More and more we read stories, interviews, and news about Wiccans and Pagans in magazines and the papers, but the majority of Wiccans and other followers of Pagan paths still feel the need to remain closeted about their spirituality. As a relative newcomer to a small, close knit, predominantly Baptist community I can certainly understand why people would hesitate to go public; we've all heard stories of children ridiculed by classmates for their parents' religious beliefs, people losing their jobs and other cases where their fundamental rights have been ignored or even blatantly run over as a result of being "different". When I moved to this small Appalachian town almost ten years ago, I would have sooner cut off my right arm than to wear my pentagram outside my clothes.
Without belaboring the subject of religious discrimination, what exactly are the reasons we Pagans tend to stay hidden? First, most of the time there's no reason for the subject to come up. I've been in many a discussion at work about one Biblical reference or another without needing to bring in another viewpoint. Usually when I felt the need to interject another point of view I just played "devils advocate" and let the words stand on their own. Sometimes it made people think about things from another perspective, sometimes not, but I got my point across without having to do the "Wicca 101" routine... again.
This brings up another reason to keep it to yourself; almost anyone who finds out is going to do one of two things, back away slowly, if not run screaming from the room (Hint: Giving chase seldom improves the situation.), or want to know everything about the religion summarized in a two minute speech during which they will no doubt ask a million questions. I try very hard to be patient about this, realizing that 1) I had no less curiosity the first time I found out that Wicca existed, and 2) this might be my only chance to explain Paganism before they ask someone else who might mislead them through their own misconceptions. With this in mind, I usually wait and let them bring it up, and anyway, running around advertising "I'm a Witch" borders on proselytizing, something I have little patience with or stomach for.
So strictly speaking, since there's usually really no reason to "come out of the broom closet", why do people do it? One reason is honesty: I decided when I chose this path that if anyone asked, I'd tell them. I'm not going to lie about my religious beliefs to anyone for any reason. Over the years, people have asked and I've been lucky enough to have them listen and understand. Fortunately, most of them already knew me well enough before asking to know I was a fairly decent guy, if not a saint, so I haven't had any angry mobs at my door as a result. Some of the episodes were pretty funny, as when my pentagram fell out of my shirt collar one day at work. I didn't realize it had happened until someone walked up, stared at it, and commented, "I didn't know you were Jewish..." (No, dude... count the points on the star!)
Another reason is to speak out when a situation becomes so important that it overrides one's desire to remain private about one's beliefs. That has prompted me to write a few letters to various authors who've equated Wicca with Satanism, as well as to correct people making these allegations face to face. Anyone accusing me of being a Satanist should consider whether they would like to defend these statements in a court of law. Hopefully it will never come to that point, but if it does, I'll be ready.
A third, and very compelling reason to be open about your beliefs is that regardless of what you see on TV, Witches don't, with the possible exception of Laurie Cabot, dress or act any differently from anyone else. We don't have warts on our noses, green skin or wear pointy hats except at Samhain, when we get to act silly along with the rest of the world. This makes us very hard to pick out in a crowd, even to each other, making it almost impossible to find other Pagans to talk to. We need the peer support and feeling of community just like anyone else. Sure, you can practice as a solitary or a working pair, in the case of domestic partners, but having other people who share your beliefs is important. We all need a little help from our friends sometime! The internet and the WWW has changed that to a great degree, enabling me to find several kindred spirits in the immediate area. Before the computer opened the door for me, I relied on classified ads in Pagan/Wiccan oriented magazines. This had limited success as far as finding people close enough to go visit regularly, but did enable me to find out I wasn't the only Wiccan in the state! I was able to find out about a few festivals less than a day's drive away, and made some very good friends that way.
I don't recommend everyone run out tomorrow proclaiming their beliefs to the world; that's a personal choice and one that should be considered very carefully beforehand. Discrimination still occurs. On the other hand, if you are still "in the broom closet" it might not be a bad idea to at least think about how you would respond if asked, "What is your religion, anyway?"