Have you heard of Oliver Sipple?
Oliver Sipple was a United States Marine and a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War. On September 22, 1975, he joined a large group of people gathered outside of a hotel in San Francisco waiting for then-President Gerald R. Ford, who was inside the hotel, to emerge.
As President Ford exited the hotel and headed for his limousine, Oliver Sipple noticed the woman standing next to him pull out a gun and point it towards the President. "The bitch has a gun," he screamed and instinctively grabbed the woman's arm as the shot rang out.
The shot went wide, wounding a bystander, and Oliver Sipple was feted as a hero. (His Wikipedia entry is here.)
Oliver Sipple also happened to be gay.
Thinking -- probably correctly -- that it would do the public some good to know that the man who had courageously saved the President's life was gay, pioneering gay activist (and later San Francisco Supervisor) Harvey Milk leaked Oliver Sipple's sexual orientation to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Although he had been active within San Francisco's gay community, Oliver Sipple was not "out" to his parents. The resulting newspaper article and media frenzy changed that. Oliver Sipple had been "outed."
While Harvey Milk's decision to out Oliver Sipple may have made sense in the abstract strategic sense as a way to advance the gay rights movement, it exacted a heavy personal toll on Mr. Sipple. He was estranged from his parents for years afterward and was exposed to stress and pressures that without doubt contributed to his early death at age 47.
As we -- the current and former disciples of Sri Chinmoy -- consider how to move forward in the coming weeks, months, and years, I hope we remember the story of Oliver Sipple. Ultimately, I'm not concerned with the Center as an organization.
I'm concerned with individuals.
I now know the names of more than a half dozen female disciples -- some of who move within the leadership of the Sri Chinmoy Center -- who were active participants in Guru's sex ring.
I have no intention of outing these women.
They've done nothing wrong. These women are victims, just like our other spiritual sisters Phulela, Sevika, Rupavati, Suchatula, Sundari, and Bihagee. They may not think of themselves as victims and may not want or need our help. But we should, nevertheless, stand ready to offer our collective hand of support should they ever ask.
We can't make such an offer in good faith, however, if in our zeal to make some larger point trample upon the very women we claim to support.
It's imperative that we create a safe and supportive environment. If we violate their privacy now -- if we out them preemptively -- we'll be creating anything but a safe and supportive environment for them. From our cloistered sisters' point of view, we'll be living up to the negative stereotype Guru long ago painted of former disciples as "hostile forces."
It's been tempting for me over the last few weeks to think that I know better.
Sitting on explosive information like the stories of Sundari and Bihagee -- revelation of which I thought would benefit the truth in the abstract and help others who are privately suffering similar pains -- was difficult and try as I might, I overstepped my bounds with Sundari and Bihagee a little, adding stress to their lives at a time when they least needed it.
All has worked out now, with their brave public disclosures, but the process has given me pause.
Let's remember, together, that the path of self-development is ultimately an individual one. We can't force our sister disciples to do more than they themselves are willing to do.
If this blog is going to morph into something other than my own memoir -- as it has apparently already -- then it must be about facilitating the further development of each one of us through dialog, understanding and sympathy.
It will do no good to expose the truth for truth's sake if in the process we destroy the well being of those we claim to support.
In this regard, let's remember Oliver Sipple and always strive to temper our zeal for the truth with sympathy for our brothers and sisters still in the Center, many of who are struggling with these issues for the very first time.
Let's not trample upon their opportunity to stand up for themselves in the name of some abstract principle.