European Rainbow Sangha
The European Rainbow Sangha is an international LGBTQIA+ network open to all Buddhists who want to meet with an open, non-judgemental mind, to exchange ideas related to sexual orientation and gender identity. We look what the dharma can teach us about the social, existential and spiritual challenges related to these topics and how it can motivate us towards engaged Buddhist actions. Our network is not only for LGBTQIA+ Buddhists, but also for their friends and allies from all Buddhist traditions. We envision a world where all are safe, equally valued and their love celebrated.
The roots of queer dharma date back to California in the 1970s and '80s, in particular to the Gay Buddhist Fellowship (GBF) of San Francisco. The first regular meetings of the GBF took place at the Hartford Street Zen Center (HSZC) the queer Castro district. On the altar you can see the Rainbow Buddha and to the ultimate right the picture of abbot Issan Dorsey (1933-1990). Issan was gay and a popular drag queen before he became a Soto Zen priest and spiritual advisor of the GBF. When asked how Zen had changed his life, he replied with his distinctive sense of witty humor: "Well, I no longer wear heels." Queer Dharma was from the beginning also focussed on engaged Buddhist action. In 1987 Issan took in a homeless student dying of AIDS. This was the incentive for the group to open the Maitri Hospice; the first Buddhist hospice in the West and probably the first in the world for people dying from AIDS ( © HSZC - our thanks to HSZC for allowing us to use this picture)

FAQ: Frequently asked questions

To many people, the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity is a strange world they don’t know very well. So they might have some questions, which people sometimes ask us … and sometimes don’t ask us (there might be many reasons not to ask; people might be shy, or don’t want to risk to insult someone, etc.). Therefore, we have written out some answers to Frequently Asked Questions for you:

  • Are you also struggling to know what Rainbow Acronyms such as LGBTQIA+ mean? Have you come across words such as ‘cis’ or ‘queer’ and wondered what they actually mean? We made a list with brief explanations of some common terms. Impress your friends and download the FAQ Some Queer Vocabulary Explained here.
  • Ever wondered how the rainbow became the symbol of the queer community? There will be no more secrets after you read our FAQ Why Rainbow?
  • Ever wondered if we are a network of nuns and monks talking about LGBTQIA+? You can read why we identify as a sangha in our FAQ Why Sangha?
  • Or you might ask yourself what the point is of organising something like a Rainbow Sangha at all. Is there really a need for that? Why would Buddhists have to be mindful of sexual orientation and gender identity? We try to answer your questions in the FAQ Why Rainbow Sangha?

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any more questions that are not answered above. Don’t be shy. We’re a friendly bunch.

What we do

In our mission statement we summarise three domains we want to work on: to end the isolation of LGBTQIA+ people, to give a voice to Queer Buddhism and to support engaged Buddhist actions contributing to more equality and the full application of human rights for all. To achieve this we are active in various areas. Here are some of them:

1. Engaged Buddhist actions on Human Rights

LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights. There is a broad range of issues where actions can be taken in this field (see above how the Gay Buddhist Fellowship in San Francisco started the Maitri Hospice in 1987; the first Buddhist hospice in the West and probably the first in the world for people dying from AIDS). In 2016 the UN appointed for the first first time (take a deep breath before you go on) a ‘UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)’ (in short UN IE SOGI). When the Independent Expert organised a ‘Public Consultation on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on SOGI’ in January 2017, the European Rainbow Sangha did put so-called ‘Conversion Therapy’ on the agenda. Many Buddhists supported us, which lead to a declaration on conversion therapy and spirituality. More recently we also try to create more awareness for the many problems that Rainbow Refugees (LGBTQIA+ refugees) are facing.

2. Promoting inclusion

This may be surprising to most Buddhists, but there is a clear need for LGBTQIA+ people and their families to know that Buddhist communities in Europe are safe to them; in other words that they can attend without the risk of being exposed to aggression and hate-speech. A lot of theistic
religious communities are hostile to the LGBTQIA+ community, and many people wonder if they will be exposed to similar hostilities when they visit a Buddhist group.

‘May all beings be happy; may they live in safety and joy (…) Let no one deceive another or despise any being in any state, let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.’
Metta Sutta

3. Regional Rainbow Sanghas

We encourage the formation of regional Rainbow Sanghas where it is easier for people to meet and exchange local projects and initiatives. There is already a regional Rainbow Sangha for people speaking German and we will soon start a Rainbow Sangha UK & Ireland too. You can read more about the Buddhismus unter dem Regenbogen here

4. Research and publications

We encourage research on Queer Buddhism and Queer Buddhist history and work together with experts in the field. We also encourage readable publications for a broad public.

Take part in your local Pride: Worldwide Buddhists take part in their local Pride manifestations to support LGBTQIA+ within their communities and societies (in here: San Francisco Pride, USA; Roma Pride, Italy; Malvern Pride, UK) These Prides remember the New York Stonewall riots from 1969. They were an uproar against the systematic bullying of queer people by the New York Police and the (often state-sanctioned) discriminations within society at large. June became known as 'Pride month' in which Pride marches all over the world are advocating equal rights and public safety for LGBTQIA+ people as well as embracing and celebrating diversity as a positive thing. So Pride is not only about non-discrimination but also about being proud of who you are, rather than being told you should feel ashamed.

If you have questions, want advice or want to work with us:

You can contact the European Rainbow Sangha by emailing the chair: Dr Michael Vermeulen

Michael is a Buddhist philosopher, medical doctor and writer. He publishes and gives lectures on Buddhist contributions to contemporary philosophical questions such as Buddhism and the environment (EcoDharma), Buddhism on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (Queer Dharma) and Buddhism and Human Rights (Engaged Buddhism). Michael was the representative of the EBU to the European Union from 2011 to 2015, after which he - inspired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s call for action to stop violence against the LGBTQIA+ community - co-founded the European Rainbow Sangha, together with Dario Girolami (abbot Centro Zen l’Arco, Rome) and Munisha (Triratna International).

You can listen to an interview with Michael on the EBU Podcast.

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