The controversy around Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling‘s stance on transgender issues landed decisively in Vancouver on Saturday.
In a period of about 36 hours, a billboard declaring “I ❤️️ J.K. Rowling” went up, was defaced with paint, and was removed from an intersection at East Hastings and Glen Drive.
Rowling has faced intense criticism in recent months for repeated comments about transgender people, including a 3,600 word essay in which she alleged allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity will make girls and women “less safe” because it will “throw open the door” to “any and all men.”
Vancouver resident Tom Hsu who came down to see the billboard said while the message might appear to be benign to some people, it was clear to others, given Rowling’s recent comments on trans issues.
“Having a bold sign like that in a busy street … it really sends a message where as a queer individual it is a bit hurtful to see something that could be unwelcoming,” he said.
Let's crowdfund a sign across the street that says "Trans rights are human rights, and authors are often poor custodians of their work." https://t.co/9PccxD3zIQ
— Sam Wiebe (@sam_wiebe) September 12, 2020
Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung went further, calling the billboard hate speech.
“By saying, ‘I love J.K. Rowling,’ who has clearly been associated with denouncing the trans community, the intent was really clear here to be an anti-message against inclusivity and against the trans community,” said Kirby-Yung.
“As a city councillor, when I see that I just feel we have such a responsibility to call that out and stand up against that kind of divisive behaviour.”
Update: you love to see it. pic.twitter.com/40pXhA4nn4
— Owen Laukkanen (@owenlaukkanen) September 12, 2020
Chris Elston told Global News he decided to commission the billboard after a similar one was posted and removed in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Elston said the author has been unfairly targeted for her opinions.
“A woman that has done nothing but express concern for an erosion of women’s rights and medicalization of children who are being taught a gender ideology,” he said.
“She has gone into great detail about all the safeguarding issues that are being taken away from women and children.”
Gender identity and expression is enshrined as a human right in British Columbia and Canadian law.
Academic and media reviews of evidence have found no link between trans-inclusive bathroom policies and safety, however, there is ample evidence that transgender people are at a higher risk of violence when forced to use bathrooms that match their birth sex.
The J.K. Rowling sign was posted on a billboard owned and operated by Pattison Outdoor. Global News has requested comment from the company.
Kirby-Yung said she wants to see more oversight of billboard advertising to avoid similar messages being posted in the future.
“It’s very difficult to take that back once those wounds have been inflicted,” she said.
Elston said he had a three-month contract for the poster, which he described as an exercise in freedom of speech.
“We live in a society today where you cannot even ask the question,” he said.