Archives For LGBT

Announced Monday, June 16, President Obama will soon sign an executive order that bans workplace discrimination for LGBT federal contractors. In a tweet, the White House said:

Last night President Obama confirmed his intentions in a speech given at the Democratic National Convention’s annual LGBT gala in New York City. According to the Los Angeles Times, he said that we can’t leave “talent off the field.” Then he jokingly added, “Sometimes you guys were a little impatient…Sometimes I had to say, ‘Will you just settle down for a second?'”

All of this coming on the heels of the president declaring that June is “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.” The opening paragraph of the proclamation reads:

As progress spreads from State to State, as justice is delivered in the courtroom, and as more of our fellow Americans are treated with dignity and respect — our Nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

Wiccan Author David Salisbury is actively involved in the ongoing campaign efforts for LGBT equality. He is an employee of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the “largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.” In response to the executive order, Salisbury says:

President Obama’s decision to protect 16 million more Americans from discrimination in the workplace is a true marker for where the national equality movement is going. Although marriage is the “sexy” topic of the day, we can’t forget that workplace discrimination is harming real people every day, all over the country.

Generally speaking, most members of the LGBT community have praised the president’s announcement because it demonstrates a positive momentum toward acceptance. High Priestess Kali Firemoon has been a federal contractor since 1999 and is “ecstatic.” She says:

While I have worked with several openly gay individuals throughout the years, as the sole breadwinner in my family of one, I never felt safe enough to simply be myself. I was always in fear of being dismissed. Contractors can be let go without prejudice and they have no recourse, unlike Federal Employees. This executive order, while not providing absolute protection, certainly goes a long way in making the Federal environment safer.

While most of  the LGBT community is indeed celebrating, the president’s news doesn’t come without a sting. Antonio Castillo, a Pagan living in the “Bible Belt” and a victim of workplace discrimination, explains:

While I think that this is a major victory for federal contractors, the reason that President Obama was reluctant to sign this was he wanted the “real deal.” He wanted Congress to pass a law ending workplace discrimination everywhere, and he was worried that the executive order would be used as an excuse for inaction by an already fractured Congress. Now that passage of ENDA has become extremely unlikely, he is settling for what he can do with his pen. I think that it is good of him to do it, but it does signal yet another failure of Congress to do the right thing.

ENDA, or the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, is proposed federal legislation that would end private sector workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender-identity. The Senate passed ENDA in November 2013 but Congressional legislators have yet to bring it before the House.

President Obama [Public Domain Photo]

President Obama [Public Domain Photo]

Like Castillo, Salisbury laments the ongoing situation with ENDA but he says, “I don’t think we’ll ever view it as ‘dead.’ Just delayed.” He adds:

Our movement has been pushing ENDA in one form or another for many years. It faces huge challenges in a Republican-controlled house, but we are seeing progress every month with more sponsors signing on … In the meantime, it is so important to push for business policy change, reward companies who are doing great work, and changing hearts and minds through sharing stories. Employment nondiscrimination is truly a common-sense cause when most people stop to think about it.

Some critics of the president’s announcement wonder “why he should bother?” Many federal contractors and private corporations already have discrimination policies in place that protect LGBT employees. According to a Washington Post article:

The top 5 federal contractors are all defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics … Five out of five have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation; five out of five have nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity; and the four largest provide domestic partner benefits.

HRC maintains its own Corporate Equality Index which is a “national benchmarking tool” ranking private companies on their policies and treatment of LGBT employees. According to the 2014 ranking 304 corporations received a perfect score.

HumanRightsCampaignPolicy changes have been made and rights recognized despite presidential involvement and the approval of ENDA. However, Salisbury responds saying, “The [executive] order sends a strong message that the time for employment nondiscrimination has come…”

He goes on to explain how the executive order is not only a vital message for private business but it is also an important communication to the LGBT community in general. Salisbury says:

Even if you aren’t employed by the federal government, it’s still helpful to move through your day knowing that the leadership of your country acknowledges your rights as a human being. This extends all the way to teens who live in the deep south. A bullied LGBT child may not be covered by an order like this, but he or she watching this on the news sends a message of hope. It says, we’re working to make the future a brighter place for you. And we want you in it. Pagans especially are in a position to relate, as we’ve had before fired on basis of religion for decades. It’s exciting to see the cross-pollination of progress.

