Archive for the ‘Pride March’ Category

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Letter from a gay former Baha’i

August 12, 2017

Lord, why do you pile all these troubles upon us? It is because of the gays, isn't it?

Lord, why do you pile all these troubles upon us? It is because of the gays, isn’t it?


In 1963 I joined the Faith at 15 in a European country. After 20 years of serving on committees, assemblies, pioneering to goal districts, holding firesides, praying, fasting, teaching and all the rest, I realised that to be forbidden to grow in love with another man was intolerable.

The idea of growing old emotionally alone felt positively dangerous to my mental health. Having accepted my being gay since early adolescence I decided I had to be with other men like myself. I thought then that I could possibly continue to serve and also find mutual love with another guy—just being discrete about it. Love not sex, please note, because Bahai’s always, always, confuse the two.

I met some great guys and quickly realised that these guys were just as normal as me. In fact, they were really attuned to human differences and the complexity of being the “other” in an intolerant society. It was a paradox that, in many ways, they showed more open and honest Bahai characteristics than many in my own local community. Time spent in their company became far more enriching and emotionally rewarding than sitting on an Assembly reading ever more jargon-ridden letters from the Institutions. I had shared the pain with dear friends who were marginalized for their academic research and writing, and who suffered vile abuse from some Bahais, still happening today. I felt the cruelty of the absence of a warm, fulfilling community life with other Baha’is.

Then a truly decent gay Baha’i acquaintance, on one of his sexuality guilt trips, outed me to an ABM as gay. [Note: ABM is a Bahai appointed to counsel Bahai communities at a regional level. Their role is advisory but local communities often accord them greater authority.] This ABM, a doctor working in a hospital which had done ECT on gays, wrote offering me a weekend of therapy which would cure me of these unhealthy and unacceptable urges. I declined, rather impolitely. I regret not being more diplomatic. Now outed, I decided to come out to close friends in the community. My closest friend of many years told me of his shock and how he never wanted to speak with me again and could not bear to even shake my hand. I haven’t seen him since, and still miss him. Another told me he would never leave his son in a room alone with me. Another dear friend could not bear to meet or hear about the man with whom I had fallen in love. On and on it went. I wondered how I could continue to serve on Institutions with these people. It simply was impossible. I chose to become inactive. Assembly members then called my home to tell me I was sick in the head.

I decided to leave the Faith one evening in a restaurant. I was having dinner with a gay friend—a dear, kind, sweet, lovely guy battling cancer, who would have been a credit to any community, may he rest in peace. Into the cafe came a party of Baha’is, including some who had served on an Assembly with me. They sat two tables away, in full view of me, and pointedly ignored me. I sat chatting to my friend and thought, who do I prefer to share my life with? Did I want a life with these Bahai’s, supposedly modelling themselves on the Master, or with truly decent people like my friend? It was a no-brainer. I withdrew. That was 1983.

I have now shared my life for over 34 years with one man, the love of my life. We are married. We created a home, a life and a business together, and I have never much regretted leaving the Bahai community. Whatever excuses people make, however they quote scripture, or the Guardian’s letters, it will never change. The community itself is homophobic from top to bottom. It is beyond change. I saw so many closeted gays in the Baha’i community twisting themselves into knots over their sexuality, living lonely single lives, or in sterile marriages, having kids to prove they are devout and casual sex with strangers as a release. One guy got married and on his honeymoon confessed he was gay. That revelation was followed by a speedy divorce. So much unhappiness dealt out along with heaps of intolerance to gays who could truly show many Baha’is the depth of real human compassion and love. The Faith, devoid and deprived of this segment of humanity, seems so utterly sterile. It hardly deserves a future.

The Baha’i community here is no bigger now than in 1983—it just has more committees and institutional bodies, it is still largely unknown to the public. It has apparently had no impact of any kind of depth on this wider society. It has many fine people trying their best, but on this issue don’t waste your emotional or spiritual energy. It is not worth it. Move on honourably and decently and leave them to their understanding of a prejudice-free world order. Keep your love for aspects of it and its Founders, by all means. I have no bitterness and wish my former friends no ill will at alI. Time will tell if I am wrong. Perhaps after all they will in fact create their frightening new world order, but be assured: gays will never be a fully-accepted people within it. That bet I think I will win.

In more recent years I wondered sometimes how things stood with my former Baha’i community. The internet is a great channel to look at this, and I quickly realised little had changed over the years. Reading your blog and others, I feel a great sense of hope reading so many expressions of positivity by so many people, but also of sadness and exasperation on two broad levels. The first is for those young people who have still have to hide their sexuality within the community and cope with all the negativity about them being somehow deformed human beings. The slightly softer line recently from the UHJ seems so obviously to be a concern for avoiding legal conflicts with civil societies who have accepted equal rights, same sex marriage, etc., rather than any ditching of institutional homophobia. They are in no way unique; this is all too common. Shunning those who have withdrawn now seems accepted practice in this part of the world.

Not far from here is a small, pretty lake with a lovely, tree-covered island. Years ago, a teacher who had been outed to his workmates, family, church and friends as gay rowed himself across the lake, past the swans, to the island where he took a rope and hanged himself from a tree. He had done no wrong, but his future had been taken from him by intolerance and hate. Going past the lake I think of how lonely and awful that he had no one to turn to, and that he may have found hanging less awful than drowning. The kind of prejudice which drove him to act as he did is what I saw and heard in the Baha’i community. Times have changed, thankfully, so that people are more prepared to say “No, I won’t be treated as inferior, mentally or spiritually deformed.” I left without too much regret, though I saw a big chunk of my social world suddenly vanish away. Others may decide to stay and brave it out, and good luck to them. I worry about their long-term mental/spiritual health, but wish them well.

My second source of sadness is to see the Baha’i community continue to deprive itself of all the really positive aspects of so much of gay sensibility. It may be cliched, but the creativity at so many levels, the humour, the empathy and understanding of otherness—of being discriminated against within a larger group—the deep honesty about society, and the genuine tolerance of differences: these are all attributes that the Baha’i community could use. Instead, it deprives itself of so much talent. This year I found myself in that city on the day of the Gay Pride march. It was a very positive and uplifting experience, particularly to see how many young straight couples had brought their toddlers and children to wave rainbow flags and cheer on the marchers. For them it was a fun, carnival-like family day out and they were supporting people they knew. Gays were not shadowy, sad, tortured weirdos, as in Shoghi Effendi’s day. They had names, life stories, families, workmates, a three-dimensional reality—in other words: ordinary people. I wondered what it would be like for Bahai’s to go in there delivering the message to these straight families about how sick these gays were, how this was wrong to God?

Recently the Republic of Ireland, despite opposition from the usual religious groups, had a referendum to allow constitutional change allowing same sex marriage. It passed by a huge majority and was implemented, and lo and behold the sky has not fallen. People have taken it in their stride, though older people like me still find it odd to describe my partner of 34 years as my husband. Where I live we have yet to introduce same-sex marriage. Bahai’s show themselves to be out of step with the wider society which seems sad to me, for all parties. But I comfort myself with Julian of Norwich’s great declaration, “All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”

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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.”