Rainbodhi is a spiritual friendship group for LGBTQIA+ Buddhists and an advocate for more inclusion and diversity in the broader Buddhist community. Our name combines two words: rainbow, representing our diverse community, and bodhi, the Buddhist concept of enlightenment.
Sometimes I get asked why we need a group like Rainbodhi. Compared to other religions, Buddhism doesn’t condemn queer people as sinners and might not have an explicit history of persecution or oppression of LGBTQIA+ people and but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t cultural prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people in various Buddhist countries around the world, many of which were heavily influenced in the colonial era by Christian religious attitudes. Even in contemporary Australia, the right to be free from discrimination is relatively recent and the legacy of old societal attitudes still permeate our relgious spaces.
All people, regardless of gender or sexuality, deserve to live their life free from fear of rejection and be proud of who they are. Equality is at the core of Buddhist teachings. Everyone deserves love, compassion and acceptance; these are fundamental Buddhist values. However, if Buddhists are perpetrating homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or interphobia, then they are perpetuating hatred, violence and abuse. These are not Buddhist values!
Listening to Our Community
Rather than just assuming everything is okay for queer folks in our Buddhist spaces, it’s important to actually listen to their voices to understand their experiences. Recent research sponsored by Rainbodhi, undertaken by Dr Stephen Kerry from Charles Darwin University, surveyed 110 people and found that Australian Buddhist centres can be unwelcoming places for LGBTQIA+ Buddhists. Speaking about their Buddhist centres, respondents reported:
- 61% felt that Buddhist centres silence or ignore LGBTQIA+ people and issues
- 55% were reluctant to disclose their LGBTQIA+ identities at their Buddhist centre
- 54% had seen or heard sexism
- 37% had seen or heard homophobia
- 26% had seen or heard transphobia or misgendering
- 26% had seen or heard racism
- 16% had been told that their LGBTQIA+ identity was inconsistent with the Buddha’s teaching.
These results show that Buddhist centres are not always safe or welcoming spaces for LGBTQIA+ Buddhists. Individuals might not understand that their actions and speech can cause harm. Organisations may not see the ways in which they exclude LGBTQIA+ people. So acknowledging the existence of this prejudice and discrimination is an important first step in making the necessary changes to create safer and more inclusive Buddhist communities.
Buddhism has a LGBTQIA+ History (and Future)
Rainbodhi wants to let people know that it’s fine to be LGBTQIA+ and a spiritual person. People don’t have to choose between these aspects of themselves. Spirituality is an intrinsic part of being human, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. There have always been queer, trans and intersex people in human history. LGBTQIA+ people are also spiritual people, so it’s not surprising to find that Buddhism has a LGBTQIA+ history.
Early Buddhist texts discuss same-sex attraction and sexuality without any sense of moral judgement or negativity. There are also accounts of laypeople and monastics who transitioned across genders. Ancient Indian society recognised a category of people who were regarded as neither male nor female, who we might call transgender or third gender today, and another category of people who had both male and female sex characteristics, who we might refer to as intersex. Some of these groups experienced stigma and social disadvantages throughout Buddhism’s history, and for some groups, this discrimination continues today.
LGBTQIA+ people have contributed to the flourishing of Buddhism as monastics, lay followers, teachers and scholars. However, their stories are often forgotten or their experiences are ignored. As today’s society becomes more accepting and understanding of LGBTQIA+ people generally, it’s time for our Buddhist communities to acknowledge our queer community publically, with love and with pride.
Rainbodhi wants to make sure that LGBTQIA+ people know that they are welcomed and accepted for who they are. The Buddha often spoke against discrimination and said that all living beings deserve love without distinction. Since all people are capable of achieving enlightenment, we need to make sure we don’t exclude anyone from our Buddhist communities. Understanding how we can be more welcoming and inclusive towards LGBTQIA+ Buddhists will help us truly practise loving-kindness and compassion towards everyone in our community.
What Rainbodhi Does
Rainbodhi offers meditation, dhamma discussion and social events in a safe, supportive environment. Rainbodhi is a non-sectarian group, open to people from all Buddhist traditions, other faiths or with no faith. We welcome everyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality or ability. All our events are free so that financial hardship is not a barrier to participation.
In the past, Rainbodhi has held meditation events in the Botanic Gardens, at Rookwood Cemetery and a day of practice at Dangar Island. We also organise social events such as picnics, coastal walks and visits to art galleries to bring our community together. During the pandemic, Rainbodhi went online and quickly became an international community of queer Buddhists from across the globe. We hold regular online meditation sessions and teachings, showcasing international queer Buddhist speakers. All our events aim to discuss spirituality through a lens that centres LGBTQIA+ people and reflects our experiences. This means rather than feeling that we don’t belong, or that we aren’t included, instead we can feel seen, understood and valued.
Rainbodhi also acts as an advocate for queer Buddhists, providing a voice on important issues, such as writing submissions on the recent state and federal religion bills and appearing at parliamentary inquiries. We also work closely with queer faith groups from other religions to share a message of compassionate inclusion in spiritual communities.
In 2021 Rainbodhi participated in the national day of LGBTQ philanthropy, GiveOUT Day, under the auspices of the BCNSW. We raised $12,000 in donations to publish a booklet called Welcoming the Rainbow: A Guide to LGBTQIA+ Inclusion for Buddhists, which has since been distributed all over the world and is currently being translated into French, Portuguese and Thai.