The recent equinox not only marked the change of natural seasons, but also the midpoint of the official Pagan Pride season, which runs from August 1 to October 31, 2014. Pagan Pride Days have been held for at least sixteen years, and probably a lot longer than that. The popularity and success of these events continues to rise, according to some metrics. However there’s an ongoing debate over whether or not the movement is achieving its softer goal – outreach beyond of the Pagan community.
According to reports from the Pagan Pride Project (PPP), the organization behind many of these events, the numbers look great. Carla Smith, Vice President/Membership Director of the PPP provided these statistics:
We have 110 events scheduled for 2014 and 15 of these are new events. We have events in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Italy and Austria. In 2013, we had 98 events across the USA; Canada; Mexico City; Brazil; the Dominican Republic; Rome; and Vienna, Austria. Our 2013 attendance was 65,717: an increase in attendance by over 20,000 when compared to 2012. We collected 39,962.80 pounds of nonperishable food and donated $6,918.48 to charities including the Wounded Warrior Project. We donated 1,262.60 pounds of pet food as well as dog collars and leashes along with other necessities for animal rescue groups. We collected and donated items for Operation Circle Care for Pagan military personnel, clothing and baby items to a charity for infants, coats for the homeless, [and] 53 pounds of sugar for a bee apiary. Our attendees donated 54 pints of blood for the Red Cross and local hospitals. We donated 78 books to prisons for Pagan inmates to further their knowledge.
The events which were new this year included nine in the United States, half a dozen in Brazil, one in Colombia and another in Canada.
Charitable donations, specifically food drives, are a requisite part of any Pagan Pride Day event supported by the PPP. Organizers must also agree to coordinate “a public gathering where Pagans can network with each other and celebrate an Autumn Equinox ritual.” In addition, they are charged with reaching out to local news outlets with press releases for “media coverage of [the] events in order to present the truth about Paganism to our communities, refute common misconceptions, and draw political attention to Paganism in order to try to prevent legislative discrimination against Pagans.”
The success of that public outreach is hard to measure, and that may be what has spurred a discussion about the purpose of PPD events in the Official Pagan Pride Project Facebook group. One member expressed a concern that many PPD events seem to be geared towards Pagans alone, not the wider community. He wrote:
I have gone to many PPDs over the last several years all the activities, workshops, rituals and etc. are geared towards Pagans. No what is Paganism workshops, no this is what and why we do what we do. Rituals take place unexplained. Advertising is strictly to Pagan groups. Media involvement has become unwelcomed. Have we given way to PPDs just being another Pagan exclusive festival?
The Wild Hunt reached out to the Pagan Pride Project, and spoke with several PPD local coordinators to get their take on the issue of public outreach. While it’s basic to the PPP’s mission, the implementation can be complicated.
Location, Location, Location
Where a pride event takes place can determine if it’s a Pagan party or public outreach event. Public parks are the venue preferred by the Pagan Pride Project, but between fees and insurance requirements, they can be cost-prohibitive. Some events are hosted at Unitarian Universalist churches, but an indoor location never has as much visibility as a similar outdoor one, which means extra efforts are needed to draw people in who wouldn’t normally stop by a UU church.
Changing locations worked well for Gina Leslie, who said:
Three years ago we moved our Los Angeles/Orange County event to a much more public location for that very reason. We loved where we were and the park personnel were great to work with but it wasn’t something the public would see driving by and stop to investigate. Now we are in the middle of a very active tourist area in Long Beach, on a very busy main street and we have lawn banners announcing that the event is free and open to the public.
A visible location hasn’t been the sole solution in Kansas City, according to local coordinator Sam Shryock. “We are in a Farmer’s Market shelter,” he said, “so I believe we are on neutral ground and easily accessible.” However, he added, “I struggle to find the angle that would make people want to come to this event.”
In Morgantown, West Virginia, Marc Roney reported that it was difficult to get local Pagans to show up for something in a public setting at first. However, the PPD there has grown from about a dozen people in 2009 to about 110 this year.
Preaching to the Choir
Concern about religious persecution is very real for some Pagans, and none of the local coordinators interviewed actually tracks whether attendees identify as Pagan, seeker, or something else. While the lack of data is understandable, it can lead to suppositions about whether or not the public is actually involved.
“This year we are trying something new, and providing name tags that state, ‘I’m a Proud Pagan because…,” said Shyrock. We will see how well that turns out.” At the same time, the Kansas City event has de-emphasized the word “Pagan” and instead markets itself as a harvest festival. His experience has taught him, “People do not seek out different [sic], they avoid it. I think most people are not interested in knowing about Paganism, they would prefer to avoid it or argue with it.”
Roney said that “some courteously curious Christians” have attended, and he adds, “a small part of our funding for this year came from a Catholic couple who were curious about our event.” But most of those who show up at the Morgantown PPD are, indeed, Pagan themselves. Roney attributes the rise in the number of Pagan attendees to the fact that fears about “trouble with Christians” have not manifested.
Timothy Anderson and his group, the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus, and Pan, have been involved with the Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day as both vendors and main ritual organizers for several years. “[I’m] not sure how many non-Pagans are getting involved, [but] it seems like it is mostly if not all Pagans,” he said.
Limited Promotional Outlets
With small budgets, local coordinators rely on as much free publicity as they can muster. That means much of the advertising and publicity comes through Pagan-owned businesses like metaphysical shops. It can be an effective way to reach local Pagans and seekers, but not for reaching those people who may have the preconceived notions that PPD is intended to dispel. Free web sites and event calendars bolster those efforts. However, without a means to track the religious affiliation of attendees, determining who actually shows up continues to be a challenge. Privacy concerns will likely keep that from changing anytime soon. This leads to a frustrating irony. When the day comes that all Pagans are comfortable acknowledging their religion publicly, Pagan Pride events might no longer be needed . . . but, in order to reach that day and overcome false assumptions, the impact of such events on the community is needed.