Rugby club defends trans patron India Willoughby amid Martina Navratilova and JK Rowling backlash

Composite of Keighley Cougars and JK Rowling
The Keighley Cougars recently appointed India Willoughby as their patron (Image: JTSportsMedia; WikiMedia/Dan Ogren)

The owners of a rugby club known for its progressive stance on LGBTQ+ rights have come out in support of its transgender patron, broadcaster India Willoughby, following criticism from tennis legend Martina Navratilova and Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

In April, Willoughby made history by becoming the first transgender patron of a professional sports team when she was appointed by the Keighley Cougars. The club is the only professional sports team outside the U.S. to have out LGBTQ+ owners in Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia.

On 3 June, O’Neill shared a photo on Twitter of squad members alongside Willoughby, mentioning Rowling, equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, and anti-trans activist Graham Linehan, with the caption: “This is what it’s like when people live their true self, just folks getting along.”

The post drew criticism from Navratilova, who is married to a woman, with her reply questioning how many of the players would want to date Willoughby. Rowling also replied, calling the players “incredibly brave” for “approving of a misogynistic man getting access to female spaces.”

“Trans women are women – period” – Keighley Cougars co-owner Kaue Garcia

Speaking exclusively to Attitude, Keighley Cougars co-owner Kaue Garcia explained the decision to post the photo, saying: “This was in response to Kemi Badenoch putting anti-trans at the centre of her campaign. We had been witnessing the rise in abuse thrown at the trans community since India Willoughby became club patron, and we just had enough of it.

“Trans women are women – period. Once people meet trans women, listen to them, get to know them, then it is perfectly clear that these people are women. I once heard a beautiful speech by Sarah Kate Ellis, President of GLAAD, saying that ‘More people say they have seen a ghost than know a transgender person. When you don’t know people, it’s easy to demonise them’.

“That’s what is needed today, and that’s why we will lend our voice and the club’s reach to show that trans people exist, trans people will always exist, and they deserve to be respected. It’s that simple.”

JK Rowling’s views on sex and gender have stirred controversy in recent years, including her recently posting a thread on X explicitly identifying several trans women as men amid Scotland’s introduction of a new hate crime law.

As well as blasting the Scottish government for prioritising “the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls,” and repeating her stance, the Harry Potter author challenged the police to arrest her.

The post Rugby club defends trans patron India Willoughby amid Martina Navratilova and JK Rowling backlash appeared first on Attitude.