The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) recently held a historic interfaith gathering in Bangkok, where religious leaders came together to voice their support for gender equality and social inclusion for the LGBTIQAN+ community in South Asia -East.
Organized in cooperation with the Bangkok Pride team and other LGBTIQAN+ activists, the first event of its kind, "Interfaith Pride: Gender Equality and Social Justice", held on June 28, was aimed at nurturing trust and cultivate a lasting network of allies and supporters of an inclusive society that values equality, safety and well-being for all.
“For too long, many religions have been seen as opposed to the Pride movement and those who identify outside of binary norms,” INEB said in reference to the event. “Unfortunately, many religious contexts are not safe or welcoming places for LGBTIQAN+ people, a reality often reinforced by negative narratives around LGBTIQAN+ visibility that are detrimental to members of this marginalized community. For example, terms such as “sinful” or “bad karma” are regularly used to describe people who speak and identify outside of the gender binary. (INEB)
About 50 participants attended the first interfaith gathering, which aspired to explore faith and religious doctrines that impact the lives of LGBTQIAN+ people. The event included a panel discussion between female and male Buddhist monks, a Christian pastor, a Muslim community activist and a practicing Thai spiritualist. Working in small groups also helped foster a sense of direct connection among participants in an environment of deep listening and mutual respect.
“The Interfaith Pride event brought together members of Thailand's LGBTIQAN+ communities, who differed in their religious and spiritual beliefs, but not in their shared trauma and suffering. Five religious leaders, themselves marginalized, were invited to share their views on how their religions treat people from LGBTIQAN+ communities,” said Anchalee Kurutach, INEB Executive Committee Member and Regional Project Coordinator INEB's Network for Peacebuilders, at BDG.
“Participants came to the event with different expectations, but also doubts and fears! Yet they all left with a sense of hope and renewed optimism. Everyone felt encouraged to see clergy and monks participating in the day as strong allies, especially the participants of the INEB Sangha for Peace project. “A really safe space was created that day because people felt heard and acknowledged. Sangha for Peace intends to continue this interfaith gathering, but hopes to extend the duration of the meeting to allow a healing process to take place.
INEB's Sangha for Peace is a regional project aimed at promoting interfaith harmony and addressing the challenges of rising religious and ethno-nationalist conflict in South and Southeast Asia. Supported by funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Sangha for Peace works to address challenges and solve problems by equipping stakeholders with the knowledge and tools to strengthen regional commitment.**
“For me, this event was particularly significant because I was able to witness the true meaning and practice of 'the covenant'. Members of the Sangha for Peace (bhikkhunis inspection and bhikkhus) were there, listening deeply to the sharing without needing to voice their own opinions,” Anchalee noted. “The facilitator, also a member of the Sangha for Peace, reminded everyone not to speak on behalf of others and not to talk about other religions. And a Dharma teacher in the Vajrayana tradition also listened carefully even though he had a different point of view than a speaker. In the spirit of kalyana-mitrata,* he shared his own view later. It was all about efforts to secure the space and make sure it belonged to the LGBTIQAN+ group. And that's how everyone felt at the end. It was really encouraging. »
The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) is a global network of individuals and organizations committed to promoting and working for social justice, environmental sustainability and world peace. INEB was established in 1989 by renowned Buddhist scholar and activist Professor Sulak Sivaraksa and a group of Buddhist leaders seeking to apply Buddhist teachings and principles to contemporary social and political issues. Through its global network, the INEB strives to promote understanding, cooperation and connection between inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups, and to actively address pressing global issues such as human rights, the resolution conflicts and environmental crises.
“By opening a space for LGBTIQAN+ people and members of the faith community to start a dialogue on how to promote peace. . . we are taking an important step towards welcoming diversity and providing the respect everyone deserves, regardless of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression,” said explained the INEB. “In the spirit of collaboration, this gathering started the process of directly engaging faith leaders to provide a space for LGBTIQAN+ people where they can be authentic, without fear of exclusion or harassment. Promoting equal partnerships and forging a new narrative to include LGBTIQAN+ people in religious institutions reinforces the values of peace and loving kindness that we believe are at the heart of religious and spiritual life. (INEB)
Based in Bangkok, INEB has implemented a wide range of social projects and outreach programs across the region aimed at overcoming suffering and empowering vulnerable communities through Dharma practice and social engagement, such as education and training programs, community development projects, advocacy and lobbying efforts and interfaith dialogue.
INEB emphasizes the importance of developing an ethical Dharma-based approach to its work and encourages members to work collaboratively and respectfully with individuals and organizations on the basis of shared values and aspirations. The network also champions the importance of environmental sustainability and responsible use of natural resources, and has promoted sustainable development practices in various communities.
* Kalyana mitrata (Skt.), kalyaṇa-mittata (Pali); the Buddhist concept of virtuous spiritual friendship.
** Committed Buddhism: INEB launches Sangha for Peace to fight regional religious and ethno-nationalist tensions (BDG)