Transmissions: Six days in February

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday February 22, 2023
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Brianna Ghey. Illustration: Christine Smith
Brianna Ghey. Illustration: Christine Smith

On the afternoon of February 11, a girl by the name of Brianna Ghey was found on a path in Culcheth Linear Park in Warrington, Cheshire, England. Pronounced dead at the scene, she was the victim of multiple stab wounds.

Ghey was a 16-year-old trans girl who hosted a TikTok channel and was known to help other trans folks like herself work around the labyrinthine National Health Service and legally acquire hormone replacement therapy, or HRT.

She also faced years of transphobic bullying, including being beaten at school. I suppose this isn't surprising, as most trans women have faced similar experiences, and the climate in the U.K. toward transgender people right now is exceedingly toxic, pushed by the media elevating anti-trans voices, particularly from so-called gender critical people who have sought to demonize transgender people, particularly trans women, at every turn. Gender criticals believe that someone's sex is biological and unchanging.

Even in death, media outlets altered their first reports of Ghey's killing, removing the word "girl," and digging up the name she was assigned at birth to add to their reporting. As it is, the U.K. government will do the same to her: gender recognition certificates are not allowed for U.K. minors and, as such, her death will legally be registered to a name and gender that do not reflect the person Ghey was.

On the morning of February 16, two letters were sent to the New York Times, asking the paper to improve its coverage of trans people. One letter was signed by more than 100 organizations, including GLAAD, which spearheaded the effort. The second letter was signed by over 1,000 current and former Times contributors. Many people believe that the Times, following the lead set forth by the U.K. press, has begun to run regular anti-transgender pieces.

"We write to you as a collective of New York Times contributors with serious concerns about editorial bias in the newspaper's reporting on transgender, non⁠-⁠binary, and gender nonconforming people," the contributors' letter stated.

The letter cites 15,000 words devoted to front-page coverage debating trans medical care in just the last eight months, exclusive of other pieces present in the Gray Lady. You can read the full letter from the past and present contributors at I'd urge you to do so, as it goes into some detail about what the signatories allege are biases presented by the paper, as well as how this coverage has influenced the battle over trans people in statehouses and courts nationwide.

You can also read GLAAD's letter here.

As an aside, we've seen over 300 new bills filed across the U.S. this year attacking trans health care, participation in sports, use of school restrooms, and — the worst of them — bills that are forcibly detransitioning trans people and preventing them from updating their birth certificates and other identity documents.

In response to the letter from the contributors, the Times did three things.

First, it sent a memo via Charlie Stadtlander, the Times' director of external communications, where he ignored the letter in question entirely, focusing on the companion letter organized by GLAAD, arguing that the Times' "journalistic mission" was different from the advocacy organization.

Second, it distributed an internal memo, threatening their staff who signed onto the contributors' letter — again, only citing the GLAAD letter, not the aforementioned one from Times contributors.

Finally, on the morning of February 16, it published an opinion column by Pamela Paul titled, "In Defense of J.K. Rowling."

I should back up here a bit. While I am sure that Rowling and her Harry Potter franchise needs little introduction, it is her work post-Potter that deserves some scrutiny. Of note is her outspokenness against transgender rights, declaring, "trans women retain the same pattern of sex offending/violence as males," adding later that, "it is dangerous to assert that any category of people deserves a blanket presumption of innocence."

She has also gone out of her way to support many of the same gender critical bigots who have become all-too-commonplace in U.K. anti-trans discourse, including praising one who compared transgender women to "blackface actors" who "get sexual kicks from being treated like women."

This is without even touching on the books Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, which have included very unflattering and false depictions of transgender people.

Rowling recently had a hand in a new video game, "Hogwarts Legacy," and a lot of its publicity ended up hinging around her transphobia and the game's own antisemitic plot line. I'm of the opinion that the company leaned into that a bit, knowing it could count on an "own the libs" backlash to move copies of the games while the die-hard Harry Potter fans would rationalize their purchase. Even the late reveal of a transgender character to the game — with the obviously male-coded name of Sirona Ryan — was likely a calculated token attempt to appease the critics.

Rowling herself has stated on more than one occasion that she views the continued sales of Harry Potter items as a sign that a silent majority agree with her — though the growing tarnish on her own legacy has started to lead to attempts to whitewash her anti-trans views, claiming she was merely "misunderstood."

Enter the Times, which, on the day after two open letters complained about its reporting, and six days after the brutal murder of Ghey has left the U.K. trans community reeling, published columnist Paul's defense of Rowling, claiming that, "nothing Rowling has said qualifies as transphobic."

I'd say the aforementioned statements and actions can stand on their own.

Ghey is dead, killed in a virulent anti-trans climate brought forth by the U.K. media, as well as the money and influence of people like Rowling, who is lending her voice and pocketbook to U.K. gender criticals.

We do not need to repeat their mistakes here and fuel any more deaths.

Gwen Smith is breaking her oath not to write about Rowling in this column. You'll find her at

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