conduct.

The minister said other amendments from Labour and Conservative figures, which also sought to carve out exemptions for anti-transgender speech, would be withdrawn as well.

The Scottish government's justice secretary Humza Yousaf.

The Scottish government’s justice secretary Humza Yousaf. (Getty/Fraser Bremner)

He said: “Have spoken to Opposition members & we have all agreed not to move our amendments in relation to Freedom of Expression (Hate Crime). By not moving, will hopefully achieve consensus on a broad FoE clause for Stage 3 that covers all characteristics, so no group feels targeted.

“We all want to ensure freedom of speech, including the freedom to disagree robustly with any policy, is protected. We also agree that this is not mutually exclusive to protecting the rights of people to be free from hatred. I apologise for any hurt caused – was not my intention.”

The existing freedom of expression rules on religion would go ahead, he said, noting a “broad consensus, not just in Parliamentary terms but also from various stakeholders, from faith groups to secularists.”

Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to challenge transphobia

The reversal comes after an extraordinary intervention on trans issues from Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who strongly challenged transphobia in her party as it faces in-fighting on a number of trans-related issues.

Sturgeon made clear: “Over the course of the day I’ve heard reports of young people in significant numbers leaving the SNP.

“I know many of you personally – I consider you friends, I have campaigned alongside you. You are a credit to our party and our country. It grieves me deeply that you’ve reached this conclusion after much soul searching because you consider at this stage the SNP not to be a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people

“That is not acceptable to me. As SNP leader I will do everything I can to change that impression and persuade all of you that the SNP is your party and you should come home where you belong.

“We have differences of opinion on gender recognition reform and should debate those openly and respectfully, but no debate can be a cover for transphobia. Transphobia is wrong and we must treat it with zero tolerance.”