International Pagan Coming Out Day

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 2, 2011 — 33 Comments

Today, May 2nd, is Pagan Coming Out Day. An even initiated “to achieve greater acceptance and equity for Pagans at home, at work, and in every community.”

Check out the list of official IPCOD celebrations,  stores participating in the event, and read IPCOD’s Guide to Coming Out authored by Drake Spaeth, PsyD. You may also wish to read endorsements from Pagans like T. Thorn Coyle, Phaedra Bonewits, Star Foster, Arthur Hinds, and many more at the IPCOD site and IPCOD’s official Facebook page.

“There will be some of us that don’t come out because of very real fears of losing children or jobs. Those of us who can come out, support these others by doing so. I know some of us will say, “We just don’t talk about religion at work,” and yet, some of you know that this co-worker is Christian, and that one, Hindu. How do you know? No big deal, just a small comment here or there, or signs that point to it. That “no big deal” is what we are looking for. Just another religious flavor in a pluralistic society. The more of us there are that people can point to as high-functioning members of the workplace, the school system, the local environmental group, the union, the fewer of us will run the risk of having our children taken from us for virtue of being Heathen or Wiccan parents. The more of us there are that give people some understanding of Paganism, the fewer Tempest Smiths there will be, committing suicide as a result of anti-Pagan bullying, and the more teens like Angel Cat there will be, who wrote a helpful piece on coming out to your parents.”T. Thorn Coyle

IPCOD founder Cara Schulz, who came out as a Pagan in a police station, has this to say about the importance of Pagans coming out of the “broom closet”.

“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.”

Some have expressed skepticism at the need for a Pagan “coming out” day. The problem, I think, comes from what we mean when we say “out” (or “in” for that matter). I’ll be frank and open about the fact that I advocate for Pagans coming out of the “broom closet”, and have publicly advocated this position when I give talks at events. However, being “out” doesn’t necessarily mean plastering your car with bumper stickers, interjecting your faith into every conversation, or ostentatiously wearing a pound of Pagan “bling”. It certainly doesn’t mean placing yourself or your children in immediate danger if those are your circumstances. It means not living a double life, it means being out to your family, even if it’s uncomfortable, and it means being willing to request and expect equal treatment in the workplace.

Pagans being “out” about who we are to those who love us, to those we interact with on a daily basis, changes the world. Even the conservative Christian polling organization The Barna Group acknowledges this in their research.

“About 5% of America’s adult population associates with faiths other than Christianity (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.). Within this group, about half (47%) were registered as Democrats, 30% were independent, and one-quarter (23%) were Republicans. The ballots of this group were most often cast for Barack Obama (62%) rather than John McCain (36%). The support provided to the Democratic candidate is identical to the backing this group provided to John Kerry four years ago (61%) …Among voters who had a favorable view of Wicca, Sen. Obama was the favored candidate 64% to 35%.

It is important to look at the language in that last line. It isn’t about Wiccans specifically, but people who had a “favorable view” of Wicca. To further extrapolate, the family, friends, and co-workers of the estimated 1 million modern Pagans in America tended to favor the candidate favored by the majority of modern Pagans. But this isn’t just about voting and politics, it is about eradicating stereotypes and altering perceptions. It’s about changing the strange biases and assumptions that even “tolerant” people have about modern Pagan faiths. It’s about not being thrown under the bus because “there isn’t a Pagan in our office/school/organization”. Again, coming out won’t be a panacea for every Pagan, but if all who are willing and able took one day to say “I’m a Pagan”, to humanize our often misunderstood religions, it could change more than any of us realize.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I serve in an advisory capacity on IPCOD’s executive board. I’m working with this project because I think a unified effort towards ‘coming out’ is a needed one, a complimentary movement to our already vibrant Pagan Pride days. I hope you’ll support IPCOD today, and help spread the word.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://readingintheshadows.wordpress.com/ Stephanie Selby

    I was out of the broom closet almost as soon as I choose to be one. I live in a pretty liberal part of the country and I knew my family could handle it for the most part, so I am lucky in this regard. I can't imagine what it must be like for those that have to live otherwise, and I feel truly sorry for them. I always try to be a wonderful example of what it means to be Pagan, and I want to be a person that helps to foster understanding between religions so that one day every member of our community can be who they are without fear of repercussions.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I appreciate that IPCOD treats coming out of the broom closet as a choice each Pagan must make personally on that basis of his or her life situation.

