J.K. Rowling has returned a humanitarian award from the Kennedy family after Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy, called out her transphobia.
Kerry Kennedy runs the nonprofit advocacy organization Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which named Rowling the winner of its Ripple of Hope Award last year. But evidently the Harry Potter author’s transphobic remarks earlier this year did not sit well with Kennedy, who criticized Rowling in a statement earlier this month.
On Thursday Rowling revealed she was returning the award—in a statement that seems hellbent on framing herself as a martyr.
Earlier this summer Rowling mocked an op-ed that discussed equal rights in a post-COVID-19 world for “people who menstruate.” In a tweet, Rowling snarked, “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”After a wave of criticism, she also published an essay that sought to brand her transphobia as feminism, framing her history as a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor as a reason to fear trans people in traditionally “women-only” spaces. (Studies have already debunked such concerns.)
On Aug. 3, Kennedy posted a statement about Rowling to her organization’s website, in which she said she’d “spoken with J.K. Rowling to express my profound disappointment that she has chosen to use her remarkable gifts to create a narrative that diminishes the identity of trans and nonbinary people…”
“Trans rights are human rights,” Kennedy wrote. “J.K. Rowling’s attacks upon the transgender community are inconsistent with the fundamental beliefs and values of RFK Human Rights and represent a repudiation of my father’s vision.”
In her own statement this week, Rowling returned to some of her favorite rhetorical devices in this debate—referring to “thousands” of nameless people who she says have emailed her their gratitude for her soapboxing and stoking fears about a “huge rise in the numbers of girls wanting to transition.” She also, once again, highlighted the (small) subset of trans people who have chosen to detransition—which advocates note can fuel misconceptions around the transition process and characterize trans people as simply “confused.”
“Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, recently felt it necessary to publish a statement denouncing my views on RFKHR’s website,” Rowling wrote. “The statement incorrectly implied that I was transphobic, and that I am responsible for harm to trans people. 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.”
“RFKHR has stated that there is no conflict between the current radical trans rights movement and the rights of women,” Rowling added. “The thousands of women who’ve got in touch with me disagree, and, like me, believe this clash of rights can only be resolved if more nuance is permitted in the debate.”
“In solidarity with those who have contacted me but who are struggling to make their voices heard, and because of the very serious conflict of views between myself and RFKHR, I feel I have no option but to return the Ripple of Hope Award bestowed upon me last year,” Rowling concluded. “I am deeply saddened that RFKHR has felt compelled to adopt this stance, but no award or honour, no matter my admiration for the person for whom it was named, means so much to me that I would forfeit the right to follow the dictates of my own conscience.”