Mormons build bridges, should Bahais march in a Pride March as a group?June 11, 2012
A friend of mine asked on a Bahai discussion group on Facebook:
“Can we ever envision a local Baha’i Community that would reach out with such a visible expression of love and inclusion to the LGBT community as this Salt Lake City Mormon group did by marching in the gay pride parade?”
First a few facts about a gay Pride March:
Gay Pride, LGBT Pride or simply Pride is the positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to promote their self-affirmation, increase their visibility as a social group, build community, and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance. Pride, as opposed to shame and social stigma, is the predominant outlook that bolsters most LGBT rights movements throughout the world. What’s more, Pride has become synonymous with LGBT-themed organizations, institutes, foundations, book titles, periodicals, a library and even a cable TV station.
Ranging from solemn to carnivalesque, Pride events are typically held during LGBT Pride Month or some other time that commemorates a turning point in a country’s LGBT history, for example Moscow Pride in May for the anniversary of Russia’s 1993 decriminalization of homosexuality. Some types of Pride events include LGBT Pride parades and marches, rallies, commemorations, community days, dance parties, and large festivals such as Sydney Mardi Gras, which spans several weeks.
Summarized from Wikipedia, accessed 9 June 2012.
The same page on wikipedia was some history about the extreme repression of LGBT individuals in the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s including the “Stonewall riots” in New York in 1969 when for the first time in the U.S. people stood up against the persecution of LGBT people by the police. In response to this social and legal oppression, a number of groups coordinated some of the earliest demonstrations of the modern LGBT rights movement. These “Annual Reminders” were to inform and remind Americans that LGBT people did not enjoy basic civil rights protection.
Here in the Netherlands the Amsterdam Gay Pride is a celebration of gay culture, pure and simple, and so there are no demonstrations or protests. “Roze Zaterdag” (Pink Saturday: the last Saturday in June) is a day for solarity and demonstration for equality and is celebrated in a different city each year. It began in 1979 in response to a Roman Catholic bishop’s pronouncement against homosexuality and was called Pink Saturday in response to the Roman Catholic uses of the terms White Thursday and Good Friday.
So back to the discussion on Facebook: a queer Bahai wrote:
“Pride parades can serve many purposes, depending on the locale, including: raising awareness of the existence of LGBTQ people, celebrating the culture and contributions of the LGBTQ community, showing support for LGBTQ people (and opposition to hate and discrimination), etc. Pride parades often include contingents from supportive churches/religious groups and social justice organizations. If you’ve never been to a Pride parade, I’d encourage you to check one out.”
and in response to another Bahai stating “Please keep matters of your sexuality in your bedroom because no one cares. It adds no value and it is completely pointless.”
she responded with:
“No one is talking about “homosexuality as an action” in this thread. This discussion is about whether or not large numbers of Baha’is will ever stand up for their LGBTQ brothers and sisters the way this group of Mormons has. As a queer Baha’i, I found this video both heart-warming and heart-breaking. It’s incredible to see so many Mormons (who don’t have a great reputation with regard to LGBTQ folks) standing in support, but disappointing to realize I’m not likely to see a Baha’i contingent in my local Pride parade anytime soon.”
I can imagine that a group of Bahais -could- participate in a pride march, showing Bahai support for equal rights and even marriage rights for gays – but not that they would represent any particular Bahai community because of the need to keep politics and religion distinct.
In a talk Abdu´l-Baha gave in London on 3 October 1911, for which there are Persian notes making this authentically Baha’i Scripture, he said:
“The ninth [teaching of Baha'u'llah]: religion is separated from politics: religion does not enter into political matters, in fact, it is linked with the hearts, not with the world of bodies. The leaders of religion should devote themselves to teaching and training the souls and propagating good morals, and they should not enter into political matters.”
(Translation by Sen McGlinn)
So there would be nothing wrong with a group of Bahais showing support as a visible group at a Pride March. To quote a 2010 letter from the U.H.J.
“…With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following.
The purpose of the Faith of Baha’u’llah is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.” (Link to the letter cited in a message from the N.S.A. of the U.S.A.)
And so it would be entirely appropriate for a group of Bahais to support equal marriage rights for gays.
It would be nice if one day Bahais in general (as a rule rather than as exception) would see it as natural to support causes and events for human rights publically, but so far we only see Bahais doing this in a visible manner in connection with the plight of the Bahais in Iran and sporadically in connection with racial equality. I am not saying that LSAs or the Bahai administration should be involved in such things. In fact I think they should not be organizing such things.
“The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs.
Tablets of Abdu´l-Baha Abbas vol. 1, page 5
But my impression is that most Bahais think they cannot participate in events unless the Bahai administration endorses or initiates this. So first we need a culture where Bahais behave more freely before we could have a group such as these Mormons. Also if Bahais behave more freely, then in the public eye, this will be seen as diversity and individual freedom of expression and not as representing collective positions. No one would think for a moment that these Mormons represent the Mormon church: Bahais need to act likewise. If we don’t, then we show the world that the Bahai Faith does not have room for freedom of expression.
