Pamela Paul, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, penned an article that dropped today, titled In Defense of J.K. Rowling. The article spread rapidly across the internet, as it further contributed to the ongoing controversy surrounding Rowling’s beliefs on transgender people. She famously authored the Harry Potter book series that went on to become a successful film franchise. Rowling previously came under fire for penning an essay titled TERF Wars, which many activists and former Harry Potter fans alike felt only made her transphobia clearer. Paul joined The New York Times as a columnist in 2022, and her new piece on Rowling has certainly sparked discourse.
“TERF” is an acronym that stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, and essentially centers on the belief that only women who were assigned female at birth can really be feminists and understand the experience of being a woman. Though the controversy began when the essay was released in 2020, Rowling was brought to the forefront of conversation when a new video game titled Hogwarts Legacy was released, and featured a transgender character that some felt was insensitive.
Paul also compared the criticism of Rowling to an incident in which author Salman Rushdie, who penned the acclaimed novel The Satanic Verses, was stabbed. Rushdie’s attack was likely based in Islamic extremism, as the Iranian Supreme Leader initially called for his death in 1989 following the publication of his novel. The perpetrator of the stabbing eventually stated from prison that he felt that Rushdie was “someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”
In an opinion piece, the NYT's Pamela Paul has compared harsh criticism that JK Rowling faces to 30 years of state-sponsored death threats which were backed by a multi-million dollar bounty.
Absolutely absurd and frankly insulting to what Salman Rushdie has dealt with. pic.twitter.com/WXF4KhaiyZ
— Yashar Ali ???? (@yashar) February 16, 2023
J. K. Rowling: [literally spends her free time sharing fringe articles sensationalizing and demonizing transgender prison inmates to her 14 million followers]
Pamela Paul: This is just like what happened to Salman Rushdie.
— Zach Schonfeld (@zzzzaaaacccchhh) February 16, 2023
Activists also pointed out that Paul’s defense of Rowling is more flawed than meets the eye–by separating transgender women from the female population, it insinuates that trans women are not women, which is in itself a transphobic belief that Paul was claiming Rowling did not have.
Just to be clear, every time you say that something for women should only be for cis women, you're being transphobic.
J.K. Rowling is transphobic. Pamela Paul is transphobic. pic.twitter.com/O8VZq9AnZT
— Zack Ford (@ZackFord) February 16, 2023
Paul’s column additionally mentions the upcoming release of a podcast series in which Rowling will further discuss her controversial comments from the past few years, titled “The Witch Hunt of J.K. Rowling.” Natalie Wynn, a trans woman and philosopher, was asked to be a part of pre-production on the podcast. The series was created by former Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper, whose grandfather founded the church. Westboro is known for its homophobic and racist beliefs, and Wynn felt initially comfortable to participate in the podcast knowing that Phelps-Roper had gone on a long personal journey to adopt more inclusive beliefs, but was sadly mistaken to learn about the podcast’s approach from Paul’s column today.
It's now clear that this is exactly what she's done, how she's conceptualized the project from the outset. Her stance seems to be that trans people and transphobes are equally dogmatic & combative; that if we could all just have a calm, civil conversation, empathy would prevail. pic.twitter.com/a8lJB3vMwd
— Natalie Wynn (@ContraPoints) February 16, 2023
While Paul’s column was met with criticism online, it ultimately accomplished its goal–to start conversation. While columns are intended to be opinion based, many readers argue that The Times gave Paul a platform to spread hate speech. A group of reporters, activists, and LGBTQ+ celebrities and allies penned a letter to The Times just yesterday alleging transphobic news coverage. This is why many felt today’s publication of Paul’s column felt like a blatant disregard for their voices.
We’ve had enough. We’ve joined over 100 organizations and leaders to demand that @nytimes stop printing inaccurate and harmful misinformation about transgender people and issues. Today we are outside of the Times building to send a clear message. https://t.co/IkQocpsG5q pic.twitter.com/bBVnFoqOjD
— GLAAD (@glaad) February 15, 2023
Wow, @nytimes really is trash. Not only did they airily dismiss yesterday’s highly-credentialed letter criticizing their transphobia, but they published this puerile piece of nonsense today. Literally the only defense of JKR is that she is suffering under paranoiac delusions. pic.twitter.com/ZHtronYvLu
— J. Marshall Freeman (@rabbitfish63) February 16, 2023
The New York Times is yet to address the backlash from today’s column and recent coverage of the trans community.