Archive for May, 2019

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Be Kind

May 7, 2019

"We will all, verily, abide by the will of God."My favourite quotation is Baha’u’llah’s “My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.” (Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words)

For me this stresses that our goal in life should be to make the world a nicer, kinder, safer place for all, in any manner available to each of us.

I wish the Bahai community was a kinder place towards our LGBTQ members – kinder so they didn’t have to leave, remain in the closet, or develop toughness to deal with discrimination ranging from slurs to condemnation to threats to exclusion. I wish the Bahai community was a kinder place, period. This might sound extreme to some ears who believe the Bahai community is open to diversity and does not discriminate, so I will explain.

In response to my last blog a number of not quite out of the closet individuals (one no longer wishes to be known as a Bahai) were privately harrassed by Bahais because they commented on a link to my blog which had been circulated on facebook. A lifetime of being told your kind are diseased, immoral, aberrant or shameful contributes to mistrust, distrust, fear, unhappiness or depression and so it doesn’t take much to tip the balance.

Another was told that she should be ashamed for liking my blog because that boy deserved to die. An elderly friend was told that they should be ashamed for liking the reference to my last blog and then she was told that she should be reported on because the UHJ (Universal House of Justice, international head of the Bahai community) condemns homosexuality. As I wrote in my previous blog, the UHJ no longer associates homosexuality with disease, but many Bahais turn to older UHJ policy which did. This elderly friend was so upset he asked me to intervene in some manner.
I decided that the best way to help was to write this blog because the worse possible response to discrimination is silence. Well, denying that there is any discrimination would be even worse.

Yes I have changed the gender. I mismatch most stories on my blog so it is not possible to trace comments to any particular individual but the incidents and the diverse locations are true.

Another Bahai wrote in reference to this same blog that this “sinful behaviour that is forbidden in the faith. The individual identifying as homosexual will always be socially shunned and politically stifled in the Baha’i Faith. This will not change.” Yes a Bahai from a western country wrote this in a closed facebook group in 2019!

Another gay Bahai thinking it was now safe for him to make it known that he was gay to his local community, contacted me, heartbroken because he was told he couldn’t be a Bahai any more by an ABM (an Assistant Board Member is appointed with a pastoral function in the Bahai community: some Bahais treat them more as authorities than as advisors). He left, later rejoined, left again. It saddens me that he feels that his lifetime of being a Bahai was no longer possible because now he couldn’t pretend he was not gay and now couldn’t even face the slurs or negative comments about homosexuality he used to be able to tolerate. He knew that that ABM had no right to say what he did, but it hurt him to the core and broke his faith in a future that would get better. Like many other gays and lesbians who have communicated with me, he couldn’t find the words to defend himself.
Some of these LGBTQ Bahais mention that they are celibate, which is none of my business, but they tell me anyway. I say this to illustrate the discrimination is against homosexuality, not about sexual practice, which many Bahais would say is no-one’s business. But those Bahais who say one’s private life is no-one’s business might also say, Bahais shouldn’t discuss homosexuality. For me the issue isn’t about the private life of any individual but about developing and maintaining an atmosphere of tolerance. No Bahai should have to live in the closet or keep their private life separate from the Bahai community to protect themselves from a complaint being made about them. One Bahai offered his home to a member of his LSA (a Local Spiritual Assembly is a group of 9 who run the Bahai community at a local level) who needed a place to stay. Then she made a complaint to the LSA which removed him from all Bahai committees and told him that he wasn’t allowed to mix with any other single Bahais. This individual was a professional teacher. He rang me, upset, because these were his childhood friends he was told he was not allowed to see on threat of having his voting rights removed. He had told no one of his sexual orientation but felt he couldn’t lie to his LSA when accused of being a homosexual.

