(This post was initially typed up on Monday, but I was just too wiped to edit it into anything comprehensible.)
Alas, I will not be able to stay for the entire convention as we'll be leaving for the airport shortly after Greta Christina's talk. Also, some of you may be noticing the glaring omission of last night's entertaining and inspiring events - particularly JT Eberhard's talk, which was one of the most powerful presentations offered at the convention. Never fear, I'll sum up the evening's events as best I can a bit later... perhaps after waking from the coma I'm likely to fall into upon settling into the warm embrace of my own bed later today.
Holy fuck, there is a god! I was so upset that I missed his poetry reading yesterday... and here he is today doing an unscheduled poetry reading! Hallelujah!
Here's a YouTube video of one of the poems he presented for us:
Bey made an excellent point about the diversity of the Reason Rally, saying that as she walked through the crowd, she saw "everyone", looking out over the crowd, she saw America. I saw it too, and it was wonderful.
Bay then asked that we not forget the high we all experienced at the rally and throughout the convention. She asked that we hold on to those feelings, and share them with others. She then reminded us that "being reasonable is what will allow us to progress", saying, "If you love this country, as I know we American atheists do... if you love what this ideal of freedom and justice for all means, we've got to stand up and demand it for ourselves." We need to support one another, especially those of us in our community who are endangered for their atheism (like teens that are kicked out of their homes), and remember that "it takes many tools to make a toolbox" - bitching that someone is doing atheism wrong doesn't help us, recognizing that we all have our own unique talents and motivations does. She finished by urging us to talk to children, to encourage their interest in science, to praise their rational thinking, to compliment them on their intelligence - if we're not talking to the kids in our communities, the religious will.
(I've been looking forward to Greta's talk from the moment she announced the title, Coming Out: What Can the Godless Learn From the Queers? The comparisons between the queer and atheist movements is a subject I've brought up on numerous occasions, and I've been dying to hear Greta present her thoughts.)
The number one factor that affects whether or not an individual supports gay rights is whether or not they know a gay person. The clear message behind that fact is that coming out is one of the most powerful actions an atheist can take in reducing prejudice, but we do need to recognize and support the fact that there can be practical consequences to coming out that can be very difficult for some individuals to overcome.
It's important to note that there is no one right way to come out, and we need to let each other do it in their own way and in their own time. We also need to recognize that coming out is an ongoing process; each time we come out to a new person, it's a new event... and there are some people we may need to come out to more than once simply because they won't accept it the first time around. Being an out atheist is a continuum, not everyone will do it to the same degree and that's okay. We also need to be willing to give it time - some people may be "total fucking assholes" when we first come out to them, but it doesn't help to be a total fucking asshole back. Stay calm, stay firm, and be the better person. Be familiar with the common myths and preconceptions about atheists, but coming out isn't about convincing some asshole on the internet that he's wrong - it's about people you know and love. As for the practical concerns in regard to coming out, make sure your financial situation is in order before coming out, you need to be able to cope with possibly losing your parental support, your job, your community support, etc... If you're coming out at work, document everything and be familiar with job discrimination laws. Coming out can be a scary prospect, but if you wait until its entirely safe, you'll never come out. In making your decision to come out, recognize that the longer you wait, the more you risk being outed, which is far more difficult to weather. Also, take into account the stress of living a double life and hiding who you are. Lastly, try to find an atheist community you can lean on before coming out, most people find it much easier when they have a supportive network of people behind them who know what they're going through.
While there are many similarities between coming out as queer and coming out as an atheist, there are important differences too. When you come out as queer, you're not telling people it's wrong to be straight. When you come out as an atheist, you're automatically suggesting that religious individuals are wrong. The atheistic position is inherently combative, there's no way to avoid that. You can, however, side-step that conflict when coming out by focusing on countering myths about atheists rather than debating the existence of god. The coming out conversation is difficult enough without starting that argument.
In supporting one another in coming out, it's imperative that we recognize that the process is easier for some people than for others. Young people who are dependent on religious parents, minorities, and those in highly religious communities have a particularly difficult time and it's important that we encourage individuals to come out, rather than pressuring them to. Encourage people to come out just one step, come out to just one person, and realize that "Come out if you can, come out if it's safe" may very well be a better message than simply, "come out". The most important thing you can do to encourage those individuals who will encounter great difficulties in coming out is to COME OUT YOURSELF! When we come out, we make it safer for other people to come out, who make it safer for even more people to come out... until coming out is almost universally safe. Coming out is also how atheists find one another, and creating supportive atheist communities is a great way to help others come out. Atheist communities that provide the types of support religious communities do will be particularly beneficial - offering rights of passage, networks of friends, activities, programs, etc... will only make us stronger. The wider the group's interests, the more individuals will be supported and attracted to that group, so don't limit the community to "atheist issues". Student groups are amazing, but we have a problem keeping students engaged once they leave school; community groups that work with student groups are better at retaining those members because they provide a bridge to adult involvement.
On the subject of diversity, Cristina made a great point about how a lack of diversity in a community is a self-perpetuation cycle; the more a community is seen as "belonging" to a certain type of individual, the more reluctant individuals from outside that class, gender, race, etc... will be to join. We have to take conscious action to intervene in that cycle' we can't keep treating minorities as the "other" and treating white as the default. People took notice of the diversity at the Reason Rally; what we've been doing is working, and we need to keep it up.
Finally, there are a number of heartbreaking coming out stories that have been, and still need to be, told, but sometimes coming out is not as traumatic as we fear, and those stories need to be told too. Sometimes, when we come out the reaction is "me too!", and that's fucking priceless! Let people know there are positive stories about coming out too. Tell people that coming out can be fun, and being out is fun. Making those positive statements help combat fear - make sure people know that out atheists are happier than closeted atheists, even when their worst fears about coming our are realized. We're happier when the people who love us really love US, not a fake presentation of what we think they want to see. We need to get that message across - we're happier as individuals when we're out and living our lives as who we really are.