It’s Getting Better: Baha’i Faith & HomosexualityMay 31, 2011
Demonstrator at the August 2007 anti-gay rally in Kampala, Uganda.
Photo: Rebekah Heacock.
I posted the following blog on Bahai rants (http://bahairants.com/bahai-faith-homosexuality-its-getting-better-1358.html) on January 14th 2011 in response to the Universal House of Justice letter made public in a letter penned by the US N.S.A. on January 3rd 2011.
I’m reposting this here because I’ve been having a discussion on gaybahai.net and would like to be able to make direct links to some points. I also add some of my responses at the bottom and have updated a few external links. I suggest that you go to Bahai Rants where to date there are 95 comments from a great diversity of viewpoints.
On January 3rd, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States sent out a letter to the American Baha’i community, quoting parts of a letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual:
“…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.”
(Letter from the UHJ to an individual, 27 October 2010)
And further in the same letter:
“[The Bahai Faith] does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for social justice, Baha’is must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Baha’i Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage.”
It seems to me that this letter would indicate that the Baha’i community should now not be publicly supporting or opposing actions such as the anti-gay activities in Uganda in 2007.
The article in the Guardian shown in the screenshot above continues, lower on the page:
The rally was organised by the interfaith coalition against homosexuality, an alliance of Christian, Muslim and Bahai organisations.
This wasn’t a case of Baha’is just being associated with any interfaith organization but with an association called the Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality. It has been suggested to me that an individual Baha’i got caught up in the events without the knowledge of the local Ugandan Baha’i community. When I first heard the reports, I too thought that, while individual Baha’is are certainly free to participate in activities such as this, Baha’is would not be participating in any representative sense, and newspapers can get things wrong. But how then, did the newspaper reports come to mention the word Baha’i, if this was not the case? Moreover, these reports first appeared a month before the Guardian story in the screenshot, and there were, as far as I know, no statements made from the Baha’i Community in Uganda to indicate that Baha’i representatives were not involved.
Screenshot of an article in the Christian Post, 22 August 2007. Accessed 12
January 2011. Click on the image to view the whole screenshot in another
The following links, all dated in August 2007 and mentioning Baha’i involvement, indicate that it is not likely that the Ugandan Baha’i community was unaware of this association that had been made:
- USA Today: “Ugandans hold anti-gay demonstration” www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-08-21-uganda-gay-protest_N.htm
- Advocate: “Ugandans call for deportation of American journalist covering gay issues” www.advocate.com/article.aspx?id=39943
MCNBC: “Ugandans seek deportation for writings on gays” www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20381352/ns/world_news-africa
- Washington Post: “Ugandans Hold Anti-Gay Demonstration”
- Pravda: “Ugandans hate gays”
- SF Bay Times: “GLBT Ugandans Launch Media Campaign”
- Talk to Action: “Ugandan Pastor Leads Campaign Against Gay Rights”
Whether this was one individual who joined this anti-gay coalition or not, the 3rd of January letter from the UHJ seems to mean that it is no longer appropriate for Baha’i communities to take an anti-homosexual stance. This has happened in the past, for example when the UK NSA made submission to a London educational advisory committee in 1996, and in 1999 when the Guyana NSA issued a statement against a government bill for equality.
I realise that this new policy of the Universal House of Justice is going to be difficult for some Baha’i communities, in countries where interfaith groups are against homosexuality, as you see in the screenshot below where Baha’is are named as members of the interfaith group.
Screenshot of an article in the Voice of Africa article, 30 June 2010.
Click on the image to view the whole screenshot in another window.
Accessed 12 January 2011.
Should Baha’is now remove themselves from interfaith groups which take an anti-homosexual stance?
Baha’is have a long history of working with interfaith groups. Rather than leaving these groups, perhaps Baha’is will be motivated to discourage these groups from acts of discrimination against homosexuals.
However there are other also ways Baha’is can act to remove discrimination, and that is within the Baha’i community itself.
In August last year, the North American Association for Baha’i Studies hosted a conference in Vancouver on the theme: “Rethinking Human Nature” and there was an extensive line-up of impressive-sounding presentations.
