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On Saturday, one of the largest Hindu temples in the United States made one of the most significant steps in creating institutional allyship with the LGBTQIA community by hosting a townhall on—and primarily for—those who identify as both queer and Hindu.
The Sri Siva Vishnu Temple’s program, “Creating Space for LGBTQIA Hindus,” drew a packed audience, many of whom were under the age of 30. The townhall, moderated by Sivagami Subbaraman, the head of the LGBTQ Resource Center at Georgetown University, featured panel members sharing their personal traumas of coming out and, at times, feeling alienated from the larger Hindu community.
For board members of the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple (SSVT), the town hall served as a clarion call to do more to create a long-term inclusive space for queer Hindus. The temple hosted one of the country’s first same-sex marriages over a decade ago, yet had not committed itself to providing more resources for LGBTQIA outreach.
Even though Hindu scriptures embrace queerness and gender fluidity, Hindu temples have generally been reluctant to wade into discussions about sexuality. During Pride Month and in the wake of the Trump administration’s continued attacks on LGBT Americans, other communities of faith have tried to work on institutionalizing inclusiveness for their LGBT congregants. Yet Hindu organizations have, for the most part, done little to embrace or accept them.
Many queer Hindu advocates have blamed cultural factors, noting that the majority of Hindu Americans are either from the Indian subcontinent or the Caribbean, where homosexuality is often criminalized and socially ostracized. The conservatism of many Hindu temple leaders has made it more difficult for Hindu institutions to provide support for LGBTQ members.
Moreover, the decentralized nature of the Hindu American landscape has made it more difficult for efforts to be noted or noticed. The Hindu American Foundation has for years supported same-sex marriage, and has argued that LGBT equality is scripturally sanctioned. Hindu chaplains at universities like Princeton, Yale, and Georgetown, for example, have made LGBTQIA counseling and outreach a priority in their efforts. Hindu sects like Arya Samaj routinely perform same-sex ceremonies while temples in Minnesota and New York City have embraced same-sex marriage and the creation of sanctuaries for LGBTQ Hindus. Yet, the support remains elusive among many temples. As some of the panelists noted, Hindu community leaders are famously risk averse, and are often reluctant to undertake actions seen as departing from ritualistic focus.
To complicate matters more, some South Asian LGBTQIA organizations have remained skeptical of and hostile towards Hindu religious institutions and organizations, making communication and collaboration all the more challenging.
For the SSVT, Saturday’s event was in some sense a validation of efforts to engage a new generation of prospective congregants. Many Hindu temples across the United States are suffering a generational void, as 18-40-year-old Hindus disappear from attendance. Outreach to the LGBTQ community wasn’t just a matter of creating an inclusive space, but a recognition of the reality that a ritualistic, insular approach to Hinduism is unsustainable in a country where more adults are identifying as spiritual but not religious.
While the SSVT’s first step has been welcomed, creating and maintaining that welcoming space for LGBTQIA Hindus will continue to be easier said than done. For many other Hindu temples and the Hindu community as a whole, there’s a far longer road to travel before the first step is even taken.