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A timeline of JK Rowling’s comments about women and transgender rights

Fans have called for a planned boycott of the new Harry Potter TV reboot as Rowling is announced as the show’s executive producer

Ellie Muir
Tuesday 25 April 2023 09:43 BST
‘I never set out to upset anyone’: JK Rowling speaks out over trans controversy in podcast teaser

JK Rowling first made controversial comments about the transgender community in December 2019.

Most recently, on 21 April, the Harry Potter author issued a sarcastic response to calls for a planned boycott of the new franchise TV reboot, after it was announced that Rowling will serve as the show’s executive producer.

Earlier this month, Warner Bros confirmed it had ordered an “original Harry Potter scripted series” which will be released over a 10-year period, with each season based on one of the seven books. The show will feature a brand new cast.

The announcement drew mixed reactions online, with some criticising the use of original design and sound elements. Others called to boycott the show over Rowling’s involvement; the British author’s stance on transgender views has been criticised as transphobic in recent years.

Rowling reacted to the backlash over her executive producer role on Friday (21 April) and wrote on Twitter: “Activists in my mentions are trying to organise yet another boycott of my work, this time of the Harry Potter TV show.”

“As forewarned is forearmed, I’ve taken the precaution of laying in a large stock of champagne,” she wrote.

In the seven-episode podcast titled The Witch Trials of JK Rowling, which was released in February, she sits down with US writer Megan Phelps-Roper at her home in Edinburgh.

Podcast host Free Press describes The Witch Trials of JK Rowling as an “audio documentary that examines some of the most contentious conflicts of our time through the life and career of the world’s most successful author”.

JK Rowling first made controversial comments about the transgender community in December 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)

“I never set out to upset anyone. However, I was not uncomfortable with getting off my pedestal,” Rowling says in the trailer.

Here is a timeline of the controversial comments the author has made about trans rights.

19 December 2019, Rowling tweets support for woman whose opinions on sex were ruled ‘absolutist’

In a tweet, Rowling defended a woman who lost her employment tribunal after her opinions on sex were ruled “absolutist”.

The Harry Potter author tweeted in support of Maya Forstater, 45, who was fired from her job at poverty think-tank, Centre for Global Development, over a series of tweets questioning government plans to allow people to self-identify as another gender.

Following her comments, a group of supporters started a hashtag #IStandWithMaya, including Rowling.

JK Rowling has said ‘I never set out to upset anyone’ over transgender views (PA Archive)

She wrote: “Dress however you please.

“Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.

“Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”

The initial fan backlash

Rowling was subject to backlash on social media following the tweet, with many of her transgender fans and trans allies expressing their disappointment with her stance.

“Nobody is suggesting she isn’t allowed her opinion but it’s dangerous language that harms people. She should be held accountable for it,” one said.

Freddy McConnell, who became a voice for the trans community after making his film Seahorse, about being a dad who gave birth, said: “It’s a dog whistle, Joanne.”

A parent said: “My daughter, who is trans, is a big fan of yours. It breaks my heart to see you post something indicating that discrimination against her is perfectly fine behaviour for an employee.

“The world’s most credible medical orgs affirm trans people. Please catch up.”

Another person said: I grew up as a trans child reading your books as an escape. I would often pick out names from characters to give to myself, before I ever felt comfortable in who I was.”

6 June 2020, Rowling criticises the term “people who menstruate” and faces backlash again

Rowling and podcast host Megan Phelps-Roper (Getty)

Rowling retweeted an op-ed piece that discussed “people who menstruate”.

It appeared that she took issue with the fact that the story did not use the word “women”. Individuals and organisations often use the term “people who menstruate” to include transgender and non-binary people, for example, a person who now identifies as a man but still menstruates.

Rowling tweeted: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

The author’s remark was immediately met with a backlash from people calling her “transphobic” and pointing out that people other than cis-gendered women can menstruate, while many cis women do not.

“Trans men who haven’t transitioned still menstruate.” one person pointed out.

