Warner Brothers weren't the only ones who were concerned about slash fiction. There have been significant strides in LGBT rights since the early 2000s, but while slash fanfic, gay characters, and gay couples are common in Western media in 2013, ten years ago it wasn't yet part of the mainstream within fandom, or on tv, in films, or even in books. The Harry Potter fandom was no different, as Nimbus - 2003, the first Harry Potter fan convention, made clear. In July of 2003, over 600 fans from all around the world converged in Orlando, Florida, years before Universal even thought about placing the Wizarding World amid its palm trees.
To its attendees, the event was a smashing success; dozens of fans and academics presented on aspects of the series, Harry/Hermione and Ron/Hermione shippers debated where the series was going, and the Welcoming Feast turned into a wake for Sirius Black, killed on page 806 of Order of the Phoenix, which had come out barely a month before. Judith Krug, Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, spoke about the growing problem of book banning, especially as parents demanded schools and libraries ban the Harry Potter series because it promoted witchcraft (it doesn't).
But two vendors were not happy, and clearly hadn't attended Dr. Krug's presentation. They complained to attendees and other vendors that we were hosting a smut-fest, griping about the panel that explained and discussed slash and the sentence uttered by one of the Ron/Hermione proponents to start her debate: "Harry Potter has two best friends--Hermione and Ron. Will he end up with one of them or will they end up with each other?"
In other words, the very idea of two characters in a book being gay offended them deeply; discussion of homosexuality was inherently wrong and should be banned. Just after lunch, we refunded their money and asked them to leave.
But they were outsiders to fandom. What about webmasters and academics and adult fans?
Some of them were anti-slash, too. When I started at The Leaky Cauldron in the spring of 2001, I tried to convince the site's then-webmaster Rames to allow me to create a fanfic section for the site that would accept all Harry Potter fanfic regardless of ship or lead characters. He said that he didn't want to host slash somewhere that kids could read it, even if it the characters didn't go beyond kissing. In the mid-2000s, MuggleNet took the same perspective: stories with same-gender relationships shouldn't be easy to access, and wouldn't be hosted on MuggleNet's fanfic site.
Fans who wrote slash fanfic were pilloried in articles in papers from Scotland to San Francisco, and Warner Brothers was concerned that kids doing internet searches for Harry Potter (in those pre-widespread-use-of-Google) days would find "problematic" material.
Fanficcers, fan artists, and those who enjoyed fanworks kept their names and their Potter interests hidden from friends and family. Many were worried that if people found out, they'd be called freaks--dangerous freaks--and anonymous trolls stirred the cauldron of concern when they could. Anons would show up a few times a month on forums and mailing lists to condemn mods for hosting fics with gay characters where kids could see them, even if the characters were barely kissing. In 2004, for example, an anonymous user wrote:
While I understand that the majority of the writers here at fictionalley may be adults, or at least well into their teens, some of the readers may not be. Even if you consider your fic to be PG, with just a bit of kissing or whatever, I think that any level of homosexuality from the main characters would be sufficantly [sic] traumatic for a child that one might want to consider rating all of those fictions R.iii
And ten years ago, this sentiment wasn't uncommon. As one fan commented back in 2000: "And as to Ron/Harry shippers- let 'em ship. I know that JKR would never screw up a perfectly lovely series like HP because she wanted to make the main characters boyfriends. That would instantly make me set down the book and run screaming."
In 2002 or 2004, it wasn't unusual for a Concerned Netizen to post on a forum or email a site's mods and warn that "making" the beloved Harry Potter characters gay was libelous, confusing, a slap at J. K. Rowling, and worst of all, non-canonical.
But in 2004, J. K. Rowling gave her first website award to Immeritus, a Sirius Black-centric site that hosted fanfic and fanart as well as discussions and speculation . . . and in some of those fics and some of that art, Sirius was snogging or shagging Remus Lupin (or occasionally Snape or Lucius Malfoy). Rowling said, "For a while I had a picture of the four marauders drawn by Laura Freeman on my desktop. It is a particularly accurate portrayal of Sirius and Lupin . . ." There were discussions about what she meant by that, focusing on the characters that comprised one of the most popular ships. Was she okaying it, was she granting permission to fanart in general, and same-gender, romance-centric fanart in particular?
Three years later, though, when she stated that she had always seen Albus Dumbledore as gay, everything changed, not only for slash readers, writers, and artists, but also for fandomers across the net.
Back on October 19, 2007, thousands of fans posted comments and essays about Dumbledore's sexuality; many if not most comments criticized Jo for celebrating homosexuality, for making it all right to be gay, for "ruining the books" or this favorite character. "Now people are going to call HP fans gay . . . lol hope it doesn't come to that!!"
By 2010, the world was different, and so was fandom. MuggleNet changed their website in support of Spirit Day, in memory of six young men who killed themselves after being bullied because they were gay. Hundreds of fans posted support for those gay teens, for the inspiration fans had gotten from the Harry Potter books, and their memories of how terrific it felt to hear that J. K. Rowling had always seen Dumbledore as gay.
A decade ago, I was slammed as immoral for letting teenagers discuss whether gay wizards even existed; in 2007, J. K. Rowling told us they did. Kids who were thirteen in 1999 and 2002 and 2004 are in their mid-twenties now, and those who were college students then have kids and nieces and nephews of their own. If you told them that it was immoral to let thirteen-year-olds read YA stories about gay teenage wizards, they would probably laugh and tell you it'd be immoral to ban them from reading those stories.
Or anything else.
Heidi Tandy (Heidi8) has been part of the Harry Potter internet fandom since the day of Goblet of Fire's release, and has since been involved in fanfiction (founding and posting on FictionAlley.org), news websites (The Leaky Cauldron, HPANA), discussions and eta (HPForGrownups), and HPEF fancons from Nimbus in 2003 through Ascendio in 2012. Since at least 2000, Heidi Tandy has advocated for fans, built fansites, organized fan-supported charitable fundraisers like Help_Haiti on LiveJournal, and advocated that fans' creative endeavors are frequently transformative and therefore protectable under US copyright and trademark law. She's spoken at fan-run and law-focused events on topics including copyright and trademark, as well as written fanfiction. created over fifty fanvids, and crafted mediocre fanart because she really can't draw for Harry Potter, The Magicians, Doctor Who/Torchwood, Heroes, Supernatural, Sherlock, Glee, Marvel Cinematic Universe, XMFC, Teen Wolf, and Schoolhouse Rock. Heidi was sorted in Ravenclaw on Pottermore, tweets as TravelingHeidi and blogs with other fandom-focused lawyers at fyeahcopyright.tumblr.com. "Creativity is magic!"
i Noxon, Christopher. "Oh Harry, You Naughty Boy." Inside.com, October 18, 2001. http://www.christophernoxon.com/index.php/cnsite/clip/oh_harry_you_naughty_boy/.
ii Odlyzko, Andrew. "Content Is Not King." First Monday 6, no. 2 (5 Feb. 2001). http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/833/742.
iii FictionAlley.com forums. Comment dated 28 June 2004. Accessed 17 July 2013. http://forums.fictionalley.org/park/showthread.php?s=&threadid=64277.