A young European Bahai after declaring, knew of the discrimination and could handle this, seeing it as a residue of the prejudices in society in general, but when her LSA told her she could no longer give Bahai children’s classes this was the last straw. Her profession was also as a teacher and now that action by that LSA made her feel like a second class citizen. Unfortunately such actions often go unnoticed. Other members, noticing that she has left or resigned might think it is not their business to pry. Any individual who might have made that complaint to the LSA – after all she had been giving these classes for some years – would have felt justified by the LSA’s action. It could even have been the case that within the LSA some members might have argued for tolerance but that they were outvoted. However what matters in the end is the action of discrimination. Even if this was just one example (and I have many more), this matters. That community now has no gay or lesbian members and the next person to declare or the next youth to come out is likely to be treated in the same manner unless the discrimination is addressed. If that community had discussed homosexuality before that wo-man had joined that community, perhaps they could have been kinder? Perhaps the person who made the complaint didn’t realise that this would cause so much pain? Perhaps that Bahai thought it was impossible to be gay and a Bahai? Perhaps if that gay individual knew that gays and lesbians were not allowed to give children’s classes in that community, then they might not have been so hurt? Perhaps the community might have had time to discuss the pros and cons of having a gay or a lesbian Bahai conduct children’s classes? I have many stories of lesbians and gays being removed from Bahai committees because it became known that they were gay or lesbian. And those most hurt were ones who had kept their sexuality private, so it only took one Bahai to be intolerant, one Bahai to make a complaint.

A part of the reason that there is so much unaddressed discrimination against any hint of LGBQT visibility is that Bahais tend to look the other way when someone says something offensive about gays, or worse Bahais say there is no discrimination because they do not hear about it. They do not hear it because they do not have any LGBTQ friends who would trust them enough to say anything. These same individuals do not notice that there are no out of the closet LGBTQ Bahais in their Bahai community either. Absence. Silence. What’s missing here? I have been told that it doesn’t matter because homosexuality shouldn’t exist.

Just think, decades of being part of a loving community, perhaps growing up identifying with a worldwide community aimed at unity in diversity and then being told, as another friend was recently told ‘Baha’u’llah forbids your kind’ – in other words, you do not belong. This is harsh. Especially harsh to a young person who might not even be sure what their sexuality is. But not just young people either. A middle-aged woman asked me if she really wasn’t allowed to be a Bahai any more and a few months later her NSA (The National Spiritual Assembly runs the Bahai community at a national level) removed her voting rights without even meeting with her. Of the 40 of more instances of discrimination, I know of only two LSAs who treated their LGBTQ members with kindness. One is referred to in this blog “Love and Legalism – a tale of two Bahai communities” and the other LSA was informed by an NSA member that they were under investigation because some members of that LSA attended a same sex wedding by a Bahai from another community.
Another Bahai told me that she had attended her son’s wedding even though she knew Bahais were not allowed to do this but she didn’t have the heart not to. She was referring to this: “…about believers attending weddings of Bahá’ís who are marrying contrary to Bahá’í law, and we have been asked to convey to you the following. “If it is known beforehand that a believer is violating such laws, it would be inappropriate for the friends to attend the ceremony.” From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand, November 11, 1974: Australian Bahá’í Bulletin, No. 243, September 1975, p. 4 and in Lights of Guidance (1983).

Yet another Bahai told me that she knowingly attended her daughter’s non-Bahai wedding saying to me that she was discrete and that’s what Bahais should do. I do not agree. I think all parents should be free to attend their children’s weddings whether their children are Bahais or not. I would imagine that in 99% of all cases, no Bahai would dream of making a complaint. But it only takes one Bahai to complain and that’s the problem. Perhaps a future UHJ will make new policy stating that family members may attend their children’s weddings even if the children are gay or lesbian.