Under the topic “Psychology and Sociology I” was the announcement of this presentation:
Rethinking Same-Sex Attraction and General Principles of How to Overcome It
The fact that some people experience same-sex attraction as unwanted and take measures to overcome it remains somewhat hidden from society, including much of the mental health profession. Shedding light on this process may be encouraging news to those who struggle with such attraction. Understanding the complex factors that commonly shape same-sex attraction unlocks the possibility to conceptualize a new framework for growth.
There’s nothing wrong with an individual expressing their views at a Baha’i conference, although I wonder if a person would have been allowed to present the view that homosexuality does not need to be overcome.
However what drew my attention to this presentation was the fact that a handout she presented had been taken up by at least one American ABM (while the Baha’is do not have clergy, a person in this role has a function akin to a counsellor, and while his or her advice is not mandatory, some Baha’is would give it great weight) in his mission to put pressure on Baha’is who are gay in his area. Moreover Lynne Schreiber is giving presentations and workshops, I assume on how to ‘overcome’ being gay, in Baha’i communities in various locations in the US.
Again, one could argue that this is not discrimination. That it is not discrimination to promote the view that people need to change their orientation. I would disagree. But allow me continue.
Her handout is here and the quotations from the Baha’i writings in relation to morality, obedience and the importance of independent investigation do not refer to homosexuality. But she has placed these here as if there is some connection with homosexuality.
Her handout also includes some quotations from the UHJ, such as:
…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a ‘natural’ or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment
(to an individual, 22 March 1987)
and I wonder if she used such statements as support for reparative therapies or not. Then what caught my eye were the links at the end of the handout to organizations associated with extreme right-wing political agendas such as Exodus International and in particular to NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals), which advocates what I would consider barbaric reparative therapies. And while some readers here might think that providing conversion therapy to a five-year-old “prehomosexual” boy is an extreme case, this unfortunately is just one of many many examples in this article.
A summary of the unscientific methodologies of NARTH and their activities can be seen on this webpage.
So then I went to the NARTH website to see for myself and was surprised to see that Baha’is were mentioned as members.
Since this page was last updated on 19 May 2008, this support has been on public show for over two years now, making it unlikely that various Baha’i communities are unaware of this. I hope this is removed in the near future, as I interpret this as the Bahai community taking sides by associating themselves with an organization that not only is geared towards ‘curing’ gays but makes clear statements that homosexuality is wrong.
The Baha’i policy as I see it, is that gays should be celibate, that is not the same as saying gays need to be cured or that they are wrong.
Whether individuals who are Baha’is are members of NARTH is another matter. We are free to use our conscience along with our own understanding of the Baha’i Teachings to guide our actions as individuals. For example Baha’is vote as individuals, we may even tell others who we voted for and discuss this, but we do this as individuals.
The Baha’i community doesn’t take a particular position. And likewise some Baha’is might individually support same-sex marriage as a positive thing while other Baha’is would not.
What the 3rd of January letter implies is that gays who are married shouldn’t be discriminated against and that gays are to be treated just as heterosexuals are treated except that the Baha’i community is not to be seen as taking any position for or against same-sex marriage.
The implication of the January 3rd letter is that the area of same-sex marriage is to be treated like the issue of party politics. So the Baha’i position could be, that it does not take any particular position but adopts what the law of the land or that state has as its policy. I say could be, because we have a long way to go as a Baha’i community to work on the prejudice against homosexuality that currently dominates Baha’i discourse. Here are two examples of what I mean by this apart from Lynne’s presentation at a Baha’i conference.
An essay by Sam G. McClellan, M.D., “Some reflections on the Bahá’í Teachings as they relate to homosexuality.” (Prepared in consultation with the Institute on AIDS, Sexuality and Addictions) which one day should be removed from the BNASAA (Bahá’í Network on Aids, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse) website, argues for tolerance while at the same time stating that individuals should not call themselves gay or lesbian.
Some Bahá’ís struggling with their sexual orientation have accepted into their core identity the concept “I am gay” or “I am lesbian” as a way of explaining the experience of uninvited sexual feelings towards others of the same sex, and even to imagine giving up this identity and the supportive community that goes along with it can be a fearful experience, calling for a major effort at sympathetic awareness by others of the difficulty involved. To change one’s self-definition requires much effort, support and encouragement, and it will, most likely, be a complex and lengthy process marked by small, cumulative successes and a great deal of struggle.
