Preaching to the Third-Gender Community
Posted September 7, 2006
For those of you who may not know me, my name is Amara dasa. I was first and second initiated by Srila Prabhupada in the 1970s and have been a member of ISKCON since 1974. For the past six years, I have been preaching to the gay and lesbian community and by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy it has been somewhat successful. I would like to offer a few tips for those of you who may be interested in extending Lord Caitanya’s mercy to this gentle and talented segment of our society.
First of all, it is very important to preach in a friendly and relevant fashion. For instance, if we are preaching to a farmer we can explain how Krsna is a cowherd boy, or if we are preaching to a musician we can mention Krsna’s expert flute playing. Regarding gay and lesbian people, I find it helpful to tell them about Srila Prabhupada’s warm relationship with Allen Ginsberg and how third-gender dancers blessed Lord Caitanya when He was a baby. Most gay people are familiar with the third gender of India and become pleased to hear how gender-variant people were welcomed into Jagannatha Misra’s courtyard, invited to dance, chant Hare Krsna and bless the newborn child, Nimai. Srila Prabhupada relates this positive portrayal of the third gender very nicely in a conversation with Hayagriva dasa (“Outline of Lord Caitanya Play” #67-002). The third gender of India has been well studied in recent years and several books have been written and documentaries produced on the topic. Many people are very interested to hear Srila Prabhupada’s positive and inclusive portrayal of the Vedic third gender. *
In regard to preaching renunciation, there is no need to treat gay people any differently. I always tell everyone that celibacy is preferred and faithful marriage comes second, but even if a person is completely fallen they can still chant Hare Krishna, visit the temple and associate with devotees. Nowadays many gays are in committed, legally recognized unions and may visit the temple as such, particularly in the West. In this regard I like to remind devotees how Allen Ginsberg and his lover, Peter Orlovsky, would go to meet Srila Prabhupada together and were warmly received by him. Although Srila Prabhupada did not approve of their homosexual relationship, especially in those days, he nevertheless heartily received them like a perfect gentleman and did not try to assault them with the philosophy. This is a good example for all devotees to follow. If Srila Prabhupada, an elderly gentleman from conservative India, could display such appropriate social protocol then this should not be difficult for modern-day Indian and Western devotees.
Most gay people are socially aware and believe that everyone should be viewed according to their personal character and not by body-type. Therefore it is best not to tell them things like “women are less intelligent,” “Blacks are prone to thievery,” “homosexuals are demons,” etc., as these types of statements will only drive them away from Krishna. Surprisingly enough, I often receive complaints from guests that have been barraged with this type of so-called preaching. If a devotee is condescending toward gay people and unable to preach to them in a friendly manner, it is really better for them to preach elsewhere. There is no use in such ineffective preaching as this will not be pleasing to Krsna.
Finally, I am always careful about which temples I invite gay and lesbian guests to visit because it is very important that they have a friendly, positive experience. If a temple, temple president or resident sannyasi has a bad reputation for being unfriendly or hostile toward gays I will not recommend such a temple. In many cases I will advise gay guests to seek out the friendly devotees and avoid the unfriendly ones, but I prefer recommending temples that I know will be welcoming regardless of class or body-type, just as Srila Prabhupada was.
I pray to Krsna that this article will help devotees increase their loving, preaching mood and extend their hearts toward the gay and lesbian community.