Featuring artwork honoring victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting that had taken place earlier that year, comic book publishers DC Comics and IDW Publishing released “Love is Love," an anthology comic book, on Dec. 28, 2016.
One of the pieces paid tribute to Luis S. Vielma, a Pulse victim who worked at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. In the graphic created by Jim Lee, comic book artist and DC Comics chief creative officer, Harry Potter and his comrades are seen casting a spell with a cloud of rainbow smoke forming above their heads in support of the LGBTQ community.
This pairing is quite fitting, given that the "Harry Potter" series and other magic-based fiction have consistently resonated with queer audiences. This was reflected in Nielsen's 2018 report on LGBTQ household ratings. Nielsen is a data analytics company known for recording TV viewership across the U.S.
"Queerness" can be defined as sexual orientations that are "not exclusively heterosexual" or gender identities and expressions that fall outside the gender binary, according to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.
About 24 miles from Universal Studios Orlando, UCF literature professor Tison Pugh teaches a course called Harry Potter Studies. The course, which has been taught since spring 2015, serves as an open examination of the bestselling book series and requires students to use literary theory to further analyze the story.
Pugh published an article on the potential for queerness in "Harry Potter" in the academic journal Children's Literature Association Quarterly in 2006. In "Heteronormative Heroism and Queering the School Story in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series," Pugh discusses possible intersections between queerness and magic, opening up a dialogue about why members of the LGBTQ community identify with such mythologies.
“Despite the absence of homosexual characters in 'Harry Potter,' the texts nonetheless invite queer readers to make connections between homosexuality and the world of wizardry,” Pugh wrote in the article.
Pugh said he believes the sense of otherness that is often projected onto queerness and the way in which queer people have historically deviated from social norms are reasons stories of magic might hold an extra appeal among members of the LGBTQ community.
“[LGBTQ individuals and wizards] are both othered figures,” Pugh said. “In these stories, there are allegorical coming-out stories in which characters stray from the prescribed cultural scripts.”
In the "Harry Potter" series, Pugh said certain aspects of the character of Harry Potter’s home life parallel some of the experiences of queer youth, which can provide a form of solace.
“[Harry Potter] lives in a closet,” Pugh said. “The Dursleys’ treatment of [him] is analogous to how anti-queer families might treat their queer relatives. This provided a space where queer people see themselves reflected.”
Pugh also said the way witches are depicted in media visually mirrors gay men's rejection of gender roles, providing another form of representation through magic. He cited gay men’s fondness of the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” as an example.
“Witches are constructed as not being pretty [and] gay men don’t follow [the] cultural script [of being hypermasculine],” Pugh said. “More gay men love and identify with the Wicked Witch of the West than they do with Glinda, the Good Witch of the South.”
Pugh said a lack of comprehensive queer representation in media makes it difficult to discuss LGBTQ identity and experiences collectively.
"It's hard to talk about queer people as a whole [because] historically, queer representations haven't been there," Pugh said.
UCF writing professor Martha Brenckle has a research interest in queer theory and experience as an LGBTQ spoken-word poet. Brenckle said the oppression faced by witches for being magical beings resonates with queer people and is reminiscent of how minority groups in the past would come together to empower one another. She cited the alliance between women’s rights groups and abolitionist Frederick Douglass as an example.
“Women, when they were more oppressed, would gravitate toward other minority groups because they would feel that same oppression,” Brenckle said. “There’s a reason that Frederick Douglass was involved in the first women’s movement and that they were also politically ... working with him. It’s terrible to think of a shared oppression, but that’s what it is.”
In turn, Brenckle said the ability of witches to combat oppression through their powers broadens their appeal in the process.
“There’s a way in which witches’ covens can overcome their oppression or fight back in ways that people can’t in reality, and I think that also adds to their appeal,” Brenckle said. “I would like to be able to wave a wand and make things happen [and] get my revenge [on] people.”
Brenckle said the sense of community presented in witches’ covens or the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the "Harry Potter" franchise echoes the way in which LGBTQ people come together and form their own collectives in the absence of social support from loved ones.
“When your own family and other normal social relationships are shut off to you, you need to create that community and they become your [familial] relationships,” Brenckle said. “So I definitely think there’s something there about a witches' coven, or even the school in Harry Potter, that is so appealing. Because here is the place where you fit in and no one considers you an oddball.”
Alex Duffie, LGBTQ-identifying student and freshman computer science major, also sees the analogy between the structure of covens and the LGBTQ community. Duffie said the presence of common goals in both groups helps illustrate this parallel.
“There are a lot of common goals that queer people share and [those are] safety, community, support and being in a group of people that you belong to,” Duffie said. “The covens serve as a parallel to the idea of safe spaces.”
In July 2016, almost 20 years after the original publication of the first "Harry Potter" novel, the saga continued in the form of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," a stage play that takes place in the context of Harry Potter’s adult life.
The play’s storyline features the relationship between Albus Potter, Harry’s son, and Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry Potter’s childhood archnemesis, Draco Malfoy. Following its release, media scrutiny pointed to the unfulfilled potential for a romance between the two friends.
Pugh said he recognizes the play's failure to explore the romantic attraction between the two characters as a hesitation to fully embrace queer narratives.
"There are powerful statements of male friendship in the play,” Pugh said. “Straight romance can be seen on the surface, but queer romance has to remain in the shadows.”
Despite this, Brenckle said she believes magic will continue to be used as a vehicle for communicating queer stories because its fantastical elements force individuals to look past their own prejudices.
“People will be more accepting of [LGBTQ people] in that media,” Brenckle said. “Because ... whether it’s a stage play, a film or reading a book, you are asked to suspend belief in order to become part of that world, so you’re also going to have suspend your belief about your own bigotry.”
Duffie said the vicarious escapism provided by magic-oriented stories allows queer people to imagine a world in which they are fully empowered and free of prejudice.
“Being able to place yourself in a character’s shoes in a world that is very different from our own enables queer people to envision a world or environment where homophobia doesn’t exist or they have some sort of power, whereas normally in society we tend to not,” Duffie said.
The Harry Potter series may be older now, but its contents live on in the hearts of those who imagine a brighter world for themselves — one in which they too are something magic.