Maryland temple works to include LGBTQIA

Influenced by younger Hindus, temple works to make everyone feel included

 

Ritu Jha

 

A Maryland temple hosted a town hall to create awareness and to make queer Hindus feel more included.

The event themed, “Creating Spaces for LGBTQIA Hindus,” was held at the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, in Lanham, Maryland earlier this month. The event, held to recognize LGBT Pride Month, besides the LGBTQIA desi community, also drew many seniors who supported them, a heartening attitude, according to the hosts and speakers.

“This is a part of the larger effort,” Murali Balaji, one of the co-sponsors’ along with the SSVT Center for Dharma Education, told indica. Balaji is the former director for education and curriculum reform at the Hindu American Foundation. He pointed out that in 2006 the same temple hosted the first Hindu same-sex marriage in the US though there was no follow-up to that.

Asked on why it took more than a decade to address the matter, Balaji said younger generation Hindus has changed the dynamic.

The Center for Dharma Education is led all by American-born Hindus. Established a year ago most of them are under the age of 30.

“They have realized this is something that couldn’t be delayed anymore,” said Balaji, adding that the available resources and changing times all played a role,

“The temple is doing everything to make sure that LBGT members of the Hindu community feel welcomed and loved and, most importantly, are able to come as their whole self,” Balaji said, “One of the things we heard from the younger and older generations is that we need more conversation like this.”

Board members and founders of the temples say they want to keep doing such work, with another event set for fall wherein more people and college student could take part.

“We want to make sure we continue to provide the resources for the LGBT Hindus,” he said and added HAF has been part of LGBT Hindu working groups for several years, but this is the first time they had co-sponsored an LGBT event at the temple.

The town hall panel was moderated by Sivagami (Shiva) Subbaraman, the director of the LGBTQ Resource Center at Georgetown University. The panelists shared their experiences about coming out and the struggles they faced reconciling their sexual identities with their religious one.

Subbaraman told indica her experience being director of the LGBTQ Center at Georgetown University – the first such center in a Catholic institution in the country.

“It has always struck me as ironic that, as a Hindu woman, I have been able to have conversations around faith and sexuality in the context of the Church, but not in my own spaces,” she said. Subbaraman added that most Hindus think it is only Christianity and Islam that have “prohibitions” about LGBTQ people. While this might be true in terms of scripture, it is also true that those religions have both, in differing ways, tried to address the social, cultural, and political implications of such prohibitions, she said.

“While Hinduism per se may not have issues, Hindus as a people certainly do!,” she said. “For many of us, especially in the diaspora, we have many doors through which we enter into our understanding of Hinduism, and it is not very helpful in dealing with challenges we all face within our families, extended families, friends, and communities.

“In sharing our stories and our journeys, it became clear to many the loss of community — that we as LGBTQ people face, but it is a shared loss: families lose us too in their own ways,” said Subbaraman.

In a press note, SSVT co-founder Dr. Siva Subramanian and BOT member Vasu Murthy opened the discussion by noting that Hinduism’s scriptures do not vilify LGBT identities but said that the scriptural openness is not always reflected in the attitude of many Hindus.

In its own press note, the temple board said that Hinduism is an all-inclusive and open way of life that teaches that all beings are equal. To honor those scriptural ideals, SSVT’s Constitution forbids discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, gender, religion.

The recently formed Center for Dharma Education — which aims to engage younger generations of American-born Hindus — has done several events based on the relevant issues in the society such as non-violence, socially conscious parenting etc.

Based on the CDE’s initiative, the SSVT is working to find how those who identify as both LGBTQIA and Hindu have reconciled those identities, how the temple can help make them feel included in the larger Hindu community, and thus make sure that all of the community’s voices are heard and respected.

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