The White House has not yet published an exact date for when the president will sign the executive order. However Obama made his intentions very clear at the DNC gala last night, which brought multiple standing ovations.

One year ago I reported on a lawsuit filed by the ACLU which accused the Salem (Missouri) Public Library with unconstitutionally blocking access to websites dealing with minority religions, and “improperly classifying them as ‘occult’ or ‘criminal.’” In that story I explained that the genesis of content filtering largely began with companies catering to culturally conservative/Christian clients who wanted to protect against what they saw as the excesses and moral decay of our society. As such, these filters often targeted “occult,” LGBT, and even politically liberal sites in addition to violent or adult-oriented destinations. As Nancy Willard, Executive Director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, noted in a 2002 report, some of the largest web filtering businesses serve both government contracts and conservative religious interests.

shutterstock 41035354

“Some of the filtering companies are providing filtering services to conservative religious ISPs that are representing to their users that the service filters in accord with conservative religious values. Some of the filtering companies appear to have partnership relationships with conservative religious organizations. Some filtering companies have been functioning as conservative religious ISPs and have recently established new divisions that are marketing services to schools. Most of the companies have filtering categories in which they are blocking web sites presenting information known to be of concern to people with conservative religious values — such as non-traditional religions and sexual orientation — in the same category as material that no responsible adult would consider appropriate for young people.”

As web filtering went from being a niche market to a multi-million dollar industry this culturally conservative DNA remained a part of their functionality, with companies purchasing/acquiring site lists that had a clear and identifiable bias instead of building new, secular-minded and politically neutral, lists from scratch. Now, this unfortunate legacy has struck again, this time not at Pagans (so far as I know) but at LGBT and liberal sites within the United States’ Defense Department.

Block notice for “Good as You” (Image: AMERICAblog)

Block notice for “Good as You” (Image: AMERICAblog)

“AMERICAblog has been raising awareness over the past week about a problematic Internet filtering problem at the Pentagon, and rightfully so. Apparently, a preponderance of LGBT news sites have been blocked by the DOD, including AMERICAblog, Towleroad, Good As You, The Bilerico Project, Pam’s House Blend, The Advocate, and the Human Rights Campaign’s blog.”

AMERICAblog also notes that anti-gay advocacy sites like  National Organization for Marriage aren’t blocked, nor are several popular conservative blogs. The Department of Defense sent out a statement that it does not blog LGBT sites, only “personal blogs” but that doesn’t explain how the Advocate and the Human Rights Campaign sites came to be blocked.

“…if the Pentagon doesn’t ban LGBT content, but rather “blogs,” then why did US sailors today discover that the gay newsmagazine, the Advocate – which is not a blog – is banned on military computers found on board the ship the USS John C Stennis (CVN-74), and has been for over a year? And for that matter, if we are to believe the Pentagon today that AMERICAblog, for example, is simply being blocked for being a blog, then why is the prominent Republican blog, Red State, not blocked on the same Air Force computers that block AMERICAblog?  One is gay and progressive, the other is straight and Republican.”

Even if the many of these instances of “overblocking” are innocent, there’s still a lot of blurry ground here, and the DoD’s statement doesn’t do much to clear it up. Is there even a criteria for what a “personal blog” is? Why would Pam’s House Blend be a personal blog, but not Ann Coulter’s site? The bizarre and seemingly biased classifications are only inciting further anger, instead of clearing things up. After further uproar and media attention, the DOD now says they are looking into the matter, and will work with the relevant “components” on fixing the issue.

“I can’t tell you what I’ve been told privately, but I can say that I’ve been speaking to someone knowledgable about this situation and I feel assured that they’re genuinely working on it.”

From what I know about the Internet filtering industry I can tell you that this won’t be the last incident of a government institution blocking access to content that shouldn’t be blocked in the public sphere. Not until government institutions make clear and strict guidelines for what can and cannot be included in a Internet filter on taxpayer-funded computers. There shouldn’t even be a LGBT filtering category, whether it’s enabled or not. Likewise, no filtering software sold to schools, libraries, or government bodies should include religion-oriented filters of any kind. As it stands, the status quo has been that marginalized groups have had to fight a highly secretive industry to get their categories and lists changed, often with mixed results. This is not good enough.

The Internet filtering business is fundamentally broken at its core, because it was initially designed to only serve one very select group of people, to protect them from the rest of the world. It won’t be until the DNA of filtering is re-written to serve a pluralistic, diverse, and ever-changing society that these problems will cease. My hope is that these embarrassing incidents for our government, and lawsuits against misuses of filtering software spark more attention to this problem, and ultimately, force a broader discussion on this topic.

Pioneering gay activist and writer Arthur Evans died on Sunday, September 11th, from a massive heart-attack. In addition to being one of the first openly gay men to appear on national television, heavy involvement in the gay liberation movement, and early AIDS-related activism, Evans was also a pioneering figure in the development of gay Pagan spirituality, publishing “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture” in 1978 and “The God of Ecstasy: Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos” in 1988. The latter featured his translation of Euripides’ play “The Bacchae” along with commentary on Dionysus as patron of homosexuality.

Arthur Evans picketing against anti-gay policies at the NYC Board of Education.

Diagnosed with aortic aneurysm in 2010, Evans knew he didn’t have long to live and penned his own obituary. Here are excerpts describing his spiritual/religious work.

“In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new pagan-inspired spiritual group in San Francisco, the Faery Circle. It combined countercultural consciousness, gay sensibility, and ceremonial playfulness. In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures at 32 Page St., an early San Francisco gay community center, entitled “Faeries”, on his research on the historical origins of the gay counterculture. In 1978 he published this material in his ground-breaking book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. It demonstrated that many of the people accused of “witchcraft” and “heresy” in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were actually persecuted because of their sexuality and adherence to ancient pagan practices.

In 1984 Evans directed a production at the Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco of his own new translation, from the ancient Greek, of Euripides’ play Bakkhai. The hero of Euripides’ play is the Greek god Dionysos, the patron of homosexuality. In 1988, this translation, together with Evans’ commentary on the historical significance of the play, was published by St. Martin’s Press in New York under the name of The God of Ecstasy.

In 1988, Evans began work on a nine-year project on philosophy. Thanks to a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, it was published in 1997 as Critique of Patriarchal Reason and included artwork by San Francisco artist Frank Pietronigro. The book is a monumental overview of Western philosophy from antiquity to the present. It shows how misogyny and homophobia have influenced the supposedly objective fields of formal logic, higher mathematics, and physical science. Evans’ former doctoral advisor at Columbia University, Paul Oskar Kristeller, called the work “a major contribution to the study of philosophy and its history.”

Evans work, especially “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,” would end up being influential in the formation of the Radical Faeries.

“Arthur Evans was asserting the role of queer spirituality in his book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, 1978. His book was a strong initiative in the Radical Faerie movement, influencing gay men to examine their relationship between gay spirituality and the old Pagan Nature religions. In his chapter entitled “Magic and Revolution,” Evans writes that it is the role of gay men to look forward to re-establishing our communication with nature and the Great Mother, to feeling the essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together…We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans, and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process as coming out — as Gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos. (154-5).”

Today, as we talk about gay/queer Paganism’s second wave, with groups like the Brotherhood of the PhoenixCircle of Dionysos, and  Ekklesia Antinuou flourishing, it’s important to remember those who paved the way. Figures like Evans not only laid the groundwork for gay Pagan spirituality, they also anticipated the battles over gay marriage back in the 1970s. May he rest in the arms of his gods, and may his spirit be remembered.

On Monday the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, announced the winners in its second-annual Scholarship & Mentorship Program for Religion and Theological Study. The goal of the HRC’s  Religion and Faith Program is “to ensure that no one should have to choose between their faith, their sexuality and their gender identity.” The 2011 Dissertation Scholarship was awarded to Megan Goodwin, a doctoral candidate in Religion and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Goodwin’s winning dissertation is entitled “Captive Bodies, Queer Religions: Scripting American Religious Intolerance,” and “focuses on masculinity and religious intolerance in contemporary America.”

Megan Goodwin

I was able to briefly speak to Goodwin about the award, and here’s what she had to say:

“I’m honored to receive the award, and look forward to working with the HRC’s mentorship program. My research explores the crucial role sexuality plays in constructing American religious intolerance. As a queer Pagan scholar, I’m committed to writing about religious and sexual difference — I feel fortunate that the Human Rights Campaign wants to invest in that work.”

The dissertation scholarship includes a stipend of up to $15,000, free attendance to the HRC’s Summer Intensive, a mentor from outside their seminary, and assistance from the HRC’s Religion and Faith Program in presenting their research at universities, conferences and LGBT gatherings. This win for Goodwin is not only a boost for her academic career, but is a step in legitimizing perspectives and scholarship from religious minorities in the United States. Contemporary Pagan religions have often been at the forefront of recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of all individuals regardless of gender or orientation, and our theologies can be a vital part of the HRC mission to “cultivate a new understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity and religion and effectively counter the repressive environment in which so many students are currently trained.”

News of Goodwin’s award has already started to spread through Pagan scholar networks, and Christine Hoff Kraemer, Ph.D., the department Chair of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary, the premier distance-learning institution for professional Pagan ministry, released a statement on the occasion.

“It’s fantastic that the Human Rights Campaign recognizes the important role that non-mainstream religions are playing in our culture’s thinking about sexuality. Megan Goodwin’s research stands to make a valuable contribution, not just to academic Pagan studies, but to religion and sexuality studies in general.”

Academic scholarships by any number of organizations and institutions are awarded every year, but I think this specific award is significant for our communities. Not simply because Megan Goodwin is Pagan, but because her work was singled out by a highly visible and politically active organization that sees Goodwin as part of a larger mission to change our religious culture. The HRC is up front is wanting to change “how pastors, rabbis, and others of deep faith approach religion and LGBT Equality,” to create a paradigm shift in how they approach “sexuality and gender identity in their congregations and classrooms.” Her selection by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation LGBT Scholarship and Mentorship program for Religious and Theological Study sends a message that Pagan voices, and by extension Pagan theologies, are an important part of that process. My congratulations go out to Megan Goodwin. I’m hoping to spotlight her work here at The Wild Hunt soon.

If one topic dominated the Pagan web this week it has to be repercussions over the exclusion of transgendered women at a public women-only ritual during this year’s PantheaCon, and the subsequent discussions between Dianic Goddess worshipers, transgender advocates, and eventually, Pagans of all stripes, that emerged from it. When I first mentioned the matter on Sunday, only a few sites were addressing the issue, that ballooned by Tuesday, grew further the next day once official statements were released by CAYA Coven and PantheaCon organizers, and has now gone truly viral in scope. One of my entries relating to this discussion has garnered around 400 comments, and the topic is buzzing on Pagan blogs, social networks, e-lists, and message boards.

I’m going to provide a fresh round-up of voices on this issue, but first I wanted to quickly touch on why this one incident, clearly not intended to cause hurt or offense by CAYA organizers, has grown into a far larger conversation than many could have foreseen. In short, CAYA’s Amazon Priestess Tribe’s Rite of Lilith acted as a catalyst for a long-overdue conversation about the role of gender, and transgender individuals, within modern Paganism. If you look at how quickly modern Paganism has grown in the span of a single generation, particularly in the United States, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. When Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” was initially published in 1979, gay and lesbian Pagans were just emerging from decades of silence and marginalization within our interconnected communities, now, 32 years later, we’re having serious discussions about “Gay Paganism’s Second Wave.” In such an atmosphere, the issue of how we treat, respect, and integrate transgendered individuals was destined to stop being a fringe topic dealt with only in passing, or in isolated corners, and demand a wider discussion.

Here are a new batch of links relating to this discussion:

We are at a crossroads now with this discussion, and despite a few sour notes, most of exchanges I’ve seen have been reasoned, open, empathetic, passionate, and willing to create a dialog that is inclusive and productive. I have few illusions that all problems will be “solved,” but I do think what we are witnessing here is historic, and will change us in ways we can’t envision now. I think the future that Foxfetch demands will become a reality far quicker than any of us might realize, and that modern Paganism, a movement so ready to accept change, challenges, and differences, yet still remain identifiable and vital, will ultimately benefit from it. The collective maturity and willingness we’ve displayed so far in these discussions is a credit to our family of faiths, and when future historians look back at this time they will say “this is when transgendered Pagans began to receive the full embrace and respect of their coreligionists.”

A few quick news notes for you on this Wednesday.

About That Wall of Separation: This election cycle in the United States has brought forward an old argument, is there a “wall of separation” between religion (“church”) and our government (“state”)? While many argue that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution decreeing that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, and years of subsequent legal precedent, make such a separation very plain, certain factions of Christian conservatives claim that the Establishment Clause was only meant to prevent denominational favoritism among Christians, and that ours is a Christian country. This division in understandings was in full display in a recent debate between Delaware Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell (who has gotten too much coverage from me already) and Chris Coons.

In a debate at the Widener University Law School, Ms. O’Donnell interrupted her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, as he argued that the Constitution does not allow public schools to teach religious doctrine. “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Ms. O’Donnell asked himaccording to audio posted on the Web site of WDEL 1150 AM radio, which co-sponsored the debate. The audience at the law school can be heard breaking out in laughter. But Ms. O’Donnell refuses to be dissuaded and pushes forward. “Let me just clarify,” she says. “You are telling me that the separation of church and state is in the First Amendment?”

O’Donnell has been roundly mocked in the press for this latest gaffe, but it’s very representative of a certain understanding of the US Constitution, and many feel she was sending “dog whistle” signals about her stance on church-state issues. Far more explicit was Minnesota Republican Secretary of State candidate Dan Severson, who spoke plainly what O’Donnell only alluded to.

Quite often you hear people say, ‘What about separation of church and state?’ There is no such thing. I mean it just does not exist, and it does not exist in America for a purpose, because we are a Christian nation. We are a nation based on Christian principles and ideals, and those are the things that guarantee our liberties. It is one of those things that is so fundamental to the freedoms that we have that when you begin to restrict our belief and our attestation to our Christian values you begin to restrict our liberties. You simply cannot continue a nation as America without that Christian base of liberty.

This is the same sort of viewpoint that drives Christian groups like WallBuilders, who claim that modern Pagans have no expectation of Constitutional protection under the religion clauses. Separation of Church and State isn’t just about Christmas displays on public lands, it’s about the very character and nature of our country. If we swing too far into an understanding that would please Severson or O’Donnell, it could jeopardize the free exercise and equal treatment of religious minorities in the United States. We would go beyond sanctioning “moments of silence” and see reinvigorated battles over teaching Christianity in our public schools.

Is James Arthur Ray Hurting Sedona? Chas Clifton links to a New York Times article about a decline in tourism at the New Age hub of Sedona, Arizona. Is it the bad economy, or “negative energy” from the James Arthur Ray sweat-lodge deaths?

“It was a very unfortunate and sad situation that could have happened anywhere,” said Janelle Sparkman, president of the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association, who attributes the woes that New Age practitioners are experiencing to a lack of disposable income for spiritual needs and not what happened that awful afternoon. “It was not indicative of Sedona or Sedona’s practitioners at all.” But sweat lodges are now far less common, with the authorities shutting some down to avoid further trouble. And the spiritual association is pushing the importance of ethics among spiritualists.

Could this controversy, along with the economic downturn, bring some reforms to the New Age movement? Or will it be business as usual once this controversy fades and the economy picks up? As for James Arthur Ray, his trial over the sweat-lodge deaths is scheduled to start in mid-February. You can be sure I’ll be following it here.

Spirit Day: Today is Spirit Day, an effort to show support for those who have taken their lives due to anti-LGBTQ bullying. While much of the Internet is rallying to turn their profiles purple, some LGBTQ Pagans, like author and academic P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, are questioning how useful the day, and the message of “it gets better”, really are.

“Which leads me to the second point: “it” doesn’t get better; you just learn to put up with it more, and as you grow stronger in your own sense of self and identity, it bothers you less that other people think these things, say these things, and could potentially threaten you with physical violence and worse (as happened recently in New Jersey to several people)…but, you push through it and you don’t let them frighten you or bother you or dissuade you from living your life the way you want to live it. Every time I step into an LGBTQI event, or a march, or a gathering, it is possible some homophobe with serious insecurities and some religiously-inspired foolish notions may come in and decide to attack me or my friends. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I prepare for the contingency that it might. And as far as I’m concerned, they can bring it all they want–they will not get me without a damn good fight.

So, yes, one hopes that it does get better, but I cannot assure that it will for everyone or that such is the case everywhere in the world. Giving the message to teenagers that you just have to put up with it and tough it out (and that one is possibly deficient if one doesn’t feel up to it or can’t do it) is not a good thing, in my estimation–it seems like blaming the victim to me, and I am totally against that.”

Lupus suggests finding strength and solace in prayer and spiritual work, and has provided a spell against homophobia, and a prayer against persecution. What do you think? Is Spirit Day a worthwhile endeavor that will change opinions, or is it merely a purple-colored band-aid on a much deeper problem? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

ADDENDUM: For another Pagan perspective on Spirit Day, check out T. Thorn Coyle, who is taking up the call from two powerful goddesses to go into battle and teach power and respect.

“I want to see us teaching power and respect. I want to see us supporting each other to stand tall, rather than cutting the tallest person in the room down to a more comfortable size. Many people I know are teaching this to their teens and children, and trying to do this in their communities. This Samhaintide, can we all commit to doing a bit more? Can we examine the ways in which we – personally or communally – are acting out of disrespect, fear, force, or powerlessness?

Last year, some of us made a pledge to the Morrigan to help each other grow strong. For myself, I have done more work getting body and soul to a place of health and fitness than ever before. I have gained muscle and am gaining weight. My core is bigger. I’ve trained. I’m back studying hand-to-hand combat with a teacher who is even more skilled than the one I had before. I know that others have been training, too. This Samhain, my community is honoring our promise by teaching and learning basic self-defense. This starts with physical posture and extends to our energy bodies. The presence of centered pride in our midst immediately ratchets up the presence of self-respect in the room. That is where we will begin. From there, we will learn to move, to defend, to break out of locks and set ourselves free.

My hope is that this workshop, this simple introduction to self-defense, will be able to be taught in multiple places. It feels important enough to my partner and I that we have submitted a proposal to teach it at Pantheacon and I am already planning to take it to Houston. We don’t have any certificates saying we are qualified to do this. All we have is our own training, a push from two powerful Goddesses, a call from community, and this need. This need arises from the images of every youth who committed suicide this year. If parents, children, and friends all carry a sense of internal power and help foster that in each other, everything in the world changes.”

Feel free to share other Pagan perspectives on Spirit Day in the comments!

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

While I was spending a lot of time covering the elections (and controversies) of Pagan candidates Dan Halloran and Alice Richmond, it seems I overlooked the fact that there was an already-elected openly-Pagan politician out there. However, thanks to Tony Mierzwicki’s interview with Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri, I’m up to speed.

“At 17, when I went off to college, my spirituality did as well. I finally came to realize that the connection I *had* forged, the voice I’d heard in the woods since I was a small child, was Artemis. I was introduced to paganism by a very soft-polytheistic Wiccan; from there, I ran through the usual assortment of Llewellyn publications and wound up with a sort of mish-mosh. I spent twenty years of wrangling through various efforts at implementation, trying somehow to fit my beliefs to Wicca. I tried this sort of “take the best from each” approach – the “many facets” concept that is so popular with a lot of pagans today. But it never really worked for me. I finally realized that my beliefs would never fit Wicca… and that there was this amazing old way that actually *did* fit. When it all boiled down, I needed the hard, deep roots of Hellenism. I needed Hesiod’s Theogeny, his Works and Days. I needed that cohesive pantheon, and the culturally complete approach it allows.”

In my defense I had certainly heard of Orsini, but for entirely different reasons.

“Advocates for transgender equality hail the public, albeit low-key, leadership role played by Orsini, who for the first three decades of her life was known as Jeff Orsini, an Air Force veteran and self-described computer nerd partial to role-playing war games. As one of just two openly transgender politicians to win elected office in this country — the other, Michelle Bruce, is a City Council member in Riverdale, Ga. — Orsini is a trailblazer, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality.”

So now we have a Hellenic transgender Democratic Alderwoman in Missouri, and a conservative Republican Theodsman on New York’s City Council. I find it very interesting that the two openly-Pagan elected American officials in this era are polytheistic reconstructionists. Just a twist of fate? Or is there something more there? Needless to say, from now on I’ll be watching the career of Alderwoman Orsini just as closely as I’m currently watching the career of Councilman Halloran.

PS – In an entirely unrelated note, I’ll be a guest tonight on the streaming Internet radio program “Pagans Tonight”. I’ll be discussing Pagan news, this blog, and other projects I have coming up. So tune in!

It’s like George Barna is trying to win us over. First, the head of Christian polling organization The Barna Group seems to hint at wanting a cease-fire in the culture wars, and now he’s humanizing gays and lesbians!

George Barna, whose company conducted the research, pointed out that some popular stereotypes about the spiritual life of gays and lesbians are simply wrong. “People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” declared the best-selling author of numerous books about faith and culture. “A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today … Although there are clearly some substantial differences in the religious beliefs and practices of the straight and gay populations, there may be less of a spiritual gap between straights and gays than many Americans would assume.

I can tell you that the above paragraph won’t win him any fans from any number of prominent conservative Christians. Then again, Barna has been increasingly re-positioning himself as something of a maverick within evangelical Christianity. So what else does this recent batch of polling data reveal? Well, while “straight” America and “gay” America have an awful lot in common, spiritually speaking, according to Barna there is one somewhat noticeable difference.

One of the most basic beliefs has to do with one’s understanding of God. This proved to be one of the biggest differences noted in the study. While seven out of every ten heterosexuals (71%) have an orthodox, biblical perception of God, just 43% of homosexuals do. In fact, an equal percentage possesses a pantheistic view about deity – i.e., that “God” refers to any of a variety of perspectives, such as personally achieving a state of higher consciousness or maximized personal potential, or that there are multiple gods that exist, or even that everyone is god.

In other words, homosexuals tend to be more “pagan” that heterosexuals. But this “pantheism” isn’t a barrier to finding common ground, as according to Barna all the “faith tribes” (including the pantheists) need to work together to restore America.

Citing his research, Barna indicated that the United States has seven dominant faith tribes that hold the key to the restoration of the nation. “We must recover the values that made this nation great and that must be firmly in place for order, reason, freedom and unity to prevail,” the researcher explained. “Our faith tribes are central to the development and application of people’s worldviews, which in turn produce the values on which we base our daily decisions. It is on the basis of such values that a nation rises to greatness or plummets to oblivion. The choice is ours. And it is up to our faith tribes to demonstrate the courageous leadership necessary to facilitate a national restoration of the mind, heart and soul. Without a nationwide commitment to this process, we are destined to become a country of historical significance and present-day insignificance.”

This is an awfully big tent that Barna is building. Is he being prophetic, or simply marketing to the changing times? I’d be curious to know how his largely evangelical audience is responding to this shift towards inclusion, bridge-building, and interfaith outreach. Perhaps he’s making a break from the old evangelical order and embracing the (generally) more tolerant “Mosaic Generation” (aka “Generation Y”)? I guess I’ll just have to wait for the next installment of George Barna’s quest to “unite the tribes”.

Fellow Pagans, it looks like our efforts to slowly take over the nation through secularism have been laid bare by speculative fiction writer (and former House Speaker) Newt Gingrich. On Friday, Gingrich, while giving a three-hour long lecture on “Rediscovering God in America”, uttered this warning to the Rock Church congregation in Virginia.

“I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator. [...] I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.”

Mike Huckabee, who was also speaking at the event, then assured the Christian audience that God, not voters and massive fiscal contributions from the Mormons, defeated gay marriage in California.

“Huckabee told the audience he was disturbed to hear President Barack Obama say during his speech in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday that one nation shouldn’t be exalted over another. “The notion that we are just one of many among equals is nonsense,” Huckabee said. The United States is a “blessed” nation, he said, calling American revolutionaries’ defeat of the British empire “a miracle from God’s hand.” The same kind of miracle, he said, led California voters to approve Proposition 8, which overturned a state law legalizing same-sex marriages.”

We stand exposed! And the God of the Christians is fixing elections! Luckily, the atheists appear to be unconcerned and are still with us in our Gingrich/nation-surrounding efforts.

“There are worse things to be surrounded by. People who support Gingrich and Huckabee, for example.”

As for God’s hand in California? Simply a setback. We were too busy surrounding Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire at the time (there are a lot of Pagans in New England, obviously). But our forces are currently surrounding California and the Pacific Northwest, so look keep a close watch on the next couple of election cycles (it’s one of the reasons I’m moving to Oregon in July). So though Gingrich is on to us, don’t worry, most people think he’s nuts anyway. Now back to my secure Pagan bunker to prepare for tonight’s Tony Awards (a celebration of all things gay and pagan).

Amazon has released a bit more data concerning the “gay glitch” that de-ranked several gay and lesbian-themed books. According to a new statement, it was a massive “ham-fisted” cataloging error that affected over 50,000 titles.

“It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica.  This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally.  It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.”

A process of re-ranking books is now underway, not only are popular titles like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Heather Has Two Mommies” back to normal, but the Pagan-themed books I linked to yesterday have all had their rankings restored. According to the L.A. Times Amazon.com will be releasing more information about this “glitch” soon. Meanwhile, the Internet is buzzing over various theories concerning whether Amazon.com was hacked and the company is trying to cover it up (a school of thought that has mostly been debunked at this point). Over at the Making Light blog, Tor book editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden has no problem whatsoever believing this was indeed a massive cataloging error.

“If you don’t think this kind of clusterfark is entirely possible, you probably haven’t worked in a large organization. I don’t mean any of this as special pleading on Amazon’s behalf (although, full disclosure, obviously they’re one of Tor’s largest customers, so you may dismiss my views if you so desire). I just find it implausible that Amazon would want to alienate GLBT readers and their friends, who form an enormous and valuable segment of both their customer base and (surely) their own organization. Indeed, I suspect that dozens of Amazon executives and PR professionals will be having hurried meetings in Seattle this Monday morning, and that consumption of antacids at those meetings will be at an all-time high.”

None of this means that Amazon.com shouldn’t be sorry about the chaos and hurt they’ve caused (on the contrary), only that Amazon.com probably didn’t have any  nefarious anti-gay (or anti-Pagan) scenarios in mind when this massive de-ranking occured. There are plenty of reasons to not like Amazon.com (or any giant faceless corporation for that matter), but actively hating on minority groups is probably not one of them.