J.K. Rowling's transphobia controversy: A complete timeline
Some gamers have vowed to boycott the new Harry Potter video game Hogwarts Legacy after years of author J.K. Rowling repeatedly making controversial comments about transgender people. How did we get here, and what has Rowling said to spark this uproar? Here's what you need to know:
March 2018: Rowling 'likes' a transphobic tweet, says it was an accident
An early instance of Rowling facing allegations of transphobia comes in March 2018 after she is slammed for "liking" a tweet that referred to trans women as "men in dresses." But the author's spokesperson tells Pink News that this was purely an accident. "I'm afraid J.K. Rowling had a clumsy and middle-aged moment and this is not the first time she has favorited by holding her phone incorrectly," the spokesperson says.
Rowling later says she "absent-mindedly" liked the tweet when she meant to screenshot it because she had taken an "an interest in gender identity and transgender matters," so she was "screenshotting comments that interested me, as a way of reminding myself what I might want to research later."
June 2019: Rowling follows 'self-professed transphobe' on Twitter
The following year, though, Rowling again faces backlash after following YouTuber Magdalen Berns on Twitter. According to Pink News, Berns was a "self-professed transphobe" who made videos with titles like "there is no such thing as a lesbian with a penis," and the outlet reports she is also following other anti-trans accounts. Rowling later says she followed Berns, an "immensely brave young feminist and lesbian who was dying of an aggressive brain tumour," because she "wanted to contact her directly." Berns died in September 2019.
December 2019: Rowling stands with researcher who lost contract over transphobic statements
Months later, Rowling now faces backlash for comments she made directly after coming to the defense of Maya Forstater. At the time, the researcher had been waging an employment discrimination battle, as her contract with a think tank wasn't renewed after she made a series of anti-trans statements. These statements included that "I don't think people should be compelled to play along with literal delusions like 'transwomen are women,'" and she referred to a gender-fluid person as a "man who likes to dress in women's clothes."
In a tweet, Rowling says she stands with Forstater, writing, "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?" A day before receiving Rowling's support, Forstater reiterated on Twitter that she believes, "There are two sexes. Men are male. Women are female. It is impossible to change sex."
GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, strongly condemns Rowling over her tweet, saying she has "aligned herself with an anti-science ideology that denies the basic humanity of people who are transgender," adding, "Trans and non-binary people are not a threat to women, and to imply otherwise puts trans people at risk."
The Human Rights Campaign also tweets, "Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. CC: JK Rowling."
May 2020: Rowling likes a transphobic tweet again
Five months later, Rowling again faces backlash for reportedly "liking" another transphobic tweet, in this case one that misgendered psychotherapist and photographer Alex Drummond and described her as "an adult human male who claims to be a lesbian (yes, he's kept his dangling bits and skipped the hormones)."
June 6, 2020: Rowling slammed for tweet about the phrase 'people who menstruate'
The controversy escalates significantly in June 2020 after Rowling tweets dismissively about an article with the headline, "Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate."
"'People who menstruate.' I'm sure there used to be a word for those people," Rowling tweets. "Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?"
The phrase "people who menstruate" has been used to also include trans men, as well as non-binary people. Rowling also tweets that "if sex isn't real, the lived reality of women globally is erased."
The tweets are quickly condemned as anti-trans, including again by GLAAD, which responds, "JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people."
June 8, 2020: Daniel Radcliffe speaks out against Rowling
Two days later, in a post on the Trevor Project's website, Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe condemns Rowling's tweets. "Transgender women are women," he writes. "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." Radcliffe also says he is "deeply sorry" to those who "feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished" because of Rowling's statements.
June 10, 2020: Rowling publishes essay defending her stance as more actors speak out
Days after her controversial tweets, Rowling publishes a more than 3,600-word essay on her website about why she has spoken out on "sex and gender issues."
In it, Rowling says she is "worried about the new trans activism" and "the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning." (According to GLAAD, "scientific research shows detransitioning to be rare and that other factors around regret of transition including rejection and discrimination play a significant role.")
She goes on to slam those who say that "women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves." Rowling then reveals she is a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault and says this led her to sympathize with women who have "concerns around single-sex spaces," arguing against throwing "open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he's a woman."
"All of the ideas she expressed in her essay are transphobic," Constance Grady later writes for Vox. "They actively seek to take rights away from trans people, and they treat trans identity as something that is up for debate, rather than an intrinsic part of human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity." The Los Angeles Times also points out that despite what Rowling suggests, "there is no evidence that transgender people are a threat to anyone."
