Skip to main content

We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily quick takes on the happenings of this week.

J.K. Rowling Pens An Essay Speaking Up on Sex and Gender Issues

In an essay published this week, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling doubled down on comments she made last December supporting Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job at the London-based Center for Global Development after her tweets were deemed transphobic. About two years prior to this incident, Rowling started researching gender identity for two reasons. For one, she is writing a book in which the protagonist is affected by these issues; and second, because she began receiving intense hateful messages from the Twitterverse when she liked a Tweet or followed a Twitter user who had an unpopular view on transgender matters. “Dots were joined in the heads of twitter trans activists, and the level of social media abuse increased,” Rowling said.

Her “like” and follows on Twitter, she says, were “deemed evidence of wrongthink.” As she became used to “cancellation” and the “persistent low level harassment,” she also unexpectedly received an  “avalanche of emails and letters...the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful, and supportive.” Some of the support came individuals “working in fields dealing with gender dysphoria and trans people, who’re all deeply concerned about the way a socio-political concept is influencing politics, medical practice and safeguarding,” Rowling explains.

In the essay on her site, Rowling says she chose to speak out instead of earning “woke cookies” for a number of reasons, including that her charitable trust in Scotland supports projects for female prisoners and for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, and replacing the legal definition of sex with gender will affect the care given to these women. She also worries about children’s safety, since biological females can become prey to men who, under pending legislation in Scotland, may enter female restrooms by simply claiming they are a woman. Rowling revealed she is a survivor of sexual assault, influencing her desire to prioritize safety for biological women.

“We’re living through the most misogynistic period I’ve experienced, Rowling said. She attributes online pornography culture and the language used to dehumanize and devalue the female experience: women are no longer called women, but “menstruators” and “people with vulvas.” Further, the trans movement also does not recognize or consider the studies and researchers who say most trans people want to detransition later in life. It used to be that mostly men transitioned, but the UK has experienced a 4400% surge in women wanting to become men, Rowling said, and most of them are autistic.

“All I’m asking—all I want—is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse,” Rowling writes. —Melanie Wilcox

HBO Temporarily Pulls ‘Gone With the Wind’

The streaming service HBO Max announced this week that it was temporarily pulling the classic movie Gone With the Wind from its offerings. The company promised the movie would return, but with additional context addressing the racial stereotypes in the film.

Gone With the Wind has long been controversial for its facile portrayal of slaves as happy, well-treated servants who stuck around after Emancipation because they were part of the family. The entire movie, and the novel by Margaret Mitchell on which it is based, brings to life the discredited “Lost Cause” nostalgia that still exists in parts of the American South and ignores the brutality that characterized the institution of slavery.

But the legacy of Gone With the Wind is a complex one. Still the highest grossing movie of all time after adjusting for inflation, the movie created space for a historic breakthrough: the first Academy Award won by an African American, going to Hattie McDaniel for her portrayal of the black nursemaid Mammy. McDaniel was segregated from white actors and actresses at the Oscars ceremony.

As Whoopi Goldberg, the second African American woman to win an Oscar, pointed out to her co-hosts on The View on Wednesday, “If you start pulling every film, you're going to have to pull . . . a very long list of films.” However she applauded the effort to add educational context to the 1930s masterpiece. —Margaret Brady

Coronavirus Surges In Some Reopened States

As the United States slowly re-emerges from COVID-19 quarantine, some states are reporting a spike in the number of reported cases. The Washington Post reports that since the beginning of June, 14 states and Puerto Rico have hit record high levels of new cases of the virus. The states affected include California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alaska. In contrast to the first stage of the pandemic, in which the virus crippled big cities like New York and Detroit, the new hot spots are largely in areas that initially escaped large-scale infection.

Some of the surge may originate from increased levels of testing. In Arizona, however, hospitals have been asked to activate their emergency plans as about 76 percent of ICU beds were filled as of Monday. At the virus’s prior peak in the state, about 78 percent were occupied.

Health authorities have also expressed concern that in the weeks after large nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, rates of infection may spike again. Although many protestors at the mostly outdoor events were wearing masks, social distancing at the massive protests was compromised. Pre-existing disparities have caused COVID-19 to hit African American communities the hardest. —MB

U.S. Authorities Ask For British Government's Help in Interviewing Prince Andrew

Acting under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, U.S. prosecutors have sought the U.K. government’s aid in bringing Prince Andrew in for an interview. The U.S. lawyers are continuing an investigation into the late, notorious, well-connected sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. One of Epstein’s victims has alleged that as a teenager she was trafficked to Prince Andrew on multiple occasions.

