The Dalai Lama meets with lesbian and gay leaders
Press Release June 1997
Mirka Negroni, IGLHRC, 415-255-8680 (SAN FRANCISCO, June 11, 1997) - In a historic meeting in San Francisco on June 11, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for the first time ever, discussed issues of homosexuality, human rights and Buddhism with a small group of gay and lesbians leaders. His Holiness expressed his strong opposition to discrimination and violence against gay and lesbian people. He voiced his support for full human rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation. The Dalai Lama was moved by personal stories of loss and discrimination related by the participants, and urged respect, tolerance, and compassion for all. He made it clear that gay and lesbian activists could rely on general Buddhist principles as a foundation for their struggle for full equality.
"His Holiness the Dalai Lama's support for our rights is very significant,"
said Tinku Ali Ishtiaq, co-chair of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "The Nobel Laureate commands tremendous respect among people of the world and is highly respected for his words of wisdom. I hope that his message of non-discrimination and respect for our rights will have considerable impact on non-Buddhist religious traditions as well."
In a warm, relaxed meeting, the Dalai Lama sought to clarify his understanding of traditional Buddhist texts concerning sexuality and empathized with participants' concerns and frustrations about the unfairness of the prohibitions for gays and lesbians. Traditional Buddhist teaching prohibits certain sexual activities for practicing Buddhists, including homosexual acts for men (and by implication, he said, for women). He expressed his willingness to consider the possibility that some of these teachings may be specific to a particular cultural and historical context. He stressed that he does not have the authority to unilaterally reinterpret Buddhist scriptures, but urged those present to build a consensus among other Buddhist traditions and communities to collectively change the understanding of the text for contemporary society. His Holiness expressed interest in the insights of modern scientific research and its value in developing new understandings of these texts.
"His Holiness the Dalai Lama was characteristically open and non-judgmental.
As Head of State of an occupied country and as a celibate religious leader, I think he has not spent much time considering issues of sexuality, gay rights, and homophobia.
Yet he welcomed our suggestion that these issues be explored in conjunction with upcoming conferences," said Eva Herzer, President of the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet.
Jos Ignacio Cabez,, a former Buddhist monk and Professor of Philosophy at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said, "I feel heartened and encouraged by this dialogue. It is wonderful to see a religious thinker of the caliber of His Holiness the Dalai Lama grappling with issues of sexual ethics and especially the rights and responsibilities of gay and lesbian people in such an open, empathetic, and rigorous fashion. As a gay Buddhist, I am grateful for this opportunity."
Lourdes Arguello, a professor of education at the Claremont Graduate School and a board member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship summed up her observations as follows: "It is always amazing to see how His Holiness rises beyond the culture-bound context of his own tradition and grapples with seemingly absurd proscriptions to focus on the complex needs and desires of human beings in the here and now. I left the meeting with both the understanding and the feeling that this is a first stage in an exciting and provocative dialogue between His Holiness and other Buddhist teachers on the one hand and gay and lesbian Buddhists and human rights activists on the other."
"This open, honest discussion of Buddhist traditional doctrine, with the participation of one of its most outstanding teachers, is 20th century Buddhism at its best," said Steve Peskind of the Buddhist AIDS Project.
Ven. K.T. Shedrup Gyatso, Spiritual Director of the San Jose Tibetan Temple, said regarding today's meeting, "As an openly gay, celibate, fully-ordained Buddhist monk, I am very pleased with what His Holiness had to say. I can now go back to my temple and tell our gay, lesbian and bisexual members that they are still Buddhists, that they are still welcome, and that they are as well-equipped for the Buddhist path as anyone else."
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