Rowling also tweets a link to her website and writes "TERF wars," with "TERF" meaning "trans-exclusionary radical feminist," a group that does not acknowledge trans women as women.
Soon, more actors from the Harry Potter franchise begin speaking out against Rowling. "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," Hermione actor Emma Watson tweets.
"If Harry Potter was a source of love and belonging for you, that love is infinite and there to take without judgment or question," Ginny Weasley actor Bonnie Wright also says. "Transwomen are women."
Fantastic Beasts star Eddie Redmayne additionally tells Variety he disagrees with Rowling's comments. "Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid," he says. Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter movies, says in a statement to Variety that "fostering a diverse and inclusive culture has never been more important," but it doesn't condemn Rowling's remarks.
July 2, 2020: 'Harry Potter' fan sites distance themselves from Rowling
Two major Harry Potter fan websites, The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet, release a joint statement distancing themselves from Rowling over her remarks.
"J.K. Rowling has chosen this time to loudly pronounce harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person," the statement says, vowing "we will no longer be covering aspects of J.K. Rowling's personal life" and "will no longer provide news coverage of J.K. Rowling's works set outside of the wizarding world."
The sites also agree not to "include purchase links for J.K. Rowling's works set outside of the wizarding world," link to Rowling's website, or "use any featured images with J.K. Rowling's likeness" going forward.
July 5, 2020: More Rowling tweets spark more backlash
Rowling sparks further backlash with a Twitter thread in July 2020, in which she defends reportedly "liking" a tweet that compared hormone prescriptions and anti-depressants. The original tweet criticized the "pure laziness" of "those who would rather medicate than put in the time and effort to heal people's minds."
"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," Rowling tweets. "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."
Actor and trans activist Scott Turner Schofield accuses Rowling of "spreading scientifically debunked theories" and "anti-trans hate speech," per Deadline.
August 2020: Rowling returns award after being condemned for her statements
After Rowling received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award in 2019, the human rights group's president, Kerry Kennedy, releases a statement in August 2020 expressing "profound disappointment" that the author "has chosen to use her remarkable gifts to create a narrative that diminishes the identity of trans and nonbinary people, undermining the validity and integrity of the entire transgender community."
As a result, Rowling announces later that month she will return the award. "The statement incorrectly implied that I was transphobic, and that I am responsible for harm to trans people," Rowling says. "As a longstanding donor to LGBT charities and a supporter of trans people's right to live free of persecution, I absolutely refute the accusation that I hate trans people or wish them ill, or that standing up for the rights of women is wrong, discriminatory, or incites harm or violence to the trans community."
September 2020: Critics suggest Rowling's new novel is transphobic
The following month, Rowling publishes a new novel titled Troubled Blood under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The book, which revolves around a male serial killer who dresses like a woman, is accused of transphobia.
"One wonders what critics of Rowling's stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress," Jake Kerridge writes for The Telegraph. A spokesperson for Mermaids, a charity that supports trans children, tells CNN, "we are disappointed" that Rowling is propagating a "long-standing and hurtful presentation of trans women as a threat." Rowling, meanwhile, says the book "was loosely based" on real killers.
December 2021: Rowling criticizes police for letting rape suspects identify as women
In another controversial tweet, Rowling shares an article from the Times of London about the "'absurdity' of police logging rapists as women," which says police in Scotland will "record rapes by offenders with male genitalia as being committed by a woman if the attacker 'identifies as a female.'"
Rowling evokes 1984 by tweeting, "War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman."
"If a woman commits rape, that is still a crime and reprehensible," author Shannon Hale tweets in response. "Calling a woman a woman won't change that. But amplifying bigotry helps no one."
The controversial tweet comes just one day before the new trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which Rowling co-wrote, debuts.
January 2022: Rowling doesn't participate in a 'Harry Potter' reunion special
In January 2022, HBO Max airs the highly anticipated Harry Potter reunion special Return to Hogwarts, which reunites the original cast of the films. Rowling does not participate in the special, at least not by giving any new interviews. However, she notably appears via archival footage, suggesting Warner Bros. is not trying to ignore her entirely. Rowling would later deny claims she was "excluded" from the special. "I was asked to be on that," she says. "I decided I didn't want to do it. I thought it was about the films more than the books quite rightly."
March 2022: Rowling criticizes bill that would make legally changing gender easier
In March 2022, Rowling condemns a bill in Scotland that would make it easier for a trans person to legally change their gender, Variety reports. It would remove the requirement that applicants must be "medically diagnosed as having gender dysphoria" and "go through a minimum two year process and be aged over 18," lowering the age to 16, per The Times. On Twitter, Rowling claims the bill would "harm the most vulnerable women in society: those seeking help after male violence/rape and incarcerated women."
