UNITED STATES –To acknowledge the many Pagan Pride Day events that take place at this time of the year, The Wild Hunt endeavored to learn more about the staying power of this movement by answering the question: what’s the longest-running pride event out there, and to what can it owe its success?
The answer is somewhat obscured by the autonomy which touches every corner of Pagandom; even though there is a Pagan Pride Project (PPP) dedicated to supporting these events, it is by no means the official arbiter and archivist of all things prideful. Indeed, the term is not copyrighted out of a sense that no one owns it. However, because of the support structure it provides, PPP has a decent institutional memory. We tapped into that memory through National President Brian Ewing, who has been promoting pride since before the turn of the century.
“There are rumors of single, local events using the name of Pagan Pride as early as 1992, though no documentation of these events has been found.” — Dagonet Dewr and Brian Ewing
The above quote comes from a Pagan Pride Day history written in 2007 by Ewing — then membership director of PPP — and the organization’s founder, Dagonet Dewr. The organization does hold records of events that met its official criteria (e.g, autumn events with a harvest theme, food drive, public ritual, and media outreach) dating back to 1998. All but one of those first events were in the United States. The lone Canadian pride day immediately made the movement an international one. And, of the dozen to dozen and a half Pride events held that year (the online history says it was 18, but in emails Ewing claimed there were only 15), only one has been continuously held to this day. It is in Indianapolis.
A year later, Ewing was one of two people who started the Los Angeles Pagan Pride Day. We spoke with him more about the history and the planning of Pride events.
The Wild Hunt: How difficult is it to put on the second Pagan Pride Day in a location? How many groups succeed at repeating their efforts?
Brian Ewing: I think it generally gets easier to put on second, third, and fourth events at the same location. After the first year of working with a specific location, that local committee learns the application process and the permits required for the location, and it becomes easier to do them in subsequent years and it becomes easier to plan the event’s activities around the site itself as the site becomes more familiar to the local committee. I do not have data for how long events are held at one location, because it varies from event to event. Some events have been at their location for a long time. But other events, especially in their initial years, often move because they have outgrown their location or they find a location that offers better facilities that help them add specific activities to their event (for example, a stage).
TWH: Does your organization provide any tools for transition from one set of organizers to the next?
BE: We do have tools that can be used during a transition. We have a Local Coordinator handbook that is written not specifically for a transition, but for any new Local Coordinator. We do not publish it, but we release it to all Local Coordinators for their use, and it contains a significant amount of generalized information for Pagan Pride event planning, and information about the organization’s structure. The Regional Coordinators are also available to answer questions, and we have a private national discussion email list where one Local Coordinator can ask all the Local Coordinators for feedback.
TWH: Do you find that new challenges arise as a particular Pagan Pride Day matures?
BE: New challenges arise as events grow. Sometimes, the size of an event grows faster than the local volunteer committee, and the volunteers end up shouldering more work. Or, as I noted earlier, an event might outgrow its location. As events grow, it also becomes a challenge adding activities or elements to the event to keep people interested, for example, more varied workshops, more entertainment, etc. We want to give people a reason to return from year to year, although events that have vending tend to attract people for the shopping alone. Shopping is very useful as a way to attract guests and raise money, and also allows the vendors to network with each other, but it is not our primary purpose.
Nationally, one challenge we are facing is that growth in the number of events is slowing. We have to find new ways to expand to new cities, and other countries.
TWH: Is there a secret to making sure Pagan Pride returns, year after year?
BE: One of the secrets of ensuring an event returns from year to year is to listen to the community. Be responsive to their needs and they will continue to support you. It also helps to have stable local committees or stable local boards of directors that always have some members returning, instead of the entire committee or board turning over from one year to the next. That makes transitions much easier, passing information from the seasoned volunteers to the new ones, and ensures the event will continue without drastic changes or problems caused by the learning curve of planning your first event.
TWH: What about questions from the media, and the tone of coverage? Has it become more or less accurate, more or less favorable?
I think media coverage of Pagans has improved from year to year, and not just for Pagan Pride events. Through the efforts of not only our organization but many other organizations, more of the public are at least somewhat familiar with the basics of our religions and have heard of some of our paths. I can tell you that in Los Angeles, media coverage is becoming a struggle because we are not “novel” anymore. However, in other sections of the country, like the South or Midwest, where the Pagan community needs positive publicity the most, events are still receiving coverage and it is generally favorable to them. I do not believe the questions reporters ask have changed, however. News articles are not long, and reporters are still looking for the basics and the sound bites.
TWH: Have food bank staff become more or less welcoming of Pagan donations over the years, or will they just take food and not give a hoot who is donating it?
BE: There is often one or two local events who have trouble finding a food bank. That has not really become any worse, or better, over the years, and it is rare. I have heard of donations being turned away by a food bank after the event, but that occurs less frequently because the Local Coordinators have typically met with the food bank already and made the arrangements. More often, we hear that a Local Coordinator is having trouble finding a food bank before their event occurs, because they meet with food banks in advance and they get turned down. But again, this happens only once or twice a year. The vast majority of food banks are very appreciative of our donations.
TWH: What works when promoting the event to the public?
BE: Social Media has been very beneficial for publicizing our events to the community and the pubic. But it can be a challenge to publicize to the public through other avenues because it is expensive. Newspaper community listings help, as do radio PSAs. Ideally, events are held in very public places. That way, the public is already there for other reasons, walks through the Pagan Pride event, and stops for a few minutes to see something interesting, or shop. That ability to get walk-through traffic is just as important, if not more so, than advertising to the public.
One thing I hope Pagan Pride starts to do in the future is, instead of waiting for “them” to come to “us,” is to find ways to go to “them.” There will always be annual Pagan Pride events, but we can expand our outreach, possibly by having booths at non-Pagan events, or participating in interfaith events. Some Pagan Pride events are already starting to do this, and opportunities like that will help us reach non-Pagans who would otherwise not attend our event. I also want to see events get so large and interesting, that media will have to cover them. Parades attract more attention than stationary events. That will require financial and volunteer support from the community.
TWH: What works when recruiting volunteers?
BE: Recruiting volunteers is a challenge. I understand the dilemma, because everyone is just so busy. It helps to target groups, instead of just individuals. Pagan Pride events that can enlist a couple covens to help them will get most of that specific group to volunteer, then suddenly you have 10 or 15 people. Also, events can spread the word through meetups and social media that volunteers are needed. It helps to ask for help and also list specific things that people can do to to help, so that people can sign up and choose tasks they are interested in. Targeted networking helps bring in volunteers and speakers.
I believe some events are now trying to go to high schools or colleges and offer Pagan Pride as a way to fill required community service hours, but I am not sure how successful that has been so far.
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A guide to all the pride events organized under the auspices of PPP can be found here. If there’s no event nearby in 2015, it’s not too soon to consider organizing a new Pagan Pride Day celebration for next year; contact PPP to find out how the organization can support those efforts. If there is an event close enough to enjoy, don’t forget to bring a food donation to celebrate the harvest. It’s the reason for the season.