Most “Free speech” advocacy is demanding the right to preach hatred, contempt, or fear-mongering about vulnerable groups, but harassing trans people should no more be protected speech than shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Continue reading
If someone says, or tweets, something hateful towards trans people, should the police get involved?
In the US, constitutional protection of speech, held to include burning crosses, is fundamental, but in Britain we recognise the concept of hate speech. Hate speech oppresses particular groups, suppressing their speech, so vitiates the main benefit of free speech: hearing different perspectives so as to find the truth. But not everything that is hateful should be criminal. A hate crime involves harassment, intimidation, violence, or property damage motivated by hatred of the victim as a member of a particular group rather than as an individual. Shouting abuse in the street is a crime under the Public Order Act 1986. A hate incident is not criminal but may still offend and distress a member of a minority.
Here are the current Hate Crime Operational Guidelines, last reviewed in 2014, currently subject to a consultation. Dr Nathan Hall’s foreword (p1) makes the case for police involvement even when there is no crime: Regardless of how trivial an incident may appear initially, the actions or inactions of the police in response to that incident can have a significant impact on the way that the organisation is viewed by the community it serves.
Where there is no crime (p60) The police have limited powers in these circumstances, but should recognise that hate incidents can cause extreme distress to victims and communities and can be the precursor to more serious crimes.
Such incidents are discussed at pp60-63. Where another agency is responsible the police might not even formally record a “non-crime hate incident”- for example transphobic shouting in a school. Where no other agency is responsible, the police should record the incident. Any risks to the victim should be identified. Police forces should keep local statistics. The public may object, calling the police the “thought police” (a term from 1984), so the police should not overreact or breach the hater’s human rights.
Hate Crime on the Internet: see pp115-122. Making threats is a crime, and if the anonymous individual is in England, threatening someone in England, and can be identified then English courts have jurisdiction even if the servers are elsewhere.
There is a site, True Vision, on which to report hate crime including on the internet. Personal threats should be investigated.
Not all hate is criminal. On line, haters radicalise each other, and their hatred may spill over into real world harassment and intimidation, but criminalising the hatred is politically impossible. And while I would like the self-righteous hatred exhibited by such as WPUK rebuked, I find others called “extremists”, such as Extinction Rebellion, admirable, so don’t want criminal law to encroach too far. Yet I read that the vile Harry Miller tweeted personal abuse as well as the inanities quoted by the judge, so possibly he got away with his court action because of the evidence rather than the facts.
It’s amazing what whiny snowflakes transphobes are. After tweeting what a judge called opaque, profane or unsophisticated (para 251) and containing “abuse” (para 23) “gender-critical”, ie transphobic, tweets, Harry Miller had a half hour phone conversation with a police officer. He then claims that (para 93) he experienced a deep sense of personal humiliation, shame and embarrassment such that he withdrew from his own company and has not visited his office since. However this embarrassment did not stop him from tweeting continuously about his hatred of trans people ever after.
Some examples are necessary. They are vile, so I white them out: select text to view at your own peril. I don’t quote the tweets that abused individuals personally. “Your breasts are made of silicone/
your vagina goes nowhere/
And we can tell the difference/
Even when you are not there/
Your hormones are synthetic
And let’s just cross this bridge/
What you have, you stupid man/
Is male privilege” (para 56)
This was not even original, he copied it from someone slightly more articulate.
Para 44 is an opaque one: “You know the worst thing about cancer ? It’s transphobic.” Apparently a certain type of brain tumour is different in men and women. He also spread the falsehood that a child-murderer is trans (para 37).
“I was assigned Mammal at Birth, but my orientation is Fish. Don’t mis species me. fuckers.” (para 42)
Enough of that garbage. As the judge says, Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative … Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having. (para 3). Unfortunately he does not give a useful analysis of hate speech: because it suppresses the speech of victimised groups, hate speech reduces the benefits of different perspectives that free speech should give.
Para 120: The claimant’s barrister quoted, it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance …, provided that any ‘formalities’, ‘conditions’, ‘restrictions’ or ‘penalties’ imposed are proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.
Para 228: Mr Giannasi, the police Hate Crime Adviser, said, Failure to address non-crime hate incidents is likely to lead to their increase, and ultimately increase the risk of serious violence and societal damage.
Para 248: Kathleen Stock argues “gender critical” comment is not hate speech.