Excerpt of essay, Some reflections on the Bahá’í Teachings as they relate to homosexuality by Sam G. McClellan, M.D. (Accessed 12 January 2011. [One day it will be removed so here is a link for when it is removed])
He ends with:
In 1992, a group of these professionals formed a new organization, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Four Bahá’í mental health professionals attended the annual meeting of NARTH in Philadelphia in May 1994. Within the Bahá’í community a committee was recently appointed to assist Assemblies and individuals dealing with issues of homosexuality.
The website Religious Tolerance summarizes the Bahai position on homosexuality as being:
-The Baha’i Faith teaches that homosexual behavior is unacceptable among its members. Voting rights of some of their lesbian, gay and bisexual members (LGB) who are out of the “closet” have been suspended; some memberships have been terminated.
My hope is that the Bahai community will show that such statements are no longer true.
That, if there are sanctions that these are applied to heterosexuals or homosexuals, equally. That if a gay couple decide to join the Bahai community that their marriage will not be discriminated against and that youth will not be taught that homosexuality is a disease or an aberration, or that they must keep their orientation secret, but rather, the focus will be on celebrating the equality and diversity of humanity. Saying to any individual “we will tolerate you” is still a form of prejudice. In order not to discriminate we need to be welcoming.
Posted by Sonja on 15 January 2011: Located here on Baquia’s blog >>
Thanks for this information about “Uganda’s antigay protests”.
What I note in my blog is that this was not just any interfaith coalition but one with the title: “Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality“, so it would be hard for the Bahai/s or Bahai representative who joined to be unaware of the goals of this group.
And the misfortune in having the locals news and then the international news pick up on the Bahai involvement could have been avoided if the local Bahais had taken acton as soon as they knew that a Bahai had joined such a group.
I am aware that Bahais had taken action as soon as this was in the [international] news, but the point of my blog and the point, as I see it, is a Bahai shouldn’t have joined such a discriminatory group to start with.
The culture of the Bahai community needs to change so that Bahais don’t think it is OK to join such groups. That Bahais don’t think it is perfectly within the principles of the Bahai Faith to join any group or association which treats or views homosexuality with prejudice. And the references to the NARTH connections illustrate that this is the case and that the BNASAA shares the views that homosexuality is problematic, to put it lightly. Considering homosexuality as problematic is discrimination and the UHJ’s letter stating that homosexuals are not to be discriminated against, is in my view, a start on a change for the better. This is an opportunity for LSAs to start working at showing the community that the Bahai principle of equality applies also to homosexuals.
The reference to the Guyanan news items is different in that it is possible that Bahais were not actively involved in the protests, but yes, perhaps Bahais have to remove themselves from interfaith groups such as this. I agree it would be a wonderful teaching opportunity if they were to state publically why they are removing themselves.
Perhaps, as the Guyanan news item shows, Bahais are going to have to take some steps to show the world that the Bahai Faith is not anti-gay to counter the impression that it is. I see the 3rd January letter as a start in this direction. Another start would be for the BNASSA to stop associating homosexuality with illness.
It is no longer reasonable for Bahais to look the other way when another Bahai expresses their discrimination towards gays. The letter states Bahais must act to combate discrimination.
And if more Bahais publically showed support of gays then the impression would be that not all Bahais discriminate – that the Bahai community is diverse.
We need acts of positive discrimination bring in a change for more diversity. Your example of your involvement in a gay parade is one example. Now Bahais could do a lot of good by being present as a community in these. Bahais could even work as bridges here in fact. Having some presence at a gay pride parade where they promote unity in diversity, society for all, etc.
