After you've been Pagan or Wiccan for a while, you will eventually find yourself facing the question of whether or not to come out of the broom closet. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this essentially means coming out as a Pagan or Wiccan -- making it known to family, friends, neighbors, etc. It's a highly personal issue, and people have a number of reasons for choosing to stay closeted. Just as many people have reasons for making their beliefs known.
Coming out may not be for everyone, or it may be something you choose to do in degrees. When you decide to make your faith known, you are opening yourself up to all the problems that may accompany being recognized as part of a non-mainstream faith. However -- and this is a mighty big however -- you do have certain rights, particularly in the United States. Arming yourself with knowledge will help you tremendously in protecting those rights.
There are different levels of being out. For many Pagans and Wiccans, simply letting their families or spouses know about their spirituality is enough. Many people consider religion to be a private thing anyway -- no matter what religion they may be -- and are perfectly content to limit the number of people in their lives who actually know the details. Plenty more people are of the opinion that if you are asked, tell the truth, but otherwise don't be in-your-face about Paganism or Wicca.
Other folks are more vocal -- feeling that if you really believe in something, you need to tell everyone, and do so with pride. These are the folks you usually see on television discussing Pagan and Wiccan rights, they're the ones who openly teach classes, and often are leaders of your local Pagan community. Some probably own shops, perform ceremonies as Pagan clergy, or work as liaisons between the Pagan community and the non-Pagan world.
One of the reasons it's so hard to get an accurate count of the current Pagan and Wiccan population is because there are so many people who are simply private about their beliefs. Estimates in the United States alone suggest that there are anywhere from 200,000 to two million Pagans and Wiccans in the country.
As Paganism and Wicca move more towards the mainstream, more and more people are coming out of the broom closet. Some are flamboyant and vocal, others are more discreet and quiet. Others don't come out at all, because they're concerned about the reactions they'll receive.
Bear in mind also that there's a huge difference between being private and being deceptive. If you're a teen who's trying to decide what to say to your parents about Wicca, read My Parents Don't Want Me To Be Wiccan in the FAQ section.
Thirty years ago, coming out as a Pagan or Wiccan was virtually unheard of. The only people who were actually out were Pagan authors -- people like Sybil Leek, Ray Buckland, Scott Cunningham, Isaac Bonewits, Starhawk. These were the people who became leaders of the modern Pagan movement, simply because they were the most visible.
During the 1980s, more books became available on Paganism and Wicca, and one of the topics covered nearly universally was the decision to come out or not. In subsequent decades, as the Internet became a resource found in every household and coffee shop, Pagan and Wiccan networking sites became readily available. Earth-based spirituality became open to the masses, and more and more people realized it was okay to come out.