Photo by andrewmedina
Artillery Row

“Misgendering” is not a crime

Still less is it terrorism

Christian evangelist Dave McConnell regularly preaches in the streets of Leeds. He likes to engage the audience by inviting questions from them. In June 2021, a transgender woman (i.e., a biological man dressed as a woman and identifying as a woman) asked a question about whether God accepts the LGBT community.

McConnell responded to the question referring to the questioner by saying: “So, this gentleman asked a question ….”

Members of the crowd screamed at him: “She’s a woman!”

McConnell replied: “No, this is a man.” At which a woman in the crown shouted: “She’s just as much a woman as me!”

Interactions continued, with McConnell calmly preaching about Biblical sexual morality and continuing to refer to “this gentleman” and sometimes referring to him as a “man in women’s clothes.”

So far so boring. A robust exchange of views was had. No crime was committed. Nothing to see here.

Until . . . the police turn up. At this point the growing crowd started chanting: “Hate speech, hate speech”, and members of the crowd complained to the police that McConnell had offended them.

But really, so what? There is no offence of offending someone. Nothing to see here. The police could just explain this, but their presence stoked the crowd further.

Members of the crowd started shouting abusive things at McConnell. For example: “Turn that cross upside down and shove it up your f***ing arse.”

Others shouted at police “You’ve got a baton, slap him around the f***ing arse and take him.”

Members of the crowd, whose words actually were threatening, were left alone

This is abusive and threatening language. Police paid no attention to it. Fair enough. Probably no crime has been committed, but that kind of incitement to violence is much closer to a criminal offence than anything McConnell said.

Instead, the police now started to engage McConnell in conversation. An officer accused him of “Homophobic hate crime.” But what crime exactly? Is it a crime to state Biblical sexual morality that sexual expression belongs in a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman?

In the conversation with the officer, McConnell said: “I know I have not violated any law”, adding “the person who came up was a man in women’s clothes.”

At this the officer aggressively stepped towards McConnell and said: “Listen mate, I’m not having that, because she’s told you she’s a woman.”

What exactly was the officer “not having”? The officer spoke and acted as if ‘misgendering’ is a crime. Shortly afterwards, when McConnell was trying to explain himself, saying, “She asked me, he asked me what do I think …” the officer cut him off and arrested him.

The crowd cheered and jeered as McConnell was led away to a police van. He was held in custody for 14 hours before being charged with a breach of the Public Order Act. 

Astonishingly, at the Magistrates Court in August 2022, McConnell was convicted and sentenced to a 12-month community order and fined £620. But all McConnell really did was refuse to refer to someone by their chosen gender.

Commenting on the case, Elizabeth Wright from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “People have the right to hold opinions and express their views. But when words cross the line between a legitimate expression of religious views, and become distressing and threatening, the CPS will prosecute offenders if our legal test is met.”

So, the CPS believes that McConnell’s words “crossed a line”, to “become distressing and threatening”. But there was no threat at all in McConnell’s words. McConnell’s calm words stand in sharp contrast to the incitement to violence expressed by members of the crowd. Yet McConnell, was arrested, charged and convicted, while members of the crowd, whose words actually were threatening, were left alone.

A preacher was convicted for refusing to use a person’s preferred pronouns

McConnell was also reported to counter terrorism for “persistently and illegally espousing an extreme point of view.” So, what exactly is the “extreme point of view” that McConnell was espousing? Is it the view that people cannot change their biological sex? If so, this view was ruled in court as “worthy of respect in a democratic society. This belief is actually a protected belief under both the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act. The CPS is point blank wrong to say that disbelief in transgenderism is an “extreme point of view” as far as the law goes. Do they think that belief in marriage being between a man and a woman is an “extreme point of view”? Surely not? This was, after all, the position of the law until as recently as 20 years ago.

That a preacher can be arrested, charged and convicted for refusing to use a person’s preferred pronouns is extremely disturbing. Requiring someone to affirm that a biological male is a woman is akin to requiring them to affirm that 2+2=5. It is requiring people to lie. It is forcing people, on pain of criminal sanction, to contradict science and go against their conscience. If the view that people cannot change sex is deemed by the state to be an “extreme point of view” then we are living in a full-on dystopian, Orwellian, totalitarian state which will stop at nothing to enforce agreement with state doctrine.

McConnell is appealing his conviction in court this week. The court will hear expert evidence from Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union. Toby is absolutely right to see the implications of this case for free speech. Maya Forstater, from Sex Matters, who won the judgement that gender critical beliefs are “worthy of respect in a democratic society”, will also give expert evidence to the case. I hope very much he wins. A lot is at stake. If you can be convicted for “misgendering” then we are living in a land where compelled speech is enforced by law.

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