Authors Speak Up: “Trans Rights are Human Rights”

Authors Speak Up: "Trans Rights are Human Rights"
Roxane Gay, Margaret Atwood. (Mark Hill Photography, Berkeley Center for New Media / Flickr)

Over 1,000 North American writers have come together to sign a letter expressing support for trans and non-binary people. The letter follows a similar letter from authors in the U.K. and Ireland, which came about after a fierce debate online and in literary communities over author J.K. Rowling’s comments about trans rights.

The signatories of the U.S. letter, which include Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay and Stephen King, write:

As members of the writing and publishing community of the United States and Canada, we stand firmly in support of trans and non-binary people and their rights.

We are writers, editors, journalists, agents, and professionals in multiple forms of publishing. We believe in the power of words. We want to do our part to help shape the curve of history toward justice and fairness.

To that end, we say: non-binary people are non-binary, trans women are women, trans men are men, trans rights are human rights.

Your pronouns matter.

You matter.

You are loved.

The U.S. letter, along with the U.K. letter (which was signed by over 200 British authors and people in publishing including Jeanette Winterson and Malorie Blackman), came after an increasingly heated debate over trans rights spurred by comments made by J.K. Rowling, author of the popular Harry Potter series.

Rowling’s comments, which brought her under fire on Twitter, provoked a first letter—signed by Ian McEwan and other notable U.K. authors and figures—in which they defended Rowling’s statements. The letter framed the backlash Rowling faced as being motivated by misogyny.


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Rowling’s various comments and tweets—which included multiple instances of saying that trans women were not women, comparing hormone therapy for trans people to “conversion therapy,” and vocally expressing support for Maya Forstater (a woman who was fired for making anti-trans statements)—attracted significant online backlash, including from Daniel Radcliffe and the other stars of the Harry Potter franchise.

In addition to her comments about transgender women, Rowling has been criticized for transphobia in her latest book, which includes a (cis male) serial killer who dresses up as a woman to commit gruesome murders—a longstanding trope used to create fear and prejudice against transgender women.

Rowling’s book, which is the fifth installment in her Cormoran Strikes series, is written under her crime writing pseudonym, Robert Galbraith—a name she borrows from a 20th century psychiatrist and proponent of conversion therapy who was notorious for attempting to use electric shock therapy to “cure” homosexuality.

The various letters and controversy over J.K. Rowling’s tweets have ignited fiery discussions online about the role of authors in foregrounding narratives that can cause harm to people in real life.

Trans advocates have pointed out that online discourse has real life consequences—notably, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) quoted J.K. Rowling’s blog post (which many have called a “transphobic manifesto”) in blocking Senate consideration of the Equality Act, an LGBTQ civil rights bill.

Trans women, and trans women of color in particular, face high rates of discrimination and violence, in the U.S. and elsewhere.

“When J.K. got involved in [the debate in the U.K. over transgender rights] it gave a lot of legitimacy to something that before seemed fringey. It became more accepted, because people know J.K. from Harry Potter,” Maureen Johnson, the author who organized the North American letter, told Publishers Weekly. “Sometimes you need to put your name on the line and say I don’t agree with what’s going on.”


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About

Oliver Haug is an editorial intern with Ms. Magazine and a recent graduate of Smith college. Their writing has previously appeared in Autostraddle and the New York Times' newsletter "The Edit." You can read more of their work at oliverhaug.contently.com, and follow them on twitter here.