Society of Authors head faces mutiny for failing to condemn JK Rowling death threats

·4 min read
JK Rowling and Joanne Harris
JK Rowling and Joanne Harris

The Society of Authors is facing a mutiny for failing to defend JK Rowling’s transgender “wrongthink”, according to members who say the union “has capitulated to ideology”.

The UK’s largest writers’ union has faced criticism for not publicly condemning death threats made against JK Rowling after she weighed into the trans debate.

Joanne Harris, chairman of the Society of Authors’ management committee, is now facing an internal revolt over an alleged failure to defend writers like Rowling accused of “wrongthink” for going against prevailing ideology.

The Telegraph understands that leading authors are resigning their membership of the union over its perceived abandonment of gender-critical writers, and some of those who remain are hoping to oust Harris from the union’s board in future.

One source who quit the union said: “The society has capitulated to an ideology where it no longer appears to be willing to support any author whom it deems guilty of ‘wrongthink’.”

‘We are already in revolt’

A current member has suggested that more are planning to quit amid growing discontent, saying that “we are already in revolt”.

Another current member, the author Ruth Dudley Edwards, has stated her position online, saying: “As a long-time member of the Society of Authors who was once on its management committee, I’ve been horrified by Joanne Harris’s failure to defend free speech, the society’s bedrock. It’s time for her to resign before she damages it further.”

Supporters of Rowling have long raised concerns about online death and rape threats made to the author after she began commenting on the transgender debate, including by her affirmation of biological sex, and the value of female-only spaces.

The Society of Authors under the chairmanship of Harris - the author of the bestselling novel Chocolat - has been criticised for not publicly defending Rowling and speaking out against the death threats, despite repeated requests from concerned union members.

Emails seen by The Telegraph show that as far back as 2020 - when Rowling first weighed into the trans debate - society members have asked the union’s leadership to make a public statement in solidarity with the under-fire Harry Potter author.

The society ‘has fallen in with fashionable gender ideology’

This was never done, and current and former members - who quit as a result of this perceived inaction - have raised concerns that the society has avoided the issue as it has fallen in with fashionable gender ideology.

Rowling herself said this week that the society has failed to defend gender-critical writers who have lost their jobs or their platforms because of their scepticism about “fashionable” ideas.

Harris has sought to defend herself against these criticisms by saying that she and the society believe in and protect freedom of speech, but do not ordinarily weigh into disputes on social media.

In a statement on Twitter, she wrote: “I support trans rights. I also have a son who came out as trans a few months ago. But my personal feelings about the gender-critical movement don’t affect my belief in free speech.”

She added: “JK Rowling has every right to her opinions. I may not share them, but that’s fine. And I totally condemn any threats to her, as I do to anyone.”

Following the attack on Sir Salman Rushdie, and amid criticism of its supposed silence on death threats made against Rowling, the society released a statement in support of both authors on Monday.

It said: “We condemn every type of personal attack on authors for exercising their rights to express themselves freely - whether physical, verbal, legal or political.”

The Society of Authors has insisted that it does not have a “stance” on the transgender debate or gender-critical authors, and that it supports freedom of expression, but does not involve itself in individual debates and disputes between writers.

A statement from the organisation said: “While we deplore bullying, trolling and personal attacks, we don’t usually speak out publicly on individual cases.”