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Mark Tobey (1890-1976),

famous artist, dedicated and devout Baha'i, was gay. His life and work were commemorated.. More

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We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

                          Joan Didion, title essay, The White Album (1979)

Gay and proud

I joined the Baha'i Faith in my early 20s, being attracted to its message of universal peace and justice. But I was repressing my own sexuality and looking to escape into religion. I dropped out a few years later after I overcame the shame of being gay and am now in my 40z happily married to my husband. As long as the Baha'i administration continues to hold retrograde views about homosexuality, it will never grow. People who believe in racial, religious, and gender equality are naturally drawn to accepting homosexuality as s natural form of human diversity. Besides the anti-gay stance, I also had other problems with the faith: 1) Why aren't women allowed on the UHJ? Because patriarchy still rears its ugly head. 2) It has a poor understanding of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other non-Abrahamic religions, often forcing them to fit into its worldview or progressive revelation. 3) It refuses to speak o ut about injustices that don't affect the Baha'i community — a very insular and self-absorbed culture. Specifically, the apartheid-like treatment of Palestinians under the Israeli government. I guess protecting their fancy Mt. Carmel monuments is more important than defending people living under humiliating prison-like conditions. 4) The notion of infallibility-- totally unscientific and creates a sheep-like mindset that discourages questioning, reasoning, and experiential knowledge.

I'm a much happier person now, having come to a place where I am true to myself and my heart. I sometimes go to Unitarian Universalist services and meetings for a spiritual community, and that is enough for me.

Another long but very true story... 

Again once again thank you all for this space....

I posted this elsewhere, but thought it might be nice to archive it here as well....

Over 30 years ago, when I lived in Albuquerque, NM (ABQ), finishing grad school... coming out, divorce... it was a tough time. I was really like a lost rowboat on a stormy sea... I even attempted a suicide one or twice on my bike in traffic... dumb, I know.

A professor of mine, Rafael, was one of the first openly gay role models I met. He was a former Jesuit, turned Zen practioner, and let me stay with him and his partner until I could steady myself. I owe a lot to them. Strike that, I owe everything to them... Until then, my only contact with gay people, was, well unsavory and not very well together types. They introduced me to strong, together, professionals and good decent people. Saturdays we went to a Gay men's meditation group, and then we went to brunch. It was there that I first met Gay men who were working on their spiritual sides. At that time, I was still going to feasts and wearing a Bahá'í ring. One morning a very, very odd man came to the group, his energy field was really off, and at brunch he sat next to me. Early on he noticed my ring, and began ranting about the Guardian... come to find out he was a big cheese in the Covenant Breakers near ABQ. Sigh... he began a wacky rant... I remember, turning to him and saying,

"My friend, this is hardly the place for such a discussion, I do not agree with you, and we will not continue this discussion. Period".

He started in again, and as he did, his plate lifted off the table, and dumped into his lap...

The group just stared at him, our Zen teacher and leader turned to Rafael, and said...

"The force is strong in this one" and we all laughed...

Soon after, I took a faculty position in Sacramento, and Rafa, got a job at Stanford... he is since retired, and still a great mentor. I owe him a lot, he taught me that I could be gay and follow a spiritual path, and could ignore all this nutty Bahá'í administrative homophobic community dysfunction. He introduced me to the idea of service and tools that helped me deal with the anger I had with Bahá'í. I volunteered with the Sacramento AIDS project when things began to explode in SMF. Again I met a lot of good, decent, service oriented people. His mentorship planted the seed in me that allowed me to eventually meet the other great people here on Tman.

It is also why I get very, very frustrated with all this Bahá'íness... it doesn't want to look at what works, or adapt. And why I no longer feel the magic with it or have any sense of Sangha in it.

So maybe, just maybe Baha'u'llah was looking out for me after all, and showed me a place where I could be loved, where I was welcome, where I could serve with out fear…

Namskar dear mentor and teacher Rafa!

Letter to the UHJ and NSA of the USA

To the Universal House of Justice and the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States of America,

Last time I wrote you I was writing to ask permission to travel to Iran in order to pursue my study of Persian and Baha'i history. It was my hope to become a scholar of the Faith. That letter marked, in many ways, the pinnacle of my immersion in the Baha'i community. Growing up, Baha'i children's classes were held at my house every weekend, and feasts, holy days, firesides, and potlucks joyfully paraded through my home with comforting regularity. I remember crawling out of bed and dangling my legs over the second floor banister to listen surreptitiously to the late night consultations and deliberations of the Local Spiritual Assembly, which included both of my parents. One day I hoped to join their ranks.

My father founded one of the first theater companies in the world to dedicate itself to themes and stories from Baha'i history, and when I was fifteen I began touring with him across the USA, UK, and Canada – enacting plays about the beloved heroes and heroines of the Faith. When I was eighteen I served at the Lotus Temple in New Delhi and later at my university plunged headlong into what could have been subtitled a degree in Baha'i Culture (Persian, Arabic, and Middle Eastern Studies). My marriage vows were Baha'i vows, my daily prayers Baha'i prayers, and my hopes for humanity and myself — those hopes outlined in the sacred writings of the Faith. I write all this, not to brag about my Baha'i pedigree, or to prove a legitimate degree of devotion, but to illustrate how fundamentally rooted I have been in the Faith and to contextualize my profound grief that this is a letter of resignation.

There was a time when the Faith was everything to me and the Baha'i community a family like no other, but for the last ten years I have had difficulty feeling that I belong to it or want to belong to it. There are perhaps several issues at play, but the most fundamental of them has been the official position espoused by the Universal House of Justice on homosexuality. I am a heterosexual woman and I am married to a man, but many of my dearest friends and colleagues belong to the LGBTQ community. You advise that I should consider their sexual orientation to be a kind of "handicap" which they should "pray to overcome", but I find this position impossible to maintain.

