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Why the new game ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ is roiling the LGBTQ community

Harry Potter fans debate: Is it possible to separate the world they love from J.K. Rowling?

“Hogwarts Legacy,” which features Hippogriffs and other creatures in the Harry Potter world, is set to be released next month. (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)

A new Harry Potter game’s upcoming release has sparked fierce reactions among trans gamers and LGBTQ allies, as author J.K. Rowling continues to provoke controversy for her remarks on sex and gender.

Many gamers are leading efforts to explain the harm in buying or playing “Hogwarts Legacy,” an open-world adventure game set to be released next month. Others say their plans to support it shouldn’t speak to their politics or open them to shame and judgment. And some trans rights opponents have threatened to purchase the game in volumes, turning “Hogwarts Legacy” into a battleground deeply dividing the gaming community.

The tensions underscore the pain and difficulty in being a Harry Potter fan of late, with many caught between their deep fondness for a beloved childhood series and their support for the trans community.

“Everyone’s going to have a complicated relationship to that conversation,” said Jessie Earl, a 30-year-old trans YouTuber and journalist who uses she/they pronouns.

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Last month, Earl declared her own stance. “I will not begrudge anyone their love of past works or thing[s] they already own that they take comfort in,” she tweeted. “I own the first 9 movies and all 7 books myself. But any support of something like Hogwarts Legacy is harmful.”

Rowling singled out Earl in a Twitter response that accused her of “purethink” and compared her comment to book burning.

“When I woke up and saw her tweet, I felt my face strain,” Earl said. An onslaught of hateful and transphobic comments ensued across Earl’s social media pages.

Rifts between Rowling and the LGBTQ community have widened in recent years as she has grown vocal about her views on trans identity. Rowling in 2018 liked a tweet referring to trans women as “men in dresses,” which her reps later called an accident. The following year, she tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, a researcher who was fired over anti-trans social media posts. Then, in 2020, Rowling posted a series of tweets arguing that transgender women should not be counted as women.

“If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased,” she wrote.

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Trans advocates and allies have called Rowling’s comments transphobic, and claim that her influence has contributed to an uptick in anti-trans rhetoric in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Rowling’s representatives declined to comment for this story. Warner Bros., which is publishing the game developed by Avalanche Software, also declined to comment.

The harm in buying “Hogwarts Legacy,” Earl argues, is that it keeps Rowling relevant. “She’s equating that relevancy with people supporting her views, and her views are directly harmful and attacking and doing damage to the trans community.”

Last year, Rowling shrugged off criticism that she was losing fans. “I read my most recent royalty cheques and find the pain goes away pretty quickly,” she tweeted. For some of her detractors, Rowling’s rebuttal crystallized their position to reject “Hogwarts Legacy.” While the author was not directly involved in its creation, she will still profit from the game’s license, Forbes reported.

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Preorder data suggests a huge debut for “Hogwarts Legacy,” and some industry leaders expect it to be one of the best-selling games of the year. A trailer released for the game, which explores a new wizarding-world story set in the 1800s, shows players brewing potions, casting spells, roaming the castle halls and flying around the school’s scenic grounds on the back of a Hippogriff. It will also feature trans-inclusive character options by allowing players to customize body type, voice, and gender placement separately, Bloomberg News reported.

But the controversy over Rowling has hung over the game, including for those involved. Last week, “Heartstopper” actor Sebastian Croft issued a statement reiterating his support for the trans community, after news of his voice role in “Hogwarts Legacy” drew outcry.

“I was cast in this project over 3 years ago, back when all Harry Potter was to me, was the magical world I grew up with. This was long before I was aware of JK Rowling’s views,” Croft wrote in a tweet. “I believe whole heartedly that trans women are women and trans men are men.”

Queer Harry Potter fans are grappling with their identities and attachment to the franchise in the wake of J.K. Rowling’s stance on transgender women. (Video: Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

Mitchell Burdett, 23, recently preordered his copy of “Hogwarts Legacy.” But he grappled with the decision.

Five years ago, Burdett was fresh out of high school and beginning hormone treatments when he learned about the backlash brewing against Rowling. “It broke my heart,” he said.

For a while, Burdett said, he faced a crisis with how to move forward with his love of the series. Then, after talking to his mom and considering what others were saying, he decided — like many other fans — to renounce Rowling but continue to enjoy the world she built.

“She doesn’t rule the wizarding world; it was just her creation,” Burdett said. “What we as fans, readers, watchers, gamers decide to do with that world is entirely separate from her or any beliefs she may have.”

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Many in that world have distanced themselves from Rowling, who was conspicuously absent from the Harry Potter films’ 20th-anniversary special in 2021. Stars from the movies have released statements in support of the trans community. Popular Harry Potter fan sites, meanwhile, have ceased covering news and updates about the author. And the real-life version of quidditch is now quadball.

But some trans gamers don’t believe it’s possible to separate the art from the artist.

“It just doesn’t work that way,” said Lucia Everblack, a trans content creator on Twitch. “I’ve been really pushing people to kind of learn about who J.K. Rowling actually is and the history behind how her actions have influenced and continue to influence transphobia and anti-trans legislation.”

In 2020, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) voted against Senate consideration of the Equality Act, an LGBTQ civil rights bill, citing a Rowling blog post. This week, the British government blocked a Scottish bill that would make it easier for people to change their legal gender; Rowling had been one of the bill’s most influential critics, writing in 2020 that it would “in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one.”

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Everblack, 34, has also noticed some users online threatening to buy multiple copies of “Hogwarts Legacy” to spite the trans community. “Some of these people are trolls, and they’re probably not going to buy the game like that,” Everblack said. But she is concerned that it’s inciting more blatant efforts to weaponize the Harry Potter universe.

Liana Kerzner, a media personality, game developer and trans ally, isn’t planning to play “Hogwarts Legacy” herself. But she has been closely following the conversations online.

“I’m very, very concerned about what’s going on with the demonization of trans people right now,” she said. Kerzner, who also works as a peer counselor, believes dominant narratives on social media about rejecting the game are alienating people in the LGBTQ community with a different perspective. Such people want to play the game, she said, but “they don’t want to get attacked.”

Burdett said he faced this criticism after speaking out about his decision to play the game.

“It’s a crappy situation to be in for sure,” he said. “Especially with people from the LGBT community turning their back on you for just wanting to enjoy something that has brought you joy through your whole life.”

Earl said they understand. But they point the blame at Rowling, for driving wedges in the trans community.

“We get caught in these fights about whether or not we’re buying a thing,” they said, “and it robs us all of the chance to learn and grow together.”