Open Letter to the National Spiritual Assembly re Gays in the Baha'i Faith
September 20, 1993
To The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís United States
From a Group of concerned Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Straight Bahá'ís and their friends
The Bahá'ís and their friends who gathered in Reno, Nevada from the 3rd to the 5th of September, 1993 want to sincerely thank the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States for supporting this historic gathering. Without your love and support, this weekend could not have occurred. For many of us, it was the first opportunity to speak honestly about the pain, hurt, and confusion we experience because of the lack of tolerance and acceptance of us from our Bahá'í brothers and sisters. Our devotions on Sunday morning included the naming of the many people we once knew who had passed on due to suicide or complications from AIDS, and the recitation of the long healing prayer for their souls and the success of this meeting.
The lives of so many precious friends so tragically cut short gave a special gravity to our gathering. We all experienced a powerful sense of urgency that some new openness and understanding be reached, not only for our own well being, but for the sake of future generations of gay men and lesbians, and further, for the good of the Faith itself. Many of us have been in hiding from our Bahá'í communities, we have all been made to feel unwelcome in our own religion. For a few of us, it seems that alienation, confusion, and despair has been too heavy a burden to bear.
We began with prayers for assistance and by affirming that we are all strong in the covenant, and want to fully support all the Institutions of the Bahá'í Faith. After a weekend of at times painful, open and frank consultation we have produced, as requested by the National Spiritual Assembly, a list of recommendations. The recommendations that follow were taken from individuals throughout the weekend and refined somewhat in final consultation at the close of the weekend. We wish to emphasize that each of the members who put their name to this letter may not agree with all the details of every suggestion. We respectfully seek your guidance, prayers, and support. As well, we humbly, but honestly offer our own unique perspective for your consultation on this issue.
Many of us believe that this issue revolves around the Bahá'í principle of the reconciliation of science and religion. From very real experience, people described their own painful and expensive efforts to change their sexual orientation through counseling and other therapies. This notwithstanding, the advice of therapists who repeatedly point out that all accredited branches of medicine and psychology agree that homosexuality is a normally occurring variation in nature. None of us has found in all our efforts any evidence whatsoever that a homosexual can be changed into a heterosexual by medicine or psychological treatments. Our personal experience supports the accepted view of science. And now, more recent data strongly suggests that sexual orientation is not only non-pathogenic, but prenatal, in fact in part genetically determined. How then is a Bahá'í to reconcile this issue? On the one side, a person's unchangeable sexual and emotional needs, supported wholeheartedly by medicine and psychology and further strengthened by a global movement in Gay and Lesbian rights. On the other side, the morality and censure of their chosen Faith. This is no small dilemma.
Some members of our gathering voiced a desire that, being as gay people have an impossibly difficult set of tests, the National Spiritual Assembly might be appealed to for a "kinder and gentler" approach. Perhaps, with a bit more compassion and mercy, the sex life of homosexuals could be left alone as something personal between themselves and God as long as their behavior did not cause a real public scandal by a 1990's standard.
Other members see this issue in a more liberated light, seeking to sweep aside antiquated homophobic obstructions to the happiness of gay men and lesbians. By this standard of clear scientific facts and modern humanist ideals, homosexuality is seen to be a totally natural and normal variation for a portion of the population and utterly free of any moral stigma. These bravely idealistic Friends would look for the Faith to ultimately accept marital relationships between life partners exactly as in heterosexual marriage. Whatever the future holds, we all agreed to appeal to the National Spiritual Assembly for some new guidance and a change in the sad and frustrating status quo. We respectfully recommend, in light of a number of deaths from suicide and AIDS and the growing number of HIV positive believers in the American Bahá'í community, that the National Spiritual Assembly take action to foster the acceptance of all gay and lesbian people as whole individuals in the Bahá'í Faith, and to include them completely in Bahá'í community life.
In recent decades homosexuality has emerged from centuries of unspeakable repression blossoming almost overnight into a worldwide movement of liberation and civil rights. During the Inquisition, homosexuals were tortured and killed as satanic heretics. Lesbians have been reviled, hated, and burned as witches. Countless thousands of gay men and lesbians were herded into railroad cars by the Nazis never to be seen again. Not long ago, people were "committed" to asylums by their families for electric shock treatments and strapped to tables for lobotomies simply because their desires did not conform to the majority. It is any wonder that people so terribly oppressed would be receptive to the healing message of Bahá'u'lláh? Can it be that the same pervasive winds of change affecting the entire world, opening peoples eyes to oppression, hoisting the banner of justice, eliminating prejudices of all kinds, can it be that this liberating wind has blown in an unanticipated direction? It seems exactly that way from our perspective. It is obvious that a new world order is being created before our very eyes. We simply ask to be allowed to be a part of the work of building it. We respectfully offer the following points for your consultation.
1) Fear and ignorance of homosexuals within the Bahá'í Community: Our experience suggests that there are large numbers of gays and lesbians in the Bahá'í Faith. Furthermore, many heterosexual Bahá'ís are supportive of gays and lesbians. Insofar as there are no known therapies to alter a person's sexual orientation, the friends and Institutions of the Faith should show greater compassion and forbearance in regarding homosexual Bahá'ís. We recommend that Bahá'ís whose sexual orientation is homosexual, should be encouraged to strive to uphold the same standard as any other Bahá'í (to live a chaste and holy life). In the words of the beloved Guardian,
Only when an individual's behavior becomes a matter of genuine public scandal, such as in the case of public sexual behavior, which would result in general public condemnation and scandal; should administrative action be taken, and then with great constraint. (ref. letter from the Guardian 20 August 1955).
