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The Broom Closet in the 21st Century
When I was 18, in 1995, I was outed from the broom closet. I had kept myself in that closet, because I was afraid of how people would react if they realized I practiced magic. A friend's parents (both fundamentalist Christians) found a book I'd let my friend borrow and contacted my mom about it. She was also a fundamentalist Christian and needless to say did not approve of my spiritual choices. I was still living with her as I was in high school and I didn't have a job at the time. She told me I had a choice. I could move out or burn my books. I had a half hour to decide before she kicked me out. A half hour isn't a lot of time to make such a decision. I made a very practical choice and decided I would burn my books, because I didn't have a job and I wanted to finish high school. I hid the books I hadn't read yet and took the books I had read and told her I'd burn them. She marched me out to the back yard and I burned those books. That incident didn't discourage my practice of magic. If anything, it only made it more attractive and also made me more determined to continue learning. That incident also convinced me that staying in the broom closet wasn't going to help me, and so I decided I'd be open about my beliefs and practices, and I have been to this day.
A short time after the book burning, I was contacted by the father of my friend (I didn't know who he was at the time). He was drunk, had a cold, and told me how he was going to come kill me in 48 hours and he'd call me on the hour, each hour before he came. He started singing hymns to me. I told him if he came over I'd defend myself. I also called the police. He kept calling and eventually I disconnected the phone. The next day, in school, my friend told me that his father and step-father, in a rare moment of collaboration, had decided they were going to try and kill me. The step-father would drive the father over to do the deed. It never happened, but it illustrated to me how intolerant Christians were when it came to any religion or spirituality that wasn't of their own practice. It also illustrated what a risk it could be to be out of the broom closet.
It's 2014, 19 years after all that occurred. I've never had anything else like that happen, despite living in some fairly conservative parts of the country. I've written books on magic, using my own name purposely and not received much in the way of discriminatory attacks. I now live in Portland, Oregon, which is very liberal, and where people can openly be whatever they want to be religiously and spirituality with little fear that someone else will try and persecute them. I recognize that living where I do affords me an opportunity to be who I am spirituality, with little risk to myself or others around me. However, although we live in the 21st century, this isn't the case for all Pagans.
For example, in Beebe, Arkansas, Pagans who are out of the closet are dealing with legal issues right now, because they were asked to move there by local Pagans, who wanted a temple of their own. The mayor of that town has chosen to discriminate against the openly Pagan family, chosen to deny them the possibility of opening their church by using zoning laws against them in a blatant violation of the separation of church and state. And it doesn't end there, but you can find out more by clicking on the link above. You can also donate to help that family in their struggle at this time: donate to PayPal accountSeekersTemple@yahoo.com or to Seekers Temple, 608 E. DeWitt Henry Dr., Beebe, AR. 72012
It takes a lot of courage to be out of the broom closet in conservative parts of the U.S. It is no easy thing to be openly Pagan in parts of the country where the expectation is that everyone is a Christian. Stories like the one I've linked to above as well as my story illustrate what can happen when you are out of the broom closet. You are taking a risk by being out of the broom closet and being openly Pagan. That risk isn't just the ire of the Christian community, but also the fear of the closeted Pagan community, which will be less likely to visit you out of fear of being outed as Pagan in a community that is hostile toward those beliefs.
There is no easy solution here either. Telling people to step out of the broom closet, for example, isn't helpful advice because you are asking them to take on the same risk you are taking and while there may be more strength as a result of doing that, there is also fear of losing jobs, friends, and potentially your life because of how people will treat you. At the same time, staying in the closet only encourages the Christians to think that they can continue to get away with such behavior, and makes it harder to change the status quo in such places. So what's a Pagan to do in such circumstances.
The only advice I can give is to follow your heart and intuition. If you can't come out of the broom closet, no one blames you for that, but if you can help, in some way or manner, those people who are out of the closet, then please do so. And if you can come out of the closet, or are already out of the closet, remember that you aren't out to pick a fight. You are out because you want to represent Pagans respectfully in your community and enter into a dialogue that promotes positive change and acceptance. It won't be easy work, but if you can help people come away with a better understanding of Paganism, without proselytizing, you can make some positive changes.
In the early 2000's I was at Clarion University, in Western Pennsylvania, which is a very conservative area of PA. Most of the students attending the school were Christian. I was openly Pagan and there was no student organization for Pagans at that school, so it was fairly lonely. Nonetheless I made some friends who were Christian and we ended up talking about Paganism and Christianity. They eventually accepted that they weren't going to convert me and instead chose to learn about what I believed. They didn't agree with it, as it related to their lives, but they did come to accept that for some people Paganism was exactly what worked.
Paganism is slowly, but surely gaining ground and acceptance. My hope is that twenty years from now such stories as I've shared here will not happen to anyone who is Pagan. Perhaps it will take longer than that, but the more we raise awareness about Paganism and help people in general understand that it's here to stay, and the more all of us contribute in our ways to supporting the community, the sooner such change can occur so that all of us can step out of the closet and be accepted without fear of discrimination.
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