Six days in February

Brianna Ghey

On the afternoon of February the 11th, 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 out other trans folks like her work around the labyrinthine National Health Service and legally acquire Hormone Replacement Therapy (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. Right now, the climate in the UK towards transgender people 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.

Even in death, the media altered their first reports of Ghey’s death, removing the word “girl,” and digging up the name she was assigned at birth to add to their reporting. As it is, the UK government will do the same to her: Gender Recognition Certificates are not allowed for UK minors, and as such her death will legally be registered to a name and gender that do not reflect the person Brianna Ghey was.

On the morning of February the 16th, a coalition of New York Times reporters, contributors, and others, sent an open letter to the paper. The Times, following the lead set forth by the UK 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 letter cites 15,000 words of front-page coverage debating trans medical care in just the last 8 months, exclusive of other pieces present in the gray lady. You can read the full letter at I’d urge you to do so, as it goes into some detail about the biases presented by the paper, as well as how this coverage has influenced the battle over trans people in state houses and courts country-wide.

As an aside, we’ve seen over 300 new bills filed across the US 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 certificate and other identity documents.

In response to this letter, the New York Times did three things.

First, they sent a response via the Times’ Director of External Communications, Charlie Stadtlander, where he ignored the letter in question entirely, focusing on a companion letter spearheaded by GLAAD, arguing that the Times’s “journalistic mission” was different from the advocacy organization.

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

Finally, on the morning of February the 16th, they ran a piece by Pamela Paul called, “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 that “trans women retain the same pattern of sex offending/violence as males,” adding later than, “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 UK 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 under her 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 anti-Semitic plot line. I’m of the opinion that the company leaned into that a bit, knowing they could count on a “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 New York Times, who on the day after an open letter complained about their reporting, and six days after the brutal murder of Brianna Ghey has left the UK trans community reeling, publishes their part of Rowling’s rehabilitation, claiming that, “nothing Rowling has said qualifies as transphobic. I’d say the above statements and actions can stand on their own.

Brianna Ghey is dead, murdered in a virulent anti-trans climate brought forth by the UK media, as well as the money and influence of people like Rowling, lending her voice and pocketbook to UK “gender criticals.”

We do not need to repeat their mistakes here and fuel any more deaths. Gwen Smith is breaking her oath to not talk about Rowling in this column. You’ll find her at

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