Gays in the Ashrama
by Amara dasa
Posted January 6, 2003

While I appreciate Malati dasi's description of how compassionate and caring the devotees were after the suicide of Damodara prabhu in Potomac, I truly wonder whether or not that same compassion was displayed towards him when he was alive and serving as a devotee in the temple. Since she suggests that it is "practically impossible for members who are attracted to the same gender to live in an ashrama," and that "she generally recommends living outside as a realistic alternative (for gays)," I can only imagine how welcome Damodara felt to be living there in the first place.

Gay devotees commonly face serious prejudice and alienation when living in temples that are not open and accepting of them, and this problem is further compounded when they are young and going through adolescence. In addition to this, Damodara had been rejected from a planned trip to India when his prospective sponsors were informed that he was gay. I cannot believe, therefore, that Damodara's suicide was simply a result of having "fallen in love," though it may have been the catalyst.

As a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, I have lived in the ashrama as a celibate gay devotee with no serious problems for over twenty years. I also know of many others who have done the same, both in the past and at present. I gained a lot of spiritual association and merit by living in the temple that I would not have otherwise if I had simply remained outside. I therefore feel very strongly that it is quite unfair and dangerous to suggest that gays and lesbians are best served not to join the ashrama. Srila Prabhupada had many gay disciples who were very close to him like Upendra prabhu and Sudama Maharaja, and he never made any suggestion like this to them. Everyone was welcome to join the temple and ashrama as long as they promised to practice celibacy.

Gay devotees living in the ashrama and practicing celibacy is NOT comparable to men and women living together. In a men's ashrama, for instance, most of the men are heterosexual and not attracted to other men. Therefore even if a gay devotee feels some attraction towards a straight man, it is very easy for him to check his passions--much more than it would be between a mutually attracted man and woman. If any devotee is too agitated he or she can easily move outside the temple, but as long as there is no difficulty following the celibate vows there is no reason why gay devotees should be denied the advantages of ashrama living. Others should not subject them to such exclusionary policies simply because of misconceptions about them or how "awkward or difficult" their situation is imagined to be.

This whole issue is very similar to the "gays in the military" controversy. In an open society, heterosexuals are going to have to learn to live side by side with the gay people in this world who also exist. Any potential problems can be easily resolved as long as genuine compassion and inclusiveness is there. In America during the 1940's, for instance, many people believed that blacks and whites would never be able to live and serve together in the military. That was eventually proven to be untrue, and similarly the military units of countries such as Israel, Canada, Great Britain, and many others have demonstrated that heterosexuals and gays can live together and serve side by side without any detrimental effects. The same is undoubtedly true for the ashramas. Some problems will always be present when people interact, but discouraging gay people from joining the ashrama or making them pretend they are straight will not resolve the problem. Neither will it reflect the all-inclusive spirit of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada. Rather, it will only continue to foster prejudicial attitudes within our movement and encourage dishonesty and pretense. This would be at odds with the Vaishnava mood of compassion and truthfulness, and even contrary to modern social values that are increasingly becoming more open and tolerant of people of the third sex and human diversity in general.