I had the honour to represent The Troth as part of our Alliance For Inclusive Heathenry and Heathens Against Hate at the Parliament of World Religions. There is a whole lot of good things that came out of this years Parliament, but before we can begin the gushing of the good, I would not be honest if I did not start with the caveats, the warnings about the things that I saw that a whole lot of people either were oblivious to, or comfortable ignoring.
“The Promise of Inclusion , the Power of Love” is the theme of the day, and one of the multi-faith panels that had a heathen on it was the panel on oaths and vows in the modern world. Let us use that as a segue into analyzing what is promised by this years Parliament and what was delivered.
Promised are inclusion and love. I admit, I am happy on some level to be home from the land of “Peace, Love, and Brown Rice” as we laughingly referred to it, as the theme of Agape love, or love of everyone in general (subtext; no one in particular in specific) is big in a lot of other people’s faiths. We don’t really do that. Perhaps that is why our own cultural lens of seeking ever to see the deeds that echoes the words causes me to brand part of this Parliament a failure.
Inclusion. Honestly, this is the spot where you would expect a member of a minority religion, and that is what we are, to commence talking about being marginalized when the big number religions get together. You won’t here that rant because Parliament got that part right. Details could use work, but honestly at no time did I feel that we, nor the Native traditions were given any less than equal dignity (if not space and time) for the demographically more common faiths. My problem is not with the inclusion when it comes to faith, it is about people.
Heathens as a rule don’t do Agape love. We don’t unconditionally love everyone. Some say its a failure on our part, but I have always viewed it as the honest unwillingness to say what you won’t back up with deeds. If we say we love and accept you, you have a place at our table, behind our shields, and in our home. If we don’t, you don’t. We don’t say we love when we don’t plan on backing it up, and don’t say you are welcome if we do not extend the full extent of the laws of hospitality between us. Parliament pretty much did not back up their words with deeds for many individuals.
Lisa was a member of our party who had come to Parliament with a torn meniscus in her knee. Heathen’s are expected to suck it up and solider on, and she did so, not without complaint, but bitching about it in the approved manner of a Heathen woman not letting other people’s failures of hospitality get in the way of her doing her duty. She came in a mobility scooter that would have been enough here in Vancouver BC, or where she came from in California, but was, in Metro Toronto and the Toronto Trade and Convention Centre not actually enough to help you get around. Few elevators worked and could accommodate the scooter, it was almost impossible to do doors as the handicapped button required you to leap like a ninja out of the way once you pressed them, which is not often an ability of those requiring handicapped access. The staff at the overpriced executive fleecing industries that run the core of metro Toronto and its centre were more than willing to leap to my every need, as they were to Lisa’s able husband. They were oddly unwilling to even notice she was there, and would often answer her questions, those few times that they did, to her husband instead of her.
Including the handicapped? Fail.
Jade is one of the reasons that I was really excited to go to Parliament. I am a Canadian Heathen leader, but our nation is vast beyond the scale of most peoples imagination, and while I have enjoyed corresponding with fine Heathen leaders from all over this country, there are a number of amazing ones I have never had the chance to meet with, nor raise a horn with. I finally got the chance to meet with Jade, and raise that horn together to the gods at Parliament. This is the plus part, the minus part came in our discussions. Now Jade was not complaining, she was accepting that these things happen, which is something that wounds me deeply, because she shouldn’t have to.
Jade made a comment, “Do you know how hard it is to find a bathroom here?” and it struck me. I actually didn’t until she brought it up, but now I have to say its quietly alarming. Jade is a whole bunch of things, the parts that are relevant to me are a dedicated Heathen gythia (priestess), master’s educated human resources professional specializing in employment inclusive issues, active community volunteer; but the part that was a problem here and now was the last descriptive, Jade is a transwoman.
At a gathering of the religious dedicated to the avowed purpose of celebrating inclusion, you would think that going to the bathroom is not difficult. The problem comes in the gap between our speech about inclusion, and our actual actions. Where does a transperson, an intersex person, non-binary person go to the bathroom surrounded by ten thousand plus deeply religious people, many of whom are really good at dressing up some pretty decent prejudice sets under cultural/religious trappings to make them look prettier than the reality of attacking strangers for attempting to use a bathroom that their particular understanding of gender identities does not think you have a right to.
A lot of places have big men’s, big women’s and several gender neutral/accessible washrooms for all manner of people, and family combinations (try having small children of opposite gender sometime and see how accessible things are). The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is set up for only two genders, and perhaps one person who has different needs per building, if you can find it.
I opened my eyes a little further to look at the programming when some of our women, like my friend Lorrie told me that the coding on a lot of the women’s track had more in common with Z Budapest, the AFA, and Evangelical Christianity’s definition of cis-hetero gender normative woman than it did the rather broader spectrum of woman the Heathen community accepts as standard. Reading a little closer, seeing things a whole lot of little words here and there that made it clear that the definition for woman in sacred spaces seemed to have a whole lot more filters than you would accept in an event about inclusion.
The bulk of the people at Parliament of World Religions left me with positive experiences, especially Allah’s little ray of sunshine who did more with her cheerful babbling and magpie curiosity than any hundred paid ambassadors could in a hundred years to advance the cause of acceptance for moderate Islam, but there were whispers around the edges that not everyone qualified for Agape love as practiced by the Abrahamatic faiths, and a bewildering corner of faiths including Pagan that really ought to know and do better.
On the plus side, a lot of people, including LGBTQ+, people of colour, people of smaller religious traditions without large community present and even people of the mainstream Abrahamatic faiths took to coming to our booths when they needed safe space to just regroup until they were ready to face the Parliament again. On the minus side, a lot of them needed it.
Parliament did a lot to work on inclusion and acceptance. It did as much to tell me that WE ALL need to do more. Language matters, specific language that says we expect to be held to our explicit promise to be inclusive and welcoming to all our people. I will honestly cop to not knowing how to use the pronouns to address the genders that were not accepted when I was growing up. I absolutely now admit I see the real need to have them, to use them, because if we do not, there is NO REASON for anyone to assume we are not quietly and cheerfully deliberately excluding them, because a lot of the community really is. Hear me now, I oath before my gods to learn to do better. Hear these words and hold me to them.
Inclusive must be active and explicit, because hate driven exclusion happens in the silence and the quiet subtle coding between high sounding words of all embracing love.