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JK Rowling: From beloved children’s author to being outspoken on trans issues

Rowling has always strongly denied being transphobic.


JK Rowling made a splash in 1997 when her first Harry Potter book series novel was published and became a global sensation, putting the spotlight on the Gloucestershire-born author.

Further attention came when Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone was adapted into a movie of the same name, which changed her life beyond all recognition and led to more instalments and spin-off series, such as the Fantastic Beasts prequels.

Outside her literary success, she became a member of the Order of the Companion of Honour for her services to literature and philanthropy in 2017 after setting up social deprivation trust Volant and Lumos, which works to transform the lives of institutionalised children.

Since December 2019, Scotland-based Rowling has also hit the headlines for her views on transgender issues.

Rowling, 58, has always strongly denied being transphobic.

She came out in support of Maya Forstater, who worked as a tax expert at the Centre for Global Development, an international think tank, and was sacked after tweeting that transgender people cannot change their biological sex.

Rowling wrote on Twitter, now X, at the time: “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?”

She added the hashtags #IStandWithMaya and #ThisIsNotADrill.

This promoted a divided reaction among her fans, who referred to her as a trans-exclusionary radical feminist.

Ms Forstater successfully brought a case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal to establish that gender-critical views are a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 in 2021.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 UK Film Premiere – London
Daniel Radcliffe, JK Rowling, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint at the premiere of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Ian West/PA)

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

Actor Daniel Radcliffe, who had played Harry Potter throughout the eight films, then put out a statement through the LGBT suicide prevention charity The Trevor Project in June 2020 saying that she is “unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken” but he feels “compelled to say something at this moment”.

He said the issue is not about “in-fighting between JK Rowling and myself” but stated “transgender women are women” and anything to the contrary “erases the identity and dignity” of people.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them European Premiere – London
Eddie Redmayne and JK Rowling at the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them premiere (Ian West/PA)

Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger, and Rupert Grint, known for the role of Ron Weasley, in the Harry Potter film series, and Eddie Redmayne, who stars in Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts films, also spoke in support of transgender people.

Following the backlash, Rowling revealed that she was partly motivated to speak out on trans issues because of her experience of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

On her website, she detailed the reasons she felt the need to talk about the issue – including her interest in “both education and safeguarding”, “freedom of speech” and “solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine”.

In September 2020, she released her latest novel in the Cormoran Strike crime series, Troubled Blood, under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith, which featured a killer wearing women’s clothing to attack victims which prompted controversy, though did not mention trans issues.

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix UK Premiere – Inside Arrivals – London
Robbie Coltrane starred as Hagrid in the Harry Potter films (Ian West/PA)

Robbie Coltrane, who played gamekeeper Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, also defended her before his death in 2022.

Rowling has said her views have attracted “so many death threats I could paper the house with them”.

In 2021 her address was posted online by campaigners who posed outside her home with “Trans liberation now” signs.

That same year, the governing body for quidditch in the UK, which was influenced by a wizarding game in her novels, said it will be renamed to “distance” itself from Rowling because of her comments.

UK Quidditch Cup
People playing quidditch, inspired by a game in the Harry Potter books (Simon Cooper/PA)

Rowling went on to criticise the Scottish Government’s plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, which was later blocked by the UK government.

She also launched a women-only service, for those who have experienced sexual violence or abuse, called Beira’s Place in Edinburgh in December 2022 following her comments against the proposals to remove the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria as a condition of acquiring a gender recognition certificate.

In 2023 a podcast series called The Witch Trials Of JK Rowling explored the fall-out from her views on trans issues.

It also featured interviews with Rowling, who said that she “never set out to upset anyone” but was “not uncomfortable with getting off my pedestal”.

Addressing people who felt that she has “ruined” her legacy, she said “you could not have misunderstood me more profoundly”.

She also admitted it would have been “easier” not to wade in on the debate but she had become “deeply troubled by what I saw as a cultural movement that was liberal in its method” and she is fighting what she views as a “powerful, insidious misogynistic movement”.

Last year Rowling also criticised Labour’s shadow international development secretary Lisa Nandy, saying that the MP is “one of the biggest reasons many women on the left no longer trust”.

Ms Nandy insisted women can trust the Labour Party and said the debate surrounding transgender issues and women’s rights needs “far less heat and far more light”.

Rowling also had a Twitter row with transgender broadcaster India Willoughby in March this year following her saying she is “cosplaying a misogynistic male fantasy of what a woman is”.

Willoughby reported her to Northumbria Police after making allegations that the post was a “hate crime”. The force said the complaint ‘did not meet the criminal threshold’.

Rowling has also been vocally outspoken on the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which came into effect on Monday, arguing the “police are going to be very busy” when it becomes law.

When the date came around, she appeared to challenge police to arrest her if her social media posts break the new laws.

“I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new Act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment,” Rowling said.

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