An atmosphere of trust, understanding, tolerance, and love, in which gay and lesbian Bahá'ís are treated, as all human beings, in a fair and unprejudiced manner should be encouraged. Since Bahá'ís are exhorted to avoid prejudicial behavior in general (See: Goals for current 3 Year Plan), we would like to see attitudes of love, understanding, and compassion combined with a sense of justice and fair-mindedness practiced by every Bahá'í community. We believe this is a critical step in approaching the issue of homosexuality, and a vital step if the Bahá'í community is to overcome all obstacles to the oneness of humanity as envisioned by the Blessed Beauty.
2) A Moral Double Standard: Gay or lesbian Bahá'ís need support in their individual search for peace and truth to best live the life given to him/her by the creator in a society filled with so much prejudice and hatred. The issue of private behavior is a most sacred and personal issue between the individual and God. We request Bahá'í institutions and communities to resist the temptation to judge us so harshly, inasmuch as no one truly knows the life, the feelings, needs, and tests of another. Our own experience is that often the perceived "sinner' was subject to backbiting., intolerance, and unkindness by Bahá'ís who righteously believed these acts were in the best interest of preserving the image of the Faith.
We see an obvious inequity in the uneven application of "sexual misconduct" standards in the same community between heterosexuals and homosexuals: perceived transgressions by gay and lesbian Bahá'ís usually result in the removal of administrative rights while similar acts of heterosexuality receive more lenient treatment or are ignored altogether. Also, homosexual Bahá'ís are treated different from one community to the next, leading to inconsistencies in the application of sanctions among Bahá'í communities.
We recommend that all cases where rights have been removed be reviewed and reassessed in light of current knowledge on this subject, and that action be taken to bring all gay and lesbian believers (active and/or inactive) back into their communities with an attitude of love and acceptance.
3) A Committee on Homosexuality: We recommend that a committee, consisting of professional, sensitive, learned, and well respected, gay male, lesbian, and heterosexual Bahá'ís should be established to develop a positive course of action, response, and support for the gay and lesbian friends, the general Bahá'í community, and families of homosexuals. The group should be directed to develop a plan to enlighten and educate the American Bahá'í community concerning homosexuality, and to assist the American Bahá'í community to study recent developments in AIDS, sexuality, psychology, and medical research on the subject.
4) BPFLAG: We recommend the establishment of a Bahá'í Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (BPFLAG), which would be modeled after PFLAG, an international organization sponsored by many churches and other organizations worldwide. This would include the development and dissemination of literature describing resources available to Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís alike regarding the Bahá'í view of tolerance and forbearance towards all people, and gay and lesbian people in particular.
5) Speakers Bureau: In conjunction with the above goal, the Gay Bahá'í Fellowship (which is a teaching institute that educates and supports gay and lesbian Bahá'ís and people who are HIV+), would be pleased to provide a resource to the Bahá'í community that can create and foster greater compassion and understanding on this subject. There are many volunteers, willing to share their experience with Bahá'í communities seeking information on homosexuality. This could include educational programs for communities who request it, at Bahá'í schools, etc. As well, we are developing a video tape that may be useful in this respect.
6) A Clear Statement About Whether Gays and Lesbians are Welcome in the Bahá'í Faith: We are deeply concerned that serious damage is being done to the reputation of the Bahá'í Faith. Large numbers of gays, lesbians, and their friends are attracted to this religion, but will not enroll, and ultimately loose interest because of the official stand on this issue. Many people and organizations view our stand on homosexuality as inconsistent with the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. We are concerned as well as to its consequences for the propagation of the Faith amongst members of the larger progressive religious community, human rights organizations, and the scientific community as a whole. This growing and extremely negative impression of the Bahá'í Faith is a direct result of fear of homosexuality (homophobia) and its resulting intolerance. This impression is reinforced by actions which have been taken by the institutions of the Faith which leave many individuals seeking support and comfort among non-Bahá'ís who can not understand. We feel the prevailing misinformation, negative attitudes, and harmful stereotypes in many Bahá'í communities towards homosexuality is doing serious and possibly irreparable damage to the Cause of God.
7) We recommend that Auxiliary Board Members and their Assistants should be provided appropriate, up to date materials, resources, and background on this subject. We are concerned that the focus to date has been one of "changing" sexual orientation which is not a reachable goal, in light of current scientific findings.
8) We Request the National Spiritual Assembly to instruct individual Local Spiritual Assemblies to discontinue encouraging marriage as a cure for homosexuality. This recommendation, carried out by well intentioned Bahá'ís has produced disastrous and painful consequences for spouses, children, and families. We seek, and pray for an open attitude towards, and the discussion of the effects of HIV in the American Bahá'í community. In light of the dramatic and worldwide devastation of AIDS, lists of resources and support organizations should be made available for all Bahá'í institutions and individuals, as soon as is possible.
9) We are willing to come to Wilmette and consult with the National Spiritual Assembly about these recommendations. We look forward to and pray for reconciliation and healing in the Bahá'í community on this issue.
Again, we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts for supporting our efforts to gather and consult about these vitally important issues in an atmosphere of trust, safety, and love. We also want to thank the Local Spiritual Assembly of Reno, xxxx, and members of the Gay Bahá'í Fellowship for organizing this historic weekend.
Be assured of our continued love, and faithfulness in service to the Cause of God.
Respectfully submitted on behalf of the following participants,
Daniel Orey [ other names deleted ]