The judge merely says, para 281, The Claimant’s evidence, which I accept, is that he is not prejudiced and that his tweets were sent as part of an ongoing debate. He does not want to address the issue himself, stating it is for the complainer to give evidence that it is hate. He says only one trans woman complained- I see wicked rubbish like Miller’s tweets, and shrivel a bit, or I just ignore it. Life’s too short. If one has the courage, mental energy and trust in the system necessary to complain, many other trans women seeing his profanities will find them hateful.
So here is the argument that it is hate speech: Miller’s quoted tweets and others first call trans women a threat to cis women, and then mock and vilify us as ridiculous. This is dehumanising. It makes violence against us more likely- after all, who could respect a trans woman? The sense that we are ridiculous is the basis of a lot of the hate I receive, which Miller encourages. I fear that the sexual thrill Miller gets from tweeting about our vaginas will not eventually be enough for him, and he will become actually violent; or, possibly, if he sees a trans woman he will be abusive, in such a way as to be intimidating or harassing- an actual criminal offence. It is reasonable for the police to assess the risk of escalation into more serious harm (para 104ff).
So it was reasonable for a police officer to speak to Miller. The judge disagreed, partly because he thought there was not enough evidence of the harm Miller had caused. He took Stock’s falsehood at face value, that some expressions described as transphobic are not necessarily so (unlike racist language which is always hateful and offensive), para 281, yet he thinks (para 245) that “TERF” can be a pejorative term.
The case is also notable showing the idiocy of Kathleen Stock’s position. She is an academic who tries to drive trans women out from women’s spaces. She says, I argue that there’s nothing wrong, either theoretically, linguistically, empirically, or politically, with the once-familiar idea that a woman is, definitionally, an adult human female. I also argue that the subjective notion of ‘gender identity’ is ill-conceived intrinsically, and a fortiori as a potential object of law or policy. In light of these and other views, I am intellectually ‘gender-critical’; that is, critical of the influential societal role of sex-based stereotypes, generally, including the role of stereotypes in informing the dogmatic and, in my view, false assertion that – quite literally – ‘trans women are women’. I am clear throughout my work that trans people are deserving of all human rights and dignity.
Where to start? There’s also nothing wrong with treating a few thousand trans women culturally and socially as women. Trans women exist, and have done for millennia, no matter what theory, gender identity or otherwise, is used to explain us. Trans acceptance subverts gender stereotypes, and our human rights as usually understood include recognition of our acquired gender: human rights caselaw led to the Gender Recognition Act and our Equality Act protections.
Miller sought to do a great deal of harm. His case argued that Hate Crime Operational Guidance, under which hate crime is investigated, was contrary to his human rights so should be abolished. The judge threw that one out without hesitation. He is left with a decision that in his particular case, the police should have found more evidence of actual harm before a police officer phoned him. Such evidence could easily have been found, had the police sought it: contact a few trans people and see what we think.
To me, it is not necessary that hate tweets have a specific victim, a trans woman who reads them and feels hurt and fearful, for them to be dangerous and a misuse of free speech. Even if, as the judge suggests (para 74) the only readers are his fellow-haters, he still encourages them and they may commit crime because of it, as they radicalise each other. But some organised campaigning- say a team of a dozen trans women, finding complainants to say that they find a particular tweeter’s rants hateful and why, might fulfil the judge’s requirement.
The judge did not accept the complainant’s comment that “eighty years ago Miller would have been making the same comments about Jewish people”- para 60. Well, it’s not certain, and the slippery hater denies hating at all. But he certainly likes to mock and denigrate trans women, and he would probably find some other target if he was not aware of us.
Hate-media report it as you would expect. “Police compared to Stasi and Gestapo by judge” crows the Telegraph. The Daily Mail referred to the police phone call as an “Orwellian nightmare”. The nightmare of trans women abused in the street and by powerful media continues unabated. You can read the whole decision here.
Are Quakers transphobic? Yes. Not all, perhaps, but there is a vicious, self-righteous, self-pitying strain of transphobic hatred in many Quakers. At least one cis ally had to step away from her meeting because of transphobia there, and trans people are leaving.
“The Friend” magazine regularly prints the letters of transphobes, and there is a fine example in this week’s. It is anonymous, as the writer fears their vile prejudice becoming known.
It attaches Quaker virtues falsely to the transphobe cause. “The promptings of love and truth” and “sitting with uncertainty” allegedly lead the writer to transphobia. Wokeness is mocked with scare quotes, and being a trans ally called the “easy”, thoughtless path.
