Graham Norton sparks Twitter backlash for comments about JK Rowling

Graham Norton sparks Twitter backlash for inviting JK Rowling onto his Virgin Radio show after accusing her of ‘fuelling the fire’ on trans debate

  • Graham Norton is still being questioned about JK Rowling after recent interview
  • Norton told BBC R4’s Today programme she was ‘fuelling the fire’ on trans issues
  • But critics accused him of wading into the debate without being fully informed 

Graham Norton has sparked a Twitter backlash after commenting on the controversy surrounding JK Rowling and the trans debate before admitting ‘I don’t know what’s happened there’.

The talk show host, 59, invited the Harry Potter author onto his Virgin Radio show last month despite disagreeing with her views on gender identity and sex-based rights which have been labelled transphobic by activists.

Now, after commenting on the controversy, some Twitter users have accused Norton of speaking on the issue without being fully informed. 

Norton went on to say that ‘hordes from every side’ want to tell you you’re wrong when commenting on Rowling. 

The Harry Potter author has been accused of transphobia since posting a series of tweets in 2020 where she said ‘erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives’. 

Rowling appeared on Graham’s Virgin Radio Show in August to talk about her new novel The Ink Black Heart, the latest in her series of novels written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Norton was asked this morning on the BBC’s Today programme if he thought JK Rowling was a ‘transphobe’ but he was reluctant to express any strong opinions that went that far – instead saying she was ‘fuelling the fire’.

Answering the question, the 59-year-old said: ‘Well, I think she’s certainly not making the situation better.

Norton was asked this morning on the BBC’s Today programme if he thought JK Rowling was a ‘transphobe’ but he was reluctant to answer instead saying she was ‘fuelling the fire’ of the trans debate before admitting he ‘doesn’t know what’s happened’ with the children’s author

Views: The talk show host, 59, said the ‘easiest’ thing to do would have been to not have the author, 57, on the show, but said it didn’t ‘seem right’ not to just because he disagrees with her 

‘I think she’s fuelling the fire. I don’t know what’s happened there. It’s like: here I am and you’re asking me about it again. So now, I’ll be linked to her again.

‘Her name is like beetle juice except you don’t need to say it three times. You just say it once and you unleash the hordes.

‘And there’s hordes everywhere, every side, everyone who’s ever had an opinion wants to tell you your opinion is wrong.’

He added: ‘So many issues are couched in terms of debate, and you’re for or against.

‘And yes, that’s true when it comes to a planning application but I think with lots of other things in life, that’s not it.

‘It’s got to be a conversation, it’s got to be a dialogue, maybe a negotiation, maybe just a rambly road that get us all forward somewhere in the future.

‘But if anyone’s success is only measured by somebody else’s failure, that doesn’t seem like a great place to be or a nice bit of society to live in.’

His response was criticised by Twitter users who expressed disappointment that he appeared to lack a grasp of the core issues at the centre of the debate.

Allison Bailey accused LGBTQ charity Stonewall of operating ‘like a criminal protection racket’ by persuading firms to follow its transgender policies. Pictured: Harry Potter author JK Rowling with Ms Bailey during a lunch with other prominent feminists in London in April

British anti-domestic violence activist Karen Ingala Smith said: ‘So, Graham Norton says he doesn’t know what has happened re JKR, but only after he said that she wasn’t making the situation better and she was fuelling the fire.

‘Do some reading, Graham. What have you got against women’s rights? If you’re going to have an opinion, get informed.’

Rebecca Bull, founder of the Sex Matters movement, added: ‘On Radio 4 Graham Norton is asked if he thought JK Rowling is a transphobe.

‘He dodges the question and says she is fuelling the fire…. the term debate is unhelpful and there should be a negotiation. I take from his answers that he’s well aware that no debate is over.

‘But hasn’t quite cottoned on that insinuating that women who express an opinion are nasty agitators won’t work anymore.

‘Nor that reality is not something with which you can negotiate. We won’t be hostages to someone else’s political agenda.’

While THD tweeted: ‘Super surprised by his response.’

Bert asked: ‘Really? He has always seemed an extremely shallow and self-serving man to me. Very amusing, but never profound or troubled by thought.’

Controversy: JK Rowling has been accused of transphobia since posting tweets in 2020 saying ‘erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives’ 

Simon Edge said: ‘He just knows he’s a Bad Gay if he doesn’t express disapproval with JKR, even though he doesn’t know the first thing about the issues.

‘The same applies to 90% of the gay men sounding off on this subject.’

Norton had already responded to backlash over her appearance as a guest on the show in an interview with the Times last week.

‘Am I suddenly the f***ing moral arbiter of the world who says who can be on TV or can’t? No,’ Graham told The Times.

