It’s a sad truth that harassment and discrimination occurs within the Pagan community. However, I want to call some positive attention to several Pagan events that have adopted safety and anti-harassment policies at their events. While a lot of Pagans tell me, “Duh, of course we’d kick someone out for racist comments/sexual misconduct/gay bashing,” the truth is, this is not always the case. And further, some issues–such as discrimination against transgender people–have only recently become something that more Pagans are even aware of, much less working to address.
First, a quick aside. This is my last regular post for Pagan Activist. I’ve been absolutely thrilled that Michelle invited me to write here, and I think the authors here have done a lot to bring attention to activism issues within the Pagan community. That being said, I’m blogging a lot of places now, plus trying to finish writing books, so my plate is pretty full. I’ll post links to ways you can keep up with my writing at the bottom of this post.
I won’t stop writing about issues of activism, however, I feel weird admitting that my life has come to the point where I have to plan “anxiety days” for when I post about controversial topics. There’s the blogging axiom, “Don’t read the comments,” except when you post a blog…you automatically get every comment sent to your inbox.
And as much as it pains me, within the Pagan community we have plenty of trolls, racists, homophobes, misogynists, and other bigots. This is why I’m a big advocate for Pagan groups and event organizers to adopt safety policies. I believe that it’s one important step in shifting our culture.
What’s a Safety Policy?
Sometimes these are referred to as a harassment policy, or an anti-harassment policy. In general, though, it’s a set of agreements. I talk a lot about establishing group agreements when I teach leadership classes. The essence is, you’re making clear:
- What behavior is not acceptable,
- What the process is to complain about behavior, and
- What the consequences are for that behavior
In the wake of the news that Kenny Klein was arrested for possession of child pornography, and the resulting fallout that included several people speaking up to indicate that Klein had attempted (or succeeded) in molesting them when they were minors, there was a lot of discussion about how to shift the disturbing trend that was made clear: The Pagan community has a history of sweeping abuse claims under the rug. Cara Schultz from the Wild Hunt posted an article about how science fiction/fantasy conventions are dealing with the same trend, specifically, by adopting safety policies.
Similarly, in the wake of the transgender exclusion that happened at Pantheacon, Pantheacon has adapted their policy. I’ll sum up the Pantheacon incidents as best I understand them (and if I got some of the specific details wrong, do feel free to comment or message me and I’ll make a correction).
- Back in I think 2009 there was a “women only” ritual hosted at Pantheacon which did not specify in the program book blurb that only “women born women” would be allowed to the skyclad ritual. Several transgender women were turned away at the door.
- Pantheacon altered their policy to indicate that any exclusions must be listed in the blurb for the ritual.
- The following year, Z Budapest led another “women only” ritual, this time specifying “genetic women only” in the blurb.
- Pantheacon shifted their policy to indicate that no programming offered officially at Pantheacon could discriminate in this way based on someone’s race, sexuality, or gender identity.
- Pantheacon further clarified their policy that private rituals in hotel rooms or hospitality suites are not subject to the hotel policies, however, any ritual that has an open invitation to conference attendees must abide by the policies.
Paganicon/Twin Cities Pagan Pride
Paganicon is the newest large Pagan conference, and they have been very progressive as far as offering programming on controversial social justice topics, as well as adopting a clear Safety Policy that goes along with their General Guidelines. I was honored to be asked to look over it and offer feedback and I think it offers a great, comprehensive overview of what behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable, some of the philosophies and legalities behind that, and what the process is for reporting harassment.
Pagan Spirit Gathering
Pagan Spirit Gathering has also just adopted an Inclusiveness Policy, and I believe that their specific Safety Policy is also new, or at least, the details have been recently expanded. PSG has done an excellent job of making their General Guidelines available which are very useful in determining what’s appropriate, and inappropriate, at the gathering. In fact, even something as simple as clearly noting who’s in charge and who is anchoring what areas is an important part of running a group or event, and ensuring event safety. The event staff at PSG has (to my knowledge) done a fairly good job of ensuring respectful behavior particularly around the issues of physical harassment, and their on site staff is absolutely willing to remove someone from the grounds for inappropriate behavior.
I mentioned in a previous post that PSG and Circle Sanctuary had never fully addressed the transgender exclusion at the 2012 Women’s Ritual, which was facilitated by Ruth Barrett, so I’m really glad to see that PSG has now adopted a formal policy that will allow transgender people to self-identify their gender.
But Pagans are Morally Superior!
I run into a lot of Pagans who seem to believe that Pagans are, by their nature, morally superior to everyone in the dominant culture and thus, that we don’t need safety policies. (That idea a myth sometimes held by those who are discriminated against, bullied, or abused, but that’s a whole tangent in itself.) The gist is that I hear from a lot of Pagans who tell me, “Well Pagans aren’t racist!” or, “Pagans welcome gays and lesbians too!” or “Pagans would never abuse anyone, if they did they aren’t truly Pagans, all Pagans believe in harm none!” or “Pagans are tolerant of all religions!”
I used to believe all that too.
Pagans have a lot of the same ambient, systemic racism and homophobia as the rest of our toxic culture. Despite the fact that the Pagan community tends to be empowering for women, we still have misogyny within our communities. We still exist in rape culture. We still sweep sexual harassment by our leaders under the rug.
While a safety policy doesn’t end this, it does provide a way to address that behavior within the confines of a specific group or event. A safety policy isn’t a quick fix. It’s a commitment to envisioning the future, to being the change you want to see in the world.
There’s a leadership axiom that I wish more Pagan groups would embrace. It’s not if, it’s when.
