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R.I.P. my friend

April 26, 2019

my friend Lucas

My friend Lucas

Lucas (17 years) started communicating with me in 2014 because of our common interest in Esperanto. He was living and studying in Brazil and had declared as a Bahai 3 months earlier through one of his professors who is a Bahai. Upon learning that my main concern in the Bahai community was for the wellbeing of gay and lesbian Bahais, his response was: “Really?? This is new to me.”

We ended our conversation with him saying he was happy that I wrote on this topic and I thanked him for not telling me I was doing something wrong.

Two months later he wrote to me again: “Dear Sonja! Today is the convenant day, and my birthday. I just want to let you know that I’ve been reading your blog, and it makes my heart laugh… Not just for personal reasons (in fact, I am not still sure about my sexuality, and I think I just don’t need to be right now). I’m very happy to know that there are people like you. Just keep going! Don’t loose this marvelous courage! You have my prayers! Alla’u’abha!”

Our conversation in 2014

Our conversation in 2014


I thanked him and didn’t give this another thought because I communicate with a lot of individuals and I lead a pretty busy life.

About 6 months later he joined a secret Bahai gay, lesbian, trans Facebook support group I have been a member of since 2008. He wrote about his sadness at discovering that his local Bahais, including the professor, spoke of homosexuality so negatively that he couldn’t even discuss the topic with them.

He was welcomed into our secret support group by individuals from various backgrounds with a lot of joking and fun exchanged, and he said he was happy to have found this group.

Two years further along, now living in Poland, he wrote that he received an email from the secretary of his local spiritual assembly (LSA).
The 2017 subject heading was: The Baha’i Writings and Homosexuality.
“Dear, Lucas… I just received this message from the Baha’i Writings Service and immediately thought of you. Maybe it can be useful…


“Bahá’í teachings on sexual morality center on marriage and the family as the bedrock of the whole structure of human society and are designed to protect and strengthen that divine institution. Thus Bahá’í Law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married. Thus, it should not be so much a matter of whether a practicing homosexual can be a Bahá’í as whether, having become a Bahá’í, the homosexual can overcome his problem through knowledge of the teachings and reliance on Bahá’u’lláh.”
The Universal House of Justice
..in a letter to an individual believer. March 14, 1973
(Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 365)

Lucas was very upset even though he knew this letter was sent not from the LSA itself but by the secretary at her own initiative. He wrote:
“The problem is that this experience is killing all my faith day by day. I am still trying to stay “spiritual” “

Now two years later I hear that he was found dead on the floor of his home in Brazil at age 22. The cause of death is not clear.

When I first communicated with Lucas I had no idea that he was gay and it seems that he didn’t either.

The prejudice against gays and lesbians is so wide spread among Bahais, that in order to show I do not share in this prejudice I need to make it clear that I do stand for the rights of gays and lesbians and am a Bahai. For me is strategic – it shows that is possible. In this case, for Lucas who had just become a Bahai, he heard it was possible to be a Bahai and not see anything wrong with homosexuality.
I hope Lucas might have found contact with other gays and lesbians who are Bahais as well as Bahais who did not damn homosexuality, but his 2017 comments show that he was suffering and hurt by the discrimination.

It was wrong of that secretary of the LSA to send Lucas that email, but he knew that if he had brought up this to that LSA he would been given yet more quotations on how homosexuality is wrong. Who would want to face that? I wouldn’t.

Recently, in response to hearing of a case of discrimination against a lesbian by an institution, a Bahai said to me, “she should make a complaint, that’s unreasonable”. He meant well and I understand that complaints about discrimination should be made, but you can only do this if you are in a place of confidence or if you see any sign that the discrimination would be recognized. As for myself, I am not confident that an LSA or an NSA (National Spiritual Assembly, the national level of Bahai administration) would do anything. I know too many stories of discrimination and this is why I write this blog. For my friends who can’t write a letter of complaint after being called diseased or told that they cannot be a Bahai anymore. This blog is also for those Bahais unaware of the discrimination in the hope that they make it known to their gay or lesbian friends that they can come to them for support the next time that person is feeling down.

I am very lucky that I have been a Bahai for many years and in my first few years of being a member of the Bahai community no one said or did anything to indicate to me that there was prejudice against gays or lesbians. I have had close gay friends since I was 17 so if I had known that gays and lesbians were discriminated against I would not have joined.
I didn’t know of any texts that stated “homosexuality is forbidden” until I had been a Bahai for 5 years when a flatmate, a newly declared Bahai, announced this with great enthusiasm. I was shocked. I was shocked this text existed and I was shocked that she was so excited about homosexuality being forbidden. I couldn’t engage with her on this because I was in shock. It felt wrong to my core and it didn’t feel like a teaching of equality and justice. If the topic came up, which it rarely did, then I would say it didn’t feel right to discriminate and I made it clear to the gay xBahais who confronted me (now the 1983 book, Lights of Guidance, was in most communities), telling me that Bahais believe homosexuality is a disease, that I did not share this view.