There is a strong tendency for Bahais to sit on the fence about anything out of a fear of showing disunity. There is only disunity if individuals with widely differing views accuse the other view, perspective or interpretation of being wrong. A minority voice is not a sign of disunity. Abdul-Baha clearly expected it to be a Bahai community norm for individual Bahais to have differing views when he wrote of “every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87) and Shoghi Effendi quoted this same text in the book, Bahai Administration (p.21)

So it seems to me that it is a core Bahai teaching that diversity of opinion is essential to what I view as a holistic community life. But the discrimination against homosexuality is so strong that I, as an individual have never brought this up as a topic at any Bahai gathering. Even when it has come up privately with Bahais, they bombard me with words, like Shoghi Effendi said, the UHJ says with words like, forbidden, wrong, immoral … so all I can squeeze out is, wouldn’t be better to be tolerant so it doesn’t look like prejudice? Because those ears are not open to the idea that a gay or lesbian has a right to exist. Of course not all Bahais who see homosexuality as part of a slippery slope are that intolerant, and I’ve had some insightful conversations with Bahais who view same sex marriage as wrong. Some of these Bahais wouldn’t make a complaint about anyone and would, I believe, be kind. So for me it isn’t a question of convincing Bahais there is nothing wrong with homosexuality but of creating a community where a gay or lesbian Bahai would feel they were treated with dignity and be free from a phone call or email telling them that they cannot attend any Bahai event aimed for their own age group or that they have to overcome their homosexuality.
A year ago a newly declared Bahai was shown the door at a deepening and two others had to leave with him because he had the car. These two were confused by what happened and when he said that it was because that Bahai knew he was gay, their response was that while they had sympathy for him, it was his own fault. It transpired that it was his fault for not knowing the ‘gay position’ before declaring. They had never had a gay declare in their community before. He has since resigned, so that community can go back to its idea of unity.

Any Bahai community that chooses to reduce the attitudes of discrimination against homosexuality have a tough task but they could start with just talking about how they might treat an individual in their community if they were gay or lesbian. It could be a way to address the more intolerant perspectives within their own community. Bahais thank me privately for my blog adding that they don’t dare say a word because they can’t handle the heat. Many of them are heterosexuals with some standing in the community and I understand and appreciate that they can’t do more. No one should have to step into an unkind space. Bahais regularly make complaints, even about this blog I write. The Universal House of Justice has not asked me to remove this blog and so these complaints are the opinions of Bahais, no matter what they might say behind my back. When I hear of these things it disgusts me but so far, I see it as fear, fear of difference, fear of people not like themselves but there is a bigger issue here than just the topic of homosexuality and that is a fear of the visibility of divergent or minority views within the Bahai community.

So why do I write on a topic that Bahais often tell me is divisive? Writing about homosexuality in relation to the Bahai teachings or community is only divisive if you think there is something wrong with homosexuality or if you think Bahais shouldn’t have differing opinions or perspectives. For me what is so amazing about the Bahai teachings is the often quoted ‘unity in diversity’ – it seems to me that Baha’u’llah intended to create a religious community based on differences – voices – not just one way of thinking or living or behaving. So diversity is not just something to be tolerated but at its essence having diverse views, interpretations or approaches is the means for holistic forms of problem solving. There are many passages in the Bahai Writings in support of the importance of diversity (“When thou doest contemplate the innermost essence of things and the individuality of each, thou wilt behold the signs of they Lord’s mercy…” (Selections. from the Writings of ´Abdu´l-Bahá, p. 41) but also in the manner of how the Bahai community affairs operates where there are elected individuals who consult together and where decisions are intended to be flexible and to evolve. “Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. Inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same.” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 20)

Abdul-Baha states that the authority of the UHJ’s rulings is the same as what is in Bahai Scripture but this does not mean that it is entirely the same, as clearly shown in the second half of the sentence. The UHJ can change its own policies (“repeal the same”). So if a UHJ states today that gays or lesbians may not have the same rights and responsibilities as a heterosexuals, it is possible that a future UHJ might state a different understanding of the Bahai teachings.

So why did I start this blog?

In 2009 a Bahai attempted to silence me in a Bahai discussion group by having me blocked so I couldn’t correct his claim that I was belittling the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. I knew at that moment I had to make my words public so that his rewording and his interpretation of what I wrote could not be used behind my back as if these were my words. What did I write? I wrote that mention of homosexuality is only in these letters. He took the word, “only” and claimed that I was saying these were only letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, as if these had no authority, and had me blocked from the group so I couldn’t respond. Fortunately for two days I could read all the comments agreeing with his words, damning those words I never wrote.

