Christian preacher guilty of harassing trans woman has conviction quashed citing ‘free speech’

A pedestrian street in Briggate, Leeds

A Christian street-preacher who was found guilty of harassing a trans woman in Leeds has had his conviction overturned.

Street-preacher David McConnell was found guilty of the “distressing attack” on Farrah Munir in September, after he reportedly called her a “man” and a “gentleman” on the street, an incident which she said made her feel “emotionally distraught”. 

After the incident, McConnell, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, was given a 12-month community order with 80 hours of unpaid work for causing “harassment, alarm or distress” to Munir. 

However, McConnell’s conviction was quashed on at Leeds Magistrates’ Court after an appeal hearing, last week, when it was found that although the preacher had caused “harassment, alarm and distress” to Munir, 19, there was no evidence he had intended to do so, the BBC reported. 

The court had previously seen video footage from the 42-year-old preacher’s body camera, which showed Munir approaching him as he spoke to a crowd on Briggate, Leeds.

She was seen to ask him: “Does God accept the LGBT community?”

You may like to watch

McConnell then reportedly responded to the crowd, referring to Munir as “this gentleman” and saying: “This is a man”. 

He also said in the footage: “Homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God”, and “The Bible says lesbianism is an unnatural and vile passion.” 

When how this had made her feel, Munir told the appeal hearing: “Upset. Emotionally distraught, as this had never happened to me before”.

McConnell, who said he had been street preaching regularly for 15 years, claimed in court that he was “not misgendering” Munir, and that he hadn’t intended to offend anyone. 

“I knew the person in front of me was a biological male and, therefore, I stayed true to God and true to my beliefs,” he told the court.

“I think people could have been offended but that’s not the intention. My intention was to simply stay faithful to my beliefs, stay faithful to God and to stay faithful to my conscience.

“I wasn’t being transphobic, I was expressing what I believe.”

Trans rights activists march through central London after a protest outside Downing Street on 21 January 2023.
Trans rights activists march through central London after a protest outside Downing Street on 21 January 2023. (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty)

Recorder Anthony Hawks, who sat with two magistrates, allowed the preacher’s appeal against his conviction. 

“We live in a time when free speech is important and vital and we live in a time when people’s attitudes towards gender are very different from how they were years ago,” Hawks said. 

“All these issues need to be properly respected, so I make no criticism whatsoever of the Crown bringing a prosecution in this case.”

McConnell said he was “delighted and relieved” by the court’s decision.

“No other street preacher, professional or member of the public must go through what I have,” he said. 

A damning report in 2022 revealed a huge rise in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in the UK.

Incidents against trans people grew by 240%, from 1,292 reports in 2016-17 to 4,399 in 2021-2022.