As a child and young adult, I prided myself in belonging to a religion that was not weighed down by outdated social laws, not caught up in untangling and interpreting archaic customs to fit the modern age. In comparison to other religions, the principles of gender and racial equality which the Baha'i Faith upheld often felt revolutionary and refreshingly modern. Even in 1914, Abdu'l- Bahá encouraged the marriage of people of different races in America! It felt good to be ahead of the curve and on the right side of history. But when it comes to the civil rights issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community, Baha'is are so woefully behind the curve, that I have for many years been embarrassed to be associated with the community. Current attempts to legitimize the LGBTQ community, such as legalizing gay marriage, do not only represent "changing trends in popular thought" (which to my ear sounds like characterizing significant changes as a superficial fad) but the emancipation of a community that has existed in human society as long as men and women have existed.

Some years ago, when people asked me about my religious affiliation, I started answering that "I was raised as a Baha'i" instead of saying "I am a Baha'i." After the birth of my first child a few months ago, I fell into a deep depression in regards to my ambiguous relationship to my own faith community. It grieves me deeply that I will not raise my daughter within the embrace of the Baha'i Faith, which has meant so much to me. But it disturbs me further that she would be raised to believe that to be loyal to Bahá'u'lláh means to categorize a substantial and precious portion of the human race as "self-indulgent", "shameful", "aberrant", "abhorrent", "immoral", "disgraceful", "handicapped", or "afflicted". When my daughter was born I plunged into a studious and thorough interrogation of the writings on the subject of homosexuality, hoping I would be able to justify a way to return. When I found your letter – dated 9 May 2014 – I realized instead that I would prefer to officially resign.

My father has pleaded with me in the past to stay — to remain in a state of questioning while maintaining my role in the community. He tells me that the Baha'i community needs ardent seekers to ask difficult questions, or it has no chance of evolving and meeting the needs and ailments of the current age. "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water," he has said – a metaphor that rings more profoundly in my ears now that I have a baby of my own! But when I read this sentence from your May 9th letter — "It would be a profound contradiction for someone to profess to be a Bahá'í, yet reject, disregard, or contend with aspects of belief or practice He ordained" — it feels as if the Universal House of Justice is calling me a hypocrite rather than encouraging those believers who struggle with aspects of the Faith to persevere. Regardless, I no longer want to live in a constant state of schizophrenia and contradiction. For a long time I maintained that the writings of Bahá'u'lláh are in fact not clear on the issue of homosexuality, and therefore the retrograde attitudes towards homosexuality in the Baha'i community might shift. In regards to the passage often quoted from the Kitab-i-Aqdas ...

We shrink for very shame, from treating the subject of boys.

I was under the impression that "the subject of boys" implied the practice of pederasty, and did not extend to homosexuality in general. Why should it, when sex between an adult and a child (boy or girl) is so very different than sex between two consenting adults? The other passage which is often quoted...

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.

might seem more explicit, but in fact sodomy (if defined as "anal sex") is anatomically impossible between two women and not strictly a necessity between two men who wish to bring each other to a sexual climax. It feels foolish to delve into the nitty-gritty particulars of the sex act, when it is our immaterial souls that religion should occupy itself with. As you write in your letter dated the 9th of May 2014, it is the role of religion "to cultivate spiritual qualities and virtues – the attributes of the soul which constitute one's true and abiding identity." And yet you have involved yourself in tracing clear prohibitions against the sexual acts of people of the same gender in the Baha'i community. So I feel it is important to be equally explicit that sodomy and pederasty are NOT synonymous with homosexuality. Even if this was not your opinion, you would be amiss to say that two women or two men cannot be part of the "the bedrock of the whole structure of human society" which supports and nurtures the next generation because they cannot issue forth children. I've witnessed many healthy households headed by same-sex parents. Surrogate motherhood, sperm and egg donation, not to mention adoption, has redefined the family structure in the contemporary world.

You write "if such statements are considered by some to be unclear, the unambiguous interpretations provided by Shoghi Effendi constitute a binding exposition of His intent." I agree that the writings of Shoghi Effendi are less ambiguous than those enshrined within the Kitab-i- Aqdas, but are you not an infallible institution, capable of redefining his interpretations in a more enlightened manner without negating the divine covenant that has linked the series of institutions and individuals shepherding the Baha'i community towards its true potential? Do you not exist, not only to interpret and uphold what has already been written, but so that the Faith does not become calcified and intransigent — so that the Faith continues to be a living, thinking entity, able to adapt and respond to the needs and challenges of the age? As I write this letter, I realize I am writing it more for myself and my own sense of clarity than to enact any kind of response or change. I know a single letter cannot change the culture of a worldwide religion, and yet I would feel cowardly to leave the community without some clear act of protest or an attempt to communicate my grief. I wonder if you realize the emotional pain that you are inflicting upon the ardent believers of your community; radiant souls who want more than anything to be able to call themselves Baha'is.

Perhaps I am too rigid when I insist that this is a letter of resignation. The fact that I have decided that I can not be a part of the Baha'i community without being entirely a part of it, and so I must take myself entirely out of it, might, in itself, express a divisive breed of orthodoxy. Still, after much deliberation, I have concluded that this is the route I want to take.

I hereby relinquish my voting rights, and I ask that you strike me from the rosters.

I have no doubt that I will continue to love and respect the founders of the Faith, and to turn to their writings for guidance. I desperately hope that the official position of the Baha'i community in regards to LGBTQ individuals will change one day. If that day should come in my lifetime, I will be your valiant ensign once more.

Sincerely, Anisa George Philadelphia, PA