Pagan, Pagan Institutions, Paganism, Social Issues

An Open Letter to Cherry Hill Seminary

Hi CHS. Celestine here. You probably don’t know me; well, maybe you do, after the past couple of days. I haven’t exactly been silent.

For the record, I am addressing the individuals in charge over there at Cherry Hill Seminary. I know some of your names, and I don’t know others. Just know that when I say “Cherry Hill Seminary” or “CHS” I am not referring to an institution as an individual, but to the individual people who make up the governing body of the institution.

That said:

Oh, Cherry Hill Seminary. You have some explaining to do.

And you’re not doing it, not even attempting to do it from what I can see, and that’s a problem.

There is no excuse for protecting transphobic individuals, or their rhetoric. Hate speech does not fall under the purview of “freedom of academics.” I could–in fact, I almost did–go on a rant about Ruth Barrett’s anti-trans propaganda anthology (which no, I will not be providing a link to), but while that is part of the issue, it’s not all of it or even the focus. Barrett is only part of the problem, and her incoherent and vitriolic partner in propaganda, Cathy Brennan, is also only part of the problem. At least, the problem I’m trying to get at here.

The problem, CHS, is that you don’t seem to have a problem with them.

You can’t seem to understand that hate speech and violence are not “freedom of academics,” that they are hate speech and violence and never acceptable. You want to stand by a friend, and that is understandable, but sometimes our friends do really terrible things, and at that point you have a responsibility to stand back and decide whether you want to support the terrible thing your friend did by supporting them, or if you want to stand up for what is right instead.

You, CHS, have chosen thusfar to stand for transphobia, to support violence against transgender people, by standing by Ruth Barrett, by allowing her to present herself as a victim, by shaming an activist in private instead of denouncing hate and violence against trans* people in public. You act as though this activist owes you anything, as though anyone owes you anything, when you’ve done nothing to deserve it.

All of this isn’t even touching on Cathy Brennan, who is well known for doxxing innocent transwomen and trans allies and setting hordes of her followers to harass them. She has no care for their safety or their lives. She does not care that her actions could lead to serious bodily harm and death, let alone the mental and emotional damage. Barrett called on Brennan, and Brennan has responded by moving against trans activists and allies in the Pagan community. Barrett may have “resigned” from your institution, but you have still defended and supported her anti-trans rhetoric in the past, and she set Brennan against Pagan trans allies before her resignation. Through Barrett, you are unfortunately connected to Brennan.

You have a responsibility to respond, and to denounce the both of them. If you want to be a leading Pagan institution, you must act like it. If you want to be respected for educating the Pagan clergy that will serve the Pagan community in the future, you must understand that along with sexism and racism, transphobia and anti-trans violence has no place in Paganism or in education.

For the governing body of an institution of higher learning, you have a lot to learn about educational ethics.

If you ever hope to gain back even a fraction of the trust and respect you have squandered, please reconsider your stance. Respond publicly. Stop avoiding. The controversy is here, and you can’t make it go away by pretending it doesn’t exist, or by attempting to shame trans allies in private. Every single thing you have done so far has only shown just how far you are willing to go to protect those who would exclude, erase, and even actively harm our trans sisters. Please, I would love to see that this is not the actual stance of the individuals on governing body of CHS. I would love to one day feel confident enough in you to offer support. Right now, I cannot see that day–you can rectify that, if you choose.

Last but not least, Kirk White, your very own founder and a former president, has called you out on this, and urged you to right this wrong. If you will not listen to me, at least listen to him.

Most sincerely,


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