THE HISTORY OF CHICAGO PAGAN PRIDE
Chicago Pagan Pride is one of the Pagan Pride Project events that occur world wide. The Pagan Pride Project is a non-profit organization. The primary purposes of this corporation shall be the advancement of religion and elimination of prejudice and discrimination based on religious beliefs.
Our Pagan Pride event history began in September, 2002, on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. At that time, the Sanctuary of the Crescent Moon, a Dianic Wiccan Temple, saw the need to promote the ideals of Pagan fellowship. We moved the event to Oak Park in 2009 and have experienced a warm welcome every year.
Since then, Chicago Pagan Pride has evolved and represents all Pagan paths, faiths, and traditions.
We’ve collected food goods for Chicago-area food banks, raised hundreds of dollars for the TLC Animal Shelter in Homer Glen, Illinois, supported charity fund drives for the Katrina and Tsunami victims and battered women’s shelters, as well as collected religious items and books for Wiccan, Pagan, and Heathen soldiers overseas.
Our base of volunteers now spreads to the greater Chicagoland and NW Indiana areas, and so we’ve now become the Greater Chicagoland Pagan Pride Committee.
Several goals of past Pagan Pride events has been to celebrate a main ritual, feature the many artisans, merchants, readers, and healers from around the Illiana area, as well as host countless educational workshops and seminars. We strive each year to full fill these goals while growing as a community.
This event is funded entirely through private fundraising, personal donations, vendor fees, and donations of a great many hours of volunteer time. All funds raised or donated are used to support the Chicago Pagan Pride event from printing expenses, rental fees, website costs, food, and legal park permits so that we can offer free entertainment, workshops, and rituals for all Chicago Pagan Pride guests. There is no paid staff and everyone working as an LC, an organizer, and or facilitator donate his or her time as a way to give back to our community and promote the ideals and goals of the Pagan Pride Project Worldwide.
Dagonet Dewr, Executive Director
Brian Ewing, Membership Director
Nobody really knows who first used the term “Pagan Pride”. In name, it owes its origins to the Gay Pride movement, and certainly it is a term that reaches far beyond any single organization. It cannot be copyrighted; the founders have always felt it would be a breach of honor and decency to copyright it. There are rumors of single, local events using the name of Pagan Pride as early as 1992, though no documentation of these events has been found. We can, however, safely identify and document the first organized movement to support and encourage public celebrations of Pagan Pride in communities all over the world — the Pagan Pride Project.The history of the Pagan Pride Project starts with Cecylyna Brightsword’s — now Cecylyna Dewr — participation in the Pagan Awareness League, or PAL, the organizaiton founded after the Witches’ League for Public Awareness eliminated their state representative program in 1997. During her time as a member of PAL, Cecylyna proposed a formal program to the PAL membership and director to facilitate celebrations of Pagan Pride on a local level to be called Pagan Pride Day.
From the beginning, Cecylyna’s vision of what Pagan Pride Day should be included several departures from the celebrations common to the Pagan community. Her proposal included the central core of what has become the Pagan Pride Project, three elements designed to increase community good will and public relations towards Paganism: a public ritual or celebration open to Pagans, non-Pagans, passersby, and onlookers; press releases and public relations activities designed to encourage positive media portrayal of Pagans and Paganism; and a food and materials drive for a local charity, food bank, shelter, or refuge, to symbolize both Pagan responsibilities to their town, city, or state and in honor of the various Thanksgiving holidays common to most Pagan traditions held around Fall Equinox. While many Pagan Pride Day celebrations have included more than this, every celebration ever held as a part of the Pagan Pride Project has included at least two, if not all, of these elements. (Two of the celebrations in 1998 were food drives only.)The proposal generated some interest in PAL, but a combination of personal issues in Cecylyna’s life and PAL’s sporadic activity meant that PPD remained inactive until around Lammas of 1998, when Cecylyna returned with a public apology for her inactivity and in six weeks with the help of a dedicated group of Local Coordinators held the first ever Pagan Pride Day on September 19, 1998.
There were 18 celebrations that first year, 17 in the United States and one in Canada. (See the attached 1998 event list.) All were small, and while attendance figures were never totaled formally, a rough estimate would probably include about 800-1000 attendees. Food drive numbers were not collected. While many Local Coordinators were PAL members, Pagan Pride Day was never a part of PAL’s official events, and by the end of the 1998 celebrations the term ‘Pagan Pride Project’ was being used for the organization, usually shortened to PPP. PAL soon after dissolved and reformed as PACT, which has no relationship to the Pagan Pride Project.
The participants of the 1998 events were determined to try to do it again in 1999, and Pagan Pride Day was set for September 25 of that year. (A side note here. While Pagan Pride Day is set each year, Pride events are actually scheduled within a ‘window’ to either side of the date. For 2003, this window was from August 29 to October 6.) However, Cecylyna was promoted to management at her mundane job that year. This, combined with some personal issues, meant no Pride planning was done until May, when Cecylyna’s then-husband and priest Dagonet Dewr came on board as Membership Director. With Cecylyna providing direction, Dagonet performing organizational and event recruitment duties, and dedicated Local Coordinators doing the hardest work of all in bringing communities together, 1999’s totals included 43 events, 4589 confirmed attendees, and 4715 pounds of food and goods collected to go to local food banks, shelters, and refuges. (See the 1999 event list here. Note: this list and these numbers differ from certain 2000 press releases, as it eliminates all Pride events that were never confirmed directly to the Membership Director.) 1999 also brought the first protesters to Pagan Pride events. Thankfully, no protests were ever confrontational; in fact, Pagan Pride Birmingham neatly defused an Operation Rescue attempt to protest at PPD Birmingham by selling them booth space.