Trans concerns are minimised, and myths peddled. “We heard about the trans woman who feels alienated”- this sounds abstract, beside the account of our “victims”. “A young man pressured to redefine his gender rather than accept his homosexuality” as if that ever happens. No-one who cannot accept gay people can accept trans people.
The answer, they imply, is just to exclude trans women. How else to protect vulnerable, fearful women? Well, you could introduce them to the trans woman and show fear of her was unjustified. Few meeting houses have communal showers and changing rooms, and the risk in a toilet cubicle from trans women generally, if it exists, is far less than the risk anywhere else of male sexual violence.
“The Friend” printed an excellent article by James Barrett, specialist psychiatrist, who wrote “it is soul-crushing and miserable for someone to live their lives pretending to be something they are not”, a quote made prominent in large print. The editor is not a transphobe. But letters show a steady drip of poison.
On 17th May, a woman claimed to have had transgender friends! Then she said “the recent politicization of transgender has adversely affected women, girls and lesbians” (sic). She then wrote of “misinformed trans activists” in misogynistic bullying of rape survivors. She wants a “safe space for debate”, or to be able to hate trans women without criticism.
Elsewhere, the self-righteous attempt by some Quakers to promote hate and fear against trans women was on full view. One claimed that being asked what her “gender” was, was a lie- she has sex but no gender. So she works to deny the ordinary descriptive language we use to explain our experience. Another complained of trans women being referred to as “she”.
One suggests the “theory” underpinning our identity is “unhelpful”, and “just be kind” “gets nowhere”.
One asserts “female-bodied people calling themselves non-binary is anti-lesbian”. Some AFAB non-binary people have male partners. She wants to regulate the words we use about ourselves. Another says “it isn’t about trans rights, as gender-critical progressive women are in favour of trans-identified people having fully the same rights as everyone else”- as long as those rights are defined to exclude us. She is against our rights under the Equality Act. Despite all the open transphobia, she claims “honest and open discussion” (transphobia) is “suppressed”. One claimed that trans women talking about our experience “causes pain to other Friends”.
Then there is the old lie, “This is an issue which will affect everyone, not only Quakers”. Gender recognition, the only new right on offer, only affects trans people.
Are Quakers transphobic? Not all, but some are grimly and self-righteously so. If you go to a Quaker meeting there may be someone there resenting your presence. They are unlikely to say anything- despite talk of Quaker “plain speech” we are not good at handling conflict- but you may find yourself frozen out.
As an antidote to the hate, a beautiful picture.
No trans woman should have to hear that trans women are a threat to cis women, without robust rebuttal, ideally by allies rather than ourselves. In particular in universities, where trans women are in their late teens and early twenties, where they live on or near campus and spend much of their time on campus, they should be protected from the idea that we are a threat, either ourselves or that violent men will pretend to be women in order to assault women, if we get recognition. If people say we are a threat, they feel entitled to use violence against us to protect themselves or others.
That might be the most protection we can get.
Safe spaces in Britain have been created by students, usually allies protecting fellow students. This started with far right speakers attacking students of south Asian heritage. The leaders of Britain First, recently retweeted by Trump, or the English Defence League have nothing of use or interest to say, cannot be trusted to tell the truth, and are grossly offensive to most students, not just Muslims. If you do not have the basic empathy to feel with those minority students, you have something wrong with you. Some students are prejudiced, and BAME students will receive microagressions, but generally the most overt racism is taboo.
Now, the National Union of Students policy is that attacks on students cannot be tolerated, and it was a cis woman NUS women’s officer who opposed Germaine Greer speaking in Cardiff. Their video here explains that as charities they have to be careful external speakers do not incite hate crimes, and consider health and safety. That is separate from their no-platform policy, which bans the EDL and Al-Muhajiroun. Freedom of speech should be balanced with the right to be safe from harm, such as Linda Bellos saying she would take off her glasses and punch one of those bastards- trans women. That is incitement to violence, but as they put it it might have a “possible impact on campus cohesion”, emboldening TERFs to mock or threaten trans women. If “risks or tension arose at a similar event before” that might be a reason to refuse a speaker a platform within the Student Union. The Union might consider “robust regulatory steps” to allow a higher risk event to go ahead. Steps to mitigate risk could include having Union officials observe, stewards provide security, or the speech submitted to the Union in advance.
Germaine Greer could simply have been told not to mention trans people. At another speech she made in Norwich she refused to answer a question about trans women, saying “What do I know?”