Decades further and thanks largely to the internet I have been able to learn more about the context for that prohibition listed in the Aqdas. It is based on handwritten notes by Shoghi Effendi and is not Shoghi Effendi’s published authoritative interpretation. This is the Universal House of Justice’s understanding, I assume: the author of the list of prohibitions in the pages after Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Aqdas is not clearly stated, but the Universal House of Justice (UHJ) have published the volume in the form that it is in. In any case, the UHJ is not authorized to interpret the writings of Baha’u’llah so this list must have the status of UHJ policy or of the Research Department.
So if a Bahai should say homosexuality is a problem, I will ask how? Many Bahais just say ‘it is a Bahai teaching’ and that’s what makes it so difficult. The prejudice against homosexuality is so widespread. How can a new Bahai find anyone they can talk to? How can a young person even discuss sexuality without the fear of being judged?
That Polish secretary thought she was being helpful but what she did was tell Lucas “the homosexual can overcome his problem” (a 1973 UHJ statement) and her initiative was in response to communications sent by the “Baha’i Writings Service”. How would you feel if a secretary gave you advice about overcoming your ‘problem’ when you know not all Bahais would be sent such advice? When you think most Bahais would agree with this advice, that homosexuality has to be overcome. You would think this because you never hear anything else. That you never hear a Bahai speak up to say, but homosexuality is not bad, not damned, and doesn’t need to be cured.

If the UHJ should state that homosexuality is a problem, this is trickier because many Bahais confuse the authority of the UHJ as ruler and maker of Bahai law with Baha’u’llah’s station. The UHJ no longer refers to homosexuality as a problem but these Bahais then just pull out the earlier statements of the UHJ where they state that homosexuality needs to be cured or overcome and since the UHJ has never stated in clear terms, the older policy of damning homosexuality is not current policy, it is hard to argue with Bahais who do this. So I have to point out that even if the UHJ should state that homosexuality is forbidden, this is a policy that they could change later on. It is not Baha’u’llah’s law because Baha’u’llah did not write a word on homosexuality and his teachings stress equality, justice and that Bahais should read Bahai scripture and interpret for themselves.

Like Lucas, it was after I had committed myself to joining the Bahai community that I discovered that the official policy was that homosexuality was considered aberrant in some manner but I only heard this from one Bahai in those first years expressed in almost a whisper – perhaps to gauge my response. There was a sense in this Bahai community that it was no one’s business to pry into people’s private lives, whether they were gay or not. Today I realise I was lucky to have become a Bahai in a community that was outward looking and tolerant of diversity. Then later there was that new Bahai excited because she found support for her prejudice in the book, Lights of Guidance.

Just a day ago a Bahai told me: “our duty is unquestioning obedience and compliance” and he possibly expected me to be silent. My response to him was that that was his opinion because the Universal House of Justice has not told Bahais that they are not allowed to discuss the policy of not recognizing legalized same sex marriage. Over the years I have developed a thick skin to attempts to silence me on this topic. It is not just because I think it goes against the Bahai principle of the independent search for truth but when people are afraid to say what they think, the Bahai community becomes a place of narrowness and not diversity. I think it is a Bahai teaching to be free to discuss and debate. The authority of the Universal House of Justice is to rule not to tell us how to think or interpret the Bahai Writings.

I understood from the tone of that man’s comment that he personally held no negativity towards gays but as a Bahai he had come to a decision that on this topic, there could be no discussion because he either didn’t see a solution or because he confused debate and critique with disobedience. As a Bahai I accept the authority of the Universal House of Justice to make Bahai law and their current policy is that married gays and lesbians are not allowed to join the Bahai community and same sex marriage is not accepted. I don’t understand why but there’s nothing stopping me from discussing this as long as I don’t make the mistake of saying that anything I say is any more than my own personal opinion. And therein lies the problem. That secretary’s opinion was that she thought she should send Lucas that email that stated that homosexuality was a problem to overcome.

And how many Bahais would then stand up and say, that’s discrimination. How many Bahais are willing to say out loud to a new Bahai or a young Bahai, it is possible to be a Bahai and gay – that it is a non-issue? How can we show that the Bahai community is a safe place for our LGBTQ teens?

Normally on my blog I do not reveal anything that might identify a Bahai and I take confidentiality very seriously but by the time Lucas died he was out to his Bahai community as a gay man and it seems wrong to keep his memory as another gay Bahai ‘unknown.’

It upsets me that Lucas is no longer with us and I end this post with mention of the Trevor project (thetrevorproject.org) in case any of you still think negative comments about homosexuality aren’t such a big deal. Words can really wound.



“Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. [1]
LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. [2]
LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.2 Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth. [2]
Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers. [2]
In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. [3]
LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. [4]
1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year. [5] Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. [6]

SOURCES:
[1] CDC, NCIPC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010) {2013 Aug. 1}. Available from:www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars.
[2] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
[3] James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
[4] Family Acceptance Project™. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics. 123(1), 346-52.
[5] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
[6] IMPACT. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal of Public Health. 100(12), 2426-32.

thetrevorproject.org

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10 comments

  1. G wrote: “When I was active I counseled sooooooo many Baha’i kids and young adults who were suicidal because of either being gay or thinking they might be gay and experiencing warnings, admonitions and condemnations from Baha’i administrators .. this young man’s suicide in the Baha’i community isn’t the first .. I
    I recently washed and prepared the body of a suicide Baha’i man !!!!!’”


  2. Thank you Sonja for this lovely tribute to a wonderful young man… my heart just breaks!


  3. Thank you for this Sonja.


  4. I am deeply sorry for this young man’s death in the flower of his youth. I have said prayers for the progress of his soul. I do find it a great pity that you have used his death to spread false accusations about widespread LGBTQ prejudice in the Bahai community. Have you done a survey of Bahais in the 180 countries in which the Faith exsts to support your claim with empirical evidence? In my experience here in the Netherlands and several EU countries as well as the US and Canada I have not experienced the prejudice you claim exists. It is also regrettable to see an assertion that he committed suicide in the comments section.


    • Pieter… does this mean that you and your husband are open, had a Bahaí wedding, and can attend all Bahaí gatherings in the EU and USA? That is indeed great news! As for the rest of us who had their rights removed because we are open, married, monogamous, and refuse to live in a 9 sided closet our experience is different! All I and many have shard is the lack of freedom to discuss our concerns on social media and consultation. I hope to hear how you and your husband and other LGBTQ Baha’is in your region are included, here in Brasil and the USA… the story has been very different indeed!


  5. I am grieved to learn if this youth’s untimely passing. A close family friend passed away unexpectedly and it was a great shock. My thoughts are with his family. I regret that you have used his death to malign the Bahai Faith and to distort reality by asserting that the doctrine is that gays have a “disease.” The reality is much more complex and nuanced. FYI I have seen many Bahais on Facebook with rainbow flags on their photos which they would not do if prejudice was as rampant as you wish to mislead readers to believe. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and with you. No one is forcing you to remain in the Faith as you are free to leave just as others have done because they encountered laws and principles with which they were unhappy. It may surprise you to know that in some countries some men have left the Faith because they could not agree with the Bahai teaching of the equality of men and women!


    • Mariane… you mean it is safe for LGBTQ Bahaís to be open and accepted in Bahaí communities? Does it mean that my husband and are welcome to participate in feasts and holidays? Does it mean that the AO is welcoming all of us back and willing to let us post our stories and experiences on social media when Bahaí homophobes are allowed to stay? You mean that at conventions and consultations the Bahaí community is encouraging LGBTQ Bahaís to be open and share their ideas in a safe and loving environment? This is great news! I look forward to having my rights returned and the AO welcoming all of us back that they expelled and shunned… thank you so very much, Sonja, for speaking out about the injustices and homophobia so many of us receive from Bahaís!


  6. Wow! As a a gay Mormon, this story stirs up so much! I am no longer Mormon because there is no place for me there. Their beliefs are just as strong as many other’s belief about this subject. I even served as a missionary.
    I am 53 years old. My advice is that gay youth need to step back from these religions. They need people like you who can give them support. There have been so many young gay Mormons who kill themselves! It is so hard!! I can not even come close to telling you what it does to a person! I pray you don’t find out. Even all these years later, I have a hard time. We have to worry about the youth. Help them get past this hard time in their lives. It is like losing everything and everyone!
    I am 53 years old. I have Cardiac Sarcoidosis and heart failure. My life is coming to an end. I have had a beautiful life and I have made peace with so many loved ones who are Mormon. Definitely , the gay youth need to stand their ground no matter what. To hell with those who can not handle it. Thanks.


    • Thankyou Sonja for once again giving a voice to those (for whatever reason) do not have one in this religion. RIP Lucas ❤


  7. “A new report from the Trevor Project shows that just one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt by 40 percent.

    This support is greatly needed. An additional report released Thursday by the Trevor Project shows that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ young people (ages 13 to 24) contemplate a suicide attempt each year in the United States.

    The survey was conducted with over 25,000 LGBTQ young people in this age range as part of the Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

    These findings are significant. Previous studies focused on the impact of accepting parents toward their LGBTQ children. However, the data shows that any supportive adult can have a beneficial impact on this demographic.

    Minority stress — created by stigma, discrimination, bullying, or a perception of bias — is credited as the main detractor to the mental health of LGBTQ youth. ”
    https://www.advocate.com/youth/2019/6/27/report-just-one-accepting-adult-can-save-lgbtq-young-persons-life?fbclid=IwAR2VUasT93xDQevEbCJEAANX6ZX6Zoi4uoZfItII2IUkol2y3P6uMEEVlLc



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