Rishi Sunak uses anti-trans dogwhistle to defend JK Rowling amid Scotland hate crime law row

Prime minister Rishi Sunak used an anti-trans dogwhistle about “biology” as he rushed to defend JK Rowling’s criticism of Scotland’s new hate crime laws.

Harry Potter author Rowling has faced backlash for her remarks about the trans community and for her criticism of the Scottish government’s new legislation on hate crime.

In a series of social media posts, Rowling, who lives in Scotland, misgendered several trans women – including trans activists, public figures and convicted sexual offenders – as she described “every last one of them” as “men”. 

In the same series of posts, she invited police to arrest her if they believed she committed an offence. 

The author then claimed the Scottish government “placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness” than on women’s rights with its new hate crime legislation.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, which went into effect Monday (1 April), is intended to consolidate existing hate crime laws in Scotland. 

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It also creates a new offence of stirring up hatred against people based on protected characteristics like age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and trans identity. 

There has been some criticism over the new hate crime law as it does not include sex in the list of protected characteristics. However, the Scottish government promised to bring forward a separate law to crack down on misogynistic abuse soon. 

Rishi Sunak, who has also faced criticism for his stance on trans rights, defended JK Rowling’s remarks in a statement to The Telegraph.

“People should not be criminalised for stating simple facts on biology,” Sunak said. “We believe in free speech in this country, and Conservatives will always protect it.”

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak wears a suit and tie as he looks off camera
Rishi Sunak said his Tory party will “always protect” free speech as the prime minister defended JK Rowling’s remarks about Scotland’s new hate crime law. (Getty)

Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf said the new hate crime laws would tackle the tide of hatred that has been “far too pervasive in our society”.

He said the country has to have a “zero-tolerance approach to it” so it can “take strong action against it”. 

“I’ve got every confidence in [the] police investigating matters of hatred appropriately, and of course making sure that we protect freedom of expression so vital to our democracy,” he added. 

Scottish Trans manager Vic Valentine wrote in a column for the Scotsman that there are “good reasons for recording crimes as motivated by prejudice”. This includes that it “recognises the particular impact that such an offence has on the victim and their wider community”. 

It will also allow courts to take the prejudice aggravator into account at sentencing which Valentine said would help “get a picture of how prevalent hate crime is” in Scotland. 

“If hate crime towards a particular group of people is increasing, that tells us something important, and worrying,” Valentine added.  

“It means that we can identify a problem, and seek to find solutions to it – though these solutions often rely on long-term work within communities to improve cohesion, interconnectedness, and to change hearts and minds.”

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