The prince has denied her charges, though he socialized with Epstein for years and admitted he stayed at Epstein’s home even after Epstein was convicted and imprisoned for previous sex crimes with children. A photograph later emerged of the prince grinning as he draped his arm around the alleged victim. When confronted, Andrew claimed not to remember meeting her.

The attorney general of the United States, William Barr, has said that Prince Andrew will not be extradited from the U.K. The prince’s lawyers insist he is not the target of any criminal investigation and, further, that he is happy to cooperate. That latter claim is ludicrous given that months have passed since he was first asked to talk. Since Andrew was stripped of his royal duties in the wake of the scandal, he is surely not too busy to attend to this important matter. —MB

George Floyd's Brother Testifies at House Concerning Police Reforms

On Tuesday George Floyd was laid to rest in after a funeral service in his hometown of Houston, Texas. The following day, his brother Philonise Floyd appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to testify for a hearing on police reform.

After weeks of historic protests, intensified by rioting and looting, in which the American people cried out for an end to racial profiling by law enforcement, the federal government convened to discuss reforms. Philonise spoke in honor of his brother, becoming deeply emotional as he told the court, "Honor George, and make the necessary changes to make law enforcement the solution and not the problem. …Teach them what necessary force is. Teach them that deadly force should be used rarely and only when life is at risk."

In that vein, both Democrats and Republicans are separately crafting police reform legislation. House Democrats, working swiftly, plan to present their reform package for a vote within the next few weeks. Among other measures, the proposed reforms will include a ban on chokeholds, a National Police Misconduct Registry, racial bias training, and an overhaul of qualified immunity for officers. Democratic House Judiciary Chairman Nadler spoke positively of the upcoming legislation during the hearing, saying that it will “change the culture of law enforcement.”

Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the convened committee, agreed that it is “time for a real discussion, a real debate, real solutions” but added that “the vast majority of law enforcement officers are responsible, hard-working, heroic first responders.” What’s more, he referenced some activists’ cries for the defunding of police forces by calling it “pure insanity.” —Mariel Lindsay

'This is Us' Writer Dies 

Jas “JasFly” Waters, the TV writer best known for her work on the hit NBC show This is Us died on Wednesday at age 39. Soon after, news outlets confirmed her death as a suicide. This is Us writers issued a collective statement in which they recognized her as a “brilliant storyteller and a force of nature.”

Raised by her grandmother and father in Illinois, Waters grew up in a retirement home, cherishing her weekly Sunday trip to the movies with her father. As she told an entertainment magazine in 2018, “By the time I was eight or nine…I had such a grasp on what made a movie good, what made a story good. I’m also a poor Black kid who grew up in an old folks home. So I understand ground-level life, and I bring that perspective to everything I write.”

Jas helped make history as one of the very few Black female writers to land a gig writing late-night sketch comedy on Comedy Central. Later, she was able to discuss issues of race more openly via This is Us. She called the show “a platform to create real change” and infused her own deep life experiences into the show’s main characters, from Kate’s weight issues, to Kevin’s wrestle with fame, to Randall’s touching adoption story.

Following her death, grieving fans highlighted a recent Twitter post in which Waters confessed, “I am tired of sheltering in place with my anxiety. Most days is debilitating.” Indeed, her struggle to cope with the potentially devastating effects of prolonged quarantine echo a recently published study that reported that the pandemic would most likely rapidly accelerate the number of “deaths of despair.” With the gradual reopening of the global economy and renewed socialization, experts hope to see this spike reverse course. —ML

Good News of the Week

Starting at 2 a.m. on a Monday, Antonio Gwynn Jr, a high school senior from Buffalo, New York, spent 10 hours cleaning up the city following the protests and demonstrations. Later, neighbors saw and helped the 18-year-old, who had already done most of the work in the wee hours. Matt Block, 27, saw that Gwynn had asked for advice about purchasing a car on Facebook. Motivated to give back, Block gave the teen his red 2004 Ford Mustang convertible.

What Block didn’t know was that Gwynn’s mother, who passed away in 2018, drove the same type of car. Next, a local businessman heard of the story and gave Gwynn a year of free auto insurance through his company. The domino effect continued and Medaille College in Buffalo offered him a full scholarship. Gwynn wants to study business. —MW

Watch of the Week

This week, opera singer Jeanine De Bique posted a song which she described as "Urban meets Baroque." "No matter where I am," she says, "the environment is a gift to partake in and explore beautiful possibilities and just breathe!"

Miss our “Articles of Note” section? Subscribe to Verily Daily emails and check out our new suggested daily reading at the bottom, in our new “May We Recommend” section.