Jun 302010

Coming out or staying in of the broom closet.

This topic came up over and over at the Pagan Spirit Gathering, a camping style festival of around 900 attendees held in Missouri this past week. As I was a PSG nOOb, I’m unsure if it was normal for this discussion to happen as often as it did, but it seemed to be at the forefront of peoples’ minds. Speakers touched on it, attendees brought it up during Q&A sessions, and it was bandied about in casual, private conversations.  Even topics that you may think would have nothing to do with being public vs closeted quickly turned in that direction.

I did notice that those who are in the “come out, come out, where ever you are” camp are becoming more vocal about the need for the majority of us to be more public and open about our faiths. Not that they wish for us to go around saying “Goddess Bless” to everyone while wearing huge Pagan bling, but they do want us to be more unapologetic and matter of fact about our faith. To live our lives in the sunshine, not just by the light of the moon.

Some are losing patience with Pagans who keep their religion a secret. They understand that staying in the broom closet is necessary for those who could be physically harmed or have their children removed from them. But if it is just uncomfortable for you, they urge you to push past that discomfort. You may lose your job? Then fight for your rights in court or get a new job. Not easy to do, but religious discrimination in the workplace won’t end until it is forced to end. Your family and friends may no longer love you? If they walk away from you then they don’t love you right now. They love a lie and you can’t lose what you don’t have. I even heard a few Pagans at PSG make the argument that fellow Pagans who stay deeply closeted place the rest of us in greater danger since people equate being secretive with hiding something shameful or morally reprehensible. That closeted Pagans invite greater suspicion by their behavior.

I, too, can understand why a small minority of Pagans need to remain closeted. But I am joining the chorus of “Come out, come out, where ever you are.”

Perhaps, like the GLBT community, we need to organize a National Coming Out Day?  An International Pagan Coming Out Day?  Similar to to Pagan Pride events, it would be a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of Paganism among the general populace and give a familiar face to the Pagan rights movement.  Unlike Pagan Pride events, this event would be held on the same day in countries across the world, which could give it greater impact.  A day to encourage, support and celebrate those who wish to take that next step, living openly and powerfully as Pagans.   Also a day to acknowledge those Pagans who can’t yet be open about their faith.  A day for all of us to honor the victories we have already won in our fight for equal treatment and to focus on those battles still left to fight.

Who would like to assist me in launching this project?

  32 Responses to “International Pagan Coming Out Day – May 1”

  1. I’m in! Feel free to drop me a line with any other organizers that you might collect. You can track my down via my web site or, if you have access to the email address attached to this comment, just use that.

  2. Hail! I wear my hammer (and an Ogham pendant, actually) with great pride, and I don’t shy away when folks ask me about them. I do, however, try to avoid knee-jerk negative reactions, so I tailor my language to whomever I’m speaking to, but part of legitimizing our religion is overcoming discomfort with it. I’m a heathen and I’m proud of it. I don’t fear my life, my family, or my livelihood, so I’m okay being open about it, and I believe that I must be open about it.

  3. I’m a pretty private person to begin with, and added to that, Maine (and the rest of northern New England) has a pretty long history of ‘keep private matters private.’ As such, my religion isn’t something I hide (most of my co-workers know that I’m pagan), but it isn’t something I go shouting from the rooftops either. The way i figure it, my religion is my own damn business, and none of anyone elses’. Ditto for sexual preference, as well.

    Additionally, I feel I should point out that my workplace is reasonably diverse as far as religion goes: we’ve got an Eastern (Russian) Orthodox, a Congregationalist, an atheist/agnostic, a Quaker, me (heathen-ish), a Buddhist, a Jew, and several who are non-religious (for a ~10 person company, not too bad).

    • I’m in agreement with Eran… but I’ve lived in areas where religious diversity tended to be swept under the rug (unless you’re one of the Big Three). Pagans weren’t discriminated against so much as we were just…ignored. It was an odd combination of “we don’t judge people” and “well, I don’t have anything against X, there just aren’t any X around here. Now, if you go to Y, they’ve got a lot of X over there!”

    • As a fellow New Englander I can attest to the prevalence of this attitude. There are actually a fair amount of Pagans where I live but getting them together, even for Pagan Pride, makes herding cats easy. There is so much distrust in the Pagan community, and we’ve been isolated for so long, finding a cohesive, committed group to worship with is very difficult. Unless you want to worship at the local UUs and I don’t (I’ve written a couple posts on that very topic).

      I’ve been out forever to my family. They don’t acknowledge it. At all. If I bring it up the subject is changed. I am just not allowed to discuss my spiritual practice with my family. (When I say “my family” I mean my extended family to include aunts, uncles, and cousins). My father’s side won’t discuss it because I did not conform to their Catholic norm. My mother’s family won’t discuss it because they consider religious beliefs to be the most personal thing out there. My mother won’t tell me what brand of Protestant she is!

