Letter from a gay former Baha’iAugust 12, 2017
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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