A Home in Harry Potter

by Grace Miller '15
August 18, 2015

Grace is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow. She is the co-founder of Uplift, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to tackling sexual violence in online fan communities.

You will never see a more beautiful example of the emotional impact of the Harry Potter community than during a concert.

Late last July, Harry and the Potters played at GeekyCon, a convention dedicated to celebrating fans, enthusiasm, and community. Here's an excerpt of their performance of Save Ginny Weasley.

It’s a tradition that, during their song Dumbledore, the crowd forms a huge circle, singing along to the words, “You were the best we ever had.” 

Tears are not uncommon. It’s truly powerful – in that moment, you’re not just singing about Dumbledore; you’re singing about the series, the community. You’re singing about everyone who is in that room.

Spaces dedicated to fan communities – in this case, the Harry Potter community – can be one of the few places where people feel safe and accepted. The series itself offers comfort, depicting characters grappling with the same issues readers face. It’s empowering to see yourself reflected on the page. Seeing how a character rises above what tries to hold them down can give you hope.  

Connecting with others about the series is where the real magic lies. Online and in-person, people discuss their thoughts about their favorite characters, their criticisms of the plot lines, and their personal relationships with the story – how it moves them, what memories they associate with it. Often, closely related are stories of their personal struggles with homophobia, transphobia, racism, and depression. People connect with each other over their shared experiences, and relationships form. Huge networks emerge.

Unfortunately, these safe spaces have been violated. Within the past year, several important icons in the community were accused of being sexually violent and emotionally manipulative. This was a monumental blow. It was unclear what anyone could do to keep this from happening.

I’ve personally been a member of online communities for eight years or so. I love them dearly. I am enthralled by the unabashed enthusiasm, creativity, openness and kindness I’ve experienced. I was deeply saddened when survivors came forward and it became clear that there were many sexually violent individuals in the community. As a response, I, along with several other young women, came together to found a nonprofit called Uplift, dedicated to tackling sexual violence in fan communities.

When I talk to people about Uplift, sometimes it’s difficult to explain why I’m doing this work. The emotional impact for those involved in fan communities can be immense, but some outsiders won’t understand how anyone could find solace in a community revolving around a young adult series. I wish those people could be in the room when we sing, holding each other close and swaying before running to the middle in a huge mosh pit mess.

The energy in the room cannot be lost. This is home to so many people. I want to do everything I can to protect it.