Inside J.K. Rowling’s ‘gender wars’ lunch

Event attended by gender critical figures including Rosie Duffield and Maya Forstater

J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling at the premiere of Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore last month
(Image credit: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

On Sunday afternoon, a group of women gathered for lunch – and proceeded to break the internet. The event was organised by J.K. Rowling and the attendees were all women’s rights campaigners who have been accused of holding transphobic or gender critical beliefs.

The boozy lunch took place at the River Café, an exclusive Michelin-star restaurant in Hammersmith, west London. It had initially been planned for pre-Christmas, but was rearranged due to the high Covid infection rates at the time.

The event followed the launch of a women’s rights campaign called Respect My Sex if you want my X, which “encourages voters to ask politicians for their views on sex and gender identity”, said The Times.

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Although Rowling had booked a private room, there was nothing secretive about the gathering. Many of the attendees took to Twitter to share photos of themselves hugging and laughing, with Helen Joyce, the author of Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, tweeting that it was “a truly joyous celebration of sisterhood”.

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Who was there?

Guests included journalist and feminist activist Julie Bindel, who co-founded the campaigning organisation Justice for Women, and Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, who has been at the forefront of her party’s internal tensions over the conflict between women’s and trans rights.

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Also in attendance was Kathleen Stock, the feminist philosopher who resigned from her post at Sussex University over her views on gender, and Maya Forstater, who famously lost her job in 2019 after tweeting about the difference between sex and gender identity.

The event on Sunday was the first time Rowling and Forstater had met, but it was Forstater’s case that propelled the Harry Potter author’s gender critical beliefs into the spotlight. In 2019, Rowling was accused of transphobia after she tweeted “IStandWithMaya” in support of Forstater’s employment battle.

Forstater told The Times that it had been “emotional” to meet the writer, whom she described as her “source of strength”.

Journalist Suzanne Moore, who also attended the gathering, wrote in The Telegraph: “I have now read several accounts as to why [the lunch] took place. We must be a coven, or launching a campaign or plotting.”

But the “actual reason”, she continued, was “to eat, drink and be extremely merry, which seems never to have occurred to these steely investigative reporters”.

Trans demonstration

Pink News pointed out that the lunch took place at the same time as a trans rights demonstration outside Downing Street in protest at the government’s decision to exclude transgender people from a UK conversion therapy ban.

“Although Rowling once promised her trans followers that she would ‘march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans’, she was nowhere to be seen on the day of the protests,” added the publication.

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