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Homosexual Fish

December 2, 2011

“Oestrogen had gotten into the water and changed the fish. It made them homosexual,”  he said.

A seemingly innocent comment made by a Bahai at a Bahai gathering, got me thinking. It was prejudice to my ears – yet I didn’t have the words at the time to respond so I was silent.

What it told me as listener, was that this person felt comfortable associating homosexuality as something abnormal in the company of other Bahais and while the conversation centered on the fish and pollution caused by the contraceptive pill, the comment also reminded me of another issue Bahais often bring up in connection with gay rights. That nature is geared towards reproduction and from this they imply that any relationship not geared towards reproduction is wrong because in their eyes it is against nature.

Look at any society: a ‘survival of the fittest’ type of rationale for relating to each other would be considered inhuman.

Relationships and partnerships endure because of love and friendship not because of children or how many children are reproduced. We are not fish, which do not form partnerships to start.

These words on the Bahai International Community website are so familiar that they are almost a mantra for Bahais:
“All human beings, Bahá’u’lláh states, have been “created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.” The creation of a peaceful global society that fosters both individual and collective well-being is at the heart of the Bahá’í vision of the future.”

Bahá’u’lláh makes this disassociation with a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality even more strongly:
“All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names. Let others partake of its waters in My name, that the leaders of men in every land may fully recognize the purpose for which the Eternal Truth hath been revealed, and the reason for which they themselves have been created.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 346 [Some of the above also sourced near the end of Section IV of the “Promise of World Peace”, a statement widely circulated in 1985]

And a 2010 statement by the Universal House of Justice specifically concerns homosexuality:
“…With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, … “
“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.”

So, yes, any innocent comment made associating homosexuality with abnormality or illness is, in my view, an expression of prejudice or disdain. So how do we change this? How can we change the culture of our Bahai communities so that such comments were be a rare slip of the tongue, to which another could just say “You’re not serious?” to which that Bahai might say “Oh no, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to make this negative association” and so then the discussion would be the issue at hand, in that case, how pollution was affecting the population growth of the fish, which had nothing to do with homosexuality.

My silence at the time was not knowing how to voice my discomfort because so often when I do, I’m told I am over sensitive or that it is not prejudice to make such a disdainful association with homosexuality.

Some Bahais have also told me that this 2010 statement by Universal House of Justice is not actually about treating homosexuals with equality because further in the same letter is the following:
“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. Such distinctions are unavoidable when addressing any social issue. For example, Baha’is actively work for the establishment of world peace but, in the process, do not engage in partisan political activities directed against particular governments.”

Their argument being that they interpret “neither promote nor necessarily oppose” as meaning what they consider as being the status quo which agrees with their personal view that same sex married couples must separate or leave the Bahai Faith or not marry to start with.
As you can read for yourself, you can see that the statement by the Universal House of Justice means that publically, no Bahai community should be seen as ‘for or against,’ but rather, just as on the topic of party politics, any said Bahai community is to take a neutral position. Individuals such as myself are certainly free to vote as they please, and likewise may advocate same sex marriage as valid as any other legally recognized marriage between consenting adults as both a right and a responsibility. I should and would never claim that my views are those of any Bahai community and likewise with any Bahai who holds the opposite view on this topic.

However until now there have been examples of Bahai communities advocating against homosexuality [see: 1996: NSA of the Bahais of the U.K., 1999: Guyana, 2007: Uganda, 2010: Guyana. Here I make some comments about interfaith groups, 2011: Baha’i Office for the Advancement of Women], so in my view to work for a Bahai culture of neutrality, as Bahais we not only need to work at even seemingly innocent comments about diseased fish as posing no opportunity for an expression of disdain towards an aspect of the diversity of humanity, but to voice differing views as I am doing in this blog, so not only our fellow Bahais realise that not all Bahais think there’s something fishy about being gay, but also so that the public in general are aware that there are Bahais who do advocate equal rights and responsibilities for their gay brothers and sisters.

8 comments

  1. I love the way minds work on road trips and I really enjoyed exploring the website !


  2. Sorry about this Maureen. I’d half written the blog and then lost it. So now I’ve rewritten it (months after your comment).


  3. That’s OK Sonja, I was fascinated by the concept and title…..the content was worth waiting for.


  4. “any innocent comment made associating homosexuality with abnormality or illness is, in my view, an expression of prejudice or disdain. So how do we change this?”

    You cannot change this within Baha’i when Shoghi Effendi called it “unnatural” and Universal House labeled it an “aberration”. You can help people by warning them away from toxic religion.


  5. “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”

    The quote above does not limit the way in which humanity moves forward in its reproduction and physical relationships. Today science identifies at least 9 different sexes. To really advance the civilization it requires humanity to think in terms of ‘wholeness’, and thus the integration of the male and female aspects of the Mind so that the Society is in acceptance of a Being regardless of their physical and mental reality. As such the ideas in this video help advance the attitudes of acceptance and wholeness within civilization and broadens the knowledge base.
    http://www.youtube.co/watch?v=Ho8uxzpWvpQ


  6. Greetings Ricera,

    Various posts on this blog go into detail to show anything penned by a secretary writing on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is not the same as unchangeable Bahai Scripture. See: https://justabahai.wordpress.com/find/#letters

    However many Bahais treat these letters as if they are Bahai Scripture and so while I disagree with your statement that Bahais cannot change the current public policy which discriminates against married gay Bahais or gays having a civil union, I do agree that any religion which treats gays differently to heterosexuals is toxic.

    So R, you are in good company here, Abdu’l-Baha is quoted in translation in the following:
    “Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth, give birth to spirituality, and bring life and light to each heart. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred, division, it were better to be without it,…”
    Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p.130


  7. Thanks for the great post, Sonja.

    Gay fish! I’ve encountered this shameful misreading of science among Baha’is, yet I’ve found nothing in the scientific literature even discussing homosexuality being caused by environmental contamination. What seems to happen is that some fundamentalist Baha’is see accounts of physical alteration (sexual and otherwise) in animals exposed to contaminants and somehow equate some sexual alterations with homosexual *behavior*. Such leaps of ignorance would probably never arise among Baha’is if they weren’t trying so hard to substantiate the homophobia of one or two of Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries.


  8. Dan, nicely put re: “discussing homosexuality being caused by environmental contamination”
    As if being homosexual was any form of contamination to start with? I agree, the illogical connections here come from trying to justify something that doesn’t make sense. Although I’d add that those secretaries were writing during times when those statements would have been the norm of the times, akin to the statement (also in a letter penned by a secretary) about any form of birth control being “immoral in principle” and “to be discarded as constituting a real danger to the very foundations of our social life” (1934).
    So while by today’s standards, (standards, which celebrate and value diversity in many ways that would be unthinkable in the 1930s), such statements are certainly homophobic, I wouldn’t call these the results of the homophobia of the secretaries. We don’t know, and in those times, (1930-1950s) many people might have said or written in similar vein.



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