Gays Need Not Apply
Posted March 22, 2005
What was once done privately in some temples behind closed doors has now become public policy in others. A statement on Danavir Maharaja's "Rupanuga Vedic College" website reads:
"Due to the nature of shared-facility living at RVC's all-men seminary, persons of homosexual persuasion who are desirous to become students and/or faculty/staff members, are advised to obtain alternative residence."
This newly introduced policy is astonishing to gay devotees like myself and others who have lived in temples and followed all of the principles for many years, even out-surviving the falldowns and scandals of our heterosexual peers. A clear statement is being made to new applicants of the Krsna consciousness movement -- if you are gay, you are not qualified to live with us. And don't even bother to ask.
All I can say is I'm glad I joined the movement during the 1970s. In those days people were begged to join the temple and all bodily considerations were immaterial. If I had read the above RVC statement when I was first introduced to the Hare Krsna movement, I probably wouldn't have pursued Krsna consciousness any further. It would have been obvious to me that devotees were prejudiced and not very spiritually advanced.
A related incident occurred recently at the L.A. temple. A new bhakta was attending the temple programs and became friends with the devotees. He was enthusiastically encouraged to join the bhakta program and move into the ashrama. He made all of the arrangements, relinquished his possessions, and filled out the application form (a long, 14-page document he was assured was just a formality). On the form he stated he was gay and HIV-positive* since both of those questions were asked. Shortly after submitting the application, however, the devotees recoiled from him and avoided answering any of his phone calls even though they had formerly always been available. After a long time and with considerable effort to get some kind of response, a message was finally left on his answering machine: "Sorry, but we have no facility for you at this time." It was obvious to this devotee why the temple had suddenly turned so cold.
I can't think of any instance where Srila Prabhupada ever turned away a sincere candidate for Krsna consciousness. He had many gay disciples and always encouraged them to follow the principles and live within the ashrama if they could. He was also very concerned about the health and welfare of others, feeling their pain as if it were his own. In the case of a new gay bhakta, under Danavir Maharaja's policy such a person would be living alone with no association or supervision, surrounded by temptation, etc., while under Srila Prabhupada's policy he or she would be in the company of fellow Vaishnavas, having good association, watchful guidance, and so on. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out which scenario would be better for a new bhakta in spiritual life!
Srila Prabhupada's idea of uniting and accommodating all types of people at his centers was very important to him. In fact, he made a concerted effort and exposed himself to a great deal of criticism from his peers by insisting that women be included and offered equal facility at his centers. This was despite the meager funding and accommodations available at that time. Srila Prabhupada also understood that certain risks and agitations would occur by having men and women working closely together, but apparently he considered it more important to accommodate everyone within his Krsna consciousness movement. He truly wanted to build a house in which the whole world could live.
The bhakta from L.A. ended up moving into a Gaudiya Matha temple where he was fully received and welcomed despite being gay and HIV-positive. Srila Narayana Maharaja told the temple president there: "Everyone is welcome to join our temples as long as they follow the rules and regulations. Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada wanted all types of people to join Lord Caitanya's movement, and this is also my desire." In the same spirit, other Gaudiya temples and groups have also been very welcoming of gays, such as Tripurari Swami's. To them, this whole debate is a nonissue and everyone is naturally welcomed to join. Many ISKCON temples also share this mood. Others, however, apparently do not.
With all due respect, I humbly request Danavir Maharaja to please remove the above statement from his website as soon as possible. It makes our movement look very bad. Candidates for ashrama living should be fairly reviewed on a case-by-case basis, without making prejudiced conclusions about them beforehand. Health considerations must also be made with great care and compassion. Our movement is supposed to be based on love and trust, and trust means giving all new candidates the encouragement and benefit of the doubt that they can equally participate in Krsna consciousness and succeed in spiritual life.
* - In 1994, the GBC overturned a resolution that had advised temples
to limit the participation of devotees with HIV/AIDS in ISKCON and
require testing for all members. The overturning of this resolution
was based upon the official medical conclusion that HIV/AIDS is not
transmissible through ordinary, daily contact (as in a temple
environment). Being HIV positive does not, in and of itself,
disqualify a person from living and working within ISKCON.