“Rainbodhi’s message is that it’s OK to be queer or gender diverse and also be a Buddhist. You don’t have to choose between these two parts of yourself,” said Bhante Akaliko. “We want our Rainbodhi community to know that they are welcomed, accepted, and loved for who they are. Everyone deserves love and compassion. These are fundamental Buddhist values.” (Star Observer)
The group’s name, Rainbodhi, is a portmanteau combining “rainbow,” which represents the LGBTIQ community, and “bodhi,” the Buddhist term meaning awakening. The group aims to cultivate spiritual friendships across Buddhist communities in the area and is also open to those who are new to Buddhism or meditation, or those simply curious about developing spiritually.
“We also welcome people from all different religions, cultural backgrounds, and other identities,” Bhante Akaliko said. “Our aim is to create a safe and supportive environment for like-minded people to practice meditation, understand Buddhist teachings, and develop spiritual friendships. No religion should preach hate or harm others. There have always been queer and trans people in religious life and it’s important for us to acknowledge that publicly, with pride.” (Star Observer)
Bhante Akaliko said that the recent so-called religious freedom debate in Australia highlighted the need for such a group. “After enduring the painful public discussion for the marriage equality postal survey in 2017, we are genuinely concerned about our community’s well-being and loss of legal protections,” he said. “We definitely don’t want to see any discrimination against LGBTIQ human rights in the name of religion. Spirituality is an intrinsic part of being human. It should be a source of connection and wisdom in our lives, rather than division and despair.” (Star Observer)
According to Australia’s National LGBTI Health Alliance, “Although most Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) Australians live healthy and happy lives, research has demonstrated that a disproportionate number experience poorer mental health outcomes and have a higher risk of suicidal behaviors than their peers. These health outcomes are directly related to experiences of stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and abuse on the basis of being LGBTI.” (LGBTI Health)
Writing for Buddhistdoor Global in September, Edward Hyde-Page noted that, “While the public discourse has largely been dominated by the concerns of Christian and secular groups, it will have effects on fast-growing minor religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.” Furthermore, “The protracted nature of this issue created strong divisions within the Australian community as LGBTIQ+ people felt they were being discriminated against for who they were, and some people of faith felt increased scrutiny over their beliefs.”*
According to Australia’s 2016 census, Buddhism is the third-largest religion in the country with 2.4 per cent of the population after Christianity with 52.1 per cent and Islam 2.6 per cent.
The launch event for Rainbodhi will feature guided meditations, a panel discussion on self-care from a spiritual perspective, and further information about a fundraiser to support LGBTIQ rights. Bhante Akaliko noted: “We’re also planning fun, interactive workshops for attendees to help us shape Rainbodhi’s future. We offer meditation and Dhamma discussion in a safe, supportive environment. Come along to chill out with meditation, hear authentic Buddhist teachings, and develop spiritual friendships with like-minded people.” (Star Observer)