The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) recently hosted a landmark interfaith gathering in Bangkok, where religious leaders came together to express support for gender equality and social inclusivity for the LGBTIQAN+ community in Southeast Asia.
“Interfaith Pride: Gender Equality and Social Justice,” the first event of its kind, was held on 28 June in cooperation with the Bangkok Pride team and other LGBTIQAN+ activists. Facilitated by transwoman peace activist Nachale Boonyapisomparn, the dialogue was aimed at nurturing trust and cultivating a sustainable network of allies and supporters of an inclusive society that values the equality, safety, and well-being of 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 accepting places for LGBTIQAN+ people, a reality often reinforced by negative narratives around LGBTIQAN+ visibility that are harmful to members of this marginalized community. For instance, terms such as “sinful” or “bad karma” are regularly used to describe people who express and identify themselves outside of gender binary.” (INEB)
Around 50 participants attended the the inaugural interfaith gathering, which aspired to explore faith and religious doctrines that impact the lives of the LGBTQIAN+ people. The event included a panel discussion between female and male Buddhist monastics, a Christian pastor, a Muslim community activist, and a Thai spiritualist practitioner. Small group work also helped to foster a sense of direct connection between 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 faith leaders, themselves marginalized, were invited to share their perspectives on how their religions treat people from the LGBTIQAN+ communities,” Anchalee Kurutach, a member of INEB’s Executive Committee and coordinator of INEB’s Regional Network for Peacebuilders project, told BDG.
“The attendees arrived at the event with different expectations, as well as doubts and fears! Yet they all left with a sense of hope and renewed optimism. Everyone felt encouraged to see members of the clergy and monastics participate that day as strong allies, especially INEB’s Sangha for Peace project participants. “A truly 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 meeting time to allow for 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), the Sangha for Peace works to address challenges and problem-solving by equipping stakeholders with the knowledge and tools needed to enhance regional engagement.**
“For me, this event was especially significant because I could witness the true meaning and practice of ‘alliance.’ Sangha for Peace members (bhikkhunis and a bhikkhu) were there, listening deeply to the sharing without the need to state their own opinions,” Anchalee noted. “The facilitator, also a Sangha for Peace member, reminded everyone not to speak on behalf of others and not to speak about other faiths. And a Dharma teacher in the Vajrayana tradition also listened closely even though he held a different view from a speaker. In the spirit of kalyana-mitrata,* he shared his own perspective later on social media. These were efforts by everyone to make the space safe and to ensure that it belonged to the LGBTIQAN+ group. And that’s what everyone felt in the end. It really was encouraging.”
The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) is a worldwide network of individuals and organizations who are committed to promoting and working toward social justice, environmental sustainability, and world peace. INEB was formed in 1989 by the renowned Buddhist scholar and activist Prof. Sulak Sivaraksa and a group of Buddhist leaders seeking to apply the Buddhist teachings and principles to contemporary social and political issues. Through its global network, INEB works to promote understanding, cooperation, and connection among inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups, and to actively address urgent global issues such as human rights, conflict resolution, and environmental crises.
“By opening a space for LGBTIQAN+ people and members of the religious community to start a dialogue on how to promote peace . . . we take an important step toward welcoming diversity and offering the respect all people deserve regardless sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression,” INEB explained. “In the spirit of collaboration, this gathering began the process of directly engaging religious leaders to provide space for LGBTIQAN+ people where they can be their authentic selves, without fear of being excluded or harassed. Promoting equal partnerships and forging a new narrative to include LGBTIQAN+ people in religious institutions reinforces the values of peace and loving kindness which we find to be the core of religious and spiritual life.” (INEB)
Headquartered in Bangkok, INEB has established a wide range of social projects and outreach programs across the region aimed at overcoming suffering and empowering vulnerable communities through the practice of the Dharma 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 upon a foundation of shared values and aspirations. The network also advocates the importance of environmental sustainability and the 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.
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