[The following is a guest editorial from Cara Schulz. Cara Schulz is the Managing Editor of the Pagan Newswire Collective and the Chair of Pagan Coming Out Day. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, enjoys attending festivals, and has no tattoos.]
Let me first state that all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. That said, things look grim for Councilman Dan Halloran (R), Queens, although he maintains his innocence. He, and five others, were arrested on charges of accepting bribes and attempting to rig an election. Halloran was specifically accused of setting up meetings with three other elected officials and handling bribes totaling thousands of dollars. The details, and guilt and innocence of each person, will come out in trial and I have no interest trying the case here.I’m also not naïve enough to think bribery and corruption aren’t rampant in all levels of our government.
It may be as blatant as what the FBI claims Halloran engaged in or it may be more subtle and pervasive. How many of our politicians leave office poorer than when they were first elected?
Dan Halloran wasn’t just any politician, though. While we’ve had, and will have, other Pagans and Heathens in elected office, none were as prominent as Halloran. None had been so publicly and brutally outed during their campaign, and yet still won, as Halloran. And none, once mocked and derided for their religion, had either of the two major parties stand by him as steadfastly as the Republican Party stood by Halloran. For the first time, mocking one of our religions not only didn’t work, it backfired. People of all, and no, religious persuasions said bigotry was not a winning campaign strategy and they voted Halloran into office.
Which is why his election as a New York City Councilman was a watershed moment for our religious communities. We could now point to his election, and the circumstances around it, and say, “This is now possible.” It was something many Pagan and Heathens didn’t think they would see in their lifetimes.
His election to office was something we could take pride in, although many Pagans and Heathens wouldn’t vote for a Republican even if the other choice was Prince Joffrey. And many in the Heathen community disliked Halloran personally and by reputation and were vocal in opposition to his candidacy. We don’t always get the trailblazer we desire, but in order to blaze a trail, the person has to succeed in gaining the position. Halloran ran a tough campaign during an even tougher election when all the momentum was for his opponent.
Which brings us to this week.
Some of you may know me from my work with Pagan Coming Out Day (May 2nd). I’m the founder and Chair of this organization, which works to achieve greater acceptance and equality for Pagans at home, at work, and in every community. We help those who feel they are ready to come out, in some way, in some portion of their lives. This is important not just for the well-being of the individual, but for the community. The more people that come out, the safer and more accepted we will all be.
Yet there are responsibilities when a person comes out. For many people you are the only Pagan they know. They will judge all Pagans by your behavior. That may not be fair, but who said life is fair? When you are a prominent person in your city or in your career field, the responsibility to be an ambassador for other Pagans is greater. When you are the first Pagan in an area or at a certain level, such as a CEO of a major company or a New York City Councilman, the responsibility jumps even higher.
No matter Halloran’s eventual verdict in a court of law, it’s clear he either didn’t understand or refused to acknowledge he carried that extra burden of honor. To act according to the highest of ethical standards so others, when given the opportunity to vote for a Pagan or Heathen candidate, could look at his example and feel reassured we are as moral a people as any other religious group. Because we are.