JK Rowling and the 'TERF' war: how did we get here?

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The debate between gender critical feminists and those in support of trans rights has become increasingly unforgiving. How did we get here?

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Our daily digital ThinkIns are exclusively for Tortoise members and their guests.

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In Britain especially, the stand-off between gender-critical feminists (often referred to by the acronym TERF, 'trans-exclusionary radical feminist') and people who support greater inclusion and acceptance of transgender people (sometimes referred to as TRAs, 'trans-rights activists') shows no sign of abating. Their long-time battleground has been Twitter, but a controversial post by Harry Potter author JK Rowling on her blog in July this year propelled the discussion into the mainstream.

For both sides, this is a real battle for individual rights and personal freedoms. It has divided newsrooms, political parties, workplaces, families – and even ended careers. The few people who have expressed a point of view... either way - JK Rowling included - are subject to extraordinary abuse on social media from those who disagree with them. And all the while, the threat of discrimination, victimisation and violence to people on both sides (which is overwhelmingly posed by straight, cisgender men) just keeps growing.

Join us for a ThinkIn in which we will explore how and why this peculiarly British culture war became so toxic. Are there lessons to be learnt in feminist history that could show where we go from here?

Chair: Liz Moseley, Editor and Partner, Tortoise

Our special guests are:

Stella O’Malley, psychotherapist, author and broadcaster. Stella is a mental health professional, best-selling author, public speaker and a parent with many years experience working in counselling and psychotherapy. Her latest book, Fragile, Why We Feel More Anxious, Stressed and Overwhelmed Than Ever, was published in 2019.

In 2018, Stella presented the ground-breaking Channel 4 Documentary, Trans Kids: it’s time to talk, which examined the huge rise in numbers of young people embarking on gender transition. She also writes extensively about mental health issues for newspapers such as the Irish Times, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent, Irish Examiner, Evening Herald, Daily Mail, Irish Tatler, Pregnancy and Parenting magazine and many other media outlets.

Buy Stella's book here

Dr Debbie Hayton, teacher, trade unionist, author. Originally from the north of England, Dr Hayton is a physics teacher and trade unionist who happens to be a trans person. She has written extensively about what it means to be trans and how trans people can be included in society without compromising the rights of other vulnerable groups. She has also been a contributor to BBC News, Channel 5 and Sky News and her work has been published in The Times, The Spectator, The Morning Star, The Economist, Quillette, Unherd and elsewhere.

Natalie McDermott, Founder and chief executive, On Road Media/ All About Trans. Nathalie is a former broadcast journalist, and worked at the BBC, Guardian and Media for Development where she set up the Prison Radio Outreach Project in Wandsworth Prison.

Nathalie’s responsible for development and oversees a number of projects that support activists with lived experience to collaborate with influential media professionals. She’s passionate about sharing learning with the voluntary sector and bringing a unique, long-term approach to creating narrative and systemic change that promotes a better understanding of social issues.

How does a digital ThinkIn work?

A digital ThinkIn is like a video conference, hosted by a Tortoise editor, that takes place at the advertised time of the event. Digital ThinkIns are new to Tortoise. Now that our newsroom has closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, we feel it’s more important than ever that we ‘get together’ to talk about the world and what’s going on.

The link to join the conversation will be emailed to you after you have registered for your ticket to attend. When you click the link, you enter the digital ThinkIn and can join a live conversation from wherever you are in the world.

Doors open at 6:20pm for a welcome and briefing. Come early to get settled, meet the team and chat to other members. ThinkIn starts at 6:30pm.

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Read our ThinkIn code of conduct here

What is a Tortoise ThinkIn?

A ThinkIn is not another panel discussion. It is a forum for civilised disagreement. It is a place where everyone has a seat at the (virtual) table. It’s where we get to hear what you think, drawn from your experience, energy and expertise. It is the heart of what we do at Tortoise.

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