A sympathetic Bahai wrote:
“I suppose there is no easy way to reconcile your experience with anything other than what you term homophobic.
I am wondering if ANY Baha’i, short of denouncing the mainstream “official” interpretation, will be able to be seen otherwise – no matter how loving, compassionate, etc. – since the very teachings are what you object to.“
It is not a Bahai Teaching to discriminate against LGBT Bahais.
I interpret a 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice as superceding previous statements from the UHJ.
It states: “…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 Universal House of Justice, 27 October 2010.
The next part of the letter states that “marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that sexual relations are restricted to a couple who are married to each other.”
Then the letter ends with:
“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.”
So a Bahai could stand up for the rights of a gay couple by arguing that the LSA take a neutral stance, if there was a situation of a married gay wishing to join. Individual Bahais could and most likely will have diverse views on this. It is best if the community would discuss this, but the bottom line, as I understand the guidance from the UHJ, should be that the actions of the community will aim toward a neutral position, or at least a position that does not go against the Bahai Teachings relative to “the organic unity of the entire human race”. (Letter from the UHJ to an individual, 27 October 2010)
This Bahai also wrote: “Of course the actions of Baha’is are an issue too, compounding the problem, but, as you say, anything short of ‘we love you, and you and your partner, spouse are welcome here’ will still be considered ‘homophobic.’ “
My response to the above is: “Of course it is homophobic! If an African American spouse wasn’t welcomed at a Bahai event or in the community because of their skin colour that would be called racism.”
So my suggestion is that Bahais need to say that it is rude, and show that such rudeness could be interpreted as homophobic, if the next time a gay is present, their partner is ignored, or their identity as being gay is treated as if this is inappropriate or problematic. These things need to be discussed so Bahais can learn to undo the current trend or tendency which is that Bahais assume gays cannot be visible or proud or out of the closet. How can we celebrate unity in diversity unless we value all, equally.
If someone feels sorry for you, then this implies that you are lesser, worse off, afflicted. And if a person feels sorry for another because they are gay? Well, there’s no other word for it but “homophobia”–the view that being gay is a form of affliction (sometimes referred to as “a test”). So first Bahais have to face the fact that treating a gay person, Bahai or not, differently is discrimination, and then a community has to show by deeds that it is working on removing this discrimination.
Accepting gay couples without discrimination is the tip of the iceberg. If a Bahai community works at this, then the prejudice will ease. Bahais need to discuss these things in order to change the status quo. A turning point would be for Bahais to deepen on what is actual Bahai Scripture and what is not. Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are used adamantly to denounce gays, but they are ignored when the topic is on the wrongs of birth control.
I realise that for many Bahais it is too much of a leap to think that the idea, ‘being gay is equal to being diseased’ is not based on anything authored by Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Bahai or Shoghi Effendi. (It isn’t, in fact.) So instead I would say focus on the issue of homophobia just as Bahai communities have worked hard and admirably on racism. Work at demonstrating in tangible ways that we accept homosexuality as part of God’s creation.
From Baha’u’llah: “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.” (There are more examples celebrating human nature in holistic terms here)
So work at making your own Bahai community a place where, if a Bahai says: “So it is living openly with a partner and wanting to be an ‘active’ Baha’i that causes the problem,” you or others will see that the real problem is that the community doesn’t “accept” an active Bahai who has a same-sex partner. Removal of voting rights should only be applied if it is an issue of immorality, and since the 2010 UHJ letter states that Bahai communities should remain neutral, I’d say it would make sense for the LSA to follow the law of the state on this, and when in doubt to show tolerance, so Bahai law is applied as a “choice wine” and not like a hammer for exclusion. If the idea of accepting gay Bahais who are married on equal terms with other married couples upsets a Bahai community, or even just one individual in the community, then that is where the root of the problem lies. Work on that. The rest will work itself out once discrimination against homosexuality is treated as a breach of the Bahai principles of equality and justice.
If a Bahai states “This is an impass I cannot see my way around,” then I think that they just don’t care. They don’t care enough to stick their neck out. They don’t care enough about the Bahai Teachings (my apologies if this sounds harsh) because the Bahai Teachings are not homophobic. If it helps, pass on any argument that you see as an “impass” and I’ll show you from the Writings that it isn’t. My blog is an attempt at showing that it is not impossible for a Bahai community to be welcoming to gays, and I know of one out of the closet married gay Bahai whose community accepts him as he is.
Start with believing it is possible for a Bahai community to treat its gay members on equal terms, and take the steps towards making your Bahai community welcoming for people of all persuasions. Start with bringing this up as a topic at feast, or make it a topic for a deepening, so Bahais have time and space to look at the issues. If that is too hard, then work on yourself and deepen in the Bahai Scripture (if that is the issue for you) or start seeing homosexuality as an aspect of diversity and not as an imperfection. Trust me, many gays have contributed to society.
And then we have the painter Mark Tobey, a gay Bahai who was clearly welcomed in his community, or else he would not have stayed and he would have kept his sexuality and partner private. He didn’t, which indicates what a special community he was part of. However Mark Tobey is an exception. I wonder if Daniel Orey’s voting rights would be returned to him and if the U.S. Bahai community would ever apologize for the heartache caused by informing him that he would have to divorce in order to participate in Bahai feasts. And sadly I know of many more examples, but Daniel is one of the few willing to let the world see how he has been discriminated against (his voting rights were removed in 2009, a year after he married his partner.
I state these things because if Bahais do not hear of this, they think there is no discrimination. If they do not see any gays in their community they might think, gays are not interested in Baha’u’llah’s Teachings. Instead, the reality is that gays are not welcome! Sympathy is not good enough. We need to work at changing the attitude that there is something wrong with being gay. We need to actively be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.”
“Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.” (Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words)