JK Rowling returns award after Kerry Kennedy criticism

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Kerry Kennedy and JK Rowling Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kerry Kennedy presented JK Rowling with the award in December of last year

JK Rowling has said she is giving back an award associated with the US Kennedy family, after being criticised for her views on gender and trans issues.

The author was given the Ripple of Hope honour by the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organisation last year.

But earlier this month, its president Kerry Kennedy said views expressed by Rowling recently “diminished the identity” of trans people.

Rowling says Kennedy’s implication that she is transphobic is “incorrect”.

What is the row all about?

The Harry Potter writer sparked controversy in June for posting tweets which took issue with the phrase “people who menstruate”.

Rowling objected to the avoidance of the use of the word “women”.

In a lengthy blog post, Rowling said her interest in trans issues stemmed from being a survivor of abuse and having concerns around single-sex spaces.

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them,” she wrote. “At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”

Several film stars from the Harry Potter universe distanced themselves from her comments, including Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson.

What did Kerry Kennedy say?

Earlier this month, Kennedy posted a statement online, which read: “I have spoken with JK 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 non-binary people, undermining the validity and integrity of the entire transgender community.

“One that disproportionately suffers from violence, discrimination, harassment, and exclusion and, as a result, experiences high rates of suicide, suicide attempts, homelessness, and mental and bodily harm.

Image copyright Reuters

Image caption JK Rowling wrote the Cormoran Strike book series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith

“Black trans women and trans youth in particular are targeted.”

She went on to say the organisation rejected Rowling’s view that a person’s gender is the one they were assigned at birth.

“From her own words, I take Rowling’s position to be that the sex one is assigned at birth is the primary and determinative factor of one’s gender, regardless of one’s gender identity – a position that I categorically reject.”

How has JK Rowling responded?

In a new statement published on her website, Rowling says she disagrees that “there is no conflict between the current radical trans rights movement and the rights of women”.

She noted that “thousands of women” had got in touch with her to show their support and called for a more nuanced debate.

“Clinicians, academics, therapists, teachers, social workers, and staff at prisons and women’s refuges have also contacted me,” she continued.

“These professionals, some at the very top of their organisations, have expressed serious concerns about the impact of gender identity theory on vulnerable adolescents and on women’s rights, and of the dismantling of safeguarding norms which protect the most vulnerable women.

“None of them hate trans people.”

Explaining why she was returning the award, she added: “I am deeply saddened that RFKHR [Robert F Kennedy Human Rights] 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.”

Rowling has since received support online, and the hashtag #IStandWithJKRowling began trending on social media on Friday morning.

“There absolutely are conflicts between extreme transgender lobby demands and the rights of women and children,” wrote journalist Sonia Poulton.

However, others used the same hashtag to voice criticism of the author or call for more empathy towards the trans community.

“I can tell you from my experience that the way we choose to discuss trans people in public has a real impact,” said journalist Paris Lees.

“Please dig deep and approach this subject – about real people – with caution and empathy.”

Previous recipients of the award Rowling has now decided to give back have included Barack Obama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

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