In a touching moment in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rubeus Hagrid—who has just offered to resign from his teaching position at Hogwarts—lets his three favorite students in on his personal philosophy on self-acceptance. "I am what I am, an' I'm not ashamed,” the friendly giant declares. “'Never be ashamed,' my ol' dad used ter say, 'there's some who'll hold it against you, but they're not worth botherin' with.'"
It seems J.K. Rowling could take a lesson from her own character.
The Harry Potter author, 54, set off a firestorm Thursday morning after tweeting her support of a British researcher who was fired for making anti-transgender comments. The researcher, Maya Forstater, claims a prominent nonprofit did not renew her contract this year because of her refusal to accept trans women as women. On Wednesday, an employment tribunal judge ruled that Forstater’s “absolutist” views were fair grounds for dismissal.
The decision apparently angered Rowling, who fired off a tweet with the hashtag #IStandWithMaya.
“Dress however you please,” the author wrote. “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?”
Rowling’s mentions quickly filled with commenters expressing their disappointment and calling the author a TERF—a popular term for self-described feminists who do not accept trans women as women. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights campaign, accused Rowling of spreading a “harmful fundamentalism” that endangers LGBTQ youth. Another Twitter user commented on behalf of her trans daughter, who she said was “a big fan of yours.”
“It breaks my heart to see you post something indicating that discrimination against her is perfectly fine behaviour for an employee,” the woman wrote.
A representative for Rowling declined to comment. A statement on her website says the author “rarely gives interviews or writes articles, preferring to express herself on Twitter.”
Forstater’s case made headlines earlier this year when she filed a complaint against her former employer, the Centre for Global Development, over its failure to renew her contract. Forstater started working for the nonprofit in 2015 as a research consultant and, in 2018, began tweeting against a legislative proposal, currently being debated, that would allow people in the U.K. to self-identify their gender.
According to the judge’s report, Forstater also began supporting campaigns to define a woman as an “adult human female,” and messaged a colleague saying she didn’t think people should have to “play along with literal delusions like ‘transwomen are women.’” Following complaints from co-workers, the CGD elected not to extend Forstater’s contract in 2018.
Forstater continued to tweet anti-trans missives after her dismissal, according to the report, including one tweet that compared preferred pronouns to the date-rape drug Rohypnol. She also compared forcing feminists to accept trans women to forcing Jewish people to eat pork, and refused to refer to a trans Scottish lawmaker by their preferred pronouns.
In his decision, Judge James Tayler wrote that Forstater “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,” he added.
Forstater responded in a post on her crowdfunding page—where she has raised more than £85,000 for her legal fees—calling the judgment “shocking” and a threat to freedom of speech.
Her attorney, Peter Daly, said in a statement that the significance of the judgment “should not be down played.”
“Had our client been successful, she would have established in law protection for people–on any side of this debate–to express their beliefs without fear of being discriminated against,” he said.
It’s unclear how Rowling got wind of the issue, but the author has waded into TERF-y territory in the past. Back in March 2018, Rowling liked a tweet reading, in part, “Men in dresses get brocialist solidarity I never had.” At the time, her publicist said the incident was a “clumsy and middle-aged moment” in which Rowling accidentally liked the tweet.
But Rowling later liked several other tweets expressing similar sentiments, including one reading, “No fox has a right to live in a henhouse, even if he identifies as a hen.” (“Ironic that to her throngs of transgender fans and their allies, she has demonstrated once again, she is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, writer Phaylen Fairchild mused in an article for Medium.)
Indeed, the author’s actions are especially confusing given that Rowling has cast herself as a staunch supporter of gay rights. Her tweets taking down homophobic trolls have earned her widespread applause—a 2017 Pink News article heralded Rowling’s “20 greatest LGBT moments to celebrate 20 years of Harry Potter”—and she has spoken frequently about the same-sex relationship between Harry Potter characters Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald.
But the idea that trans women should not be included in mainstream feminism has taken a disproportionately strong hold in Rowling’s native Britain, where prominent writers like Julia Long commonly warn of a coming “female erasure.” In March, members of the U.K.-based organization OBJECT crashed a feminist rally in New York, carrying a sign reading, “NO to the sex trade, surrogacy and transgenderism.” The rally organizers were forced to apologize.
Advocates say this kind of rhetoric can lead to higher rates of depression, suicide, and violence against trans people. A 2016 study found that distress and dysfunction among trans people was strongly predicted by incidents of social rejection and violence. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 24 transgender and gender non-conforming people were murdered in 2019 alone.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, HRC Press Secretary Elliott Kozuch said Rowling’s comments are “not only in conflict with the core values of the Harry Potter series, they are dangerous.”
"Love, compassion and bravery will always rise above hatred, bigotry and fear,” Kozuch said. “Harry Potter taught me that. I can only hope the series’ own author can reflect on and live out these lessons."