Why can't I be gay and religious?

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"A swami, who I was very fond of, told me it was harder for homosexuals to enter the gates of heaven.
“I replied, ‘especially if you keep them shut’.”

- Boy George

COMMENT | I spent the last 15 years of my life attached to a religious sect. So naturally, when I took up an intercultural studies module at university, I proposed to study my temple.

Being brought up as a Hare Krishna devotee has always proven to be a challenge. I hoped to show my team that being a “modern-day monk” was a perfectly normal thing to do.

Most of the Hare Krishna followers subscribe to a specific branch of Hinduism that originates from traditional India. Hare Krishnas are strict vegetarians, celibates, monotheists, and an enthusiastic lot of boys and girls.

The "Hare Krishna" name comes from a prayer that the devotees hold dear, which can usually be heard during the bhajans - carols - they hold on the streets and at public communions they host at their centres.

However, before entering the temple I took my coursemates aside and cautioned them, knowing that there were some devotees there who have a different sense of how our religion works.

"You might run into some... 'funny people', but don't take them seriously. They don't necessarily reflect all of our movement's visions and teachings," I explained, taking care to carefully choose my words.

I had been friends with my coursemates for over two years now, so I knew the comical “O”s they made with their mouths after I shared this bit of news with them were genuine.

"They're not homophobic, are they?" one friend asked.

As I expected, they got my drift.

Divided opinions

Like some groups, the Hare Krishnas are vague about their stance on homosexuality and have not formally condoned nor accepted lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) members with open arms.

From experience, however, there definitely is a divided stand in the group, both locally and internationally, on whether homosexuality should be embraced or not.

The general consensus is that LGBT members are unwilling to subscribe to one of the teachings the Hare Krishnas strictly follow: sex is a big no-no unless it's for having children.

Some Hare Krishna centres welcome the LGBT community with open arms, while some maintain that LGBT members should have restrictions imposed upon them that their heterosexual counterparts follow, including celibacy and having only licit sexual relations.

"Although there are many who seek refuge in our teachings, and come to our temple, I know a few LGBTs who feel like they are looked at like pieces of meat, and judged, just because they are perceived as being sex maniacs," I explained.

Backed with arguments found in scripture, some say that all sexual attraction should be shunned if it has nothing to do with God.

The prescription for celibacy forms the basis of spirituality, as our scriptures dictate, but many practising LGBT members leave “the road less travelled” after being shunned simply for being gay.

And as I told my coursemates, some of the devotees also feel "the gays can't keep it in their pants".

"But even if some of our temples around the world close an eye and welcome gays and lesbians, they don't recognise that they have different problems," I explained, hoping they understood my concerns.

Time was running out; our interviewees were waiting for us. We rushed into the temple compound, with our list of questions now at the forefront of our minds.

Doing the 'wrong' thing

An hour later, I introduced my friends to my temple commander. We had finished our first interview, and he would be our second and last subject for the day.

We had a fairly well-rounded discussion that touched on many aspects of the temple, such as its operations, cultural and religious background.

I looked at my friends. They made signs to let me know it was time to go.

"So what about the LGBT community," I chipped in suddenly, breaking the temple commander's line of thought. "Are they allowed to join and be part of this temple?"...

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