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The LGBTQ Community & the Bahá’í Faith
On Being LGBTQ & Bahá’í
I was a female-bodied, gender-noncomforming Bahá’í person and married to my husband for eight years before I decided to medically transition from female to male to affirm my true gender identity as a man. Though my biological sex is now largely non-binary, in respect of my true gender, I am now a man married to a man. At first, this highly distressed me because of Shoghi Effendi's statements to a fellow Bahá’í in a letter written on his behalf, "No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature." (Bahá’í Library). The Guardian, God bless his soul, goes on to compare homosexuality to a disability to be overcome via conversion therapy, and to suggest that being a married, sexually active, homosexual person and being an active member of the Bahá’í Faith should be regarded as mutually exclusive. The Universal House of Justice has even used this stance on homosexuality to remove from the membership of the faith an individual who marries a person of the same sex, including Daniel Orey who published the expulsion letter to his blog.
The Start of My LGBTQ Bahá’í Research
I considered the Guardian's statements for a long time, accepting (to my gravest distress) that the expressions of love by myself and my queer fellows are "wrong" in God's eyes, that we are in need of somehow changing our own born, God-given, naturally occurring, and unchangeable nature, or living long, depressing lives as chaste individuals, or else pretending to be heterosexual and marrying very unfortunate partners to fulfill the illusion. As a person both born disabled and also made disabled, I also chewed over the comparison of my own disabilities to my queer identity. But while there are pills that can help reduce the pain of my scoliosis, and exercises and supplements I can, and do, utilize to proactively moderate my pain, my conditions are not something I can "overcome" because no pill will straighten my spine or make the blood vessels in my left foot start functioning. Neither is there a medical procedure that can successfully make a strictly heterosexual person capable of homosexual love, and vice versa, or make a pansexual or bisexual person strictly heterosexual, as the overwhelmingly high failure rates and suicide rates of individuals enduring conversion therapy can readily attest to. Surgery could reduce some of the twist in my spine, but I would suffer greater injury, lose height, flexibility, and agility, and actually find myself in noticeably poorer health. There is also no surgery, pill, or physical therapy for damaged vascular systems in the foot. I can never be able-bodied. I can push my boundaries only with great caution and sometimes with the result of injuring myself and potentially permanently worsening my condition. I cannot "overcome" my disabilities. I was simply not born to abled-bodied. This is simply the nature of my body.
Being born with a sexual orientation that differs from what the privileged majority possesses is an unchangeable fact. A strictly homosexual person can pretend to romantically love someone of the opposite sex, but is not capable of genuine romantic love, and many are not even capable of heterosexual intercourse. Physical and emotional attraction for someone of the same sex is not "ideal" for a gay man, it is the only kind God made him capable of. Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is not something that can be "overcome." Heterosexuality and homosexuality are the limitations people are born with, and not only does God make no mistakes, but it is not even for us to question Him of His doings. "My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof." (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Part One, From the Arabic, #12).
Another troubling aspect of Shoghi Effendi's statement was that he provided no basis for his claim of Bahá’u’lláh's position on homosexuality. Without a single relevant writing from which to derive his statement, his statement cannot be considered an "interpretation," but an opinion, and only interpretations can be binding on Bahá’ís. Not only that, but while the Guardian may be "divinely inspired" I have yet to read a statement claiming interpreters of the faith are infallible. In fact, consider Bahá’u’lláh's below statement, which potentially removes the possibility of even his own Most Mighty Branch (ʻAbdu'l-Bahá) being infallible.
Know thou that the term “Infallibility” hath numerous meanings and diverse stations. In one sense it is applicable to the One Whom God hath made immune from error. Similarly it is applied to every soul whom God hath guarded against sin, transgression, rebellion, impiety, disbelief and the like. However, the Most Great Infallibility is confined to the One Whose station is immeasurably exalted beyond ordinances or prohibitions and is sanctified from errors and omissions. Indeed He is a Light which is not followed by darkness and a Truth not overtaken by error...'Verily He shall not be asked of His doings but all others shall be asked of their doings.'" (Ishráqát)
"He that riseth to serve My Cause should manifest My wisdom, and bend every effort to banish ignorance from the earth." (Lawḥ-i-Ḥikmat).
To uncover the truth, I began reading everything the prophet, exalted be His name, has written, specifically looking for any and all phrases that are explicitly, or even possibly, alluding to human sexuality or gender variance. My research is slow-going due only to my own numerous personal and professional commitments.
Though my research at this moment is unfinished, due to numerous inquiries on the matter, I will be posting in the section below my findings as I uncover them.
This research project is not intended to suggest that Shoghi Effendi or any of his other opinions and interpretations of the Faith are to be disregarded or rejected.
