So often this forum is a place for venting of frustration and airing of gripes. I thought I would add something positive today. :)
I'm a newly declared Baha'i (25, Jehovah's Witness background, openly gay, live in a large Southern gay mecca) and I have a Baha'i coworker. He's an older gentleman, in his late 50's or early 60's and he's Persian. Grew up there and came here to study after the Revolution. During the fast we've been going on walks during our lunch hour once or twice a week so I can share the experience of my first fast with him, as well as get to know him better. I've been finding our walks to be very encouraging and uplifting so today I decided to open up to him.
I started by telling him about a sermon I had listened to by the founder of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee, on how God is an artist and why I thought that illustration fit well with Baha'i ideas. We all have different potentialities to develop the assortment of virtues/colors. And while there are rules to painting, sometimes they have to be broken to create a masterpiece. And God's primary concern isn't maintaining the letter of the law, but in creating masterpieces. I would definitely recommend checking it out here (http://www.gaychristian.net/gcnradio/index.php?fbb_session_id/684d943b80df3d3c86664de95763fda0/)
I then asked him for his thoughts on marriage and whether we focus too much on romance here in the West. After talking about that for about 10 minutes he asked me if I had a girlfriend, like I figured he would. I told him I had a boyfriend and that things are going well. He was surprised by the revelation but he took it in stride. No theological debates, no prejudiced comments or looks, no insistence that I'm sick or in need of therapy or that I should try dating women.
He reiterated that science and religion must agree so he expects the UHJ to rule on this eventually and that until then we must strive to adhere to the laws we do have and that, at the end of the day, whatever we do, we must be able to answer to our God with our heads held high. To which I agreed and added that I do expect to be able to have a Baha'i marriage someday based on what I know of the Writings and science and my own personal experience. And that even if I can't have a Baha'i wedding I do intend to apply Baha'i principles to my union, whatever it is called. Even if I cannot adhere to the letter of the law, keeping with the spirit of it will only help me and those in the community who see.
We then continued our walk and our conversation about marriage and the purpose of laws. It was a great conversation. I wish I could share the whole thing with you guys. But I'm limiting it to just this part because I want this community to see the progress going on in the community. While I'm working on a need-to-know basis with my sexuality I have never been closeted in my interactions with the Baha'i community. And, in general, people have either been openly supportive or politely neutral. I've never felt judged or treated differently after people found out. But, in truth, I had been holding back from this coworker because he's older and Persian and I had heard that they were more conservative than American Baha'is. I didn't even tell him I was studying until I had declared. But he surprised me. He reacted with the same love and support and faith as my young progressive Baha'i friends.
Now would he support gay marriage on a ballot? I don't know. But what I do know is that he is committed to his faith, while at the same time being open to learning from the experiences of others and adjusting his perspectives as new information comes along. He is why I have faith that the Baha'i community will eventually find its way through this issue.
Unlike a lot of religious communities, Baha'is are very much engaged in the non-Baha'i world around them. And that constant interaction with different ideas and perspectives and worldviews helps us to refine our own, to know the limits of what we know for sure. Often this ends up forcing us to narrow the scope of what we know for sure and embrace the constantly shifting shades of gray built into human experience. Admittedly I live in a very gay city, no.1 by percentage of the population last time I checked. So my experience is by no means universal or even typical among Baha'i communities. It probably won't be for a while still. But it shows things are getting better. Being exposed to happy, healthy, religious, productive members of society who happen to also be GLBT helps. It doesn't eliminate the controversy or even change minds necessarily. But by keeping the issue in front of people our presence in the community keeps the conversation open. And that's the most important thing. People can only endure cognitive dissonance for so long when they are constantly reminded of it.
That's why it's so important for us to not only be out, but to stay engaged with our spiritual communities if at all possible. Yes, it means enduring injustice. Yes, it means sacrifice. But how much injustice did Tahirih endure asserting the equality of women? How much did she sacrifice in her jihad for the progress of her people and the possibilities of future generations after her?
I'm not saying we should keep allowing people to hurt us. Lord knows how many of us have been scarred on our souls by the "good intentions" of religious people, even Baha'is. I still have family that won't talk to me since I was excommunicated from the Jehovah's Witnesses. But we can't let that poison us, poison our relationship with God, poison our relationship with our communities. Ultimately that just hurts us and allows ignorance and injustice to persist that much longer.
Know your limits. But do what you can. Don't give up. There's yet hope