In 2000, the theme was organization. This year brought the establishment of the Pagan Pride Project Regions in order to better coordinate efforts in various areas. These new Regional Coordinators became members of the Pagan Pride Board in order to take some of the workload off Dag and Cec and to better serve the Pagan community. The Board has been instrumental in setting policies and goals for PPP and in maintaining growth and accountability. The Pagan Pride Project now has effective means of dealing with any issue, question, or problem facing a Local Coordinator, and provides immediate response help if Local Coordinators should need guidance, moral support, or just a good word. The role of the Pagan Pride Day e-mailing lists has become paramount in providing immediate national response; if a problem arises, one email can get response and feedback from all the Local and Regional Coordinators. Help and advice is never more than an Internet connection away.
2000 also brought Pagan Pride its first national press coverage in the New York Times and Associated Press. Pagan Pride Day was September 23 of that year, and attendance was, frankly, stunning. 55 fully confirmed and reported events brought a Pride-wide attendance of 9,359 people. 8,671 pounds of food and goods were donated to various charities, in addition to $4,961.11 in cash. Attendance at events ranged from the 1571 people who enjoyed Pagan Pride Day Houston’s live bands, to a brave 12 souls who braved wintry weather and howling winds in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. (See the 2000 event list here.)
2001 was a breakout year, but also a year deeply touched with sorrow, as the tragedy of 9/11 affected all of us. We had our first events in Europe, including Rome, Southhampton UK, and Lisbon. We had our first events in South America in Brasilia and Sao Paulo. Press coverage was not as good, mostly because of 9/11 — and frankly, that was as it should be. While 9/11 affected some Pride events, most notably New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Las Vegas (all of which were rescheduled or moved or both), Pagans in America and elsewhere pulled together and showed the world that we, too, could stand united and celebrate diversity and freedom.
Totals for 2001 ranged from Tucson’s 2300 and Sacramento’s 2100 to the 17 valiant souls who celebrated at a twice-rescheduled-and-moved Pagan Pride Atlanta. Final attendance was verifiably reported at 17,494 people at 74 events. 15,175 pounds of food and goods were collected for charity, including much of it going to 9/11 relief efforts, and $15,090.21 was donated to charitable causes. All in all, an incredible outpouring.
2002 continued Pride’s growth, with a final count of 106 confirmed events. Attendance skyrocketed, with the final total being 31,506; this number included not just one, but TWO new single-event records (Brisbane, Australia’s 4000 and Jacksonville, Florida, USA’s 3000). Over twelve tons (24,244.55 lbs, to be exact) of food and goods were collected for local charities, and Pagans donated $19,202.48 to worthy causes worldwide. Press coverage also improved, specifically on the local level, with over 70 positive mentions in the print and broadcast media. However, protestor activity also increased, with nine events having a visible protestor presence.
2002 also marked continued refinement of growth on Pride’s administrative level. Dave Davidson was named to the newly created position of Financial Coordinator, and will oversee Pride’s continued growth in fundraising. Three new Regional Coordinators were named in the newly created Upper Plains, Northern/Western Europe, and Central/Southern Europe regions.
Numbers in 2003 and 2004 continued to increase; for the first time, attendance broke 30,000 in 2003 and 40,000 in 2004. Over twenty tons of food and goods were collected over this time, and Pride events were held in every state in the US, as well as continued strong presences in Italy and Brazil. Portugal joined the list of countries who have held Pride events. Also during this time, longtime Executive Director Cecylyna stepped down to take on other challenges in her life; Dagonet Dewr stepped into the position of Executive Director and Brian Ewing moved from West Regional Coordinator into the position of Membership Coordinator and Vice-President.
Also in 2003, the Pagan Pride Project became a regular supporter of Circle Sanctuary’s Lady Liberty League, and sent a representative to the League’s annual meeting at Pagan Spirit Gathering. The original attendee was XD Dagonet Dewr; however, since 2005 the regular participant has been Ohio Valley RC Jill Medicine Heart, whose efforts were one of the linchpins in the April 2007 Veterans’ Administration decision to end years of discrimination and place the pentacle on the accepted symbols’ list for veteran’s headstones – a movement that Pagan Pride has supported formally since Circle first began their efforts in this arena.
2005 continued growth, with over 40,000 attendees raising almost $7300 for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita relief on top of our normal charitable collections. Almost 26,000 pounds of food, clothing, water, toys, and other items were collected and sent to either local food banks or hurricane relief. Also in 2005, Pagan Pride NYC broke 10,000 attendees; a record matched in 2006.
2006 was a year of challenges and growing pains. Dagonet Dewr relocated from Indianapolis, IN to Austin, TX, and took a semi-sabbatical in order to get his personal life moving forward following his divorce. In his mostly-absence, the board, led by Brian Ewing and Secretary Aisling, did a magnificent job to keep Pagan Pride viable in 2006. While no growth was recorded, no ground was lost; and the movement entered its tenth year ready for renewed efforts. Pagan Pride continued its inclusive reaching out to the non-Pagan community, with notable figures attending local events.
Now, in 2007, we celebrate Ten Years of Pride with our Tenth Annual Pagan Pride Day, scheduled for the time period between August 25th and October 7th.
©2007, Dagonet Dewr
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Pagan Pride Project – www.paganpride.org