February 17, 2023 - 10:09am

When even The New York Times publishes an op-ed defending J.K. Rowling, perhaps the game is up for the activist lobby.

Until recently, the NYT had turned a blind eye to science and reality (i.e. that human beings cannot change sex) and instead churned out inflammatory and dangerous nonsense, some of it catalogued by UnHerd. “Transphobia is Everywhere in Britain” wailed the Gray Lady in 2020. The following year NYT readers were led to believe that, here in the UK, there was “an active attempt to dehumanize trans people”. It’s just not true — and I say that as a trans person in the UK — but when ideology eclipses reason, inconvenient truths can be quietly ignored. 

However, it seems that things have shifted and for the better. Over the last year, the NYT appears to have changed its tune: “The Battle Over Gender Therapy”, published June 2022, explored critically the treatment of transgender-identified youngsters. Last month, a feature article considered the issues that arise “When Students Change Gender Identity, and Parents Don’t Know”.

Rather predictably, not everyone is pleased. On Wednesday, hundreds of writers sent an open letter to the associate managing editor for standards at the NYT. In short, they were outraged that the newspaper was reporting issues in a way they did not like. To justify their censorious approach, they asserted that “a tiny percentage of the population is trans, and an even smaller percentage of those people face the type of conflict the Times is so intent on magnifying.” Nothing to see here, in other words.

Those that called themselves “cis” launched into an emotional appeal: “We have seen those we love discover and fight for their true selves, often swimming upstream against currents of bigotry and pseudoscience fomented by the kind of coverage we here protest.” But trans people don’t need their pity: I’d rather they treated us as human beings, just like everyone else. We do not need to be recast as special or different, and certainly not used as a stick with which to beat the NYT.

If that was not enough, GLAAD jumped on the bandwagon. The once proud Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation parked a truck outside the Times building demanding that the paper stop “questioning trans people’s right to exist and access to medical care”. This was a cheap ploy.

If the NYT was concerned by these attacks on the freedom of the press, the paper went ahead with this week’s piece “In defense of J.K. Rowling”. In the most measured of tones, opinion columnist Pamela Paul concluded, “You might disagree — perhaps strongly — with Rowling’s views and actions 
 But nothing Rowling has said qualifies as transphobic”. Quite right. But Paul went further, warning:

This campaign against Rowling is as dangerous as it is absurd. The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie last summer is a forceful reminder of what can happen when writers are demonized. And in Rowling’s case, the characterization of her as a transphobe doesn’t square with her actual views.
- Pamela Paul

Rushdie was demonised by one kind of fanatic; Rowling has been demonised by another. When emotional campaigns displace rational debate, we are in dangerous territory, reversing back into a world of superstition, religious fervour, and witch hunts. Will the NYT hold out? We can but hope.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.