Discrimination and Astrology
©2008 J. Lee Lehman

Text of speech:

Since this graduation is being held in the shadow of a US election, it seemed to me that this would be an excellent time to discuss politics – or not!

Back in 1989, the United Astrology Congress was held in New Orleans. Just before the Congress started, there was a press conference, attended in part by the New Orleans Times Picayune. Carol and Rob were there, and I'm sure said great things about I don't remember what. However, in the midst of all the wonderful things said by the astrological representatives, one of the reporters asked a question along the lines of: if what you say is true, then why is astrology ridiculed by so many people, including scientists. It was at that moment that my Mars-Pluto rising stood up, and I made a statement to the effect that, one of the major problems with astrology is that astrologers themselves do not recognize that the status of astrology is a political issue, and that the position of astrologers in our society is completely analogous to the position of gay people before Stonewall.

My statement drew some rather pained looks from some of my esteemed elders. But I, unlike they, knew just how gay New Orleans Mardi Gras could be, so I actually appreciated the irony that the reporters probably understood my statement a little more clearly than some of the astrologers present.

So now, a nodal cycle later, I would like to examine the question: is the astrological community like the gay community before Stonewall, and, if so, what does this mean for the future of astrology?

So I'm not going to hold you in suspense my answer is yes, there are some interesting parallels:

  1. Like gays, you generally cannot spot an astrologer on the street – thus, astrologers have the protective coloration so that talking about being “out” about your interest in astrology is a completely comprehensible concept.
  2. There is a substantial conservative religious community the reviles both homosexuals and astrologers. Within this context, the practice of either can be considered a sin, although it may be easier to cure one from performing astrological acts.
  3. An astrologer may find it difficult to tell his or her family. What will they think? Will they be able to admit this to their friends? Will relatives stop talking to the person?
  4. An astrologer could lose face in social circles for admitting this.
  5. An astrologer could be harassed or even arrested.
  6. An astrologer could observe parents stopping their children from Trick-or-Treating at the astrologer's house
  7. An astrologer could experience job discrimination or delays in promotion because of her or his interests, and this is legal, because belief in astrology is not something for which there are anti-discrimination statutes.
  8. Kepler College has had an accreditation application turned down summarily because we use the “A” word.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is discrimination, and it's ugly. If free speech and free inquiry are precious to academia – and on paper, they are – then this kind of behavior is an abomination. So why does it continue?

This is the second part of my thesis: one of the reasons it continues is precisely because the astrological community acts like gays before Stonewall. Gays before Stonewall mostly rejected the idea that discrimination against homosexuals was a political issue that could be dealt with through political channels. So gays socialized with gays, created gay ghettos, developed signs and passwords, and styles of dressing to advertise to other gays – while those signals were mostly ignored by the straight community. And gays learned how to pass – by cover dates, and other means – all to allow of a level of social acceptance – even if that acceptance was only a lie.

The second year of Kepler's existence, we had one student who could not even last out one term because her family was so appalled that she wanted to study astrology. This is real.

What do we hear over and over when we come to Kepler symposia, or astrological conferences? People saying – wow! It's so wonderful to be with other people who think like I do. This is a mark of discrimination,

Are you afraid to admit to someone that your favorite color is blue? That you like weaving? Who you favorite band is? Whenever you are afraid to admit to who you are, one possible cause is discrimination. It's not always the cause – there can be other reasons to be afraid. But when you see your colleagues and friends with the same interests going through the same process, this is a sign that this issue has a political dimension.

But granting that it does, why should we care? After all, this is grossly more trivial than discrimination against blacks or women, as we have seen all too clearly in this presidential season.

The reason that we need to care is that damage to the psyche by hatred and self-hatred is a fundamental form of abuse – and it affects both abuser and abused.

How can you expect to develop a true profession in an environment where a substantial number of practitioners are afraid to admit what they do to a stranger? How can we move forward when we feel compelled to accept every crumb of coverage from the new media, no matter how biased or sniggering? How can you expect to be able to be proud of your degree from Kepler College when people can mock the very idea that astrology can be studied academically, except by non-believers? How can we have the kind of voice that demands that accreditation agencies take us seriously?

These gains can only occur through the political process. In fact, our work through Kepler College, and Nick's through Bath Spa and Lampeter have opened that dialog within academic circles: but those ripples have not gone far enough.

My friends Frank Kamminy of the Mattachine Society and the late Barbara Gittings of Daughters of Bilitis were among those who stood up in the late Fifties and early Sixties to protest a status of homosexuals – at a time when most gays told them to sit down and shut up. And notice there yet another tell-tale sign of political discrimination: the naming of societies like Mattachine or Bilitis were euphemisms – like the use of “geocosmic” or “the study of cycles” by astrologers to tone down the reaction to the “A” word. But who, really, is being kidded? A couple of years ago, Zero Population Growth renamed itself the Population Connection, because they thought that doing so would “open doors.” This is surely no harbinger of success!

In reality, it took about a Saturn Cycle from 1969 for gays to achieve a level of critical mass, so that, for example, when Kepler College opened in 2000, gender preference was largely irrelevant. But it wasn't too many years before that where you could hear whispering by some members of the audience at astrological talks by gay or lebian astrologers. Or when certain gay men in astrology felt the need to talk about marriages long departed, or girlfriends as real as Harvey, the Six foot invisible rabbit. And of course, in larger society, the issue of gay marriage continues to divide, even as “The L Word” has become a popular TV show.

When will astrology begin its march toward political acceptance, and how will it happen? I don't know. But long term, if Kepler College is to succeed, then happen it must. The absence of freedom is tyranny, and as a liberal arts institution, we are devoted to the arts of free men and women. How can we teach and manifest those arts when we ourselves are not free, or at least attempting to free ourselves?

Thank you.