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After Orlando: Defending the Human Rights of LGBT People

David Langness | Jun 17, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Jun 17, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Baha’u’llah taught that an equal standard of human rights must be recognized and adopted. In the estimation of God all men are equal; there is no distinction or preferment for any soul in the dominion of His justice and equity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 181.

Last night I attended a rally and candlelight vigil in my little town in Northern California to memorialize the LGBT victims of the Orlando massacre.

I went to mourn for the young lives so tragically lost and the injuries so grievously suffered; to process my own woe at the horrible misuse of religion, which terrorists typically justify their irreligious actions with; and to come to the defense of a minority community that has suffered severe persecution and deprivation of its human rights for centuries. I went because the FBI says LGBT people are the group most often targeted in hate crimes in the United States. I went because I believe in the oneness of humanity.

I also went because the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected global leadership body of the Baha’i Faith, said this in a statement in 2010:

Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression,” and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.

While I stood there at the crowded vigil, rainbow flags flying in the breeze, smelling the smoke from a few hundred burning candles, and listening to a gay high school student recite the names of the dead, my mind suddenly took me back to Lakeview Elementary School in the town I grew up in—Moses Lake, Washington.

In the 1950s that little farming community on the high plains of central Washington State displayed all of the typical, common prejudices of the time. Two African-American families lived there, and the town barely tolerated them. We had one Hispanic family in Moses Lake, and most people thought of them as “dirty Mexicans.” Everyone knew the one Japanese farmer as “the Jap.” Women stayed at home and cooked, unless they were nurses or teachers—there was no other acceptable profession for females. Men were men—macho, violent and crude—and any departure whatsoever from the standard male role was seen as deviant or worse. The adults in Moses Lake, with few exceptions, had all of the everyday American bigotries and hatreds, and their children usually inherited them.

Ironic, isn’t it? Moses Lake, a town named after a prophet of God, rife with bigotry and hatred.

MNW_Ambasada_3Standing there at the vigil, I clearly pictured a boy in my fifth grade class named Stanley, even though I hadn’t thought about him in decades. Stanley was different. He had an effeminate manner and a thin, girlish build. He spoke with a pronounced lisp. He moved in a delicate way and didn’t like to play sports or roughhouse on the playground like the other boys. Only girls befriended him. The older boys called him a “fag,” but in my fifth grade innocence I had no idea what that derogatory word meant.

One day, after school, a big group of boys decided to “get that sissy” Stanley, to “teach him a lesson.” Standing there and watching the vigilante group form, I had a powerful desire to be a part of it. I didn’t want to hurt anyone—I just wanted, like most kids my age, to be accepted and normal and conventional, to be a member of the group. So, despite my own inner horror, I ran after Stanley with that group of howling, yelling boys. Like a scene out of William Golding’s terrifying novel The Lord of the Flies, our mob of maybe twenty boys pursued Stanley and tried to hunt him down. We ran after him, a pack of vicious little animals, attempting to cull the herd of one non-conformist. I cringe in shame as I write this now, but then I told myself we were just having fun, chasing someone different to enforce the same rules we all obeyed.

Luckily for Stanley, he was fast. He outran us all. About halfway through the chase, though, I stopped running. I couldn’t help it—I felt deeply debased inside when I saw Stanley look back with abject fear in his eyes. Somehow I knew, right then and there, that I never wanted to cause that kind of fear and terror in another person again. I didn’t want to be part of that group anymore. I didn’t want to hate. I realized, as I thought about it, that the moment represented a turning point in my young life. The next day at school, I found Stanley and told him I was sorry.

At the vigil for the Orlando victims, I stood there and meditated on that incident. I wondered why people do what I so shamefully participated in then—try to drive anyone or anything different away. Why do we reject, demonize, repudiate and destroy those who don’t look or act or believe like we do? Why do our prejudices, mostly inherited from our families and our cultures, determine our actions so predictably?

It seems to me, when I think about the Orlando massacre and the horrible hatred it represents, that our hardest task involves ridding ourselves of those old ingrained prejudices—but that’s exactly what the Baha’i teachings call upon us to do:

For this reason must all human beings powerfully sustain one another and seek for everlasting life; and for this reason must the lovers of God in this contingent world become the mercies and the blessings sent forth by that clement King of the seen and unseen realms. Let them purify their sight and behold all humankind as leaves and blossoms and fruits of the tree of being. Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 1-2.

