By Rachel Savage
LONDON, May 13 (Openly) - A comedian and a former policeman reprimanded by the police for making public comments on transgender issues have backed a new lobby group set up to push for police guidelines to be changed.
Fair Cop, launched this week, argued that British police are misusing hate crime laws to "harass" those who question whether trans women should be able to identify as women and access female-only spaces, by saying any complaints had to be recorded.
Harry Miller, a former policeman and Fair Cop founder, said on the group's website he was phoned by a police officer after retweeting a poem that described a trans woman as a man with fake breasts and told his tweets were "potentially offensive".
The group has emerged amid a bitter debate over trans rights, sparked after a government consultation was launched last year into whether to make it easier to legally change gender and thus access women-only spaces like changing rooms.
"Trans activists are trying to shut down debate," Rob Jessel, a founder of Fair Cop, who writes for a public relations firm, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday. "(They) use police as their own personal goon squad."
Trans rights activists, however, said it would not be controversial if someone who made similarly derogatory comments about other minorities faced action for committing a hate crime.
Trans people are protected in Britain under the 2010 Equality Act. The law also bans discrimination on grounds including race, sexual orientation, age, disability and religion, which are known as "protected characteristics".
Ashleigh Talbot, a campaigner on trans issues, accused Fair Cop members of wanting to be "able to discriminate freely without fear of repercussion".
"Applied to any other demographic of society that would be met with absolute outrage," Talbot said. "It's very difficult to look at their tweets and come away thinking they just want a respectful debate."
Fair Cop listed five examples of what it deemed "'Big Brother' overreach" on its website, including the questioning of TV comedy writer Graham Linehan after he argued with a trans activist on Twitter.
Police in Humberside in northern England, who Miller said contacted him, did not return a request for comment.
The College of Policing, a professional body for police in England and Wales, said a hate crime is one perceived by victims or other people "to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender".
These crimes must be recorded, under police guidelines, according to a spokesman from the College of Policing, as some hate incidents could lead to more serious actions or crime.
"It is only by recording concerns that police can assess their seriousness," the spokesman said in emailed comments.
But Fair Cop said the guidelines - which are similarly worded for other protected characteristics like sexual orientation - contravened the right to freedom of expression as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The guidelines "should worry anyone who cares about free debate not hate", Jessel said.
Stonewall, Britain's largest LGBT+ rights charity, said two-fifths of trans people in Britain experienced a hate crime or incident in 2017, while 12% were physically attacked at work.
"Trans people are facing horrific levels of harassment and intimidation in their daily lives," said a Stonewall spokeswoman.
(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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