For anybody that’s been able to catch the recent flick “Milk”, there’s probably no doubt that questions of the tolerance within your own family, friends, religion or culture would arise. Growing up in the ashram, I had to listen to a lot of homophobic, ignorant and intolerant remarks about homosexuality. To be fair, I had to listen to a lot of ignorant comments about people living in mainstream society – people who drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and do recreational drugs, people who listen to heavy metal, rap or techno. And, it was mostly from my own family that I heard the homophobic sentiments and ignorant name calling.
3HO describes itself as a “tolerant” community. I’m not really sure what exactly they mean by this, because there is little diversity within 3HO. In the 70’s it grew out of the conversion of white, christian-born hippies of the 60’s, and has since spread through different regions of the world, mostly within christian cultures. They preached tolerance for other religious beliefs, while maintaining rigid superiority for their own faith, and a VERY rigid attitude towards lifestyle. Lifestyle choices were not among the list of things to be tolerant of.
Once a person joins, and becomes assimilated with 3HO, any chance for real development and growth ceases, and the individual is left to grapple with (or ignore) his or her hang-ups, phobias, neurosis, and even mental disorders. If one was homophobic before entering the group, chances of changing his attitude mid-way through life among the group are unlikely, and lingering sentiments remain and continue to be perpetuated.
While I don’t think it’s fair to label every member of 3HO a homophobe, I do think there is a shared responsibility. As an adolescent, 3HO really hit me hard was when one of my own generation acknowledged that he was gay. He was cast out by his mother and step-father and left to support himself in his late teens. Never having been given a foundation in the first place to live in mainstream society, in addition to being told he had no place among his family because of his sexual orientation, he floundered and suffered with addiction for quite some time. The community was not there for him. Even with empathy, if he didn’t feel he had a place among the elder generation, how could he have confided in his own?
This is when the question started coming up among 2nd generationers: Where exactly does 3HO stand on the issue of homosexuality? When a 2nd generation member asked Bibiji (Yogi Bhajan’s wife and current authority figure on policy) about the official policy towards gays in the community and whether gay marriage could be administered in the sikh temple, the answer was: “We welcome people of all lifestyles, but we will not perform a same-sex marriage in our Gurdwara”. That’s the litmus test on tolerance.
Since a member of 3HO’s lifestyle is dictated to them by Yogi Bhajan, who has lectured on pretty much everything from brushing your teeth, to sex, food, thoughts, etc, they began to truly believe that homosexuality is wrong for some but okay for others. Among the sex talks he does go into why gay sex for men isn’t yogic, but why gay sex for women is sublime by citing some hokus pokus mystical yogic gobbledy-gook. Unwilling to look further, the community does not see that it has nothing to do with being gay, nor are they able to identify that these are his fetishistic issues.
By blindsiding otherwise tolerant individuals with myths, he’s done actual harm by generating an entire community which has been okay with institutionalizing homophobia. The blame lies in him and his “policy team”, aka Khalsa Council – for even one second generation child, teen or adult who has been disenfranchised for who they are, and had to suffer for it. It’s the kind of pain that no one ever deserves, yet perpetuates among so many cultures, and needs to change especially among any “new religious movement” that preaches tolerance.
But it’s a cult, so how can one expect anything other than absurdity? True, they don’t even come close to right wing christian groups or the mormons who have done immense damage, but I do think that individual damages do need to be accounted for.