June is Pride Month, a celebration of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer/Questioning) community which still faces debilitating discrimination and stigma. Pride in the US started as a riot at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 by Queer folks and mostly Black Trans women who were being attacked for their gender identity and sexual orientation. Today, it is an affirmation—a reprieve from the uphill fight for LGBTQ+ rights.
As a proud PRIDE mom, and meditator, I feel inspired to share how meditation helps create inclusivity while also giving strength and healing to the LGBTQ+ community. I especially take solace from the wisdom of meditation master, global humanitarian, and founder of the Art of Living, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
”Spirit loves diversity. There is not just one type of fruit, one type of people, and one type of animal on this planet. So let’s not confine the spirit to a uniform. Let’s enjoy the diversity in creation by honoring, respecting, and loving them all.”
This article is a 3-minute read. By the time you’re done, four LGBTQ+ kids would have attempted suicide. Every 45 seconds an LGBTQ+ child between the ages 13–25 attempts suicide, the second leading cause of death in this category.
Anti-LGBTQ+ community rhetoric—dubbed ‘homophobia’—is sustained by religious, political, and cultural values and beliefs at individual and social level and oft based on ‘heteronormativity.’ The Queer community is historically a marginalized minority. We walk amongst them—some are our family, some are out and proud, and some are in the closet besieged by their fears. While we could talk about systemic oppression, sadly, we’re not there yet; we’re still imploring people be inclusive because ‘someone you love’ could be part of this community.
Consider these statistics, mainly from the Trevor Project’s latest survey:
- Forty-five percent of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. One accepting adult can reduce this statistic by 40%.
- Seventy-three percent reported symptoms of anxiety, 58% symptoms of depression.
- Fifty-six percent reported their mental health was poor most of the time or always during the pandemic.
- Thirty-six percent reported being physically threatened or harmed due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Nearly 1 in 3 are rendered homeless.
- Nearly 9 in 10 LGBTQ+ youth are bullied at school (GLSEN).
- Almost half of transgender people are sexually assaulted and intersectionality makes this worse.
- The life expectancy of Black/BIPOC trans women is about 35 years.
- Violence and hate crimes abound, fueled by anti-gay rhetoric.
- Dangerous conversion therapy is still prevalent in many states.
- More than 300 anti-LGBTQ+—particularly anti-transgender—bills have swept the nation recently, causing terrible harm to safety, affecting mental health, and restricting access to healthcare.
- There are major lacks in federal protections and equal rights for the community in healthcare, housing, employment, and education.
- Only 21 US states offer LGBTQ+ people lawful protection against discrimination. Less than half the states in our country!
Meditation cannot be the sole solution to systemic oppression against the LGBTQ+ community—a broader and radical institutional, cultural, social, familial and religious shift is needed—but, it can be a powerful tool. Emma Seppälä, science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, agrees that it could help in this context because, “meditation makes us more compassionate and increases emotional intelligence and social connection.”
Who could meditation help and how?
Meditation could help three different populations:
- Meditation can help LGBTQ+ folks manage sustained trauma, stress, and higher incidence of depression and anxiety.
- Meditation can support activism; it can help LGBTQ+ folks and allies operate from a powerful state of peace while they advocate for change, and can prevent burnout.
- Meditation can potentially make the general population more accepting, and reduce violence and mental health issues amongst the homophobic.
“Meditation does help us safely process all the stresses we pick up on a daily basis and that’s where it’s really key for marginalized communities. For a few minutes each day, we go to a place that is beyond identities. We simply exist and those moments are incredibly uplifting and healing.” —Andrew Nunberg, Art of Living teacher and owner of Hands, Heart & Soul, an Ayurvedic Wellness Center
Meditation has many benefits. Six ways it can make the world more inclusive are by
- Enhancing self-awareness. Research has shown that meditation helps reduce implicit biases. It enhances self-awareness which can help with stereotyping, judgements and examining our privilege, if any. It could also help with internalized homophobia.
- Improving clarity of mind.
• Meditation can help us cut through the clutter of misinformation and lies that racist people and institutions spread, such as the current information being disseminated that LGBTQ+ families are pedophiles and groomers. Forty years ago in Miami, Anita Bryant ran her infamous “Save Our Children” campaign, playing on the same ideas about gay people that we are seeing now. Meditation could help people not fall prey to such malicious propaganda.
• When we are present, we may be more inclined to educate ourselves about the LGBTQ+ community.
• Meditation helps us accept people and the truth about what minorities go through without toxic positivity. Action taken from this state of calm is most effective in creating change.
Read more about how to be an ally
- Generating compassion and empathy. Both are helpful in combating homophobia, rooted in prejudice, fear, hatred, mistrust, discomfort and ignorance.
- Bringing focus to spirituality. Gurudev discusses the distinction between religion (which people misinterpret and use as an excuse for homophobia) and spirituality which, “is a way of life, based on unity in diversity, on love and a sense of belongingness to everyone rather than anger and alienation.” In a recent talk, he spoke about consciousness being half male, half female with the pronouns, he/she/they/them. What a radical affirmation countering the heteronormative!
- Enhancing interpersonal harmony and a feeling of belonging (which can combat racism). This is in line with Gurudev’s message of going beyond race, religion, and gender to create a one-world family. Everyone wants to be included—a 2019 study found that LGBTQ+ people who reported more connectedness were less likely to be suicidal.
- Reducing violence and aggression. The LGBTQ+ population is four times more likely to be the victims of violent crime. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has launched a campaign to combat conflict and violence, I Stand for Peace, asserting, “When one percent of the population meditates, it elevates the collective consciousness. Similarly, if enough people say, ‘I stand up for peace,’ then we project that energy, that vision, and it will happen!”
“Meditation has helped me stay centered, grounded and truly be proud of who I am while not feeling bothered by other people’s opinions and perceptions of me.” —Nalini Mehta, Art of Living Meditation and Ayurveda Teacher and Founder of Yoga Pops
Everyone Benefits from Meditation
The LGBTQ+ community is faced with barriers to healthcare, added mental health and physical health challenges and minority stress. Meditation can improve everyone’s health and well-being including that of the LGBTQ+ community. Know that you are not alone, your existence is precious, and we are here to support you—not just during Pride month—but all year round.
If you need support, or you or any LGBTQ+ youth you know is in crisis, reach out to the Trevor Project 24/7 at 866.488.7386 or thetrevorproject.org. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.272.8255, text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741 741, call 911, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.