Madrid judge bans anti-transgender “hate bus” from roads

Group that covered vehicle with messages reading “boys have penises” cries violation of freedom of speech

A Madrid court has banned a bus from traveling on the streets until its full-length ad, placed there by an ultraconservative Catholic group, is removed. The examining magistrate said in a writ that the ad’s message aims to erode the “dignity” of individuals with a “different” sexual orientation.

The offending bus has been impounded.
The offending bus has been impounded.Víctor Sainz

The decision to enforce this provisional measure, which can be appealed, was reached on Wednesday after the chief prosecutor of the Madrid region asked the judge to ban the bus from the roads as long as “the discriminatory ads it displays are not taken down.”

“There is a risk of perpetuating the perpetration of the [hate] crime, and of disturbing the peace. And of creating a sense of insecurity or fear among people because of their identity or sexual orientation, specifically among minors who could be affected by the message,” wrote the prosecutor in his brief.

I believe in freedom of expression, but it has a limit that is set by the law

Cristina Cifuentes, regional premier of Madrid

Municipal police, acting on orders from Madrid City Hall, had impounded the bus on Tuesday to prevent it from displaying a full-length ad with the message: “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Don’t let them fool you. If you’re born a man, you’re a man. If you’re a woman, you will continue to be so.”

The bus ad is the brainchild of Hazte Oír (Make Yourself Heard), a Catholic group that has campaigned against abortion and LGTB rights in the past. The organization was also fined for allegedly violating local regulations on vehicle ads.

Protesters accused Mayor Manuela Carmena of censoring freedom of speech.
Protesters accused Mayor Manuela Carmena of censoring freedom of speech.Alvaro García

Authorities believe the campaign could constitute a hate crime, as it appears to be designed as a reply to an earlier set of ads by a support group for transgender children called Chrysallis, whose own message was: “There are girls with penises and boys with vulvas.”

But Hazte Oír says the bus has been “hijacked,” and has vowed to take it to other Spanish cities. A group of around 20 people came out in support of the group at Cibeles Square, where the bus had been originally scheduled to arrive at noon.

A political issue

The Madrid branch of the PP, which governs in the region but not the Spanish capital, is divided over the Hazte Oír campaign. Luis Asúa, a candidate to become the next leader of the Madrid PP, has demanded of Cristina Cifuentes “respect for freedom of expression.” But Cifuentes, who is Asúa’s main rival in the political race, considers herself “a direct target” of Hazte Oír, and has stated that she believes the bus ad is an attempt at influencing the PP’s internal battle in favor of Asúa. Before the 2015 election, Hazte Oír chartered buses to campaign against Cifuentes.

“[The council] must exercise power democratically, not through political violence,” said Hazte Oír in a statement that it sent to City Hall. “They should respect, just like we do, those who do not think the same as they do.”

The regional government of Catalonia and the government’s delegate in Madrid have also announced that they will take the issue up with state prosecutors, as they see the Hazte Oír campaign as a possible hate crime against transgender people.

“I believe in freedom of expression, but it has a limit that is set by the law,” said regional Madrid premier Cristina Cifuentes, of the Popular Party (PP).

“The passive attitude of the regional government and of the rule of law has given wings to a small reactionary group that acts against public liberties and the rights of LGTB people,” said Carla Antonelli, a Socialist deputy in the regional assembly.

English version by Susana Urra.

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