Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Roxane Gay champion trans rights in open letter

By Alison Flood

Stephen King and Margaret Atwood are among the signatories to an open letter offering support to the trans and non-binary communities of the US and Canada, as a bitter divide over trans rights continues to split the literary world.

The message from writers and members of the US literary community follows a similar letter from authors in the UK and Ireland. Both letters come in the wake of a fierce row over JK Rowling’s comments on trans rights, including her comment that “if sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased”.

On 30 September, more than 200 British and Irish writers including Jeanette Winterson and Malorie Blackman sent “a message of love and solidarity for the trans and non-binary community”. A day later, more than 1,500 names in the publishing world joined them in asserting that “non-binary lives are valid, trans women are women, trans men are men, trans rights are human rights”.

The US letter, has been signed by more than 1,200 members of the literary community, including Roxane Gay, Neil Gaiman, John Green, NK Jemisin and Angie Thomas.

“We are writers, editors, journalists, agents, and professionals in multiple forms of publishing. We believe in the power of words. We want to do our part to help shape the curve of history toward justice and fairness,” they write. “To that end, we say: non-binary people are non-binary, trans women are women, trans men are men, trans rights are human rights. Your pronouns matter. You matter. You are loved.”

Author Maureen Johnson, who initiated the letter, said that while “letters do not fix things”, they are “designed to a) show support and b) bring awareness to an issue. In this case, the issue is transphobia in the publishing discourse and community.”

“When JK got involved in [the debate in the UK over transgender rights] it gave a lot of legitimacy to something that before seemed fringey. It became more accepted, because people know JK from Harry Potter,” Johnson told Publishers Weekly on Thursday. “Sometimes you need to put your name on the line and say, ‘I don’t agree with what’s going on.’”

After Rowling included a serial killer who occasionally wears women’s clothing to lure his victims in her new crime novel Troubled Blood, she was subjected to online attacks. Writers including Lionel Shriver and Ian McEwan put their names to a letter in the Times supporting Rowling in the face of “an onslaught of abuse that highlights an insidious authoritarian and misogynistic trend in social media”.

The letter supporting Rowling was also signed by star names including Tom Stoppard, John Cleese and Tony Robinson, with more than 18,000 people signing a public online petition.