Columbus and Coming Out

Columbus and Coming Out October 11, 2010

I live in my own little world, where no one makes candles that smell like pie and having a bad case of the flu is the only excuse for watching the Lifetime channel. Thank goodness the wider world intrudes through the interwebs to remind me of important stuff. Today’s topical post is thanks to the far more eloquent post on the subject at The Wild Hunt.

Today is Columbus Day and National Coming Out Day and I support the latter and revile the former. Here’s why:


The money that funded Columbus primarily came from the seized property of Jews and Muslims who refused to convert, not from the personal coffers of Ferdinand and Isabella. He claimed 6 indigenous people as “servants” the first day he landed and captured 500 people in the Caribbean to sell as slaves in Spain. 200 of them died in route. It’s been estimated that the population of the Western Hemisphere dropped 70% in the hundred years after Columbus landed. He was the instigator of genocide in the Caribbean, and though it’s been said he was a typical moral and religious man of his time, it is not true he was regarded as such by his contemporaries, especially in light of his arrest for tyrannical and barbaric behavior.

Bartolomé de las Casa was a contemporary of Columbus and one of the first European settlers in the Caribbean. An ordained priest, he said of the treatment of the indigenous peoples “I saw here cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see.” Another contemporary priest, Antonio de Montesinos, is said to have preached “Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before. Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day.”

If contemporary religious men, who themselves at times held questionable views which they later recanted, could criticize him then certainly I have no incentive to reverence him. He was Portugese, so Italian-Americans have no argument, because real Italian Amerigo Vespucci actually figured out there was an entirely unknown continent here and not the east coast of India. Columbus claimed his severity and cruelty was justified by bringing the natives Christianity but he hardly made a good impression of the religion on the natives. Taíno chief Hatuey is quoted as pointing to a basket of gold and jewels, saying “Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea… They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break…” When Hatuey was offered baptism before his execution he asked whether there were Spaniards in Heaven. He was told there were many there. He declined the offer stating he preferred to go to Hell where he would not see such cruel people.

National Coming Out Day

With the recent spate of suicides it’s more important now than ever to remind our youth that we are here to support them and that life does get better. While it’s not only GLBT youth who are bullied, they are more likely to be targeted as outcast and unprotected. Some Pagans embrace a warrior path and if you embrace such a path I suggest you reach out to GLBT teens. Take a stand for those without a voice. If you feel that protecting those who society has turned their back on is a worthy cause then work to improve conditions in schools. Support our youth, who are our future, and let them know they are not alone. Tell your local public schools that you expect them to take the issue of bullying and harassment seriously.

I’m in support of National Coming Out Day and want to let GLBT youth, and any young people facing bullying and abuse, know it does get better once you get out of school and have control over your own life. It really does.

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