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Image / Editorial

This is why JK Rowling is facing a backlash on Twitter

by Jennifer McShane
19th Dec 2019

The Harry Potter author expressed support for a researcher whose views on transgender people were condemned by a court on Wednesday as “incompatible with human dignity”

Having not tweeted since November, JK Rowling broke her Twitter silence to speak out in support of a researcher who lost an employment tribunal case for using “offensive and exclusionary” language on Twitter.

Rowling tweeted about Maya Forstater, who lost her job at an international thinktank after a series of tweets, including one in which she said: “Men cannot change into women.”

Rowling, who has 14.6 million followers, said in the tweet: “Dress however you please (…) But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?” She referenced the case using the hashtag #IStandWithMaya.

Forstater, a tax expert, was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development (CGD), an international thinktank that campaigns against poverty and inequality.

She was accused of using “offensive and exclusionary” language in tweets opposing government proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act to allow people to self-identify as the opposite sex.

Her contract at the charitable organisation was not renewed in March after the dispute over publicising her views on social media.

“Transphobic material”

She was accused at the employment tribunal of having retweeted transphobic material, including a newspaper cartoon of a person flashing two women at a London swimming pond, with the caption “It’s alright — it’s a woman’s penis.”

Court documents show that she had previously tweeted that “it is unfair and unsafe for trans women to compete in women’s sport.”

Forstater took her case to an employment tribunal on the grounds that her dismissal constituted discrimination against her beliefs. However, this week, Judge James Tayler dismissed her claim, saying her views are “absolutist in her view of sex” and  “incompatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others.”

Rowling has hugely divided fans and Twitter users with her stance on the issue, with many expressing sadness and disappointment over her viewpoint.

Trending with Rowling’s name was the word “TERF,” an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. TERFs — or, as they prefer to be known, gender critical feminists, who do not believe that transgender women should be considered women for the purposes of shared spaces and political discussion.

However, some expressed support for Rowling, also via Tweets.

The issue has, to put it mildly, divided the public. And others made the point about free speech being protected but not allowing this to crossover into discrimination in a workplace environment.

So far, Rowling has not commented further on the issue.


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