Thursday, May 12, 2011

Abstract 2011 Kathryn Lum

Kathryn Lum, European University Institute Florence


Equal before God, yet invisible among the Sangat: The discourse on Sexuality in Sikhism

Sikhism is unique among the monotheistic religions for not officially condemning homosexuality in its holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. Indeed, the Sikh faith is formally a religion that promotes gender equality. The Sikh Gurus proclaimed theological equality for women at a time in which women were consigned to living in purdah (seclusion) and deprived of their most elementary human rights. However, this theological equality has not been translated into practice, either for women or for the gay and lesbian (GL) community. Punjabi Sikh culture remains strongly patriarchal and deeply homophobic. Women are second-class citizens in both social and religious life, and discussion of homosexuality is taboo. Gays and lesbians are invisible in the Punjab and homosexuality is considered a “Western disease”. In recent years, Sikh leaders in the Punjab have issued edicts condemning gay marriage in Canada and urging Punjabi Sikh Canadian MP´s to vote against measures promoting gay equality. The large Punjabi Sikh diaspora (the worldwide diaspora is estimated to be two million) however has recently been bringing the issue of homosexuality within Sikhism/Punjabi culture out into the open. Gay Sikhs may not be coming out of the closet in large numbers, but the issue is finally being discussed in one of the few forums where gay and lesbian Sikhs can express themselves openly: online Sikh discussion forums and blogs. Based on a content analysis of Sikh websites along with interviews with UK-based gay Sikhs, this paper will analyse the ´mainstream´ Sikh discourse on homosexuality and how gay and lesbian Sikhs respond to this discourse and work out a dual Sikh/gay identity.

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