Posted by Sonja on 16 January 2011: Located here on Baquia’s blog >>
L wrote: “I was never sanctioned in any way at a BNASAA conference for saying I was fine as a Baha’i who was gay. There was surprize mixed with relief that someone present was okay with his being gay, felt a good connection to God, couldn’t understand why Shoghi Effendi wrote what he did as he felt it did not make sense, and had no interest in changing. BNASAA doesn’t associate homosexuality with illness but allows someone with that view to speak about it only as it pertains to the individual speaking. No one speaks for another or discloses another’s story. You may not be aware of this if you have not been to one of their conferences. If you saw something of that nature on their website you may have mistakenly felt that this was the only view of BNASAA. Not being a big fan of computers myself I feel the personal approach is best when exploring the facts about something. You may wish to attend a conference for a more balanced viewpoint where you will hear the truths of all who attend instead of reading an article by someone who feels their intellectual prowess is more enlightening than a person’s spoken truth. If you have been to a conference I don’t understand how you could come away from it with the misunderstanding.”
Thanks for sharing your experiences of BNASAA conferences but the fact that the title of this organization throws sexuality in with addictions seems a very strong indication that BNASAA sees homosexuality as some form of illness. If not, then why not change the title, change the association with illness? It seems incongruous to pretend this is about illness if the conferences are then about treating homosexuality as a part of the diversity of humankind.
My question then is what types of talks were given? Were these talks, as it seems from the website, talks on overcoming homosexuality or on suppressing this?
The BNASAA website (lower on the same page) has a section titled:
Considerations for Assemblies, Dealing with Same-Sex Issues
4. The Assembly should strive to maintain the dignity if the individual. Many women and men struggling with same-sex issues have low self-esteem and are in desperate need of love and acceptance. Confidentiality needs to be maintained and inadvertent exposure carefully avoided.
5. Discuss with the individual the relevant Bahá’í laws and teachings on chastity, marriage, and same-sex issues. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, the individual being counseled may be extremely sensitive, and individuals counseling them may want to take care to ensure that their assistance is received in a spirit of sharing and support.
6. It is impossible to consult on situations without some basic knowledge of the subject itself. The Assembly should recognize that there is no known cure for homosexuality. Comparing same-sex issues to alcoholism is a very helpful method of avoiding the naiveté of suggesting that Bahá’ís struggling with same-sex issues should simply pray, read the Writings and teach the Faith. It is very important to understand that the struggle with same-sex issues may be a lifelong ordeal. Even so, it is fundamentally important for the Assembly to encourage the individual to pray fervently, to continue or begin to deepen, to involve him or herself in the activities of the community – especially in teaching activities – and to develop supportive spiritual friendships within the community.
7. The Assembly is not a “mental health center,” and should not assume responsibilities for functions that it is not competent to carry out. Tactful referral of homosexuals – as in the case of any other person with special needs for skilled professional assistance – should be made to appropriate outside resources. It should be noted that several attempts may be necessary before finding the appropriate therapist. In addition to encouraging the individual to seek therapeutic help, the Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse (BNASAA) can provide Bahá’í support and assistance.
I am not suggesting that the atmosphere of any BNASAA conference would be hostile. Not at all, and you can see above, the tone is very gentle.
However the goal, the view or focus compares homosexuality to illness. In this case to alcoholism!
There’s a long history of members of majority groups judging minorities as lesser, as having low esteem for example, because they don’t operate in ways that are familiar or are not visible to the majority. And I’ve been told so many many times by well-meaning Bahai’s, “ah but so and so isn’t really gay or they would be more clear about being gay” and so on.
It is easy to give the stamp of low self-esteem when the other person is silent or does not come back with a similiar mode of expression, when in fact they are hurt and insulted. When operating in a second language here in the Netherlands, I’ve been told that I have low self-esteem, by well-meaning individuals who do not have a clue what my life really is like! They make their judgements on what they see, and so given that the Bahai community in general treats homosexuality as something wrong, it is no wonder that gays who are Bahai’s, have to tread on thin ice when with other Bahais. The Bahai community is not gay friendly. This needs to change.
As a woman I’d feel insulted if the only committee currently allowed to exist in the Bahai community, that dealt in some way with being female, was also a committee on alcoholism, and then here all sorts of talks about how wonderful women are, how women need to be tolerated, given compassion for the affliction of being female, were all made in the spirit of trying to help us because basically there’s something wrong with being a woman to start with. I hope you can see how such an attitude is insulting however lovingly the expressions of tolerance are. It isn’t enough to tolerant, Bahais need to accept gays as equals – as individuals with perspectives and values.
