Archive for June, 2012

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Sympathy for gay Bahais is not good enough

June 20, 2012
Detail of a cartoon by Mike Luckovich, click to see the whole cartoon.

Click to view the whole cartoon.

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 Full letter is here)

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.

Mark Tobey in 1971. Image is from the Bahai-library.org

Mark Tobey in 1971.
Image is from the Bahai-library.org

Just think: it is Alan Turing‘s 100th birthday next week (the inventor of the Turing machine a precursor to the computer among other inventions. In 2009 the British government issued a formal apology for persecuting him for being a homosexual). What if he had never lived?

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)

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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:

Sarah Brown, wife of the British Prime Minister in the July 2009 London Pride march. Photograph copyright of Marco Secchi.

Sarah Brown, wife of the British Prime Minister in the July 2009 London Pride march. Photograph copyright of Marco Secchi.

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.

Stonewall Inn, NYC, in 1969

The Stonewall Inn, taken September 1969. The sign in the window reads: “We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village—Mattachine”. (The Mattachine Society,
founded in 1950)

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots

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.

Frank Kameny (81 years)
Photo by Todd Franson, 2006.
http://www.metroweekly.com/feature/?ak=2341

The anti-LGBT discourse of these times equated both male and female homosexuality with mental illness. Inspired by Stokely Carmichael’s “Black is Beautiful”, Frank Kameny, Gay civil rights pioneer and participant in the Annual Reminders, originated the slogan “Gay is Good” in 1968 to counter social stigma and personal feelings of guilt and shame.

“As one of the first gay Americans to refuse — very publicly — to be ashamed of his sexual orientation, Kameny has played a monumental role in changing the playing field in favor of gay people. Years before Stonewall, he was picketing in front of the White House.
In 1971, he ran as an openly gay candidate for D.C.’s non-voting seat in Congress. He may not have won the election, but he raised the visibility of gay people immeasurably. He coined the phrase ”Gay is Good” in 1968, when the distance between homosexuality and shame was a very short trip.”
Metro Weekly, 5 October, 2006

http://www.metroweekly.com/feature/?ak=2341

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)
senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/eleven-essentials-the-bahai-principles-as-taught-by-abdul-baha-in-london/#09

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 Homosexualitythat 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.”