Statement on LEGO Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling

LEGO Harry Potter 76391 Hogwarts Icons Collectors Edition 54

As a website that covers the LEGO Harry Potter theme across news, reviews, interviews and more, we at Brick Fanatics need to add some important context to our coverage.

Since its debut in 1997, the Harry Potter franchise has grown into a cultural juggernaut. The original seven books have sold more than 500 million copies, while the films they inspired have become the third highest-grossing film series in the world. The franchise has also spawned a wide array of merchandise, including LEGO sets.

Despite its continued popularity, it’s important to understand that Harry Potter – for better or worse – cannot be divorced from the actions of its creator. As such, we believe it’s important to call attention to several controversies surrounding J.K. Rowling – the author of the Harry Potter books, and a beneficiary of our wider engagement with the Harry Potter franchise.

In late 2019, Rowling began to make a number of divisive comments relating to transgender people. She expressed public support for Maya Forstater – a British tax researcher accused of transphobic comments that had, in turn, deprived her of employment. While Forstater was not technically fired from her job – her employer, a think tank, chose not to renew her contract – Rowling claimed in a tweet that Forstater had been ‘fired for stating sex is real’, a claim widely interpreted as simplistic and offensive.

Several months later, in 2020, Rowling published a tweet inspired by an article on ‘people who menstruate’. Her comments implied that the article’s choice of words was erasing women (a claim debunked by the article itself) and attracted further controversy. This tweet was followed by an extensive essay, which laid out Rowling’s opinions on transgender people in more detail.

In her essay, Rowling expressed various concerns about transgender people. She argued that they were transitioning too hastily and that today’s youth were suffering from Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (the existence of which has been conclusively debunked). She also claimed that allowing transgender people access to public spaces (like toilets) was making women and girls more unsafe, by giving predatory men a cover to attack them.

The essay attracted various online critiques, arguing that its claims were sweeping and vague with no credible sources for any of them. Writing for Gender Analysis, Zinnia Jones claimed that – rather than an argument for the protection of women and children – Rowling’s essay called for ‘the total nonexistence of trans people’. 

Since the essay’s publication Rowling has continued to comment about transgender people, implying that the advancement of their rights threatens the wellbeing of women and children. A November 2021 statement by Rowling affirmed her commitment to ‘sex-based rights’ – a term that currently carries no legal weight in the UK.

Rowling’s comments have attracted dismay from some Harry Potter fans, and encouraged stars of the films – including Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – to issue their own statements in support of transgender people. Other people and groups have produced resources that contradict Rowling’s arguments. 

LGBT+ charity Stonewall has assembled a web page addressing common preconceptions about transgender people. It argues that – rather than being predators or a threat to children – transgender people today face significant challenges, including access to vital healthcare and legal recognition.

Elsewhere, the biologist Julia Serano has produced her own article debunking common myths about transgender people. It draws parallels between transphobia and other prejudices such as racism and homophobia, arguing that transphobia is just as illegitimate an idea as those two are.

While most (if not all) of the evidence contradicts Rowling’s claims, the problem wasn’t merely that her claims were offensive and inaccurate. It was that she made them as a public figure with massive power and influence, as well as an enormous social media following. These factors gave Rowling’s arguments significant (if unearned) credibility, and allowed them to have a reach they may not otherwise have enjoyed. This power has also enabled her to silence her critics, often through threats of legal action.

Rowling’s comments align with a UK media landscape that is frequently hostile towards transgender people, and which has both reported on and defended her comments. In 2021 the advocacy group ILGA-Europe criticised anti-trans rhetoric within the UK, citing J.K. Rowling – by name – as an example of harmful transphobic activity. ILGA-Europe’s report reflects broader issues with UK news outlets, which have been criticised overseas for their discriminatory content. Even respected news outlets, such as the BBC and the Guardian, have come under fire for running transphobic content on their websites. 

Rowling wasn’t responsible for instigating this state of affairs. Michelle Snow, writing for Pink News, dates the rise of UK transphobia to the mid-‘10s. But Rowling was (and is) a major contributor to it – and her attitudes are, for various reasons, unlikely to change going forward.

The current anti-trans furore appears to be having an impact on other marginalised groups, and is contributing to the UK’s worsening track record on LGBT+ rights. Between 2019 and 2020 anti-trans hate crimes within the UK increased by 16%, while hate crimes inspired by sexual orientation increased by 19%. 

Although these figures could (partially) be explained by improved reporting, the broader picture for the UK is still a negative one. As of 2022 it is also getting steadily worse, with the UK continuing to slide down a ranking of Europe’s most LGBT+ friendly countries. 

Trans rights and gay/bisexual rights have always been closely connected. Pink News’ Nick Duffy has linked the rise of transphobia to advances made in other areas, such as the gay rights movement. If transphobic actions (like attempts to deny trans people legal rights) continue to gain traction, societal acceptance of queer people more broadly will also continue to diminish.

The hostility towards transgender people is even impacting cisgender people who don’t ‘perform’ their gender correctly. Outlets like Vox have reported on women being harassed in public bathrooms – not because they are transgender but because, for whatever reason, they are perceived as such. Despite ongoing concerns about women’s safety, transphobia is – ultimately – an idea that benefits nobody.

But how does all this connect to the LEGO Harry Potter range? In 2018, the LEGO Group launched a new line of LEGO sets inspired by the Harry Potter movies. Harry Potter sets have appeared every year since, and in 2022 the LEGO Group revealed that Harry Potter was among its most popular themes.

Like all Harry Potter merchandise, J.K. Rowling presumably receives royalties from the sale of LEGO sets inspired by her works. To buy LEGO Harry Potter sets is therefore to reward Rowling (both financially and reputationally) and legitimise the ideas she supports, whether or not she is the one voicing them.

This is something that other Potter-related merchandise, such as the Hogwarts Legacy video game, has attempted to address. In 2020, Warner Bros. issued a statement saying that Rowling was not involved with the game’s development. The LEGO Group itself has taken a similar approach, arguing that its partnership is with Warner Bros. rather than Rowling herself and highlighting its own charitable actions.

But even with these statements, to buy LEGO Harry Potter merchandise is ultimately to give Rowling further resources and legitimacy. And even if the money she receives is a fraction of the profit from sales, the LEGO Harry Potter theme is – by the LEGO Group’s own admission – a major earner. This suggests that the amount of money the LEGO Group is sending Rowling’s way remains significant.

If nothing else, supporting the Harry Potter franchise arguably works against the values that drew us to it in the first place. Harry Potter wasn’t just a story about brewing potions and turning rabbits into slippers. In spite of some problematic elements it encouraged us to come together against greater evils, and stand up for people less powerful than ourselves.

This latter idea popped up several times in the books. Whether they were house-elves, hippogriffs, half-giants or even the non-magical, Harry and his friends stood up for those who couldn’t fight their own persecution. Ironically, it could now be argued that one way to honour that idea is to reject the franchise that inspired it.

We cannot tell our readers what to think or do – and we would never seek to. As a journalistic entity, we believe we owe it to our fans to cover our news stories fairly and honestly. Highlighting the problems around LEGO Harry Potter may be uncomfortable, but to ignore them would be disingenuous and – ultimately – a disservice to the people who believe in what we write.

We hope that this context helps you to make an informed decision on any future purchases of LEGO Harry Potter products. If you would like to direct your LEGO Harry Potter budget towards a relevant charity instead, consider donating to causes such as Mermaids or Stonewall.