You suggest that what I wrote on my blog above in reference to the BNASAA has little relevence as the website doesn’t reflect the experiences of the conferences, so I asked a friend to share some experiences:
“Yes I don’t think anyone is outright sanctioned. As in names aren’t written down and then the NSA goes ok, and removes his voting rights. HOWEVER, from the very beginning of the meeting it was made absolutely clear that BNASAA was NOT the place to challenge the official view that homosexuality is supposed to be corrected and that it is a wrong lifestyle. I absolutely did not feel like it was a affirming place for someone who is gay, Bahai, and wants to be in an open relationship. The meeting I went to was in Northern California back in 2002. So things may have changed since then, I don’t know. Pose this question to the reader: “Would BNASAA now invite a person like Daniel to come and tell his story about having his voting rights removed for getting married?” I doubt it.
What I got out of BNASAA at my one meeting was that it was a great place for people with some serious issues (sex addiction, incest, rape, drugs, etc.) to find solace and talk openly with others. There really weren’t classes per se, mostly just sharing of stories and prayer circles, which were beautiful and all. But I felt completely out of place. In a weird way, I felt bad for being there because, well… there was nothing wrong with me. It’s wrong of them to lump my sexuality with all these serious issues that people are battling with. My two cents worth. 🙂 So no, from my experience it is absolutely NOT an affirming place for gay and lesbians who are happy with themselves.”
Daniel formalized his Brazilian marriage when it became legal to marry in California. In response the NSA of the USA removed his voting rights citing his same-sex marriage as the reason (I wrote a blog in response to this here [on Baquia’s blog placed later on this blog)] in 2009. Now with this new policy of the UHJ, if the NSA of the USA were to reinstate his voting rights, they would no longer be discriminating against an existing same-sex marriage.
And finally a question out of curiosity, did you experience any talks or workshops given at a BNASAA conference, where the homosexuality was presented as part of the diversity of humankind, or as not needing to be cured or changed? I am aware that Bahais do have these views but until now I’m only aware that presentations from these perspectives within a Bahai context are not allowed or their papers have been rejected.
You wrote that they “allows someone with that view to speak about it only as it pertains to the individual speaking.”, does this mean that current scientific research on this topic would be disallowed.
Posted by Sonja on 17 April 2011: Located here on Baquia’s blog >>
Sarmad, would you consider the removal of voting rights from a legally married couple as an individual’s foolish mistake? This is happening to many (but not all) married gay Bahais.
I wouldn’t call this a “foolish mistake” but rather a situation where the Bahai administration is breaking the rules of the country. I realise that in countries such as in the U.S., same-sex marriage has been associated with party politics and I see the wisdom in the letter by the U.H.J. in asking Bahai communities to stay out of the debate, however this is a different situation to then removing voting rights from those who marry or are married. That is gay Bahais, who are legally married according to the laws of their country or state (sometimes these are called civil unions, but the law is a legally recognized union) then lose their voting rights.
The worst thing about this whole scenario, in my view is the constant fear gay Bahais live with knowing that tomorrow they might have their voting rights removed. And for Bahais such as myself, knowing of so many stories where the administration appears to do this after an individual Bahai makes an issue of this.
Meaning that the administration seems to leave gay couples be, if no individual Bahai makes a fuss about this but then they act when some individual does. I can understand that an LSA might find it difficult to proceed and accept a gay union as having the same rights and responsibilities as is accepted by the law of the state or country, if then Bahais complain that homosexuality is forbidden, but I think in light of this latest letter by the U.H.J., L.S.A.s should be able to take a position of not discriminating against those who are married.
I know this is not the same as promoting equality for gays but it is at least not a practice of discrimination.
If administrative decisions are not the essence of a community what are they then? I agree they need not be the essence of a religion, although one would hope that there would be a close connection.
Just calling these “foolish mistakes” misses the point. The point that our Bahai communities have two standards. One lot of values and standards for heterosexual couples and families and another set of values and standards for gay couples and families.