We have the unfortunate incident of a Bahai who rightly or wrongly was seen as a Bahai representative in the “Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality” that resulted in associating the name of the Bahai community with anti-gay demonstrations in Uganda in newspapers around the world. So to counter this impression that the Bahai community is anti-gay, I’d say that it would be a very good idea to have Bahais do as these Mormons did. To make a public show of support for gay rights. It doesn’t mean that all Bahais in that community would agree that it would be a good thing to show this support, but it shows that this community is flexible enough not to object to a diversity of actions by its members. Again let me stress, these Bahais would present themselves as the Mormons did in the Youtube clip, as Bahais in a certain community but not as representing that community. If such a group of Bahais carried signs stating “humanity is one” or “We are all leaves of the same tree” and so on, I do not see how any Bahai could object given that the Bahai teachings are against all forms of prejudice.
However a number of voices in this Facebook discussion suggested that this would be impossible because it could seen as supporting homosexual behaviour (whatever “behaviour” means to those people). So I think that the comment “clearly the part we all agree on is that discrimination against LBGT folks must end” is too optimistic.
When Bahais refer to ‘behaviour’ what they often mean is visibility. Being seen as being gay. And this has nothing to do with morality or sex. Bahais are free to say that they think being gay is wrong, but to tell other Bahais that being gay is wrong as if this is a Bahai Teaching when it is not, is a hurdle that has be faced. However change (yes, I am advocating change — a change from the image the world has, that the Bahai community is anti-gay, to one in which the community is seen as coming to the “defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated”) happens in diverse ways: by discussions such as the one on Facebook, so that perhaps Bahais who normally would object loudly to discovering that there are Bahais who support equal rights for gays can move on to accept that it is possible for Bahais to follow the Covenant and yet have views that they would never consider for themselves, and also by Bahais biting the bullet and getting out there to show the world that there are Bahais who celebrate and value LGBT voices and contributions.
A Bahai wrote: “I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty or seeking any special attention. I, like DD, am wondering if the Baha’i community will ever join the ranks of the churches that make a visible show of support for LGBTQ folks (who are subject to much hatred and discrimination) by participating in a Pride parade.”
Another Bahai posted: “The friends must, at all times, bear in mind that they are, in a way, like soldiers. The world is at present in an exceedingly dark condition spiritually; hatred and prejudice, of every sort, are literally tearing it to pieces. We, on the other hand, are the custodians of the opposite forces, the forces of love, of unity, of peace and integration, and we must constantly be on our guard, whether as individuals or as an Assembly or Community, lest through us these destructive, negative forces enter into our midst. In other words, we must beware lest the darkness of society become reflected in our acts and attitudes, perhaps all unconsciously. Love for each other, the deep sense that we are a new organism, the dawn-breakers of a New World Order, must constantly animate our Bahá’í lives, and we must pray to be protected from the contamination of society which is so diseased with prejudice.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the Spiritual Assembly of Atlanta, February 5, 1947. Page 406, Lights of Guidance, complied by Helen Hornsby.
Note: A Letter Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is not Bahai Scripture.
See this link for what is Bahai Scripture,
or about the authority of Letters Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. The letter above was printed underneath this heading made by the author of the book: “We Must Pray to be Protected from the Contamination of Society“)
A Bahai responded with:
“I think, that we may be coming to this conversation with a different understanding of what that “darkness” is. When I read the letter you just posted, I hear a very clear message that we are to shield ourselves from hatred and prejudice. These are the flaws of society. While some folks (including Baha’is) may engage in behaviors that are not permitted under Baha’i law (such as alcohol consumption and extra marital sex), this is not the “darkness of society” that is tearing the world apart. Rather, when we judge others for their differences (in action or opinion), we are contributing to the darkness of discrimination.”
And just before the administrators deleted the whole thread a Bahai wrote: “This is, in their own words, why the Mormons were marching: ‘Each step we take will be an outward demonstration of our commitment to loving our neighbors. We are marching for the values of empathy and compassion that the Mormon faith teaches. Recognizing that silence (though coupled with good intentions) may leave some LGBT individuals to seriously question their self-worth in their homes, congregations, and before God, we are marching to save lives.’ What a beautiful expression of love and compassion, which should not be so difficult for Baha’is to match.”
This is not the first time a discussion on a Bahai list I’ve participated in, related to the topic of homosexuality, has been shut down (here is one from 2010), and in fact the very reason I started this blog was in response to being removed from a Dutch Bahai discussion list because of my own views on the topic of homosexuality. I am sharing a few of the thoughts expressed in this deleted Facebook discussion here because one of the biggest problems in the Bahai community still seems to be a fear of discussing gay visibility. Once we get past that hurdle, I hope we do see a Bahai visibility at Pride events, just as I hope to see a Bahai presence at any event in support of human rights. Perhaps in getting more comfortable in being with, and expressing support for, a group which has been the focus of so much bias and hatred, Bahais might realise that they are free to publically express support for events and causes they know other Baha’is in their own community might not choose to support. I’d call these diverse responses: “unity in diversity.”