Another added: “I know you know this because you have been told over and over and over again, but transgender men can menstruate.

“Non-binary people menstruate. I, a 37-year old woman with a uterus, have not menstruated in a decade. Women are not defined by their periods.”

Rowling followed up her tweet with another comment in which she criticised the idea that a person’s biological sex is not real.

“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth,” she wrote.

“The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women — ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences — is a nonsense.”

Rowling added that she supports transgender rights and took issue with being labelled a “TERF”, an acronym that stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist.

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so,” she wrote.

The LGBT+ rights organisation GLAAD responded to Rowling’s comments, explaining that the author’s tweets align her with ideologies that “willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people”.

8 June 2020, Daniel Radcliffe, among others, speaks out against the author

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe have issued statements in support of the trans community (PA Archive)

Radcliffe, who played the lead Harry Potter in the author’s film franchise, was the first actor from the cast to release a statement (via The Trevor Project) about Rowling’s comments.

“While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honored to work with and continues to contribute to The Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment. Transgender women are women,” he wrote.

“Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.

“According to The Trevor Project, 78 per cent of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”

10 June 2020, Rowling issues post on her website titled “TERF wars”

Rowling published a long post on her website and published a tweet that read “TERF Wars.”

“This isn’t an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it’s time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity. I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity,” she wrote.

“For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.”

Rowling explains that she became interested in trans issues while researching a character she’s writing. Rowling also outlined “five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism.”

On the same day, Emma Watson, who played Hermione Grainger in the franchise, tweeted: “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.”

She continued: “I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you, and love you for who you are.”

“I donate to @Mermaids_Gender and @mamacash. If you can, perhaps you’ll feel inclined to do the same. Happy #PRIDE2020 Sending love x,” she added.

”Trans women are women,” author Stephen King tweeted.

5 July 2020: Rowling questions the use of hormones

The author posted a thread to Twitter after a user called her out for liking a tweet that compared hormone therapy to antidepressants.

“I’ve ignored fake tweets attributed to me and RTed widely. I’ve ignored porn tweeted at children on a thread about their art. I’ve ignored death and rape threats. I’m not going to ignore this,” Rowling wrote. “When you lie about what I believe about mental health medication and when you misrepresent the views of a trans woman for whom I feel nothing but admiration and solidarity, you cross a line.”

She wrote: “Many health professionals are concerned that young people struggling with their mental health are being shunted towards hormones and surgery when this may not be in their best interests.

“Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.”

14 February 2023, JK Rowling announces she will take part in a podcast titled The Witch Trials of JK Rowling

Posting on Twitter last week, Rowling wrote: “Last year, I received a long, thoughtful letter from @Meganphelps, inviting me to take part in a personal, in-depth discussion with her about the issues that have interested me in recent years.

“Megan proposed bringing in other voices, and looking at the wider picture, bringing her own unique viewpoint as a former fundamentalist who’s dedicated her life over the past decade to difficult conversations.

“I agreed to sit down with Megan because, having read her wonderful book, Unfollow, I thought the two of us could have a real, interesting, two-sided conversation that might prove constructive.”

20 February 2023, trailer for new podcast is released

JK Rowling gave a rare interview in which she addresses her controversial remarks on transgender rights.

In the seven-episode podcast titled The Witch Trials of J.K Rowling, the Harry Potter author sits down with US writer Megan Phelps-Roper at her home in Edinburgh.

Podcast host Free Press describes The Witch Trials of JK Rowling, out on 21 February, as an “audio documentary that examines some of the most contentious conflicts of our time through the life and career of the world’s most successful author”.

“I never set out to upset anyone. However, I was not uncomfortable with getting off my pedestal,” Rowling says in the trailer.

“What has interested me in recent years, particularly on social media [is when fans say], ‘You’ve ruined your legacy. Oh, you could have been beloved forever, but you chose to say this.’ And I think: ‘You could not have misunderstood me more profoundly.’”

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