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Fears that hate-speech law may target ‘gender-critical’ views

16 Nov 2022 / justice Print

Fears hate-speech law may target ‘gender-critical’ views

Women’s rights campaigners have expressed concerns that ‘gender-critical’ views may be targeted under proposed hate-speech laws.

The Women’s Space to Speak conference in Dublin’s Ashling Hotel (12 November) heard that there is little evidence from any other jurisdiction that legislation effectively reduces hate crime or decreases community tensions. 

The highly-charged public meeting, attended by over 200 people, heard about the implications for women and children of recent changes in gender law and policy. 

Low conviction rates

Management consultant and psychotherapist Iseult White told the packed conference that the actions or conduct that underlies a hate-crime conviction are already criminal, and conviction rates are very low.

White pointed to a 2021 figure in Britain of 155,841 hate-crime reports, of which only 7% resulted in a conviction. In the preceding five years, conviction rates have halved, while hate-crime reports doubled, White said.

She pointed to the academic paper Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics (James B Jacobs, New York University, USA), which argues that hate-crime legislation itself undermines social solidarity and creates division, by encouraging people to frame themselves only within their identity groups.

The needs of each group become politicised, and groups compete against each other for criminal-justice resources, for protection and support, White added. 

Broad definition

The hate-speech element of the bill also concerns White, in that international human-rights law recognizes that criminalization of expression should be reserved for only the most serious cases of hate speech.

However, White argued that advocacy and civil-liberties groups in Ireland use a broad definition of hate speech. 

Journalist Helen Joyce, formerly of The Economist and the author of Trans: Gender Identity and the New Battle for Women's Rights, told the conference that gender ideology has become a "neo-religion" in England and Wales.

Children are told that how they present themselves socially is what makes them male or female, she said.

"I don't think that schools should be teaching children lies or unethical ideological material like this. You can't actually change your sex. It's not possible," she said.

Joyce warned that schools are encouraging gender ideology and presenting it as social justice, often without the knowledge or approval of parents.

The goal of gender activists is to interrupt "sex constancy" by which children understand the reality of their physical bodies by the age of seven, Joyce said. Schools are feeding and fueling two social contagions, she warned – that sex is not real and gender is; and distress and dissociation from one's own sex, particularly in young girls, who may feel ashamed of their bodies.

In one particular English state school, one-tenth of the children formally on the roll are not registered in their actual natal sex, she said.

Gender self-identification

Gender self-identification is one of the most successful 'memes' the world has ever seen, she concluded, and the idea that a man can be a woman is the latest in the long line of civil-rights battles to be fought.

In Britain, "anti-bullying, anti-prejudice, equality, and human-rights frameworks, and above all, relationships and sex education have been hijacked to teach this idea," she said.

Schools have been misinformed about the law by activists and told that it is their duty under equality and anti-discrimination measures, to accept any gender declaration that a child makes, she said.

Differences of opinion

Norwegian Christina Ellingsen told the conference that she could face a prison sentence of up to three years for a Twitter-led campaign asserting that "men cannot be women, girls, mothers, or lesbians".

Norway introduced gender self-identification in 2016, and added the concept of gender identity into hate-crime laws in 2020, Ellingsen explained. 

"I haven't said anything wrong or remotely hateful," Ellingsen said. "In any democracy, there are bound to be differences of opinion, but what I've said has been reported as hate speech," she said.

"The law has been abused in Norway, and will be abused here," she warned. "Women here will be prosecuted for simply having the belief that gender is biological and cannot be changed, and for speaking about it.

"We are women fighting for an objective definition of biological sex in law and in society ... for having a biological understanding of women's rights and safety," she said.

Recent case

Lawyer Anya Palmer spoke about the recent legal case involving her client Maya Forstater, who won an action against her former employer, which established in Britain the right not to be discriminated against for holding "gender-critical" beliefs that sex characteristics are real. 

Academic Colette Colfer said that questioning the concept of gender self-identification is deemed "blasphemous" in the current social and cultural climate.

She added that given the decline in traditional religious beliefs, new ways of conceptualising 'spirit' are sought, and this may lead to gender self-identification as a "mysterious disembodied imperative".

Colfer commented that Ireland's recently published Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offenses) Bill 2022 protects 'gender', but fails to adequately define it, making no reference to biology.

"Biology has become anathema in modern Irish society," she added, while blasphemy reveals what will not be tolerated, and a new form of blasphemy has emerged.

Those who believe that biology rather than gender identity should take precedence in social matters are silenced and accused of hate speech, Colfer said.

Employment risks

Teacher-educator Rev Professor Anne Lodge, who is an Anglican priest, said that anyone who is not in a permanent or full-time post should not risk their employment by speaking out on these matters.

Only those in secure jobs, or retired, could safely speak out, because of the assumption that everyone agrees with the "progressive gospel" that gender ideology is a positive thing, she said.

Rev Lodge has heard academic colleagues say that teachers should "defend" gender-confused children against their parents by not revealing to them what is going on.

Gender ideology is nested in social, personal and health education (SPHE) curricula, starting at age four, Rev Lodge added.

Education "partners" may be wedded to this ideology, she said, and influence the choice of educational materials in schools, because they are targeted by NGOs for lobbying. This will be apparent in the promotion of certain websites and promotional material that pushes gender ideology, she said. More conservative institutions, often faith-based, are less likely to adopt such material, she added.

Alternative voices

"We need to be the grown-ups and start lobbying the agencies and stakeholder bodies to make sure there are alternative voices being heard, particularly when we realize that we are representing the majority opinion in this country," she said.

Parents have very strong rights under the Irish Constitution, and schools have no right to keep from them the fact that a child has socially 'transitioned', despite what lobby groups may say, Rev Lodge said.

"Schools are well aware that they need to engage with parents around these value issues, but they don't always know quite how to go about dealing with potential conflict," she concluded.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland