International Pagan Coming Out Day

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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 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, Arthur Hinds, and many more at the IPCOD site and IPCOD’s official Facebook page.

“Recently I have re come out of the closet. I’ve been rebranding my core business and in the process of doing that, I’ve realized that I’d hidden part of myself away to fit in, and it didn’t make me feel good, because not only was it denying a past choice I’d made, but because it wasn’t realistic. If you search for me on Google, you’ll find evidence that I’m an occultist fairly quickly.

Re-coming out the closet has been good for me. I feel like I’m in touch with a part of myself that I’d buried away and allowed to be buried. I’m not listening to fears or worries because I realize that if people choose to not do business with me because of my choices its actually better for me.

I’m out of the closet because I’m proud to be an occultist. I’m proud to be myself. There’s no shame in my choices and the intolerance of others is not something I will support by choosing to hide myself for their benefit. If I make that choice I am denying an essential part of who I am and denying my community as well.”Taylor Ellwood, Magical Experiments

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 should be mindful of the experience of the BGLT community. Specifically, that there’s nothing like knowing someone who is BGLT, particularly a relative, to humanize BGLTs. This is as important for us as for them: without being humanized we’re abstractions in someone else’s hostile theological theories. The more of us that are out, the more humanized we become.” – Dave Burwasser, Board Member Emeritus CUUPS  and IPCOD Board member

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.