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The row ignited by JK Rowling’s comments on transgender issues shows no sign of abating. Four authors have now left the author’s agency The Blair Partnership in protest and in the US a number of independent booksellers have decided not to sell her books. The stars of the Harry Potter films have also voiced criticism of Rowling.
Fox Fisher, Drew Davies and Ugla Stefania – all of whom identify as LBGBTQIA authors – left The Blair Partnership saying they were unconvinced that it “supports our rights at all avenues”. A fourth author who has left opted to remain anonymous.
The authors suggested the agency should conduct staff training with the group All About Trans and said that “these requests were not met positively by the management”. The writers added: “Affirmations to support LGBTQIA people as a whole need to be followed up by meaningful and impactful action, both internally and publicly”.
In response the agency said: “We support the rights of all of our clients to express their thoughts and beliefs, and we believe in freedom of speech. Publishing and the creative arts are dependent on these things. It is our duty, as an agency to support all of our clients in this fundamental freedom and we do not comment on their individual views…
“We value all our authors’ voices and, as an agency, champion equality and inclusivity. We remain committed to making the agency the most welcoming environment it can be for everyone. The diversity of our clients’ voices is our strength and we take enormous pride from each and every one.”
In the US, Left Bank Books in St Louis, Missouri, which is ‘owned and operated by queer and trans people’, is among indies who feel betrayed by Rowling and has decided not to sell her books.
Co-owner Jarek Steele said: “Rowling’s public comments about transgender people, particularly transgender women, are abhorrent, hurtful and wilfully ignorant. Not only that, she has a worldwide platform for that bigotry which makes her even more dangerous. If you’re following our bookstore, you know words mean something. They count. They influence. They convince….
“As a transgender person, I’m personally disappointed, hurt and angry. I loved [Rowling’s] books. I still love the stories and the characters, but she has now tainted what for our family and our store was a beautiful experience. She has made it ugly by dehumanizing and devaluing me, my friends and my co-workers. She put us in a position (which sadly is a very common one among queer people) where we love someone and shape our lives and our values according to that love, and then find our humanity lacking in their eyes.”
The store decided to act and is now no longer selling any of Rowling’s books, including those written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Steele continued: “We’ve been here before. We know we’ll hear cries of censorship and first amendment rights violations. We’ll remind you that there are millions of books that aren’t on our shelves. We curate. It’s our job. That series doesn’t need our help. JK Rowling is far from censored, even here in our own store.
“Taking them off our shelves won’t do anything to stop her. She won’t notice at all. But we will, and our transgender staff and customers will. We no longer feel comfortable giving her shelf space while she uses her extensive platform to deride the humanity of trans women.”
Rowling supports transgender rights but does not believe in ‘erasing’ the concept of biological sex. She is concerned about the safety of women and writes, in a now famous blog post on her website: ‘When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.’
She also writes: ‘I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it. I stand alongside the brave women and men, gay, straight and trans, who’re standing up for freedom of speech and thought, and for the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay kids, fragile teenagers, and women who’re reliant on and wish to retain their single sex spaces.’
Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter in the films, said: “Trans women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo [Rowling] or I.”
Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger, said transgender people “deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned”.
The debate looks set to continue.