What I mean by that is, it’s not “if” you’ll have an issue of harassment, it’s “when,” and it’s far better to have a policy in place for what you’ll do before it happens. There’s nothing worse than seeing a disaster unfold and thinking, “Well, what do I do here?How do I handle this?”
Often, our urge–as Pagans in a discriminated-against subculture–is to hide it. “We can’t report this to the police! They’ll come after us just because we’re Pagan! It’ll make other Pagans look bad!” And all that does is make more and more fertile the dark underbelly for those behaviors.
Here’s the thing. A lot of discrimination and bigotry comes from ignorance. It comes from behaviors we’ve learned growing up. I’ve written in the past about some of the discriminatory, racist behaviors I learned growing up. I didn’t even see them, they were just things I did and said that I had seen around me. Growing up, my first introduction to the concept of gay people was from my babysitter when I was about nine years old. She referred to them as “homos” and that it was “gross.” My dad and other family friends would make gay jokes, so all I knew is that homos were bad. It wasn’t until years later that I reversed that opinion through reading about (positively represented) gay characters in fantasy fiction, and meeting actual gay and lesbian people.
Similarly, I had a lot of misconceptions about transgender (and genderfluid) people until I became more educated.
I’ve also learned a lot in the past years about rape culture vs. consent culture. In specific, that a lot of the behaviors we all just put up with are actually violating our bodies and our sovereign right to consent to what kind of touch we are ok with.
In other words–just because someone has violated your harassment policy doesn’t immediately make them Darth Vader. I’m not saying this to excuse bigotry and physical harassment, more that I often find that it’s a matter of education to explain why what they said or did was harmful. Someone who is used to events where it’s ok to be touchy-feely might need that behavior corrected. Pagans who are raised in this racist, homophobic, transphobic culture of ours are likely to say offensive things. The question is, are they clueless, are they intentionally bigots, and are they willing to address their perceptions and behaviors.
Some people are resistant to policies and procedures because they think it means that the PC police are out to nail anyone and everyone for any slip-up.
For my part, I like to think of these policies as the beginning of an educational dialogue and a shift in culture. If someone is unwilling to apologize or acknowledge that they said something bigoted or offensive, or if someone is unwilling to acknowledge that they shouldn’t be touching people without permission–then it’s time to consider booting them from your group or event. Or if someone apologizes but continues the behavior, that’s a serious red flag as well.
One of the most important pieces of a safety policy is the the data gathered from the complaint process. A challenge with he said/she said situations where there are no other witnesses is that it’s hard to consider booting someone from a group or an event when there’s no proof that they engaged in the harassing behavior.
A further challenge is that when all the complaints are funneled to a specific leader, the knowledge leaves when that leader leaves or passes away. And it also depends on the strength of that leader’s memory.
I speak very much to my own experience; I hear all sorts of things about Pagans around the country. People contact me for help with local leadership issues, issues of abuse and harassment, and I have quite a “database” in my head, but none of it is tracked.
When you have a process, as part of your policy, to collect detailed complaint information, you can then begin to derive a pattern. If you get a complaint about Person A three times in a row, that’s significant. Similarly, if Person B complains about a lot of people and there’s never anything to support those claims, that’s also significant. That information then resides with the group/event, vs. being knowledge that leaves as group members roll in and out.
It’s also information that can be shared amongst event organizers. Event A could contact Event B and say, “Hey, we’ve had a complaint about Person C, have you ever recorded any complaints of their behavior?” And Event B might say, “Yes, Person C is banned from our event, and you should also be aware that Person C has a criminal record for assault, here’s the information we’ve collected.” This is a big step up from, “Yeah, I’ve observed Person C in some creepy behavior but I can’t pin it down, and nobody has ever stepped forward, so I just keep an eye on them.”
Safety and Freedom
While I know that some people reading this are cringing and thinking about all the reasons they want Paganism to stay wild and free and without such rules, policies, and procedures, I really feel that it’s irresponsible event organizing to not have a safety policy. And in fact, that safety policy makes the event able to be more wild and free because it makes it harder for the real predators and bigots to hide.
Just the process of crafting a safety policy that’s right for your group or event begins to change culture. You’ll be forced to confront your assumptions as you create the policy, and as you field your first complaints. You may need to adjust your policy over time, particularly as you become more sensitive to what constitutes harassment.
You’ll discover that many things you took for granted are actually pretty offensive. And it’s a process of change–and people are notoriously resistant to change. Some of it’s cognitive dissonance, some of it’s just the function of our ego identities.
Change isn’t always easy, but if you want to begin to reduce bigotry and harassment in the Pagan community…if you want to builds a culture of consent…consider adopting a safety policy. You can begin by brainstorming with your group about your shared values together, and what behaviors do not support those values. You can write your own from scratch, or you can use some of the policies referred to in the links in this article as a place to start.
Already have a safety policy? Please consider posting it publicly so that other Pagans and Pagan groups can reference it as a boilerplate. Feel free to post links to any publicly-posted safety policies in the comments to serve as a resource.
Where to Find My Work
You can find my writing in a few places:
- My main blog on Pagan leadership, ritual facilitation, activism, and personal growth
- Seeking the Grail (on the Patheos Pagan Agora blog)
- Pagan Leadership (on the Witches & Pagans PaganSquare)
I also write articles for various magazines and guest posts on other blogs. You can join my email newsletter for occasional updates on some of my current articles, or announcements when I release new books.
I run several FB groups on topics of Pagan leadership, ritual facilitation, and more. You can find links to those here.