Columnist James Wong quits The Observer newspaper citing ‘institutionalised transphobia’

The Guardian's London Office

A columnist for The Observer has resigned after voicing his disgust at an anti-trans article, which was found to be in breach of the publication’s social media policies. 

James Wong – a botanist, science writer and broadcaster, based in London – announced his resignation on Twitter on Friday (24 February). 

His resignation follows a tweet he published on 29 January calling out an opinion piece by Catherine Bennett, with the headline Forget Andrew Tate – what about the host of misogynists in Labour’s ranks

In the article, Bennett wrote that “the transgender debate seems to offer many proudly progressive men a licence to insult women who disagree with them”. 

At the time, Wong tweeted in response: “As a columnist at the Observer, I have written to them to express my shock. This is completely unacceptable.” 

Wong said his earlier tweet breached a requirement to “abide by social media guidelines”, with the paper allegedly calling it a “serious matter”.

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And when asked by a reader “what the hell is wrong with The Observer”, Wong simply replied: “Institutionalised transphobia.”

This is not the first time The Observer and its sister publication The Guardian have come under fire for ant-trans sentiments.

In September 2021, The Guardian was accused of “censoring” feminist icon Judith Butler after the newspaper deleted part of an interview in which they compared trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) to fascists.

Just one month later, the publication was in hot water again over a controversial article about the murder of Sarah Everard and single-sex spaces.

In her article, Catherine Bennett linked the brutal rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March to the ongoing debate among “gender critical” feminists about whether trans women should be excluded from “single-sex” spaces.

This culminated in, just days later, a protest outside the publications London headquarters calling for both newspapers to “stop platforming transphobia”.

Protestors demand the Guardian newspaper 'stop platforming transphobia'.
Protestors outside the Guardian newspaper’s London headquarters on 7 October 2021. (Vic Parsons)

Protester Natacha Kennedy told PinkNews she organised the demonstration because she was “really shocked” at how the Guardian had “appropriated Sarah Everard’s murder”.

“That was such a horrible crime, there aren’t words for it,” Natacha said. “I thought there would be somebody in the anti-trans community who would do this, one of the really extreme fanatics, but I really did not expect it to be the Guardian using her memory to oppress people. I really never thought the Guardian would sink this low.”

James Wong’s resignation from the broadsheet title comes as The New York Times faces a continued backlash for its coverage of trans issues

An opinion piece, under the heading “In defence of JK Rowling”, by columnist Pamela Paul, was published by the US news organisation on 16 February. 

In reaction to the news that the Harry Potter author would be appearing on a limited-series podcast with former Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper, Paul argued that the so-called “demonisation” of Rowling was unjust.

“The campaign against Rowling is as dangerous as it is absurd,” she argued.

“The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie last summer is a forceful reminder of what can happen when writers are demonised.

“In Rowling’s case, the characterisation of her as a transphobe doesn’t square with her actual views.”

As well as the Rowling article appearing, a letter was sent to NYT staff and freelancers, defending the paper’s coverage of trans issues, and stating that policy “prohibits” its staff from “aligning themselves with advocacy groups and joining protest actions”.

Trans rights activist Rose Schmits responded to a tweet noting the article, writing: “Not a dog whistle, but a big booming horn.

“[The] New York Times is now an anti-trans propaganda mouthpiece.”

A GNM spokesperson said: “James has been a gardening columnist with the Observer for seven years. We wish him the best for the future.”