JK Rowling is trending again – and this time, it’s not because she’s revealed a new Harry Potter storyline.
The British author has tweeted in support of Maya Forstater, 45, who was fired from her job at poverty think-tank, Centre for Global Development, over a series of tweets questioning government plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act in order to make it easier for transgender people to self-identify as what they argue – and the medical community confirms – is their rightful gender.
Forstater took to Twitter to say she was in “shock and disbelief” at the judgement, which ruled that her “offensive and exclusionary” language on Twitter was not protected as a philosophical belief under the 2010 Equality Act.
Why is the ruling significant?
Judge James Tayler decided that Forstater’s view was “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others”.
If a person has transitioned from male to female and has a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), that person is legally a woman. That is not something Ms Forstater is entitled to ignore. Ms Forstater’s position is that even if a trans woman has a GRC, she cannot honestly describe herself as a woman. That belief is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.
Forstater’s laywers had argued that, if she’d won the case, it would have legally prevented employers from dismissing staff for expressing their view on LGBTQ+ rights.
Consequently, LGBTQ+ activists have welcomed the ruling, but the “gender critical” movement has expressed concerns, saying it limits their rights to free speech.
Soon, #IStandWithMaya began to trend, in support of Forstater. The hashtag was included on Rowling’s tweet, alongside the hashtag #Thisisnotadrill.
This isn’t the first time Rowling has been criticised for her behaviour on social media relating to trans issues.
In 2018 indy100 reported that Rowling had been publicly criticised for liking a tweet that described trans women as “men in dresses”. At the time, Rowling was criticised by trans activist Shon Faye and many others for liking the tweet. A spokesperson later said this was a “senior moment” and that Rowling had not meant to like it.
In 2019 Rowling was criticised by pro-trans website Trans Advocate for “following a proud YouTube transphobe” on Twitter. This time, a member of JK Rowling's PR team told indy100 that the author "simply follows a wide range of people on Twitter that she finds interesting".
Rowling’s tweet comes at a time where tensions between trans rights advocates and “gender critical” people like Forstater are escalating.
Last month, Forstater told the tribunal that trans woman aren’t women, saying: “there is one sex or the other”. This statement is interpreted by many to be a transphobic viewpoint and runs to the centre of the conflict.
Last year it was reported that the UK government had “shelved” its plans to overhaul the GRA, which prompted a denial from then-Equality Secretary Liz Truss. Launching its own consultation on GRA reform this week, the Scottish Government has made assurances that any reforms will not impact women’s rights.
Self-ID laws have been reformed in countries such as Norway, Malta, Belgium, Portugal and Ireland with success.
Given that emotions are running high on both sides of this debate, Rowling’s tweet has drawn both criticism and praise.
Supporters of trans rights are disappointed in the author, with many suggesting that she has misinterpreted the ruling.
Others said that Rowling is a “Terf” – an acronym of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist – to describe people who oppose trans rights on a feminist basis. Some people consider this term to be offensive, or a slur.
But Rowling and Forstater have got supporters too.
indy100 reached out to JK Rowling's representatives for comment. A PR representative for Rowling said: "There won’t be any comment from J.K. Rowling or her team on this issue."