I also decided not to hide who I am because I have been a Bahai for a long time and am in a position to defend myself from slurs such as:
“My impression of your post is you are using Lucas in a dishonest way to give credence to your personal feelings that are in conflict with Baha’u’llah’s teachings.”

I can handle it if a Bahai claims that what I write is in conflict with Baha’u’llah but it certainly helps that I can call on a number of scholars to help me to understand Bahai Scripture in the original languages. It also helps that because my mother tongue is English, I am in the fortunate position of being able to easily read the large amount of Bahai writings in translation. I am also very careful about when to reveal someone’s identity on my blog and when not to.

The point of my blog about Lucas was to open up the question of how can we show that the Bahai community is a safe place for our LGBTQ teens? So the next time someone is down they can go to someone. So they don’t die of an unstated cause alone in their apartment.

One person told me that I should leave the Bahai Faith and stop writing from the viewpoint of a Bahai, because he thought the Bahai Faith would never accept gays or lesbians as equals and so could never deal with the discrimination. I disagreed with him because I do not think the Bahai teachings are flawed. There’s nothing to stop the UHJ ruling one day that the policy on same sex marriage could be treated like: “In general, marriages entered into by parties prior to their enrollment in the Faith are recognized as valid under Bahá’í Law, and in such cases an additional Bahá’í marriage ceremony is not permitted. This applies whether the marriage was established under civil or religious law or under tribal custom.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Panama, September 7, 1981, Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 379). <a hr
ef=”http://bahai-library.com/hornby_lights_guidance_2.html&chapter=2#n1270″>Also in Lights of Guidance.

or perhaps,

“Furthermore, the Faith accepts in certain cases unions which are ‘immoral but accepted’ by the society in which the people live.” (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Peru, June 23, 1969). Cited in Lights of Guidance.
(A link to the index on marriage in Lights of Guidance)

However the current 2018 policy from the UHJ states: “… it is not possible to recognize a same-sex union within the Baha’i community.” (Department of the Secretariat, 5 June 2018)

But I live for today and not some distant future. Today I am here to support those who are discriminated against and I stand for equality for all which I know to my bones is a Bahai teaching without any exceptions. I am also happy to be the person a Bahai might choose to accuse of doing something wrong or the Bahai they make accusations about to others. I have a thick skin and a very fortunate life so I have the confidence to do this. My advice to anyone, whether gay or not, is to find a world where one’s orientation is a non-issue so you can just be. If one of your worlds is the Bahai community then it will be easier to see slurs or threats as discrimination and to ignore them, and there are networks of support (that don’t associate sexuality with alcoholism or drug dependency) for our rainbow members.

I write this blog because gays and lesbians are being told that they are diseased. They ring or text me when they are attacked. I can’t tell them to consult the LSA because half the time it is the LSA or an LSA member or an ABM who has told them that they are diseased, have to isolate themselves from their childhood friends, have to leave their community.
Lucas, the subject of my previous blog, told me that views on homosexuality were expressed with such hostility that he didn’t dare talk to anyone in his community and so he spoke to me – a Bahai half way across the globe. Then again, a few years older in another country and community, he shared what a secretary wrote to him about needing to overcome his homosexuality. I expressed sympathy and suggested he only mix with those who did not see him as a lesser human and told him that it was not a Bahai teaching to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But he needed kindness from Bahais around him and, from what he wrote to me, it seems there was no one. There was no one in his local community who just said, it’s ok. You are just fine as you are, you are part of the diversity of humanity.
I finish with this New Zealand Māori saying:
“He kokonga whare, e kitea;
He kokonga ngakau, e kore e kitea.”

Corners of a house can be seen but corners of the heart cannot be seen.

Please, even if you think homosexuality is despicable, for the sake of unity, hold your tongue when it comes to condemning homosexuality. If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t. But don’t go behind a person’s back and make a complaint to an Assembly. Work at making your Bahai community a space where anyone is welcome, in whatever manner that is possible. Just be kind and if you can, “Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy …. a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. … a dew to the soil of the human heart…”
(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 285)
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