In 2007, J.K. Rowling announced that Albus Dumbledore, headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was homosexual. The headmaster allegedly had a crush on his rival, the dark wizard Grindelwald, which – for fans like myself – made an already fascinating character all the more involving. But last week, years after the revelation, a homophobic tweet appeared on Rowling’s Twitter page: “Once u revealed Dumbledore was homosexual I stopped being a fan. Nice how u blindsided us with that one. Enjoy your billion $.”
In true Rowling spirit, rather than lash out, she kindly replied: “I advise you to start following Brian Souter at once. He’s much more your kind of person.”
Though the anti-gay tweet was most likely an internet ‘troll’ out for attention, the author’s reply has spurred a wave of support, to which Rowling has replied: “I want to thank all the people tweeting me lovely messages. Don’t worry about me – to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, if you’re waiting for universal popularity, you’ll be on Twitter a VERY long time. xxxx”
It’s no secret that the author’s compassion for minority groups runs deeper than most. The charity Lumos, founded by Rowling in 2004, helps institutionalised children find caring families. She has also supported charities such as Maggie’s Centres for Cancer Care, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and Comic Relief.
It is also no secret that her compassion shines through in the Harry Potter series. A recent study, in which four universities examined the attitudes of children and their correlation to the books, showed that secondary school children who identified with Harry were more accommodating towards homosexuality. A follow-up study showed the books also lessened children’s prejudice towards similarly discriminated-against groups, such as immigrants and refugees. It would seem Rowling not only got children all over the world to read – she also shared her accepting ideals in the pages, teaching a whole generation to embrace diversity.
Just look at Dumbledore’s hidden sexuality. Not even the most die-hard fans realised he was gay, and this might be the reason it felt so real when it was finally announced. Even with his ‘high-heel boots’ and ‘purple cloak’, which are obviously signs of an eccentric fashion sense, the clues as to his orientation were practically non-existent. And yet, that’s just it. Homosexuality isn’t something you choose and isn’t always obvious. It’s simply another part of someone, as natural a differentiator as hair or eye colour. That Rowling managed to keep such a secret for over ten years, without being tempted to give fans more clues, just goes to show how sensible she is with her own view on homosexuality. Maybe this little break from societal stereotypes was enough to teach part of our generation that people are different, and that’s okay.
Prejudice could also have decreased due to the sheer diversity of the books’ characters, most of who struggle with their own personal demons. Dumbledore, always the light in the darkness, has a grim past. Aunt Petunia, outwardly hating everything magic, is secretly jealous of wizards. The Hogwarts caretaker Filch, sadistic and nasty, is a Squib (born into a wizard’s family without magic powers) and struggles with learning magic. Draco Malfoy, always hating Dumbledore, in the end can’t make himself kill him. “The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters,” says Sirius in The Order of The Phoenix. Though looking at the world, one might think so. The books teach that there is so much more going on in people’s lives than are at first evident, and that’s what shapes every one of us. No matter your background, your heritage, your sexuality, religion, political stance, or gender, we must accept everyone. As always, Dumbledore has the answer. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” he says at the end of The Chamber of Secrets.
There are so many other references in the books that listing them all would fill an entire novel (or seven). Yet it is clear that the Harry Potter books are no mere ‘children’s stories’. They tackle real-world societal issues and have taught its generation about tolerance, something previous generations have had to learn the hard way.
To quote Rowling: “The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry, and I think it’s one of the reasons that some people don’t like the books, but I think that it’s a very healthy message to pass on to younger people that you should question authority and you should not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth.” It’s hard to argue with that.
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