Sikhism and sexual orientation
The universal goal of a Sikh is to have no hate or animosity to any person, regardless of factors like race, caste, color, creed, gender, or sexuality. Within the last few years the topic of homosexuality has become much more discussed in religions all over the world, making the once taboo topic of homosexuality now a subject for open discussion among adherents.
Conflicting views in modern Sikhism
Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti of the Akal Takht (the temporal Sikh authority in India) has condemned homosexuality. In March 2005, he told visiting Sikh-Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) that they had a religious duty to oppose same-sex marriage: "The basic duty of Sikh MPs in Canada should be to support laws that stop this kind of practice [homosexuality], because there are thousands of Sikhs living in Canada, to ensure that Sikhs do not fall prey to this practice". However, these Sikh MPs voted for same-sex marriage.
The divide between supporters and opponents of LGBT rights has become increasingly clear, creating a largely generational rift between older conservatives and younger liberals. Many Sikhs believe there is nothing wrong with being LGBT or supporting LGBT rights more generally, including same-sex marriage. These Sikhs believe that the view of some preachers in the Akal Takht is flawed.
The Sikh Rehat Maryada emphasizes the importance of a family lifestyle, and many Sikhs believe that since same-sex partners can’t reproduce and make a family that homosexuality should be condemned. This heteronormative way of viewing the family is questioned by those who believe Sikhism is more tolerant of people not viewed as “normal”. Many Sikh adherents believe the Rehat Maryada is meant to be interpreted and applied to life liberally rather than treated as a binding contract.
Homosexuality in scripture
The Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib details what behavior is expected of all Sikhs. It is seemingly silent on the subject of same-sex sexual behaviour, while it frequently encourages a married life. Marriage in Sikhism is seen as a union of souls, and the soul is seen as genderless, with the outward appearance of human beings (man, woman) being a temporary state. Same-sex marriage advocates refer to this as support for marriage equality in Sikhism. The Laavaan, the main part of Anand Karaj, are read at Sikh weddings for the union of two souls through marriage. In these hymns there is no mention of gender, but rather the participants are regarded as souls that are genderless. Marriage is seen as a spiritual journey to achieving lasting happiness through committing to the faith.
Although the topic of homosexuality in Sikhism is tabooed, the younger generation is looking to the internet for answers. The internet has become a new way for young Sikhs born inside and outside of India to discuss the religion and current issues anonymously through the internet. The internet allows people to get the information they need without the discomfort of talking about it within the community. The internet has become a tool for young Sikhs to get information about current issues that may not be discussed directly within their communities.
There are some individuals that are using the power of the internet to discuss issues of homosexuality in the community. Junaid Asif, also known as Sikh Knowledge, openly speaks about his queer identity. He uses his platform to discuss his experience as a sexual minority within the Sikh community and how he believes that there is conversation that needs to be had. He did an interview with Kevin Newman where he discussed the lack of discussion about homosexuality in the Sikh and Punjabi community. This is the first time homosexuality in Sikhism has ever been discussed on live television on a Western news channel, and it addressed a topic that isn’t normally discussed in the community. Another Sikh named Manjinder Singh is using YouTube to open up about his experiences as a gay Sikh man. He’s creating his own platform on YouTube to reach a wider audience and is trying to get dialogue in the community started by defining what it means to be queer. In one of his videos he has a conversation with his mom about homosexuality in Punjabi. This video defines what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and being transgender in Punjabi and is targeted to the audience that doesn't necessarily understand the different sexual and gender identities. Other famous Sikh YouTube stars such Sikh Canadian comedian Jus Reign (Jasmeet Singh), and Lilly Singh (iiSuperwomanii), have openly voiced their support for LGBT rights.
Both the Sikh identity and sexual identities affect a person’s self concept and how they relate to their community. Like other religions, Sikhism strives to cultivate a sense of identity through religious practices, but in Sikhism there is a shared common physical identity too. Through the process of identity formation people begin to build a sense of individuality that allows them to find communities of people that they identify with. Identity formation at the intersection of Sikh and sexual identities has not been a focus of many studies. As the Sikh diaspora starts forming in places like Britain, some researchers are interested in understanding how these ethnic, religious, and sexual identities affect one’s self-concept. Many queer Sikhs find it difficult to reconcile their religious identity with their sexual identity.
Some research is aiming to understand how the Sikh narrative and the narrative of sexuality coincide and conflict with one another. In an article written by David Mair for the University of Birmingham, David examines the life narrative of an openly gay, practicing Sikh named Daljeet. This study aimed to understand how clashing narratives affect one’s self-concept and relationship to the community at large. After having an in-depth conversation with Daljeet, David found that many of the struggles that he faced were because of the clash of narratives in his own life. Daljeet’s narratives of Indian masculinity, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality conflicted with one another and his self-concept is deeply affected by it. Those who do not conform to heteronormative and binary definitions of gender and sexuality are tasked with creating a new narrative that incorporates all aspects of their identity in an encompassing way.
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