LGBTQ and Pagan
ConVocation, an annual event that brings together people from a wide variety of mystical paths and faiths for knowledge sharing, networking and having fun, will take place this year from Feb. 21 to 24 at the DoubleTree Hilton in Dearborn. A Metro Detroit mainstay since 1995, the convention attracts roughly 600 attendees each year and that includes Youth Program Coordinator Ian Unger, who works at the Affirmations LGBTQ community center. Unger learned about ConVocation in 2011 when he was living in Wisconsin and has been involved every year since.
“I kind of just ended up going on a whim,” Unger said. “Somebody that was presenting said I might enjoy it, so I went, and I did.”
Since then, Unger’s involvement has grown from attendee to presenter, and he’s talked about a variety of topics. One presentation was even for teens on the intersection of LGBTQ identities and other identities, such as religious minorities.
“Youth dealing with pagan identities as well as LGBTQ identities are having to face both those things, and coming out about them,” Unger said, adding that he knows this from personal experience.
“Coming out as a pagan to my family was harder than coming out as a trans man,” Unger said. “People seemed to be more accepting of [that] … than that I was no longer a Christian. They seemed more worried about my soul and salvation on that basis than who I was as a person.”
Unger added that isn’t alone in this experience. He said that because many people in the LGBTQ community don’t find acceptance among traditional religious faiths, they often find pagan spaces more welcoming. At ConVocation, he added, a significant number of presenters, teachers and staff are LGBTQ.
There’s another rainbow connection that Unger is excited about this year, too: Affirmations’ youth programming will be the beneficiary of the proceeds from the event’s raffle. Each year a different nonprofit is chosen, and because of Unger’s service to the pagan community and the work he’s done for ConVocation, Affirmations was a perfect match. Affirmations Development Coordinator Kyle Taylor will be on hand to sell raffle tickets during the convention.
But the raffle is just one aspect about ConVocation Unger wants to highlight.
“My favorite thing is that I learn something completely new every year,” he said. “Every time I go, as long as I go to at least one class, I will learn something that I haven’t ever heard about before. There’s always brand-new presenters, different teachers, people who come from all walks of life to just share their knowledge with everyone else. And it’s very much knowledge-sharing because all the presenters I’ve ever seen are willing to learn from the people that are coming to hear from them, too.”
Unger added that he and his wife like to attend different presentations and share notes later.
What to Expect
For those new to the convention, there’s a first-timers gathering before the opening ritual.
“That’s very important to go to if it’s your first time because you get the feel of what the Con is like because they want everyone to feel included,” Unger said.
This year, attendees will find more than 100 classes and rituals presented by local instructors, internationally renowned guest speakers and authors. With workshop titles like The Myth of Gender, Magick = Healing, Pagan Chanting, Polytheism and Tribal Societies and Spirit Companions 101, there are opportunities to immerse oneself in any number of traditions. Not only that, in the evening, attendees can look forward to drumming circles, karaoke on Friday and, on Saturday, a masquerade ball.
Along with workshops, ConVocation offers an art show and more than 35 tables of merchandise. Teens are welcome, as well as kids, provided they are accompanied by an adult. Twelve-step recovery meetings are held each day also.
While Unger isn’t trying to sell anyone on non-mainstream traditions, he would like to clear up some misunderstandings about the pagan community in general.
“Everyone within the community I’ve ever interacted with has been super kind,” Unger said. “And it’s really contrary to the stereotypes that … we’re somehow innately evil because we don’t believe in the same thing as someone else.
“I think a lot of people get really hung up on the fact that, if you’re believing in multiple different gods, or if you’re believing in Earth-based religion, that you’re somehow evil, or dark or not following a good path,” he continued. “But really, all the pagan beliefs that I’ve ever interacted with focus on being a good person, doing good things for other people and trying to be the best representation of humanity you can be.”
ConVocation lasts from Feb. 21 through 24 at the DoubleTree Hilton located at 5801 Southfield Freeway in Dearborn. Day passes are available at the door, as well as passes for evening entertainment and drumming only. Find out more online at convocation.org/home.