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Comments

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  • Jul 2, 2016
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    Thank you David, I was once a Stanley. It is a shame that when I was married, the Faith removed my rights for marrying the man I have been with for 18 years now.
  • Jun 20, 2016
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    Congratulations on reaching a most popular article this week designation! With 782 likes and growing, this article became popular reall fast. Keep up the good work and the good writing people and I like to read!
  • Barney Leith
    Jun 19, 2016
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    Thank you so much for sharing this story, David. There's no doubt that the "need" for conformity, to be one of the gang, is a powerful motivator for most human beings, especially in our younger years. When the gang turns to something destructive, as you describe, the results can be hideous. But when we turn our concerted action to good, we can achieve what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wishes for us, as expressed in the first passage in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
    "This is mercy unalloyed and purest bounty; it is light for the world and all its peoples; it is ...harmony and fellowship, and love and solidarity; indeed it is compassion and unity, and the end of foreignness; it is the being at one, in complete dignity and freedom, with all on earth."
    Read more...
  • rodney Richards
    Jun 19, 2016
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    How often we pass the opportunity to say "I love you," or "I'm sorry!" Two or hree words that can mean so much, and take on added meaning when we change our behavior to reflect them in our own life going forward. Masterful article.
  • Rex Block
    Jun 18, 2016
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    I was that boy, running away from the crowd only it wasn't in Moses Lake, it was in Riverton Wyoming. I didn't speak with a lisp and I don't like to think I was particularly effeminate but I was definitely everything else David described.
    • Jun 20, 2016
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      Rex, I'm sorry you had to have such a bad experience in the past. Thanks for sharing your story.
  • Jun 18, 2016
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    I had a similar experience in secondary school. I am sure many of us have had similar experiences.
    I am happy that you wrote this article and helped us to reflect on this issue.
    Here is the link to the translation in Portuguese:
    http://povodebaha.blogspot.pt/2016/06/apos-orlando-defender-os-direitos.html
    • Jul 2, 2016
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      Brasil allowed me to immigrate as my husband's spouse before the USA did. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/What-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-u
    • Jun 21, 2016
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      I haven't read the link yet, because I don't speak Portuguesse. Portuguesse speaking countries like Portugal and Brazil are assumed to be more LGBT friendly than America on average, but anti-LGBT incidents still do happen in the present in Brazil for example.
  • Jun 18, 2016
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    I thank you with all my heart for this powerful article, David. As the mother of an amazing Baha'i son who also happens to be gay, I am well aware of the ignorance that can be found in this world. But I am also grateful to say that in our Baha'i community, my son and my family have been met with only unconditional love and acceptance. This is unquestionably the way it must be in every community around the world. Thank you for the courage to share your young experience and for opening this loving dialogue. ... We have a long way to go but the more each of us speaks and stands up for the truth the sooner we will find the unity we espouse.
    Read more...
    • Jessica Bratus
      Jan 23, 2019
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      Hi Kathleen, while it is heartwarming to hear your son is treated lovingly, how do you balance this knowing that he can not get married and be a Bahai in good standing? He would have to leave the faith to start a family and get married if he found true love (and desired children). I was raised Bahai but find this very troubling and have not seen an answer that is satisfying. I cannot help but see this giant hypocrisy within a faith whose principles are touted as “loving acceptance toward all” until the UHJ changes the Bahai ban on ...same sex marriage.
      Read more...
    • Cathy Gillis
      Jun 26, 2016
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      Thanks for posting here about your family. My situation is similar. Exploring my role as a Baha'i, a mother, and a parent of a gender-nonconforming child occupies much of my thoughts. I'd love to have more written and shared about these experiences.
  • Jun 17, 2016
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    Thanks. It's nice to see people going to payer vigils for dead people after tragedies.
    I'm not familiar with Washington or California as I haven't been to any state west of the Missippi River yet. I have either flown to, rode to, or rode through various states in the Midwest and South. So places like Moses Lake, Washington, Nevada City, and Califronia aren't places I know well. I have read about bigger cities in those states as I read about big cities all over the country of states I never visited, but more smaller cities aren't things I read ...about as much.
    How do people find out if there are rallies and/or vigils in their area? I usually stay online as my source of news, so I know national news way more than local news.
    I'm also sorry you had such a traumatic experience in childhood to deal with. I hope it hasn't left any scars on you or Stanley (emotional or psychological as nothing physical happened beyond a chase).
    Read more...
  • Jun 17, 2016
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    Thank you, dear brother David for this great, touching, and timely post! We had our monthly devotional at the Las Vegas Baha'i Center this past Sunday. I gave a short introduction and dedicated the whole devotional with the theme, "The Power of the Holy Spirit", to the LGBT community. The quote above from the Universal House of Justice, is to me such a powerful call to the Baha'i community, a call to love, love, love. To embrace all people with non-judgemental love and kindness, and to really understand the term, WE ARE ONE! How ...blessed we are. hugs.
    Read more...
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