Tensions have emerged in Madrid over transgender representation, after a bus promoting an anti-trans message was removed from the roads by police following widespread condemnation in the city and further afield.
The bus, operated by the far-right Catholic organisation Hazte Oír, meaning ‘make yourself heard’, was due to embark on a tour across Spain this month to publicise the group’s anti-transgender beliefs.
With a bright orange colour scheme, it is adorned with basic pictograms and a few lines of text which roughly translate to: “Boys have penises. Girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled. If you’re born a man, you’re a man. If you’re a woman, you still will be.”
The group have claimed that the detention of the vehicle is unlawful and pledged to continue their campaign. The official reason given for the legal action is the breaching of advertising laws by displaying a message on a vehicle not used for public transport.
However, reports have suggested that there is a further ongoing investigation into whether the protest could constitute a hate crime, after official condemnation came from Madrid’s City Hall.
Figures from across Spanish politics have rejected the bus and its message. Activists and councillors have united against Hazte Oír’s stance, with Rita Maestre, spokeswoman for Madrid’s legislature telling the press: “Madrid is an inclusive and welcoming city. There is no place for transphobia on our streets.”
The local administrations of Barcelona and Valencia are expected to be among the planned destinations of the tour, saying they would take action if any such bus were to visit their cities. The Spanish Catholic Church has also spoken out against the vehicle.
A judge in Madrid supported the decision to take the bus off the road under advertising regulations. Comment was also passed on the slogans themselves, but the judge stopped short of describing it as a hate crime: this separate investigation continues.
The bus can now only travel again once its statements are removed.
Hazte Oír are nonetheless attempting to capitalise on the publicity from this controversy, calling the government an “LGBT dictatorship” and promoting a hashtag translated as ‘the bus that does not lie’, while plastering pictures of the vehicle over social media.
The group’s president, Ignacio Arsuaga, expressed his anger, calling the Spanish regime “totalitarian”. Since he formed the group in 2001, they have taken an unwavering stance against self-defined gender identity and LGBT+ rights, garnering criticism for inciting hatred. They also stand against abortion. Arsuaga called Madrid’s Mayor Manuela Carmena “extreme left” and promised to look for another bus to allow the tour of Spanish cities to go ahead.
Spain is known for having a generally tolerant attitude towards LGBT+ rights. Transgender individuals are allowed to serve in the Spanish military and register as their self-defined gender in official documents. Madrid is due to host the world Pride celebration this summer.
Since 2005, gay couples have been permitted to adopt children and marry. Anyone may also give blood regardless of sexual orientation, and for over 20 years it has been illegal to make hateful speeches or commit crimes against LGBT+ people, however laws against outright discrimination are patchy, with some autonomous states legislating against this and others not.
Earlier this year in Madrid, posters were distributed by the trans-rights group Chrysalis, with a similarly phrased message in support of transgender rights. It is said that the bus could be a reaction to these. At the time, Hazte Oír protested against the publicity campaign.
Current developments risk damaging the positive reputation Spain has for equality and sensitivity, however the widespread support around the country has appeared to support Madrid’s mayor and the firm line taken against the transphobic advertising.