What has JK Rowling said about trans people? The ongoing saga of the Harry Potter author’s views

Harry Potter author JK Rowling in front of trans Pride flag colours

In just a few short years, JK Rowling has gone from almost-universally beloved children’s author to one of the most divisive and controversial figures in the UK due to her regular comments about trans people and their rights. But how did we get here?

Recently, in April 2024, she made headlines for her staunch opposition to Scotland’s new anti-hate crime legislation. The new SNP law “modernises, consolidates and extends” existing hate crime law in Scotland – with Harry Potter author JK Rowling describing it as “ludicrous”.

The release of Harry Potter spin-off video game Hogwarts Legacy in February 2023 also increased the volume of conversation around Rowling’s legacy and impact on the trans community, with many LGBTQ+ people and allies opting to boycott the game altogether.

With everyone from Stephen Fry to the cast of the Harry Potter films offering their takes on both Rowling and trans freedom, and with comments from the author continuing to flow on a regular basis, we look back at the key chapters in this ongoing saga as we answer the question: “what has JK Rowling said about trans people?”

JK Rowling’s ‘gender-critical’ comments and tweets

JK Rowling first came in for criticism in 2019 when she came out in support of “gender critical” campaigner Maya Forstater, who was then in a legal battle with her former employer after being fired for expressing anti-trans views.

Rowling’s #IStandWithMaya tweet was the first direct public acknowledgement of her views. The day she posted the tweet, 19 December, has since been anointed by some gender critical activists as ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’ or ‘TERFmas’.

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Six months later, Rowling posted a series of tweets criticising inclusive language used in an article about period care for “people who menstruate”.

“‘People who menstruate’,” she wrote on Twitter in 2020. “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

Several other posts concerning the trans community followed, including a tweet in which Rowling claimed that if “sex isn’t real” then “same-sex attraction” isn’t real. 

“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,” she added.

“It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”

‘TERF wars’ essay

Just days later, on 10 June, 2020, Rowling published a lengthy post on her website, sharing it on Twitter with the caption “TERF wars”. 

“This isn’t an easy piece to write,” Rowling began, before going on to lay out reasons she was “worried about the new trans activism” — explaining that she first became interested in trans issues when researching for a character in a book she was writing. 

In short, her five ‘concerns’ were listed as:

  • Rowling believes “trans activism” is significantly impacting efforts to alleviate “social deprivation in Scotland” for women and children.
  • She has “an interest in both education and safeguarding”.
  • Rowling is “interested in freedom of speech”.
  • She’s “concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition” and “the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning”.
  • Rowling is “deeply concerned about the consequences of the current trans activism”.

Rowling stated at the time that she wants “trans women to be safe” and believes “the majority of trans-identified people … pose zero threat to others.”

However, she firmly outlined her position against allowing trans women into single-sex spaces.

“I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman … then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside.”

In the essay she also conflated trans rights activists with Donald Trump’s alleged sexual abuse and ‘incels’ (short for ‘involuntarily celibate’, an online subculture of men that resent women for supposedly ‘denying’ them sex).

JK Rowling’s recent books have been criticised as portraying trans people negatively

Rowling’s most recent book series about a private detective, Cormoran Strike, (penned under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith) has made headlines for its depictions of trans people.

The second book in the series, The Silkworm, was criticised for its depiction of a trans character described as “unstable and aggressive”, while 2020’s Troubled Blood centred around a cis male serial killer who dresses as a woman to kill his cis female victims.

2022’s The Ink Black Heart centred around a public figure who gets ‘canceled’ for being anti-trans.

Her 2023 book The Running Grave follows sleuthing duo Strike and Robin Ellacott as they help a father worried because his son has joined a religious cult, which touts itself as being inclusive but shames and targets anyone who attempts to speak out against it. A lot of the content of the book mirrors anti-trans talking points.

