When I was at the Secular Student Alliance conference in Ohio last month, a reporter from the BBC was there to speak with some of the students. The article is now out — and it’s riddled with mistakes, I have to point out — but this passage is indicative of just how hard it still is (in some places) to be an atheist:
At one of the biggest gatherings of atheist students in the country, in Columbus, Ohio, Jamila Bey from the Secular Student Alliance said there were many attendees who were nervous about being interviewed and had indicated so by what they were wearing around their neck.
“Red lanyards mean ‘You may not talk to me’,” says Bey. “A number of the students we have aren’t ‘out’. Their parents may not know that they are atheist or questioning their religion.”
She said many were worried about being ostracised or were even scared of violence if they revealed they did not believe in God.
I’m not sure how the miscommunication happened, but red lanyards don’t mean “don’t talk to me.” It means something far more depressing, as the conference policies spell out:
Wear your given nametags at all times during the conference. This enables us to know who you are, if you belong here, and if photographs of you can be publicly posted. Note that a red lanyard means that the person wearing them has asked that their pictures not be used or posted online. Please respect these people’s preferences and do not upload pictures of these individuals to the internet, Facebook, or other media.
Can you believe that? There are students who attend the conference who cannot have their pictures posted online out of fear that they’ll be unintentionally outed.
That shit doesn’t happen at Campus Crusade for Christ gatherings.
One of the students, who isn’t out to his father, explained why he didn’t want to tell him:
“I don’t want our relationship to be destroyed because of that,” he says. “You hear it all the time.”
“And you hear about people being kicked out, and sent to bible camps where they’re forced to be religious. I don’t want to lose my father to that.”
This is a way to change that and it’s not news to anyone who’s read this site for a while. We just need to become more visible. Those of us who have nothing to lose by coming out as atheists have an obligation to do so.
No one should have to wear one of those red lanyards.
(Image from the SSA’s 2012 conference program)