Anti-transgender bus loses Spanish legal battle

Ultra-conservative group’s bus impounded after uproar on left and in LGBT community

A bus with the anti-transgender message: “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas, don’t be fooled” in a carpark in Coslada, outside Madrid. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

A bus with the anti-transgender message: “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas, don’t be fooled” in a carpark in Coslada, outside Madrid. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

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An ultra-conservative Catholic organisation says it is being victimised by the Spanish LGBT community after a bus it chartered bearing an anti-transgender message was impounded.

“Boys have penises, girls have vulvas, don’t be fooled,” reads the slogan on the side of a large orange coach hired by the group HazteOir (or “Make Yourself Heard”) to drive around several Spanish cities this week.

Underneath, the message says: “If you are born a man you are a man, if you are a woman you will still be one.”

On Thursday, soon after it started its tour, a Madrid judge banned the vehicle from continuing, following an uproar on the political left and among the LGBT community. The magistrate ruled that the bus’s message constituted a “disparagement of people of a different sexual orientation”.

‘Totalitarian’

The opposition Socialist Party accused the campaign of “fuelling hate and discrimination” against the transgender community, while the LGBT wing of leftist party Podemos described it as a “patent hate crime”.

The bus was due to drive around Barcelona on Friday, but before it was impounded, the city’s leftist government had warned that it might fine HazteOir if it tried to push ahead with its plan.

Even Chelsea Clinton voiced her outrage, tweeting: “Please don’t bring these buses to the US (or anywhere).”

However, HazteOir says its right to freedom of expression is being repressed. “A man and woman, by nature, are male and female and you can’t change that just because of the wishes of a minority,” Rafael Cortina, of the organisation, told The Irish Times. “One sector can’t impose a totalitarian way of thinking on others.”

HazteOir began the campaign in response to what it saw as “sexual indoctrination” in 10 of Spain’s regions where schools have introduced legislation to ensure children are taught sexual diversity.

Legal problems

The initiative follows a number of projects involving buses with political or sociological messages on them. In 2009, vehicles with an atheist message were driven through the streets of the UK. A Spanish atheist organisation funded a similar drive in Madrid that year and in 2015, with a Christian group countering with its own message.

Described by El Diario newspaper as “a Spanish version of the Tea Party”, HazteOir has a record of mounting controversial campaigns. In January it organised a petition against a restaurant chain that had used a picture of a gay couple in one of its advertisements.

In 2015, the courts thwarted another bus campaign funded by the organisation in which a slogan claimed that voting for a particular conservative candidate in elections meant “voting for abortion”.

On Friday, HazteOir sought to get round its legal problems by driving a camper van around Madrid with the original message turned into a question: “Are boys born with penises and girls with vulvas?” However, police stopped the van for breaching advertising regulations.

Support for the group has come from an unlikely source. The heavy metal singer known as César Strawberry, who was recently jailed for terrorism-related jokes he had posted on Twitter, defended HazteOir’s right to freedom of expression.

“In the case of the bus, if you want to counter their opinion, the best thing to do is to put another bus out there,” he said.

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