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Why Come Out? (for Tempest Smith)

“For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one’s sexual orientation/identity. Coming out includes both exploring one’s identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBT people. LGBT individuals are forced to come to terms with what it means to be different in a society that tends to assume everyone to be heterosexual and that tends to judge differences from the norm in negative ways. The coming out process is very personal…” from the University of Illinois Student Counseling Center

May 2nd has been decreed as “International Pagan Coming Out Day.”

I use the quote above because “coming out” is something borrowed from the Queer Liberation movement. Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs pioneered this idea in the 19th century, realizing that coming out to various hidden parts of our being was an aid to human emancipation. He also was the first to speak out against anti-homosexuality laws in Germany in 1867.

What has this to do with Pagans? We live in a time where Pagans are still actively discriminated against in some places, where misinformation flows freely, and where rights are taken away by simple virtue of someone practicing his or her religion. The more of us that can come out to our families, co-workers, and friends, the more help becomes available to those who feel they still cannot.

There will be some of us that don’t come out because of very real fears of losing children or jobs. Those of us who can come out, support these others by doing so. I know some of us will say, “We just don’t talk about religion at work,” and yet, some of you know that this co-worker is Christian, and that one, Hindu. How do you know? No big deal, just a small comment here or there, or signs that point to it. That “no big deal” is what we are looking for. Just another religious flavor in a pluralistic society. The more of us there are that people can point to as high-functioning members of the workplace, the school system, the local environmental group, the union, the fewer of us will run the risk of having our children taken from us for virtue of being Heathen or Wiccan parents. The more of us there are that give people some understanding of Paganism, the fewer Tempest Smiths there will be, committing suicide as a result of anti-Pagan bullying, and the more teens like Angel Cat there will be, who wrote a helpful piece on coming out to your parents.

I’ve chosen to be out with most things. That started young, for me, in standing up for Gay rights with my parents when I was 13, before I had even acknowledged to myself that I was queer. It was an issue of social justice for me. I came out as Pagan not too much later. On one hand, people might look at my life and say “It is easy for Thorn to be out.” Yes, it is easy now, because back when it was hard, I didn’t let that stop me. So now, yes, it feels easy to tell the businessman next to me on the airplane about my “business trip” teaching spirituality and Paganism. I’ve had some pretty interesting conversations this way.

May 2nd is a perfect day for Pagan Coming Out. When someone at work, or school, or the supermarket is talking about their weekend, we can say, “I danced around a Maypole. No, it’s not just a quaint old custom. My friends and I are Pagan.” Or “My family had a feast and bonfire yesterday to shake off the last of Winter and honor our Spring plantings.” Sure, it might feel strange at first, but hopefully, we will all get over it.

By getting over it, the next time a child wants to wear a Mjollnir pendant or pentagram to school, he won’t be asked to remove it, or get sent home, or bullied. By getting over it, a woman won’t lose her job… By getting over it, we get a chance to educate each other a little better, building a pluralistic society. By getting over it, we can walk around a bit taller. By getting over it, our children’s children won’t have to go through such a wrenching coming out. We will have paved the way.

I speak only to those who do not feel their lives, jobs, or children are in imminent danger. I speak to those who haven’t come out simply because it feels a bit easier, less complicated, less awkward. Can those in the latter camp at least consider it? If not this Monday, perhaps some other time.

For inspiration, I leave you with the words of an ancestor hero, Harvey Milk. Perhaps we can think of Tempest Smith while we listen.

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