Is Your Temple "Gay-friendly"?
By Amara dasa
Posted April 8, 2003
Is your local temple or preaching center truly inclusive and friendly towards everyone, including gays, or is it the type that only tolerates gays if they "pretend" to be straight, jokes about them behind their backs, "demonizes" them, and makes up reasons why they can't join or become devotees? Help us find out!
A recent poll conducted by GALVA (the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association) has produced mixed results at best. According to the gay and lesbian devotees surveyed, less than one in five (19%) reported being treated nicely at the Gaudiya-vaishnava temples or preaching centers they visited or lived in. The largest group (33%) reported that they were only treated nicely if they didn't mention they were gay, and 29% said that sometimes they were treated nicely and sometimes poorly. 7% reported being treated like an "outsider," and 11% complained that they were always treated poorly.
Because some Gaudiya-vaishnava temples are friendly towards third-gender persons (defined as gay males, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, neuters or "hijra," the intersexed, etc.) while others clearly are not, guidelines have been set up by GALVA to determine whether any given center can be considered "gay-friendly." In our preaching work, devotees and newcomers often ask us for referrals to temples that are accepting of gays and will not discriminate against or demean them. Naturally, we are very hesitant to refer any third-gender newcomer or aspiring bhakta to a center where they could possibly be mistreated or given a bad impression of Krsna consciousness, something that has already happened far too often. It is also of great importance to us that gay devotees who join a temple receive ample friendship, care and support in an environment that is conducive to good mental health. Therefore GALVA has set up the following five simple guidelines that it would expect any recommended temple to follow:
1) Third-gender guests and members living outside the temple or preaching center
are equally welcomed, received and befriended as any other guest or member would
be. This includes those who may stand out as 'different' such as transgenders,
gay and lesbian couples, etc.
2) Third-gender persons inspired to follow the path of bhakti and live a monastic lifestyle are equally welcomed to join and move into the temple or preaching center.
3) People are viewed according to their devotional qualities and level of spiritual advancement, not by body-type. Ridicule, disparagement, alienation or any unfair treatment of third-gender people is not tolerated and promptly addressed when it occurs.
4) Genuine compassion, friendship and flexibility are exhibited to help accommodate third-gender members and guests. They are dealt with in an open and honest manner and are never forced into silence or self-denial.
5) Third-gender devotees who can no longer maintain their monastic vows are not rejected by the temple or pressured into following artificial renunciation. Rather, they are offered realistic counseling and advice. They are encouraged to keep their ties with the center, continue their devotion outside of temple life, become responsible citizens and establish committed, monogamous relationships.
Any Gaudiya-vaishnava temple or preaching center that follows these five guidelines in their dealings with third-gender members and guests will be placed on a list of recommendation by GALVA. A letter or e-mail from the temple president affirming this should be sent to Amara dasa at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Many temples are already following these guidelines in the spirit of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Nevertheless, if they could please contact GALVA directly this will help us greatly in terms of referrals, something that comes up quite frequently in our preaching work. It will help us distinguish the temples with "gay-friendly" administrations so that we can avoid the ones that aren't.
If you are a third-gender Vaishnava, have a friend or relative who is, or if you are just a concerned devotee and well-wisher, please contact your local temple authorities and bring these guidelines to their attention. Encourage them to consider adopting these inclusive principles and contact us so that we may count on their support. Thank you very much!
All glories to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha-Krsna!