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Preacher cleared of harassing transgender woman

13 March 2023

iStock

Leeds city centre, where Mr McConnell had been preaching in 2021

Leeds city centre, where Mr McConnell had been preaching in 2021

AN EVANGELICAL street preacher found guilty of harassing a transgender woman has had his conviction quashed.

Last year, David McConnell, 42, was given a 12-month community order with 80 hours of unpaid work for causing harassment, alarm, or distress to Farrah Munir, 19, who self-identifies as a woman, by repeatedly referring to her as a “man” and a “gentleman”.

She had approached him as he preached in Leeds city centre in 2021, and asked him: “Does God accept the LGBT community?” Last week, at Leeds Crown Court, his appeal was upheld by Recorder Anthony Hawks, sitting with two magistrates. They held that, while Mr McConnell’s words had been insulting, and Ms Munir had suffered “harassment, alarm, and distress”, there was no evidence that it was intentional. The judge said: “It is not an offence to insult someone.”

Ms Munir told the court that the incident had left her “emotionally distraught”. Video footage from Mr McConnell’s body camera records him saying that she is a “man dressed in woman’s clothes”, “Homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God,” and “The Bible says that lesbianism is an unnatural and vile passion.”.

Giving evidence, Mr McConnell, from Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, who has been a street preacher for 15 years, said: “In my view, I wasn’t misgendering, and I was gendering correctly. I think people could have been offended, but that’s not the intention. My intention was to simply stay faithful to my beliefs, stay faithful to God, and to stay faithful to my conscience. I wasn’t being transphobic: I was expressing what I believe.”

Quashing his conviction, the Recorder said: “We cannot be sure as a bench, looking at all the evidence, that the appellant intended to cause harassment, alarm, or distress. We live in a time when free speech is important and vital. And we live in a time when people’s attitude towards gender are very different from how they were years ago. All these issues need to be properly respected; so I make no criticism whatsoever of the Crown bringing a prosecution in this case.

“We are not here to opine on transgender issues. We are not here to opine on whether or not the appellant’s views on the Bible are correct or misplaced. This witness is a transgender woman. She identifies herself as such. She says she was insulted by being called a man. That’s the evidence. What we make of it, and what we make of the defendant’s intentions, is another matter.”

Outside court, Mr McConnell said that he was “delighted and relieved”, but was appalled by his treatment. “No other street preacher, professional or member of the public, must go through what I have. Misgendering is not a crime, and should never be treated as such.”

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