      Nonetheless, they all know my religious practice. Each year I send Samhain cards out to all my family and all the family of Lover. I include a short letter explaining what we’ve been up to over the last year. There’s usually a picture of the two of us on the card also. The first few years I did this I included an explanation of what Samhain is. Now I don’t do that because I don’t feel I need to educate them on the matter since I already have.

      • Yeah, my family background is a little unusual, so I don’t really get the whole ‘broom closet’ thing – my dad is a Celtic Christian (he sees the Trinity as Father, Mother, & Jesus), my mom is an agnostic/Reform Jew – my dad’s side of the family is mostly agnostic Episcopalians (go to church for the family, not the religion), and my mom’s side is Conservative Jewish (except for one aunt who is Ultra Orthodox – she’s a bit weird).

        I know quite a few pagans, but as you say, gathering them for a specific religious thing (Pagan Pride, Circle, whatever) is nearly impossible – most, if not nearly all, in my area are solitaries, and by preference, not by lack of opportunity. I include myself in that listing, additionally.

    • I’m with you brother, all the christians will do is get on their soapbox and protest like they always do. I let Karma do my dirty work for me. Pagan has for many centuries kept a tight lip but that is only because unlike the christians we do not feel the need to inform everyone of who we are. We are happy with ourselves and don’t need to be recognized for it just to make us feel included with the rest of society because we are not and I wouldn’t have it any other way. God and Goddess bless.

  4. I’d be happy to help in my area.

    Also, I think it would be a great day to thank the people who are supportive of the Pagans in their lives– just like my brother, my husband, and my friends are supportive of me, even if they’re not Pagan.

  5. And maybe for those that are still a little anxious about coming out, there could be some sort of code worked into the event, kinda like how a bunch of people started wearing purple ribbons on Autumn Equinox to recognize fellow Pagans. :)

  6. It’s not so simple. My wife is a mental health professional in a small town, and depends on clients seeking her services. If she were outed as a Pagan her business would dry up, with no-one to sue for job discrimination. Since we have an unusual last name, perforce I am in the broom closet too. At least we can be out as Unitarian Universalists.

    • I’m in the same perdicament, like I said before, no point in “coming out”. We don’t need societies approval. We should allow Karma to do her job and stay the course.

      • If you’re part of a path that relies on secrecy, then yes, you would be correct — but that’s doing no good for those who are on paths that are best trod upon when it’s fully integrated into their daily lives, such as “recon” religions.

    • That’s kind of missing the point of the sentiment, though.

      Ultimately, only you and yours can decide what it the best way to address this, and nobody is talking about “outing you” without your consent — that would not only miss the point, but it would be contradictory to the spirit of the event, would would be to hopefully foster in an environment where you and yours *wouldn’t* have to worry about “business drying up”, should you choose to come out in the future. Ms Schulz was *very* careful to point out that this is not obligatory nor compulsory — but it *is* highly encouraged of those in the pagan communities who would have nothing to lose, and she was careful to imply a lot of grey in-between.

      It really should go without saying that if you and yours aren’t in a position to take part in the coming year, well, there are future years.

  7. I’m always a little hesitant to usurp the language of the GLBTetc. rights movement to serve the purposes of the Pagan community. Yes, religious tolerance is vitally important, but one’s spiritual tradition is still by and large a choice of lifestyle and culture, not a biological given in the same way sexual identity/preference can be. By associating the two we imply on the one hand that “gay rights” are primarily about lifestyle choices, and on the other hand, that being Pagan is an accident of circumstance rather than a tradition intentionally chosen and conscientiously cultivated. With such implications, I think we do a disservice to both causes.

    I appreciate the sentiment behind the “coming out of the ‘broom closet’” call… but think we should find another way of speaking for and about that cause.

    • I can understand your hesitation – but some of the people who are most supportive of these types of things are in the GLBT community and some of them are also Pagans. It’s why I have sought advice from leaders in the GLBT community and they have stressed to me the importance of being “out.”

      • Whether you are gay, straight, pagan, christian, catholic, or what have ya, your preferences are you business. Too many people in the world feel like they should be respected for their decisions. Unfortunately that is not the real world. I am a combat veteran whom has traveled the world three times over. Worry about yourself and your own path. Those who do not understand you do not regulate your life. Do as you will and don’t worry about the rest. This coming out deal sounds to me like a bunch of people who aren’t comfortable with themselves and are needing approval from others. Get over it and Blessed Be.

        • No, this “coming out deal” is a bunch of people who are tired of seeing people harassed and suffering the loss of a job because the wrong people caught them going into the wrong book store. It’s about a bunch of people who see Christians, Muslims, and Jews get nearly full leeway in wearing their religion on their heads and around their necks, but if they themselves did the same, they could very well risk losing everything.

          Basically it’s about taking a stand because you’re sick and tired of local governments and social climates favouring some religions over others while paying lip-service to FREEDOM of religion.

          If you don’t want to take part, that’s all well and good, nobody is making you — but don’t try and paint this idea as something that it’s not just because you don’t want to participate.