The risk to cis women of trans women in women’s loos is less than the risk from other cis women. Self-certification when one pledges to live in the acquired gender life-long by oath is sufficient protection against people faking.
Before researching this I did not know the difference between the No Platform policy, applied to particular extremist groups, and the External Speakers policies, applied to all speakers. This is arcane. When everyone knows about the difference, it is a useful distinction to allow people to distinguish different issues. When listeners might not know, there can be a bait and switch, making someone answer about extremist groups and then ridiculing the answer as if it applied to any speaker.
Never was there a post more needing illustrated by Matisse- pictures of sane, beautiful people doing their thing to balance out the descriptions of madness. I did a google image search, but would not pollute my blog with the stuff that emerged. Do it only if you have a strong stomach.
There are pictures of the President with a toothbrush moustache, pictures of Obama, Hitler and Stalin, pictures of him waving with the subtitle “Seig Heil”. One picture compares calls for those other than the little people to pay taxes to Hitler inciting hatred of Jews. “Fiscally responsible achievers who paid mortgages on homes they could afford are responsible for your misery!”
Mmm. That is an interesting one. I do find Leona Helmsley hateful, but that is based on reason. The way the richest one percent take more and more of the wealth while others are squeezed is more a product of globalisation and the greater increase of people with skills than work for them to do- and if globalisation is the cause, that does not mean trying to prevent globalisation is the solution.
Mmm. Maybe I should take down that Leona Helmsley reference. It is an appeal to emotion. I am dealing with the whipping up of fear and hatred here, so should be particularly careful to avoid it myself. I leave it in to illustrate the matter, and, well, because this is a blog. I criticise it because Leona Helmsley is not typical. So we see a way of propagandizing: that cartoon seeks to widen the Good People to people who have paid off their mortgage, and people who still believe they can- place a divide just below them, to the scrounging improvident workshy. My allusion seeks to widen the Good People who should be on my side, and portray the bad people as the rich: anyone richer than you, perhaps. This us and them, they are the enemy, is so destructive- indeed disastrous.
It is so tempting. If you do that google image search- one of the main horrors of it is the exuberance, the joy of invention of it. It is as creative as tax avoidance schemes (Oops).
When a fbfnd described going to the post office and finding two men outside with an “Obama as Hitler” sign, who catcalled her, a commenter said that had happened to her too, again outside a post office. “But that’s insane”, I think. The reality of it is terrifying.
When some in Rwanda dehumanised others, they called them “cockroaches”. Dehumanising the President, some call him “a Muslim”. It is so hard to ascribe degrees of vileness to such hatred, but I think the American tactic is slightly viler. Not the people who employ it, though, as that is to fall into the same trap. When I am absolutely clear about abhorring the sin, that is the time to make sure I love the sinner.
“It’s now very common to hear people saying ‘I’m rather offended by that’ as if that gives them certain rights – it’s simply a whine, it’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive’. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that’ – well so fucking what?” – Stephen Fry at the Hay Festival 2005, sourced here.
Lots of things offend me: hate speech offends me. It is a fairly new concept for me, hate speech: speech about a person or group which humiliates or derides or vilifies that group, with the intent that the group be treated as disgusting or as an enemy. Certain Rwandans referring to Tutsis as “Cockroaches” is an extreme example.
The “cockroaches” example is vile. Clearly “free speech” should not protect it. It is an incitement to violence. More subtle hate speech may smell wrong, but I might not be able to put my finger on exactly why. I have an emotional response to it. I say it is offensive.
If this quote is representative of his current view, Fry rejects the emotional response. He privileges people who are able to articulate an argument on why something is wrong over others who can only make the emotional response. I think the emotional response has value, because we can read human relationships and situations and react to them without engaging our verbal centres.
When someone calls my words “offensive” I want to look for the value in the communication, rather than dismiss it or privilege it. “Offence” is not a trump card, but sometimes a whine is the best I can do.
Also, while reasoned refutation of religious belief is absolutely acceptable though some find it offensive, some extreme speech deliberately to offend, such as gross insults of Mohammed, is wrong.
Mmm. What of the term “sky-fairy”? It is ridicule, it calls a belief stupid without saying why. It also expresses an emotional response of the atheist, willing to explain up to a point, but eventually driven to shout STFU. By then, we are simply offending each other. There is a place for reasoned dialogue, a place for shouting at each other, and sometimes you just have to go for a lie down.
Seeing that this was extempore speech, I love his articulacy, including the jewel-like exactitude of his use of the word “fucking”. The perfect word for that place.