Twitter rows

Despite JK Rowling’s past insistence that she ‘knows and loves’ trans people, her Twitter posts have sometimes crossed from ideological arguments into back-and-forths with trans people and allies.

She’s been criticised repeatedly for sharing tweets from individuals with her 14 million Twitter followers.

After trans broadcaster India Willoughby tweeted “I am more of a woman than JK Rowling will ever be”, the author responded: “Citation needed”.

She also came after India Willoughby in March 2024, in a tweet that saw JK Rowling misgender the trans journalist, accusing her of “cosplaying a misogynistic male fantasy of what a woman is” in a social media post described by Willoughby as “grotesque”.

In December 2022, a Rowling targeted a trans gaming journalist and video producer who suggested boycotting new Harry Potter releases, including Hogwarts Legacy.

After gamer Jessie Earl tweeted that she believed continuing to purchase new Harry Potter products was “harmful”, Rowling shared a screenshot of the post with her 14 million followers accusing Earl of “purethink” and equating a boycott to book-burning.

Earl responded in kind, noting that Rowling’s argument was “nonsensical” and that the writer “knows she’s sending harassment my way.”

In October 2022, musician and activity Billy Bragg asked Rowling to apologise over a “blatantly inflammatory accusation” seemingly levelled by the author after after he publicly urged people to “talk to trans people”, their parents, and their medical professionals.

Rowling later tweeted that “bearded men” were throwing their support “behind rape and death threats” towards gender-critical people.

Bragg asked her to apologise for conflating his comments with supporting such threats.

Amidst the exchange, Rowling responded to another critic who asked how she slept at night “knowing you’ve lost a whole audience from buying your books”.

She responded: “I read my most recent royalty cheques and find the pain foes away pretty quickly.”

Rowling later made similar remarks about he wealth during an interview with gender critical journalist Suzanne Moore, saying she did consider herself to be “cancelled”.

“The only time I’ve ever made reference to being cancelled, my book sales went up,” she said.

In October 2023, Rowling took to X, formerly called Twitter, to suggest she’d rather do jail time than use a trans person’s correct pronounsIn the post, Rowling shared an image showing the words “repeat after us: trans women are women” projected onto a wall, with the caption: “No.” Under the post, a user wrote: “Vote Labour, get a two year stretch,” in reference to Labour’s proposed anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime laws.

In a reply to her original post, Rowling wrote: “I’ll happily do two years if the alternative is compelled speech and forced denial of the reality and importance of sex.”

On Mother’s Day 2024, (10 March), Rowling came under fire once again after she shared a Mother’s Day message mocking gender-neutral inclusive language. The Harry Potter author pushed back on inclusive language in a tweet that read: “Happy Birthing Parent Day to all whose large gametes were fertilised resulting in small humans whose sex was assigned by doctors making mostly lucky guesses.”

The launch of the trans-exclusionary Beira’s Place

In December 2022, JK Rowling launched a rape and sexual assault crisis centre in Edinburgh which explicitly excludes trans women as service users or employees.

Ahead of the opening of Beira’s Place, Rowling gave an interview to Suzanne Moore for her Letters from Suzanne blog.

The interview further explored Rowling’s views, with the author stating she has “no irrational fear or hatred towards trans people in the slightest, but if you’re going to say it’s ‘hate’ not to believe in a gendered soul, then we cannot have a discussion”. 

Rowling also said she did not “like ideologies of any kind”, adding: “I have never met an ideologue who I wouldn’t suppress a little bit of truth.”

She also talked about ‘safe spaces’ in the interview, going on to say that a space where she is “not allowed to profess a belief in biology” is not a safe space for her or “many, many women”. 

Beira’s Place, which is named after the Scottish goddess of winter, has previously told PinkNews it is “crucial that the life-saving support offered by rape crisis centres is available to trans and non-binary people” and that it would refer trans women to other services.

JK Rowling has opposed Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill

JK Rowling’s opposition to trans people having access to single-sex spaces that reflect their gender identity has been reflected in her opposition to reform of the gender recognition process in Scotland.

