Monday, June 27, 2016

LGBTQIA Spells Sangha – Never Too Young to Feel Welcomed

Back in April I attended the East-West Ministers Seminar in Berkeley and in one of the workshops, Elaine Donlin, minister’s assistant at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, presented ways to make our temples welcoming to the LGBTQIA community. She said what makes her feel we need to do much more is the number of teens and young adults who contact her saying they are afraid to come out to their temples, especially if their families are longtime active members.

That made me realize we need to get the message of welcoming out to the children, so for my next Dharma School talk, I told the kids that gender identity is a spectrum and there is no strict category you have to fit in. I told them about the Buddhist Churches of America’s Bishop Umezu who brought up his child as a girl but that person now as a young adult identifies as male. I figured maybe not all the kids understood what I was saying, but someday when some of them are older they may feel rejected for being gender non-conforming and then remember, “Oh, Rev. Patti said in Buddhism it’s okay to be who you are.”

[Shinran atop a rainbow beach towel]
For the first time in our temple’s history, I decided to call the service on the last Sunday in June “Rainbow Pride Sunday.” Coming two weeks after the tragic shooting in Orlando, I felt we should be more affirming of our openness to all people. Even though the attendance was sparse (it was summer, people wanted to avoid the Pride Parade traffic and many of our LGBTQIA members were already at the parade), by publicizing the special service on Facebook, it gets the word out to those who may be “Buddha-curious” that they will be welcomed at our temple.

It was a lay speaker Sunday, so at the service our member Nancey gave a whole history of the gay pride movement including her own involvement. Although Dharma School is on break, families come in the summer with their kids and I have to sometimes tone down the content of my talks for them. But I realized it was important for the two families who came with kids to hear Nancey’s talk – those kids may be the ones who later will appreciate Buddhism’s message of accepting all lives, including your own.

So “pride” is not a dirty word or a deadly sin in Buddhism. For me it translates as “self-dignity” – recognizing the preciousness of your own life and not letting other forces tell you that you are less than human. And as Buddhists, we will fight those forces and help all people feel pride in being just as they are. Shinran during his time saw how various groups of people felt marginalized for being “aku-nin” (evil people) and he pointed to the sutras and commentaries to explain the Great Wish (hongan) is for all beings to be embraced in oneness, as equally dignified.

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