A few days later, on International Women's Day, Rowling suggests in a tweet that under a Labour government, "today will become We Who Must Not Be Named Day," evoking a phrase from the Harry Potter series.
This same month, Rowling criticizes Labour Party leader Keir Starmer after he says "trans women are women, and that is not just my view, that is actually the law." Rowling alleges he misrepresented the law and that this is "another indication that the Labour Party can no longer be counted on to defend women's rights," The Guardian reports.
Later in March 2022, Rowling sends "big love" on Twitter to Caroline Farrow, who Pink News describes as an "anti-gay, anti-trans" activist who has said she "rejects the idea of feminism outright."
June 2022: Warner Bros. says it's 'proud' to work with Rowling
In June 2022, a PR representative blocks a Sky News reporter from asking Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton a question about Rowling because she is "not connected to Warner or Tom Felton."
But this leads Warner Bros. to issue a statement strongly defending Rowling, with the studio expressing hope to continue working with her despite the transphobia controversy.
"She is one of the world's most accomplished storytellers, and we are proud to be the studio to bring her vision, characters and stories to life now — and for decades to come," a statement from Warner Bros. says.
July 2022: Quidditch distances itself from Rowling
Quidditch, the actual sport inspired by the fictional sport within the Harry Potter universe, announces it will be changing its name to Quadball in July 2022. There are a number of reasons for this, but one is that Rowling "has increasingly come under scrutiny for her anti-trans positions," the International Quidditch Association says.
November 2022: Warner Bros. wants to make more 'Potter' movies with Rowling involved
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav says during an investor call he is interested in making more Harry Potter movies with Rowling's involvement despite the controversy, expressing hope that "we can do something with" her.
August 2022: Rowling publishes a book about a character being accused of transphobia
Rowling releases another book in 2022 that draws scrutiny in light of her transphobia controversy. Again published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, the book, The Ink Black Heart, is about the creator of a YouTube cartoon, Edie Ledwell, who is accused of being transphobic. "The book takes a clear aim at 'social justice warriors' and suggests that Ledwell was a victim of a masterfully plotted, politically fueled hate campaign against her," Rolling Stone reports.
Rowling, however, claims the book is "not depicting" what happened to her in real life, saying, "Sometimes life imitates art more than one would like."
December 2022: Rowling responds to calls to boycott 'Hogwarts Legacy'
Ahead of the February 2023 release of the new Harry Potter role-playing game Hogwarts Legacy, some call for a boycott in light of Rowling's statements. Rowling was not directly involved in the game's creation.
After trans YouTuber Jessie Earl tweets that supporting Hogwarts Legacy is "harmful to trans people," Rowling directly responds, comparing this stance to book burning. "Deeply disappointed @jessiegender doesn't realise purethink is incompatible with owning ANYTHING connected with me, in ANY form," Rowling sarcastically writes. "The truly righteous wouldn't just burn their books and movies but the local library, anything with an owl on it and their own pet dogs." Two days later, Earl says she has been bombarded with comments that include "calls for my death, insinuations that I'm a pedophile, dehumanizing comments about my supposed masculine features."
January 2023: 'Hogwarts Legacy' voice actor apologizes for involvement in game
Heartstopper star Sebastian Croft apologizes on Twitter after it's announced that he is voicing a character in Hogwarts Legacy. "I was cast in this project over 3 years ago, back when all Harry Potter was to me, was the magical world I grew up with," he tweets. "This was long before I was aware of JK Rowling's views. I believe whole heartedly that trans women are women and trans men are men."
February 2023: 'Hogwarts Legacy' is released amid boycott calls
Hogwarts Legacy releases in February 2023, and many reviews from major outlets wrestle with the implications of purchasing a game that will financially benefit Rowling. Reviews, however, are largely positive.
IGN's 9 out of 10 review includes a more than 200-word section titled "Concerning J.K. Rowling," in which the outlet defends its decision to review the game at all, while arguing "there are good reasons (both in-game and out) to believe the developers" of Hogwarts Legacy "don't necessarily share her views." At Engadget, Jessica Conditt also defends reviewing the game and writes, "Harry Potter will outlive its author. She is not the future of the franchise."
Ahead of the official release, Hogwarts Legacy becomes the most popular game on the streaming platform Twitch, drawing millions of viewers.
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