The Scottish parliament voted in December 2022 to simplify the process of how trans people can obtain Gender Recognition Certificates (GRC), effectively introducing a ‘self-ID’ system that’s been successfully implemented in other countries around the world, including Ireland.

However, the UK government ultimately blocked Scotland’s legislative change in January 2023, citing concerns for “single-sex” spaces and “equal pay” protections.

Rowling’s opposition to reforming the process of trans people getting a GRC was mentioned in her ‘TERF war’ essay.

She said she was “triggered” by the proposed changes, which she said would “in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one”.

Rowling was angry and disappointed about the way she believed the Scottish government was “playing fast and loose with women’s and girls’ safety”.

In the lead-up to the Scottish parliament passing the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which was supported by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, Rowling tweeted a photo of herself in October 2022 wearing a t-shirt that read: ‘Nicola Sturgeon: destroyer of women’s rights’.

“I stand in solidarity with @ForWomenScot [For Women Scotland, an anti-trans group] and all women protesting and speaking outside the Scottish parliament. #NoToSelfID,” she wrote in the tweet.

JK Rowling also opposes Scotland’s new hate crime law

In March and April 2024, Rowling faced backlash for her criticism of the Scottish government’s new legislation on hate crime. The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, which went into effect Monday (1 April), is intended to consolidate existing hate crime laws in Scotland. 

It also creates a new offence of stirring up hatred against people based on protected characteristics like age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and trans identity. 

In March 2024, lawyer Rajan Barot warned Rowling on X/Twitter that she would be “best-advised” to “start deleting” posts, with the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act coming into force on 1 April, and “any posts up after that are amenable to prosecution in Scotland”.

Hitting back, she wrote: “If you genuinely imagine I’d delete posts calling a man a man, so as not to be prosecuted under this ludicrous law, stand by for the mother of all April Fools’ jokes.”

To mark the law coming into effect, In a series of social media posts, Rowling misgendered several trans women – including trans activists, public figures and convicted sexual offenders – as she described “every last one of them” as “men”. 

In the same series of posts, she invited police to arrest her if they believed she committed an offence, however on 2 April 2024, Police Scotland said that the online misgendering did not amount to a crime.

Rishi Sunak, who has also faced criticism for his stance on trans rights, defended JK Rowling’s remarks in a statement to The Telegraph, saying “People should not be criminalised for stating simple facts on biology,” Sunak said. “We believe in free speech in this country, and Conservatives will always protect it.

Wider criticism of JK Rowling

JK Rowling’s views on trans people have made her a hero of the “gender critical” movement, but have earned her widespread and fervent criticism from supporters of trans rights.

In 2021, an international LGBTQ+ rights review warned the UK is facing “significant damage” because of transphobic hate speech. It cited Rowling’s repeated interventions.

“Anti-trans rhetoric continued to cause serious damage in the UK again this year. A prime example is repeated transphobic attacks by author JK Rowling, on Twitter and in her writing,” ILGA-Europe wrote. Rowling strenuously denies that she is transphobic.

Her views have prompted authors including Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Roxane Gay to speak out in support of trans rights.

Multiple stars of the Harry Potter film series have distanced themselves from Rowling since 2020, with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint all declaring that “trans women are women” in the days following the publication of her ‘TERF Wars’ essay and accompanying tweets.

Other Potter stars who’ve made a point of championing trans equality include Bonnie Wright (who played Ginny Weasley), Katie Leung (Cho Chang), Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood).

Miriam Margoyles, who played Professor Sprout in the films, distanced herself from Rowling’s views in a 2020 interview with The Times, saying that (Rowling) “has a rather conservative view of transgender people.”

And in March 2024, she took aim at adult Harry Potter fans. “I worry about Harry Potter fans,” she said. “They should be over that by now. You know, I mean, it was 25 years ago and it’s for children. I think it’s for children, but they get stuck in it.”

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