My hope is that this page will provide information, spark new ideas or conversations, and foster the sharing of honest opinions, various interpretations, and truth. "In this Day whatsoever serveth to reduce blindness and to increase vision is worthy of consideration." (Bahá’u’lláh, Ṭarázát, The first Ṭaráz).
On the Treatment of LGBTQ Bahá’ís
On the matter of the Universal House of Justice, exalted is their cause, revoking voting rights and membership status from same-sex marital couples, I personally believe that regardless of the Faith's stance on homosexuality, this practice is unjust on the basis that it is discriminatory, perpetuating additional acts of oppression against an already highly marginalized community. Revoking membership from friends for the alleged sin of assumed homosexual intercourse disproportionately excludes LGBTQ individuals from having full rights and ability to participate in the Faith. Such discrimination is, in my opinion, against the unifying nature of the Faith, as my above research findings strongly seem to support.
Revoking membership from friends who enter into legal unions such as marriage with persons of the same sex has also only ever had the consequence of driving these and other LGBTQ individuals out of the Faith, causing them to lose their faith and turn away from God. "Know thou of a truth: He that biddeth men be just and himself committeth iniquity is not of Me, even though he bear My name." (Hidden Words, Part One, From the Arabic, #28). Any person considered to be so severe a sinner that they should deserve the House of Justice's individual attention should instead be guided all the more fervently toward God, the All-Forgiving, the Most Beloved. Such results clearly suggest a need for improvement on the matter of how punishment is issued and when it should be pursued at all. If I, as a college professional, in my disciplining of an unruly student, cause the student to believe they are simply unfit for college, and the student drops out, never attaining higher education and spending their life wasting their potential on menial work, it is not the student who has failed; the student did not know any better and the discipline clearly did not achieve a desirable result. It would be me who has failed, for as the improvement specialist Arthur Jones once said to W. Edwards Deming, "Every system is designed to achieve perfectly only the results it gets." Causing strife and division among our own Faith community, and the intersecting communities (gender, sexuality, race, ability, size, immigrant status, etc) within our community, and committing acts that are discriminatory by nature because they disproportionately impact a single community intersection, should never be the desired or actual results of the justice pursued in the name of the Bahá’í Faith.
"It behooveth every ruler to weigh his own being every day in the balance of equity and justice and then to judge between men and counsel them to do that which would direct their steps unto the path of wisdom and understanding. This is the cornerstone of statesmanship and the essence thereof. From these words every enlightened man of wisdom will readily perceive that which will foster such aims as the welfare, security and protection of mankind and the safety of human lives. Were men of insight to quaff their fill from the ocean of inner meanings which lie enshrined in these words and become acquainted therewith, they would bear witness to the sublimity and the excellence of this utterance." (Lawḥ-i-Maqṣúd)
Even if, at the conclusion of my research, it turns out that homosexuality and/or its sexual expression between married partners is indeed considered unacceptable by God, the All-Loving, the Most Merciful, I would strongly suggest that there is no basis for excluding people from active membership and full rights in the Faith on the basis of this, and only this, particular (hypothetical) sin. Keep in mind, also, that not all gay male couples engage in penetrative intercourse, just as not all lesbian couples perform penetrative intercourse of any kind. An even more important truth to consider is that even the most devout Bahá’ís I have ever known, whom have devoted decades of their lives to the service of the Cause (serving on assemblies, for instance) have committed numerous sins throughout their lives and are knowingly committing more every single day. Of all the sins, that the devoted, life-long love of between two human beings could be considered in need of such severe treatment is, in my own opinion, far from what the Prophet intended, Blessed is His Name. I have also yet to find a passage where Bahá’u’lláh has said the committing of any particular sin should automatically and instantly cause the person to be worthy of discriminatory treatment or expulsion from the Faith. Perhaps the matter should reside strictly between the individual themself and God, as Bahá’u’lláh quoted in section 42 of the Seven Valleys, "If God should chastise men for their perverse doings, He would not leave upon the earth a moving thing! But to an appointed time doth He respite them.” (Qur'an 16:61). If the committing of any single sin is worthy of immediate expulsion from the Faith, then who among us could possibly be left to claim that they are, in truth, a Bahá’í? "The gates that open on the Placeless stand wide and the habitation of the loved one is adorned with the lovers’ blood, yet all but a few remain bereft of this celestial city, and even of these few, none but the smallest handful hath been found with a pure heart and sanctified spirit." (Hidden Words, Part Two, From the Persian, #17). We are all imperfect. We are all sinners. But we deserve the chance to be better, to spend our lives improving ourselves and growing closer to God, and no one should be exempt from that.