‘I wouldn’t have her on to air her views, but she has the right to still wang on about her crime novel. The easiest thing would be to not have her on, but that didn’t seem right.’

Graham said he hasn’t spoken to the author about what he described as her ‘problematic’ views on gender identity, but imagines that they would disagree on the topic.

But he said he believes he should still talk to people that he disagrees with, and reflected on cancel culture by saying that Rowling will still sell ‘a gazillion books’ whether he interviews her or not.

Rowling frequently comes under fire on Twitter for her views, and Graham said he got insight about how she ‘enjoys’ the ‘pub argument’ aspect of social media when he interviewed her.

Graham went on to explain that he doesn’t talk about politics with guests on his radio show, but does touch on topics of gender and race.

On Graham’s show, JK Rowling described social media as ‘a gift for people who want to behave in a malign way’, after she received a death threat from an Islamic extremist in response to her support for stabbed Salman Rushdie.

The Harry Potter author tweeted that she was ‘feeling very sick now’ and ‘let him be ok’ after Rushdie was stabbed repeatedly as he prepared to give a lecture in upstate New York earlier this month. 

But an Islamic extremist then appeared to threaten Ms Rowling, writing: ‘you are next’. 

Rowling has also been repeatedly targeted by trolls after making critical comments about the transgender lobby – including protesters standing outsider her home with placards after her address was posted online last year.

Speaking to Graham Norton on his Virgin Radio show, she said: ‘Social media can be a lot of fun and I do like the pub argument aspect of it. 

‘That can be a fun thing to do. But there’s no doubt that social media is a gift for people who want to behave in a malign way.’

And on whether anything can be done to prevent online trolls, she added: ‘I think on one level I’m not sure I can. 

Reunion: Speaking to Graham, Rowling said she wasn’t snubbed from the Harry Potter reunion show over her divisive views on transgender people – but instead turned down an invitation

‘I’m not sure any individual can. I try to behave online as I would like others to behave. I wouldn’t ever want to… I’ve never threatened anyone, obviously, and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to go to their houses or anything like that.’

But she insisted her latest book The Ink Black Heart, the latest in her series of novels written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith, about a cartoonist trolled online by a fan, has nothing to do with the threats she has faced in real life.

Asked if the story had echoes of her own experiences, she continued: ‘More echoes than I realised because I should make it really clear after some of the things that have happened to me online in the last year, I had written the book before certain things happened to me online. 

‘I said to my husband, ‘Everyone is going to see this as a response to what happened to me.’ 

‘But it genuinely wasn’t. The first draft of the book was finished at the point where certain things happened to me.’

Rowling also said she was not snubbed from the recent Harry Potter reunion show over her controversial views on transgender people – but instead turned down an invitation. 

Opinions: Rowling (pictured in 2017_ has spoken out about cancel culture amid claims she has been ‘cancelled’, but in a rare interview, she said she ‘didn’t want to be a part of it’

The Return To Hogwarts reunion was released on January 1, but did not feature Ms Rowling aside from in old archive footage.

Her appearance on the 20-year anniversary show was widely speculated about following her statements about women’s and transgender people’s rights, for which she accused of being ‘transphobic’, but no statement from the author clarified the matter at the time.

She has historically spoken out about cancel culture amid claims she has been ‘cancelled’ by younger generations, but in a rare interview, she said she ‘didn’t want to be a part of it’. 

She said: ‘I was asked to be on that and I decided I didn’t want to be a part of it. 

‘It was about the films not the books, quite rightly. That was what the anniversary was about.

‘So no one said don’t [do it]… I was asked to do it and I decided not to.’ 

She clarified that she wasn’t advised against making an appearance, explaining that it was her own decision, following fan speculation around her absence. 

An archive shot during the reunion showed the author at a signing for the first book, while Robbie Coltrane, who played Hagrid, also lauded JK for helping people establish a love of books again during the rise of Potter mania.

The only footage of the author speaking herself as opposed to being discussed is a segment from a 2019 interview which is repeatedly serialised.

In the interview she is seen discussing the uphill struggle to find an actor to play Harry when casting the first movie, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone.

Since the last Harry Potter film was released, Rowling has become a deeply divisive figure.

The author has also often tweeted critically about the use of inclusive language and spaces, most memorably retweeting a post which referred to ‘people who menstruate’ and adding: ‘I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’

Transgender activists say Ms Rowling’s stances are discriminatory and fail to recognise the difficulties that transgender and non-binary people face, but some feminists argue it is vital to retain single-sex spaces to protect vulnerable women.

She has also received backlash from claims she made in a bid to defend herself in 2020, including the claim that only people who are ‘privileged or lucky enough never to have come up against male violence’ support inclusive spaces.

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