Commentary on J. K. Rowling’s outing of Dumbledore is still flying thicker than owls in the Hogwarts Dining Hall. Michael Jensen at After Elton questions why she didn’t reveal this sooner. John Cloud, a gay writer for TIME, wishes she hadn’t said anything:
But as far as we know, Dumbledore had not a single fully realized romance in 115 years of life. That’s pathetic, and a little creepy. It’s also a throwback to an era of pop culture when the only gay characters were those who committed suicide or were murdered. . . . Like a lisping weakling, Dumbledore is a painfully selfless, celibate, dead gay man, so forgive me if I don’t see Rowling’s revelation as great progress.
Karen Brooks of Australia’s Courier Mail, however, sees the delayed revelation as a way to “[teach] the ignorant to look beyond stereotypes and biases and understand the qualities that constitute a person, the deeds they enact, the friendships they form and the loyalties they arouse – without any reference to sexuality being mobilised.” She also quotes writer Michael Bronski, who believes the Potter books are “profoundly queer in the broader sense of the word because they celebrate a revolt against accepted, conventional life . . . they are at heart an attack on the idea of normalcy.” I agree with this over Cloud’s interpretation, although he has a point in terms of the portrayal of earlier gay characters.
It is Tralee Pearce of Canada’s Globe and Mail, however, who makes the explicit connection to teaching children about acceptance: “Dumbledore’s new gay icon status presents a ‘teaching moment’ that parents should seize.” This observation deserves much wider publicity.
In our Muggle world, a nine-year-old girl in Milton, Massachusetts says she was verbally and physically harassed at Tucker Elementary School because her mother is a lesbian. The Family Equality Council (formerly the Family Pride Coalition) is working with the local school board to provide resources on LGBTQ family inclusion, address underlying causes of conflict, and improve their nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies. It sounds as if they are making progress. Among other things, the superintendent will be “[checking] the school system’s library holdings for books that represent and address LGBTQ-headed families.”
That’s a good move, and it seems like Milton (and other school districts) could use such books. The trick will be getting students to read them. Thanks to Rowling’s revelation, though, they already have a series (for what school library doesn’t own a copy of Harry these days?) of hugely popular books that children have likely read, which feature a gay character—a father figure, even—and several plotlines about social justice. (Think of the struggle between Muggles and wizards, or Hermione’s campaign to free the house elves.) What better way to spark discussion of what it means to be LGBT than to use this as a starting point?
No, in itself it is not enough. Teachers will have to work their way from Harry Potter to what it means to be LGBT in the real world, and find resources to help them do that. They will have to delineate between Dumbledore’s admittedly tragic relationship with Gellert Grindelwald and the happy, healthy relationships most real LGBT people have. They will also have to find other material for students too young for Harry. I’m a big believer in teaching by making topics fun and relevant, however. Who better than Hogwarts most famous headmaster to do that?