I first became interested in Paganism as a teenager, about 4 decades ago. There was no specific link, back then, between Paganism and homosexuality or transgenderism, at least none that was commonly made. The published tradition of occultism was in many cases explicitly homophobic, and while I knew even as a school kid that Alex Sanders was “bisexual”, initiatic Witchcraft seemed very, very heterosexual. Aleister Crowley was something of an exception, but he was still a taboo character back then, and there wasn’t a lot of indication that people were carrying forward his homosexual magick. Kenneth Grant seemed to be rather playing it down if anything in his books. It seemed you needed to be a “real” heterosexual man lusting after a “real” scarlet woman to do magick, and even 11th degree seemed to be preferentially heterosexual, albeit menstrual.
Of course, everyone knew about ancient Greece and the place it accorded male homosexuality of a very specific sort, and everyone had heard of Sappho, but we didn’t generally know of the enormous and varied history of transgenderism and same-sex love in a pre-Christian religious context. I could still say that nothing would deter me from Paganism, or deny the sense of sexuality being validated as sacred (that validation was certainly a characteristic of the 20th century Pagan revival, even if it exceeded its original intent), but it wasn’t an obvious invitation from the outside maybe. The inwardness, and the compulsive nature of spiritual invitation, might make that irrelevant, but it remains that mid twentieth century Paganism was not always an obvious choice, if you had a choice.
I travelled quite far from Paganism over the years, though magick could never really leave, and I finally returned formally, right at the beginning of the new millennium. There were a number of things which had happened in the intervening years. One was the rise of a much more popular and user friendly version of Paganism and Witchcraft, with a much more DIY and community minded publishing arm (largely thanks, I think, to the American neopagan community). The other was the internet. The confluence of those two thing I think brought about an inundation of an “anyone can be Pagan” kind of phenomenon (spearheaded by people who thought of themselves as “Wiccan”, without the initiatic requirement), which reached all kinds of people indiscriminately, and which had a greatly updated social sense, including attitudes to LGBT people. I know part of what led me back towards explicit identification with Paganism was repeatedly seeing other gay men online who identified as Pagan or “Wiccan”. Clearly Paganism was offering something to parts of the LGBT community. Whereas once I would have searched for allies in Thelema (indeed I still do, as I consider myself a Thelemite), it looked in the early 2000’s as if a virtual equivalent of the flower children were rewriting the rule book.
Two things here strike me as relevant to a formerly excluded minority:
One is that the neopaganism of the 90s and 2000’s started to reflect a changing social climate with respect to its attitudes to gender and sexual minorities, which was a big potential validation for someone looking for an accepting spiritual identity (and that is a big deal for a lot of LGBT seekers).
The other is that DIY spirituality became a widespread, acceptable thing for Pagans in the 90s, and when the internet arrived it became a big thing that wasn’t isolating either. Just how “solitary” can you be, when you are connected? DIY is an enormous plus for someone from a formerly excluded and vilified minority. It means you can progress safely, without fear of abuse, humiliation or getting done in, in the area where you are most vulnerable, and most looking for support.
Whether neopaganism has lived up to its promise, people will have to decide for themselves. I think it has probably helped a great many people find some kind of place spiritually, though you do not have to look far to see that neopaganism has limitations and problems of its own. Still, in a world which religiously still chooses to largely condemn or negate LGBT lives, it remains that Pagan spirituality has offered an option to a good many LGBT people, not just for inclusion, but for a fully intended equality. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t homophobes and transphobes in Paganism, there are, and there are structures of belief which remain discriminatory I am sure. The DIY option was wise, for good reasons. But Paganism has clearly had something to offer, and it may yet offer more, both to us and to others.