J.K. Rowling—Harry Potter author and architect of its seemingly never-ending spinoff saga Fantastic Beasts—has a terrible history when it comes to how her works have treated minorities, whether it’s handling the history of other cultures, or her clumsy attempts to claim and then barely acknowledge LGBTQ+ representation. Now she’s coming under fire once more, resurfacing allegations of transphobic messaging from the writer.
Rowling faces renewed accusations of transphobia in the wake of a tweet this morning where she expressed support for the legal case of former Centre for Global Development visiting fellow Maya Forstater. Forstater’s contract position at the inequality thinktank was not renewed in March 2019 after Forstater used offensive, hateful, and discriminatory language against transgender people on social media opposing potential reformation to the UK’s Gender Recognition Act that would allow people to self-identify their gender, rather than having to go through a medicalized process.
Forstater took the CGD to an employment tribunal in what has been seen as a test case in regards to transgender discrimination in the UK, arguing that her right to express her views was protected by the country’s 2010 Equality Act and that her contract was wrongfully terminated. As the Guardian reports, however, Forstater’s case was dismissed at a preliminary hearing in Central London yesterday, with presiding Judge James Tayler saying Forstater’s “absolutist” discriminatory opinions on transgender people—which included tweets with comments such as “men cannot change into women (because that might hurt mens feelings)”—“violates their dignity” and are not protected under UK Employment law.
“I conclude from…the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex,” part of Tayler’s 26-page judgment of the case read. “And it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
Forstater has released her own statement expressing “shock and disbelief” at the ruling, while adding she plans to consult with her own legal advisers “to determine what can be done to challenge it.” Supporters of her case online have rallied to the hashtag “IStandWithMaya,” which went viral this morning after being signal boosted by J.K. Rowling’s use of it to pledge her own support for Forstater:
Let us be clear: Forstater has been not been accused of expressing a controversial opinion that led to her contract not being renewed; she has been legally found as having used language that is “intimidating, hostile, degrading, [and] humiliating” to a minority group—which is the language Forstater was dismissed over, not for stating her belief that “sex is real,” as Rowling construes it. It is this language that Rowling defends with her own statement, even as she attempts to obfuscate the reality of Forstater’s case.
This is far from the first time Rowling has been accused of espousing transphobic views (Katelyn Burns wrote a consummate look back at this history over at Them last year, should you like to read more). Rowling, who has long positioned herself as an ally of LGBTQ+ people, has come under fire for her handling of transgender characters in her Cormoran Strike mystery series, writing under the pen name Robert Galbraith, as well as multiple incidents on social media of Rowling either following openly transphobic commentators on Twitter or liking tweets that use offensive and bigoted language against trans people.
In one such incident in 2018, Rowling was called out for liking a tweet that included the phrase “Men in dresses get brocialist solidarity I never had. That’s misogyny,” which lead to a spokesperson for the writer releasing a statement to Newsweek claiming that Rowling had suffered a “clumsy and middle-aged moment,” alleging that the author “favourited by holding her phone incorrectly.” That’s not something that can be claimed here, with Rowling openly and full-throatedly pledging support to a woman who has been legally found of espousing discriminatory language against transgender people.
Considering Rowling is using her very public platform to support Forstater’s right to use commentary described in her legal case as language that “creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” while also currently under contract with Warner Bros. to write at least three more entries in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, io9 has reached out to the studio for comment. We’ll update this post if we hear back.
Update 3:00 p.m. EST: The LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD has released a statement regarding Rowling’s commentary on the Forstater case today.
“J.K. Rowling, whose books gave kids hope that they could work together to create a better world, has now aligned herself with an anti-science ideology that denies the basic humanity of people who are transgender,” said Anthony Ramos, GLAAD’s head of talent in a statement provided to Variety. “Trans men, trans women, and non-binary people are not a threat, and to imply otherwise puts trans people at risk. Now is the time for allies who know and support trans people to speak up and support their fundamental right to be treated equally and fairly.”
Variety also notes that GLAAD reached out to Rowling’s PR team to mediate an “off-the-record discussion” about her commentary with members of the trans community, but that Rowling’s spokespeople declined to participate. We’ll update this piece if Rowling or her PR team provide a follow up to the author’s tweet later today.
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