"In these days the tabernacle of justice hath fallen into the clutches of tyranny and oppression. Beseech ye the One true God—exalted be His glory—not to deprive mankind of the ocean of true understanding, for were men but to take heed they would readily appreciate that whatever hath streamed from and is set down by the Pen of Glory is even as the sun for the whole world and that therein lie the welfare, security and true interests of all men; otherwise the earth will be tormented by a fresh calamity every day and unprecedented commotions will break out." (Lawḥ-i-Maqṣúd)
Advice to My Fellow, or Potential, LGBTQ/Ally Bahá’ís
If Shoghi Effendi's position against homosexuality has you concerned about God's position on LGBTQ identity, I recommend reading Bahá’u’lláh's writings (starting with The Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 3rd Edition, specifically) and letting them inform your own opinion. "For man’s knowledge of God cannot develop fully and adequately save by observing whatsoever hath been ordained by Him and is set forth in His heavenly Book" (Excerpts from Other Tablets). I am always willing to consider other people's interpretations, such as Shoghi Effendi's, but I put the prophet's own writings above all, and keep an open mind to the possibility that I may not, and may never, understand the true meanings, and certainly not all the meanings, contained within any single word of the most sacred book. "Say, implore God to open to your hearts the portals of true understanding that ye may be apprised of that of which no one is apprised" because "It behooveth thee to look with divine insight upon the things We have revealed and sent unto thee and not towards the people and that which is current amongst them" (Excerpts from Other Tablets). I personally feel, based on my understanding of the writings, that God is inclusive, all-loving, and all-accepting. I personally feel led to believe, therefore, in the possibility that God approves of LGBTQ identities and same-sex and same-gender love, and that God wishes the unity of all people, including those who are LGBTQ, and those who are queerphobic and heterosexist.
It is natural to feel upset when one experiences discrimination from the House of Justice or others within the Bahá’í community. It is easy, also, to blame the Faith for serving as a reason behind such behavior. However, as difficult as it is to do, I recommend letting go of hostile feelings and thoughts, and I urge the LGBTQ and ally community to resist blaming God, Bahá’u’lláh, or the Bahá’í Faith for what people believe and do in Their names. I believe any diligent reader will see and feel the love, unity, and tolerance Bahá’u’lláh explicitly calls for, and will take comfort in the lack of any clear rejection of homosexuality and the repeated, clear statements of acceptance of all people, regardless of the identity they were born with. Fostering negative feelings is useless, unhealthy, and interferes with one's ability to experience spiritual closeness to God, and Bahá’u’lláh, the Most Wise, strongly warns against it. "The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity or dissension" (Excerpts from Other Tablets). As author Cynthia Ocelli says, "Who suffers most from the anger, pain, or resentment you feel? You, always you. Forgiveness benefits the forgiver and has little to do with the one forgiven."
So how do we proceed when we know that many members of the Faith community, especially the leadership, are demonstrated proponents or even enforcers of LGBTQ discrimination? I, personally don't need a Bahá’í membership card or anyone's approval to be a faithful Bahá’í. While we may be excluded from conferences and other opportunities, no one can take the Faith itself from us. I encourage everyone to read the words of God, to trust in God, the All-Loving, the Most Merciful, and to follow His precepts and guidance. We need no one's permission to perform obligatory prayers and ablutions, read prayers on Feast days, to observe holidays, and to read and meditate on the words of God. My fellow LGBTQ/ally Bahá’ís can also find a supportive community through online groups such as the Facebook groups LGBT Bahá'ís & Friends and LGBTQ+ BAHÁ'Í Positivity, Support and Community. There are also many Bahá’ís who are accepting, or at least tolerant, of diversity, including sexual and gender diversity, many of whom can be found on Baha'is United in Diversity. My own response to discrimination and microagressions within the Bahá’í community is to spend the rest of my life trying to be the best human being and Bahá’í I can be, and to leave to themselves those who fear or despise, rather than love and celebrate, our human differences. I hope for true inclusivity and unity within the Bahá’í community someday, I really do, but if I never see it in this world, I like to believe I will see it in the next one.
In faith and unity,
Arien Reed, CPA, MFA
my pronouns: he, him, his
August 22, 2020
If you have any comments or questions, please feel welcome to leave them below, but be sure to avoid offensive, derogatory, transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, or triggering language. As someone belonging to a highly oppressed and marginalized identity group, I do not want to silence any voices. However, deliberate attacks stemming from a place of hatred or malice instead of love and education, or intended to trigger, degrade, or otherwise attack persons of any community or identity, will not be tolerated and will be promptly removed before they can cause psychological harm to those viewing this page. "Blessed are such as hold fast to the cord of kindliness and tender mercy and are free from animosity and hatred." (Bahá’u’lláh, Ṭarázát, The second Ṭaráz).
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