Just over seven months ago, on this blog, I wondered if “Perhaps, like the GLBT community, we need to organize a National Coming Out Day? An International Pagan Coming Out Day?”
I asked that question after attending the Pagan Spirit Gathering and hearing how often the topic of coming out came up. Each time coming out was mentioned, a passionate discussion followed. Stories of fear and loss came from those firmly closeted. Those living their faith more openly encouraged others to do so for the good of us all. I’m sure you’ve heard this same discussion happening in other places. As Diana Rajchel wrote, “To open up even to trusted loved ones can risk loss: loss of job, loss of family, even loss of trust. At the same time, speaking openly “this is my faith” can come with the rewards of relief and freedom. No more praying that no one notices “doctor’s appointments” coinciding with the full moon. No more negotiating ways to avoid church at Easter. No more lying to your grandmother.”
As Chair of the Executive Committee for International Coming Out Day, I am proud and excited to announce that Pagan Coming Out Day is May 2nd. The goal of Pagan Coming Out Day is to achieve acceptance and equity for Pagans at home, at work, and in every community. We’ll do this by being more visible and standing together. As more of us become publicly unapologetic and matter of fact about our faith, the less discrimination we all face. May 2nd, is when individuals, deciding on their own terms, take a step that helps foster a society that truly does tolerate all religions. It’s also a day when our religious community comes together to support those Pagans coming out to a person or group and celebrates the more public emergence of their Pagan identity.
Let me clarify what I mean when I talk about coming out. It means you are open about your religion to your family, even if it’s uncomfortable, and it means being willing to request and expect equal treatment in the workplace. However – it is not an either/or proposition as some Pagans are out to some people in their lives, but not others. The phrase ‘coming out’ can have two meanings – an entrance into a new world of hope and communal solidarity or an exit from the oppression of the closet. This imagery helped us make a final choice as to the date. In the Northern hemisphere May is Spring, calling to mind new beginnings and emergence. In the Southern hemisphere it is Fall, with thoughts of clearing out what is no longer needed and endings so you can start fresh.
When we’ve talked to people about this project, the number one question asked is why should Pagans come out? Should is not a word we use when talking about the decision to come out or not. Coming out to someone is a decision only you can make and it’s a decision best made when you’re mentally and emotionally ready to do so. Pagan Coming Out Day is not about shaming other Pagans and polytheists into coming out when they’re not ready.
Rather than talk about ‘should’ – let’s look at the benefits, personally and for our religious community as a whole, to coming out. Some of these benefits include the reduction of anxiety in your life caused by living a double life, developing closer, more genuine relationships with friends and family, and developing a positive self-image. It’s stressful to hide a core piece of who you are from those around you. Another benefit is one that the LGBT community has experienced – a reduction in prejudice. In a study for Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers found that, “heterosexuals tend to hold favorable attitudes if they know two or more gay people, if those people are close friends or immediate family members, and if there has been open discussion about the friend or relative’s sexual orientation.” This is why the LGBT community strongly encourages its members to “Come out, come out, whereever you are” – because it works for them in their struggle for equity. This is also why LGBT Pagans are often the most vocal in our community about the need for Pagans to come out. Being open and honest about our spirituality encourages a climate of greater tolerance and acceptance of Paganism as more people realize they know a friend and loved ones who are Pagan. But there are risks, too, and each person will have to access the risks and benefits unique to their own situation.
Our website offers resources (like the IPCOD’s Guide to Coming Out authored by Drake Spaeth, PsyD) and encouragement for Pagans who choose to come out. We give Pagans a place to make their voice heard as they recount their personal stories of coming out or as they relate the experience that caused them to decide that they were not able or willing to come out yet. Through these stories, by more Pagans coming out and being visible, and by showing Pagan allies how they can stand with us, we hope to reduce stigma by putting a human face on Paganism. Some of the ‘out’ stories featured on our site are: A Pagan mother faces a home visit by her child’s teachers. Telling your parents. And my story, coming out in a police station.
I closed that blog post seven months ago with the question “Who would like to assist me in launching this project?” As of today, seven other Pagans have joined me in forming an Executive Committee to make Pagan Coming Out Day a reality. They are Pagans of all ages, different paths, and have different perspectives on coming out. Some names will be very well known to you, some are not. Old Frisian and archaic Anglo-Saxon language specialist Nick Ritter, licensed clinical psychologist and a faculty member of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology Drake Spaeth, PsyD, The Wild Hunt’s Jason Pitzl-Waters, editor of SageWoman, Witches&Pagans, and Crone magazines Anne Newkirk Niven, writer and blogger Laura M. LaVoie, webmaster David Dashifen Kees, and CUUPS Board Member Emeritus Dave Burwasser. Pagan Coming Out Day couldn’t have come as far as it has without their hard work and I would like to thank them for everything they have done and for all the work that still lays ahead.
Today I again ask “Who would like to assist me in launching this project?” There is so much to do before May 2nd. If you would like to help, there are several ways you can do so.
- You can friend us on facebook – http://www.facebook.com/PaganComingOutDay – and post this on your status “I wanted to share a fan page that’s really worth liking! Many Pagans, Witches, Druids, and other magical or nature-based spiritual paths face challenges being public, perhaps due to family or where they live. It takes courage to be true to yourself and it also takes the help of community! The people at Pagan Coming Out Day are a great place to find that community!” with a link to our facebook page.
- You could write your personal coming out story, like the ones on our site, and send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or tell us why you feel you cannot yet come out. We will then post it on our website. Sharing your story provides a human face to the joys and struggles that modern Pagans experience.
- If you live outside the USA, become an IPCOD committee member to represent and organize your area. While we have Pagans from all over the world who have joined in support of this project, we need organizers from those same areas.
- Host a ritual to send strength to those Pagans choosing to come out. Or say a prayer for greater acceptance and equity.
- Host a Coming Out Ball. A ‘coming out’ Ball or party originally celebrated a debutante entering into public society in their new statues. It was a rite of passage. When Pagans come out, they too are entering into public society under a new status. So why not throw a party to celebrate?
If you do decide to host a ritual or event, be sure to let us know so we can list them on our website. Our website has many more ways you can help out and is updated with new information, and new ‘in’ and ‘out’ stories, each week. What ever way you choose to become involved is appreciated and needed. One voice cannot carry very far. Thousands of voices can sing a song with the power to change the world.