Growing up, I didn’t just love Harry Potter — I was Harry Potter. As a kid and teenager, I constantly felt misunderstood, underestimated and eager to prove myself.
Like Harry, I ultimately found my family through friendships and mentorships — more than through those bound to me by blood. And much like Harry, I also felt demonized for what made me different, and would try to hide the parts of myself that I thought would make me the target of ridicule.
But unlike Harry, my feelings of separateness were not because I had innate magical abilities — though I desperately wish I did. No, I related so profoundly to The Boy Who Lived because I am transgender.
Although she’s been showing signs of her transphobia for years, J.K. Rowling truly broke my heart and the hearts of countless LGBTQ fans late last year, when she tweeted out her support of a known Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF), Maya Forstater. Forstater lost her contract to work at the Centre for Global Development after she tweeted out transphobic rhetoric, and then lost her legal case when she sued the Centre. However, Rowling didn’t stop there, despite the backlash she received. About a week ago, she seemed to bizarrely copy, paste and tweet a sentence from a news story that contained an expletive and also misgendered a transgender woman. And just a few days ago, she stated fairly unequivocally that the only “people who menstruate” are women — erasing transgender women as well as transgender men and many non-binary people who menstruate. And today, in a lengthy blog post, Rowling doubled down in using her massive platform to spread anti-trans propaganda after refusing to respond to outreach by LGBTQ groups.
When I read Rowling’s tweets last year, and again when I read her most recent transphobic statements over the past week, my mind immediately jumped to childhood me. I thought of the lessons of finding yourself and being resilient that Rowling taught me as I devoured her series — all one million words. With just a few words, she undermined those powerful lessons, telling us that we as trans people can’t be accepted for who we truly are.
Transgender and gender-expansive youth need the hope the wizarding world brings. As a Ravenclaw, I have to turn to the data: When a Human Rights Campaign survey of youth found that less than one quarter of trans and gender-expansive youth feel like they can be themselves at home, the fantasy of Hagrid the Hogwarts groundskeeper coming to whisk us off from our less-than-welcoming families embodies nothing short of a knight in shining armour.
When only 16 percent of transgender and gender-expansive youth always feel safe at school, reading about Dumbledore’s Army as a force for good against Voldemort can feel like a warm blanket of protection.
When over half of transgender and gender-expansive youth never use the restrooms at school that align with their gender identity because they can’t or are afraid to — the threat of volence in the Chamber of Secrets becomes more than a story, it’s real life.
Rowling’s comments not only undermine the core values of the Harry Potter series — they are flat-out dangerous. In 2019, at least 26 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed in the U.S. The majority of these deaths were Black transgender women. Meanwhile, anti-equality politicians are using transgender people as a political ploy to spread hatred and bigotry.
Her tweets are a betrayal to Harry Potter fans and to her characters who fought the Death Eaters because they believed pure-blood wizards were better than wizards born to non-magical parents. They are a betrayal to Hermione Granger, who fought tooth and nail to free the House Elves of Hogwarts, even when everyone around her ridiculed her for doing so. They are a betrayal to Rowling’s own work — the beautiful, magical world she brought into ours, so that little kids who felt different could feel safe while hiding in their own cupboard under the stairs.
Love, compassion and bravery will always rise above hatred, bigotry and fear. Sirius Black, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom and the rest of the Hogwarts crew taught me that. And now, a generation who grew up reading Harry Potter is putting these same principles into practice by calling for racial justice in #BlackLivesMatter protests.
Nowadays, we see clearly that love, compassion and bravery are more than just a way towards justice and dignity, they are a way to save lives. I can only hope that Rowling will reflect on the dangers behind her transphobic words, and that she will solemnly swear to only do good by Potterheads who want her to create worlds that honor and fight for the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Elliott Kozuch (they/them) is a press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization. Follow them on Twitter @ElliottKozuch.