    • The two minorities are parallel in several ways. They are invisible in the sense that one can remain closeted at will (unless outed by others). Both are the focus of religious-based hatred. They are perceived by some as subversive to basic American or Western institutions. It has taken standard civil-liberties organizations a long time to disentangle themselves from conventional outlooks and come to their defense. Each has struggled with the military within recent memory.

      • Yet all the things you’ve listed could be said for many other trends perceived as outside the current cultural mainstream (I’m reminded, for instance, of Jason’s recent post at the Wild Hunt on polygamy, with the exception that civil-liberties organizations are still entangled in conventional outlooks on this particular topic).

        I’m all for solidarity… but not at the expense of clarity. A common oppressor aside, there are important differences between the GLBTQ rights movement and the Pagan/religious minorities rights movement that need to be acknowledged.

    • I understand your hesitation (and was actually offended the first time somebody asked me “are you family” and learned they *didn’t* mean “are you gay?” but instead meant “are you pagan?” — while both, I thought that was taking things a little far, and making it all hella confusing), but oppression is still oppression. Why should it be less oppressive to fire a man for being open as a Heathen than for being open as gay? “Coming out” is nothing more than a term used to describe an oppressive state and standing defiantly before it. Just as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals can “come out”, so can trans people in various stages of transition, so can people with invisible disabilities (indeed, it was among a disability support group that I first heard the term *outside* the gay community), and so can political and religious minorities because, like being gay or trans (for many people), or having certain still-marginalised disabilities, being a religious minority is not something that one can be oppressed for unless it’s known.

      Furthermore, the language that you’re using to describe the GBLT rights movements — “sexual identity”, “sexual preference” — those terms imply choice just as much as “cultural identity” and “music preference”. If you don’t feel that sexual *orientation* is a “choice”, but a biological hard-wiring, then I seriously suggest re-thinking the language you use to describe it.

  8. sign me up! Pagan Pride Project has done a great job toward this goal, but it will take more then one group tp get it done. I agree, that while some folks may live in fear for their lives or livelihoods, many people are just chicken. If you are ashamed of your faith it is not the right Path for you.

    • Think before you speak, I am Scottish and Irish deep in celtic traditions. This pagan fears no one. It’s called being a realist. You evidently haven’t lived in a third world country yet. My path is riteous which is why I let Karma do my dirty work for me. If you think you have to stand up and be accepted by the world as a pagan then evidently you are not comfortable with your own self and feel like you need acceptance. I pity you. Blessed Be

  9. Part of the confusion I have is–what, exactly, constitutes being “out?” Attending Pagan gatherings and workshops? Telling just your family and close friends? Wearing Pagan symbols where all members of the public can see them? Decorating the front of your house for the Sabbats?

    There are many degrees of openness, and it’s difficult to really have much of a discussion on “coming out” when it’s not clear how far along that spectrum “out” is.

    • I am loathe to define “out” because, like you have said, there are many degrees of being “out” and I think we shouldn’t force people to be either “out” or define how far ‘out” they need to be. We just need to support them no matter how far in or out of the closet they are.

  10. I thought Pagan Pride was about just that: a public display of pride in being openly Pagan? I think being active in Pagan Pride day events and merging that with the idea of coming out might be more effective than starting something new. For one, many Pagans are too busy at Beltane with other festivities to be able to make an effective statement on May 1st.

    Pagan Pride used to always fall on Mabon in my area but now it seems as if the dates for these events vary widely across the country. I think September is a good time of the year for this sort of thing. Good weather for outdoor events and not a whole lot going on in the Pagan community in general at that time.

    The film “MILK” made a huge impression on me as to how out I am about my faith. A person’s impression of Paganism will change once they know a friend or loved one is Pagan. I have been surprised at how interested and accepting people have been since I’ve become more publicly Pagan. I actually had a conversation about Santeria last night with an artist who had to research it when she was studying an artist who practiced that religion.

    • Well, if the point of Gay Pride (various weeks in June, depending on where you live, but always in June) was about coming out, there wouldn’t be National Coming Out Day in October. The general idea of the two is “NCOD is for people who feel they need to come out; Pride week is for people who are already out of the closet and headed for the front door”.

  11. [...] Pagan Coming Out Day: This past Wednesday, Cara Schulz at Pagan+Politics proposed that the global Pagan community have a “coming out&#822…. This came after her experiences at the recent Pagan Spirit Gathering, where she noticed that being [...]

  12. I think this is a great cause, that we’re not so much being encouraged to scream from the rooftops what our religious preference is, but that we’re being asked to stand up for our rights and acknowledge the discrimination that many of us face day to day. Whatever I can do to help, my step-Mom and step-Sister would be more than happy to help as well. I’m in California if anything can be done here.

  13. [...] YOU, not their fantasies about what you are or should be — it is NOT about a bunch of people “needing the approval of others”. If we truly needed “approval”, guess what? We wouldn’t be pagans! We’d be [...]

  14. [...] for IPCOD, I am proud and excited to be part of this project, which I first proposed on the blog Pagan+politics back in June of last year. The goal of Pagan Coming Out Day is to achieve acceptance and equity for Pagans at home, at work, [...]