Scottish Tory apologises after linking trans people and ‘learning difficulties’

Scottish Tory MSP Stephen Kerr wears a suit and tie as he speaks before politicians gathered in Holyrood. He has been an opponent of Scotland's pro-trans Gender Recognition Reform bill

A Scottish Tory has apologised after he tweeted suggesting there is a link between trans people and having learning difficulties, blaming a member of his staff for the social media post.

In a now-deleted tweet, MSP Stephen Kerr criticised the Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) bill. The measure would streamline the process for trans people in Scotland to legally change their gender by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate. 

The majority of Conservative MSPs voted against the GRR bill, which passed through Holyrood in December but was blocked by Westminster a few weeks later. 

First Minister Humza Yousaf vowed to fight for the GRR bill, and it brought the measure back into the centre of political debate in Scotland. 

Kerr, who represents Central Scotland as the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokesperson, waded into the debate and suggested the new government “brought the change to review the Gender Reform Bill” as well as to “ask questions [Nicola] Sturgeon didn’t bother with”. 

The Scottish Tory added: “Why are more young people wanting to change their gender? Is there a link with having learning/development disabilities?”

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He deleted the tweet after swift backlash from politicians and social media users alike. 

SNP Councillor Fatima Joji tweeted: “I have no words. Look at that second paragraph. Is he for real?”

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Joji told The National that Kerr’s “disgusting” tweet is the latest in the Scottish Tory MSP’s attacks against the trans community. She said he has found the GRR bill “problematic” and has “in the past through speeches suggested trans women are a threat to our safety and spaces as women”.

“The manner in which he has included people with disabilities in his comment, appears to suggest that he finds sections of the disabled community to be a problem, where he finds GRR to be a problem,” Joji said. 

“I think it’s frankly disgusting, irresponsible, and stigmatising.”

Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said Kerr’s now-deleted tweet is “exactly the kind of language that has seen transphobic hate crime triple in recent years”.

“The longer the Tories are in power the worse their attacks on minority groups get, with no concern about where promoting such hate will lead, the damage it will do, or the lives it will ruin,” Chapman said.

She continued: “Today Stephen Kerr has recognised that he went too far and rowed his comments back. 

“I hope he’ll take this moment to reflect on his actions. But I fully expect that tomorrow he’ll be back with fresh attacks and disinformation instead.”

Scottish Tory MSP Stephen Kerr wears a suit and tie as he sits at a desk in Holyrood. He has been an opponent of Scotland's pro-trans Gender Recognition Reform bill
Greens MSP Maggie Chapman called Stephen Kerr’s tweet an example of “exactly the kind of language that has seen transphobic hate crime triple in recent years”. (Getty)

Amid the backlash, Kerr reposted the tweet with slightly different wording. He wrote that the first minister gave the Scottish government time to review the GRR and “ask questions which weren’t addressed previously”

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“Most importantly, ScotGov could reconsider their opposition to some very sensible opposition amendments,” Kerr wrote. “But it hasn’t happened.”

The Scottish Tory MSP later apologised for the initial tweet linking trans people and those with learning difficulties, which he claimed was written by a staffer. 

“I take full responsibility for everything on my Twitter and would like to apologise for any offence caused,” he told the National. “The tweet was written in haste by a member of my team and then deleted as it does not reflect my views.”

But Joji said on Twitter that Kerr’s apology is “not good enough”, and “it sounds very much on form for Stephen Kerr to say something like that”.

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