  • elnigma

    When it comes to pagans with families, It'd be a good day when someone dealing with a custody battle wouldn't have to worry they could lose for having "materials related to witchcraft" in the home and weren't going to be asked whether they "worship Satan" in anything but a neutral manner.

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com kauko

    I took the opportunity today to come out to the people beyond my circle of close friends, who, before today, were they only ones who knew. Conveniently, in this age of social media, it was easy to just make a post that everyone could read. I have yet to get any feedback, though, so I guess we'll see what reactions I'll get.

    • http://journeywithinferi.blogspot.com Harlequin

      "IPCOD is quite aware that not everyone can afford to come out, and offers solidarity with those who can't. It's not one of those strident, narrow-gauge "everyone out now!" voices."

      I completely agree, and I think it is a wonderful thing to come out…for those who want to. Let's be honest, there are many Pagans who don't want to come out, not because they can't, but because they simply choose not to. The relationships one cultivates with the Powers that Be are the most precious one can have…some people choose to hold this closer and more privately to their hearts than others.

      But hey, each to their own.

      • Angela Ulin-Brown

        Actually, I've been "out" at work for 6 1/2 years now; the GM unceremoniously outted me to everyone in the office, and made a point of mentioning it to anyone and everyone (including outside vendors), much to my horror. Yes, I called him on it, but he said he doesn't mind, cuz he "used to date a High Priestess"….mmmkayyy..I used to date a Baptist, but that doesn't mean I'm an expert on Baptists nor can harrass them for their beliefs. It's been non-stop comments, most immature grade school stuff, but until the job market improves, I have no choice but to deal with it.

        • elnigma

          That's awful.

        • harmonyfb

          I find that replying to sophomoric remarks in deadly earnest (for example, giving a lecture about the symbolism of the cauldron, complete with references to Celtic myth and Elizabethan theater, when somebody makes a 'bubble, bubble, toil and trouble' remark) will have the desired effect of making them shut the hell up.

          • Crystal7431

            I've used this method myself. It works every time. Sorry this has happened to you, Angela. Here's hoping it gets better. : )

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

        "But hey, each to their own. "

        The thing is, though, no matter how many mealy-mouthed disclaimers are tacked onto it, it is not "To Each Their Own Day", it is "Pagan Coming Out Day".

    • kenneth

      More and more often, you're going to find that you get almost no "reaction." That's the whole point of having more people come out more often. As more and more people come to know pagans as regular people, there won't be anything titillating or scandalous about it.

      At the risk of sounding preachy or self-righteous, I think people who DON'T come out need to consider that they are legitimizing and feeding energy to the forces oppressing them (and the rest of us).

      • Alex

        I disagree. People who don't come out don't need to consider what they're doing to anybody else. It's a personal decision that should be based on what's best for the individual. Risking your job, kids, whatever isn't necessarily worth the difference it would make in your life.

        Not coming out does nothing to legitimize the oppression against Pagan religions, what legitimizes them is that people draw a distinction between their public identity and their private one. You don't need to broadcast that you're a Pagan to live like one.

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

          There is clearly a narrative being pushed here that Pagans "need" to "come out". Jason has even gone so far as to promote this for Afro-Caribbean religions and to criticize Santeros and others for being too "secretive".

          To be honest, though, I much prefer Jason's approach which is more explicit and unapologetic about coming right out, so to speak, and advocating for a clear position. If some people think, as some obviously do, that there is a problem in Pagandom with being too fearful and secretive, then that is an interesting discussion to have. But if all that is being advocated is for everyone to do whatever they are comfortable with, then that is like saying you are in favor of cute kittens and rainbows.

          I am all in favor of publicizing Paganism. One of the crucial turning points in modern Pagan history was Gerald Gardner's decision to seek as much publicity as he could get. The results were quite messy, but in my opinion he got the job done. But I think that is very different from the misguided emphasis on individuals "coming out".

