June 26 is an auspicious date. Not only did the U.S. Supreme Court issue its marriage equality decision on that day in 2015, but 20 years ago, on June 26, 1997, the world first learned of a boy named Harry Potter and his friends Ron and Hermione. I’ve read J. K. Rowling’s series three times to myself and once out loud to my son (who then re-read it on his own a few years later), and wanted to mark the combined anniversary with a few lessons from Harry Potter for LGBTQ families.
Our secrets can become our strengths. Harry famously doesn’t learn he is a wizard until he turns 11. He knows he is different, however—a sentiment to which many LGBTQ people can relate. Once he is able to become the wizard he is inside, he is both happier in himself and able to use his skills to help others.
Families come in all types. Harry was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents’ deaths. His classmate Neville was raised by his grandmother after his parents were killed by Voldemort’s followers. Their friend Luna Lovegood lost her mother to an accident at age nine and was subsequently raised by her father alone. Ron is one of seven children of a pure-blood wizarding family; Hermione is the sole child of a Muggle (non-magic) couple. Tom Riddle, who became Voldemort, was raised in an orphanage (which would seem another piece of evidence in favor of finding foster homes for children who need them).
Chosen family matters. Harry’s aunt and uncle treat him terribly. His friend Ron Weasley’s family, however, brings him into their already full fold and treats him as one of their own. After the disastrous third task of the Triwizard Tournament, Molly Weasley, Ron’s mother, puts her arms around him and Harry reflects, “He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as though by a mother.” And Sirius Black, chosen by Harry’s parents to be his godfather, comes to play an important and supportive role in his life.
The world isn’t always black and white. Sometimes evil is definitive, and must be fought—as Voldemort shows—but in these books, the classic good-versus-evil theme also has shades of gray. Potions Master Severus Snape, for example, is cruel and petty, but went from being one of Voldemort’s supporters to becoming a double agent against him and a key part of Dumbledore’s plan to save the wizarding world. Likeable? Hardly. But his ultimate self-sacrifice indicates he has some sense of right and wrong. Likewise, the Hogwarts bully, Draco Malfoy, finds himself unable to kill Dumbledore as ordered by Voldemort, showing a hint of possible redemption. Conversely, Dumbledore admits that he, too, was tempted by dreams of power over death. “Was I better, ultimately, than Voldemort?” he asks Harry. Harry answers that he was, since he never killed if he could avoid it. Still, the grayness is there. Harry himself carried a piece of Voldemort’s soul inside him as the result of a failed curse. While it pained him, it also gave him the insight needed to defeat the Dark Lord. These are all useful lessons for us today in a country more divided than ever. If we can recognize a bit of the other in ourselves, and vice versa, we have a starting point for understanding.
The path to equity and justice isn’t always clear. Hermione’s campaign to free the house elves from enslavement is met by skepticism. George Weasley insists they are happy in their work, and indeed, most of the elves themselves are highly dubious about freedom (evoking, perhaps, the Biblical stories that show the ancient Israelites complaining about the burdens of their newly free life out of Egypt). Freedom takes time and practice, one message here seems to be, especially if one is too enmeshed in an oppressive system to see the oppression. At the same time, another message is that only the group in question can define freedom for itself. Allies, no matter how well-meaning, may not always give help in the way it is needed—an important lesson as we act as allies to others.
Community is key to success. Harry is the Chosen One, but he does not save the world alone. The adult wizards of the Order of the Phoenix and the students who form Dumbledore’s Army are both critical to defeating Voldemort. On a smaller scale, each of the Hogwarts houses offers community and a sense of belonging to students of similar temperament. And despite the separate interests of each house, they came together to defeat Voldemort–even some of the often nasty Slytherins, under the leadership of their Head of House, Horace Slughorn. That’s a lesson to bear in mind no matter which letters of LGBTQ+ hold our identity. There are times we must unite for our collective good.
Like many, though, I wish there had been more overt LGBTQ representation in the series. Rowling’s 2007 announcement that Dumbledore was gay felt like an afterthought. I wanted Quidditch teammates Katie Bell and Alicia Spinnet to go to the Yule Ball together.
At the same time, Rowling laid out an ethos of inclusion and justice that resonates with many LGBTQ people I know, myself included. Her more recent tweets and public statements show she is a fervent supporter of LGBTQ equality. As Pride Month draws to a close, then, let us lift a mug of Butterbeer in her honor for giving us Harry and his world—and making ours just a little more magical.