Here’s an incident that happened to me about 4-5 years ago …
I was in Govinda’s during the lunch rush one afternoon dressed in dhoti and tilaka. A group of three obviously gay men approached me quite abruptly (as per the West-Australian demeanour) and demanded, “Does your religion condone homosexuality?”
I wasn’t much taken back by their loud and proud query despite that at that point I had the audience of a good portion of the customers who were seated and having their lunch. Also I was aware that the person who I was speaking to was a very outspoken gay activist as I’d seen him speak at rallies whilst on book distribution in the colloquial city of Perth where everyone seems to know everyone else who leaves their home. I thought that the opportunity might be great to present the concept that we are not actually our bodies and that both ‘hetero’ and ‘homo’ attraction are based on misidentification. This person is also a PHD and most educated folks in Perth know him as he is a very public figure in the university scene. Strangely enough I ended up designing a piece of software for his biology department when I worked for the Teaching and Learning center on Murdoch campus a few years later and he remembered me vaguely as a Hare Krishna. Then I got to preach to him rationally and the dialogue we had was healthy and respectful.
But this time I invited him to sit with me and discuss his question yet before I could even finish he demanded a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
So here I was with a small audience being aggresively confronted by a very well know professor and gay activist and co.
Again I tried to explain that their was an exact answer to his question and that it was neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’ and that if wanted me to give any answer that we could sit and I’d explain our teachings on this point.
He wasn’t interested and then, as if he were giving me a last chance to convince him, he offered, “Just a simple yes or no will suffice.”
If I could go back in time I would probably have just held my ground and refused to be bullied into giving any sort of incomplete answer.
At the time I was thinking ….. his exact question was “Does your religion condone homosexuality?” so since he wants a simple answer I should give him one in the spirit of ye yatha mam prapadyante. (BG 4.11)
So I just answered plainly “No.”
He replied (quite condescendingly) “Thank you.” and stormed out of the restaurant in a swoosh with his supporters in tow.
I looked around the restaurant and saw that I had the sympathy of nearly everyone. The customers (mostly regulars) were looking at me supportively in mild disbelief of what had just transpired. I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders and we had a laugh.
I always did beat myself up a bit at how I handled that situation though as I thought that it could have been an opportunity to make an impact. Now I think I would handle the situation a bit better but back then I guess that this was the best I could come up with given my experience and level of faith.
How would you deal now with a situation like that?