  • http://fullcirclenews.blogspot.com/2011/05/thoughts-on-pagan-coming-out-day.html Sia Vogel

    Posted this today at the blog – I don't care if it is a popular view or not:

    "While I support the idea behind of Pagan Coming Out Day, I do not support the many examples of self-righteous prose I read around it. Do not presume to tell your brothers and sisters that they are "not good Pagans" when they quietly do hard work for good causes by being "Stealth Pagans". Their effectiveness will be harmed if their practice became an issue. They choose to put the work, first, and for that I honor them …

    To those who can celebrate in public with great pride and joy, I hope you can do so with dignity and grace. Make us proud."

    Sia

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      Your view might not be as unpopular as you think, Sia. The urge to inform people (who have expressed no desire to receive such information) about one's religion is of dubious merit. And if people are curious about one's religion, that, too, is of dubious merit.

      • http://twitter.com/lizlady @lizlady

        I entirely agree. I have no need to share my personal life with people, and don't really view Paganism as a "cause." It's my private business.

      • harmonyfb

        I think the difference is that this isn't "go tell everybody about your religion day" – it's a coming-out. That means simply being who you are, public or private.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Sia, if you will look at Cara's words in the post she eschews the word "should" in discussing coming out. IPCOD is quite aware that not everyone can afford to come out, and offers solidarity with those who can't. It's not one of those strident, narrow-gauge "everyone out now!" voices.

      • Juliaki

        Although the behavior of the most noticeable self-described pagans these days has made me have no desire to use the term pagan for my beliefs and practices for more than a year now, I've been out about who I am whenever the issue comes up for many years now. In most cases, whether with family or friends or co-workers, it's rare that the subject comes up. But when it does, and when I explain a bit about my beliefs and practices, there never is an issue…until some self-described pagan attention seeker makes a stir in the news and I get bombarded with the whole "you're not like _that_ are you?" It's a situation that repeats over and over again, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who is frustrated at being lumped with the whack jobs out there. I think that for many people, it would be a lot easier to "come out" as a normal person who follows a different form of religious/spiritual path/practice/belief system if we didn't have to deal with the idea that pagan = obnoxious in-your-face freak fest, hater of other religions, or ignorant of the path that they profess to follow. Can we police our own to keep the crazies out of the pagan gene pool and still be the "we accept anyone" mentality that seems to be desired within paganism? It's tough, because we're all someone else's idea of crazy when you get down to it. :)

        My sincere request–before you come out as part of something, make sure you actually know your path and are ready to answer the questions that coming out will bring. You don't do yourself, or any of the rest of us, any favors by coming out about something that you know little about.

        And for those who are encouraging people to come out–please continue to provide and expand resources and support for the potential fallout that people may face. If this event is going to become an annual one, I'd love to see links to pagan-friendly professional counselors, relationship counselors, spiritual counselors, in addition to the (currently thin, but at least of good quality) links for legal advice for workplace and/or domestic issues and legal representation. If a town is having a formal coming-out event, they should take on the responsibility for providing after care as needed for all attendees. (I'm not totally sure we have those resources in place yet, but I'm willing to be proven wrong!)

        • Gareth

          At least people ask if you're not like the attention seekers. It's better than them assuming you are the same, and it is good that they're making a little effort to see past the Kevin Carlyons of the world.

          Of the other Pagans I have met here in the UK the main problem I find they have when 'coming out' is being taken seriously and not being treated as though they are playing a some sort of game (because, you know, no one can seriously worship pagan gods and those that say they do are just pretending). Another is "Paganism is just a phase" that, particularly if you young, you will "grow out of". I find these far more irritating and potentially more damaging then the whole "you're evil and going to hell thing".

          From the (few) American Pagans I have spoken to it seems that it is much easier to be open about being Pagan here in the UK (which was the impression of one American Pagan I spoke to).

          • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com kauko

            It's not surprising to encounter that kind of attitude considering that Western society generally only considers two theologies to be valid choices: monotheism or atheism. The polytheism of non-Western cultures is tolerated in the name of muticulturalism, but the notion that a Western person could chose to embrace polytheism is absurd to the average American, Canadian or European because the Western intellectual tradition has been brainwashing everyone for centuries to believe that polytheism is a 'primitive' form of religion destined to be outgrown.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Juliaki, we will likely never escape being lumped with the whack jobs. You can see it happen to any religion that isn't the local majority.

