British Columbia

I Love J.K. Rowling sign makes brief, controversial appearance in Vancouver

A billboard, paid for by two local residents, on a busy part of Hastings Street in Vancouver supporting author J.K. Rowling's controversial views about gender identity was hastily covered over the day after it was put up.

Chris Elston and Amy Hamm paid to have the sign put up on Hastings Street; it was covered a day later

Workers at the site of the J.K. Rowling sign on Hastings Street at Glen Drive in Vancouver began covering it up Saturday. It had gone up the day before around 6:30 a.m. (Amy Hamm/Twitter)

A billboard on a busy part of Hastings Street in Vancouver supporting author J.K. Rowling's controversial views about gender identity was hastily covered over the day after it was put up.

Amy Hamm, who lives in New Westminster and Chris Elston, a South Surrey resident, paid Pattison Outdoor, an arm of the Jim Pattison Group to put up the sign on Friday around 6:30 a.m. PT

They copied a similar sign that was erected in Edinburgh over the summer to support the famous author's claims that having individuals self-identify their gender could pose a threat to women and children who are not transgender.

"I don't think it's possible for women to defend their legal rights or even the definition of womanhood if anybody can say that they are a woman and it will be so," said Hamm, who also organizes gender identity ideology events through a group known as GIDYVR.

The issue has been simmering in Vancouver, most notably when the City of Vancouver in 2019 pulled the funding for Vancouver Rape Relief, the country's oldest rape crisis centre, on the basis it discriminates against transgender women. 

Elston said it was important to him to put up the billboard, because people have misconstrued Rowling's argument.

"This is about safeguarding women's rights, safeguarding children, it's about free speech," he said. "J.K. Rowling has been cancelled."

Elston and Hamm spent much of Saturday at the sign, which was splattered with paint overnight Friday, meeting with people who support Rowling but also those who say her views are hateful.

They say their message does not deny the rights of transgender people.

"Women's rights are important and we need to stand up for them and it's not transphobic to do so," said Hamm.

'Insidiousness of looking truly innocent'

Antonia Allan, a Vancouver resident and photographer, said she was 'horrified' by the billboard in a city like Vancouver, which has a vibrant transgender community. She created an online petition to have it removed.

"It has the insidiousness of looking truly innocent but when it comes down to it, the support for J.K. Rowling is support for anti-trans feminism," she said.

Posts Elston and Hamm put on social media about the billboard attracted criticism including Vancouver City Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung who tweeted that it was "meant to to stoke hate, exclusion and division."

Morgane Oger, a transgender advocate and a former B.C. NDP provincial candidate, said the sign is a devious way to push a message of hate about gender identity although many people would not understand what it means.

"People have been using innocuous-looking signs of messaging in order to intimidate or in order to provoke people into reacting for too long and this is another one of these signs," she said. 

"The purpose of this sign was to harass the community, targeting them because of who they are and trying to get them to react through a message only they recognize."

Sign lasted only a day

By mid-afternoon Saturday, a work crew arrived and began covering up the billboard.

Pattison Outdoor did not initially respond to requests to explain why it put up the sign or why it was taking it down.

Elston and Hamm believe that the sign was taken down by Pattison because of complaints to the company.