In the spirit of the ongoing discussions happening nationwide among Pagans on gender identity in ritual, we set out to survey local groups, covens and churches for their take on the matter. Though ongoing dialog is occurring, the community still seems divided. One camp is screaming the cries of "religious freedom" in favor of groups being able to pick and choose ritual attendees freely. The other camp is screaming "discrimination" with the point that groups operating in public should have specific non-discrimination policies in place.
read up on it if you aren't aware.
Where does our local community stand? Unfortunately, only about a quarter of the groups I survey'd responded with answers (and my deepest thanks to those who did). In asking if the group had a specific anti-discrimination policy in place, Becoming responded with what appears to be the most specific language:
"Even before its incorporation in 2004, Becoming had a non-discrimination policy. When we incorporated as a church in DC, that language became an official part of our bylaws and has remain unchanged since. "Becoming shall not discriminate in employment or any other matter on the basis of political affiliation, race, color, national origin, sex, age, marital status, source of income, personal physical appearance, sexual orientation or preference, gender identity, visible gender variance, family responsibilities, physical handicap, or developmental disability."
The Firefly House also responded to this question highlighting their own policy of respect and inclusion:
"..Our code of conduct states, C. All members of this community are required to respect the beliefs and practices of other members. There is a no-tolerance policy for disregarding this rule. It is also in our code of conduct that "And ye harm non, do what thou wilt" shall be respected, even when a participant is not Wiccan.
Temple of the Sacred Arts responded that "TosA does have a strict non-discrimination policy. The policy includes people of all genders and sexual orientations."
When asked about their view of how to handle alleged discrimination of guests based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Becoming responded "Becoming is committed to the ideal that the "divine abounds everywhere and dwells in everything" and that each person in the circle carries the divine within them. We affirm this explicitly in our monthly circle of connection. This is a very real issue for me as we do have a transgendered member and we have had transgendered people attend our circles on a regular basis. "
Similarly, the High Priestess of The Firefly House responded: " I would immediately address the situation as it comes to my attention, ask all persons involved what happened, and determine the best course of action. Sometimes, that's meditation. Sometimes, it is telling people to move on."
And to almost mirror the responses of the other two, TosA states: "The guilty party would be reminded of our policy and alerted that that sort of behavior is not acceptable."
We also had one group that sent me opinion-based answers and asked that specific language not be shared. What is interesting to me is that even without specific non-discrimination language, all groups responded with the common ideal that acceptance is the only option and that discrimination of any kind is intolerable.
"I have had some negative experiences in the past in pagan culture; some people wanted to discriminate against me based on surgical status, telling me that until I had surgery, I wasn't fully female unless and until I had surgery. I've had pagan women tell me that I wasn't a woman even with my vagina because I couldn't have periods or children. At a gathering in 2008, it was really awkward for me to use showers at a camping event because I was forced to use the mens shower area; the insensitive festival organizers told me that it would have made women uncomfortable to be in the same shower area with me; however I had attended a clothing optional gathering for years where we all showered together and it was not an issue."
She goes on to highlight a theme that many trans and trans-allies within the Pagan community have been trying to get across for weeks, that gender-identity should be a celebrated sacred experience within Paganism.
"Pagans need to understand the place of transpeople in our world. Of all the religions that exist, Pagan religions have historically always had a place for us. This goes back to the most ancient goddess worshiping cultures in the world; the cults of Inanna, Cybele, and others. I would like for the Pagan community at large to know that the Goddess looks on pagan transwomen as her special consecrated children because of what we have to go through to enter her service."
What comes next? My personal hope is that as dialog continues, our community becomes a beacon of understanding and respect in the area of religious and ritual equality for all. My thanks to the groups who participated in this article including The Firefly House, Becoming, Temple of the Sacred Arts and the DC Radical Faeries. A special thanks to Potpourii for sharing her story and being a valuable resource for education and empathy with the study of gender-identity/expression in our area.
All Hail, Inanna.