          "Can we police our own to keep the crazies out of the pagan gene pool […] ?" Probably not. One person's crazies patrol could look to another person like theological thought police. Not likely to fly.

          • kenneth

            If we got rid of all the whack jobs, we'd be the lonliest and most boring movement on the planet! The whack jobs we spurned would go into something darker like radical Islam or Scientology or racist conspiracy theories about our president's citizenship, and they'd be replaced by buttoned down "pastors" who would make us another congregational church of some sort. I'll take my chances with the loons….

        • elnigma

          As far as the acceptance – almost anyone can go to large open public events. Many who attend them aren't even pagan. Generally for events on private property and in private residences, not everyone is welcome.

        • elnigma

          For me, pagan means belief in there being multiple gods/goddesses. Most people assume pagan means Wiccan which of course it can, but that's hardly the only kind of beliefs out there.

          • Juliaki

            For me, pagan means "earth lover" in terms of spirituality. Don't get me wrong, I like this hunk of rock because it's the one I'm living on….but I'm not all about loving the earth as anything more than just a very convenient rock on which to hang my hat. I don't know as it is necessary to believe in any god or goddess (let alone multiple) for one to self-identify as pagan, but I'm sure that is a topic far beyond the scope of comments on a post. :)

          • elnigma

            A person can be a Christian and a nature lover (earth being seen as g-d's handiwork and themselves as stewards, etc.)
            Yes, this is a bit wide-ranging. In regarding this post, It's almost as if someone can suspect they are something when they don't "come out" and people still come and address them with a barrage of questions.

      • http://fullcirclenews.blogspot.com/ Sia Vogel

        No worries, Baruch :-) If you look again at what I wrote, both here and at the blog, you'll see that I was not replying to Cara or IPCOD's site but to what I was reading as a response to Coming Out Day on the Pagan web.

        • lynn

          I don't feel the need to come out because I don't feel like I'm exactly in the closet. I've always been private about my spirituality, even when I was a Christian going to a very mainstream church. Maybe it's because I grew up in a secular family; when I started exploring religion later in life I just just naturally didn't talk about it much. One woman at my job figured out I wasn't celebrating Easter a few weeks ago and asked me what religion I was. I told her "I have my own spirituality" and just left it at that. My spirituality is a mish mash of Buddhism, Wicca and some other things, and frankly, I just don't want to get into it with people. Especially with "squares" or muggles or whatever you call them.

          I did take my brother to a Beltane festival over the weekend, does that count I wonder?

  • Nicholas

    sorry. testing facebook.

  • Nicholas

    ok so I've noticed something. when on chrome, I can click the fb button, but there's nothing there allowing me to connect. When I use internet explorer, there isn't even a fb button. wtf?

  • Crystal7431

    I was mostly out from the time I "signed up." All my friends and even my in-laws knew. It took a little longer for me to come out to my parents. I think I've mentioned a few times here that they are recovering fundamentalists. Some things are still new and strange to them. Oddly, they already knew. My mother admitted that she had read my diary years ago, "accidentally came across it," I think is how she put it. Yeah sure. Anyway, it was a relief that it was not such a shock to their systems but at the same time, who knows what the hell I wrote about Paganism as a silly teenager.

  • Oberon

    I have been out to my family as a gay man and a Pagan for several decades, and I would like to share that this has mostly been positive. Occasionally I will get comments about my "witchy-poo" activities, but these are said in jest. When my nephew received his Eagle Scout award, he was required to have a clergy person deliver a short homily and prayer, and I was proud to accept this job when he asked me. Recently one of my covenors, who is also a friend of my family, passed away, and I invited several non-Pagan friends and family (including my mother) to the service that we held for her (the deceased). I think the non-Pagans felt honored to be included in the circle of remembrance for this individual, and they all remarked that they felt the ceremony was beautiful and touching. I think that for those of us who are not only "out" to our communities but also find ways to include community in our spiritual practices, this can be an excellent way to demystify Paganism, dispell fears, and share the essence of our spirituality.