Lu says that "The deity can be seen as an alternative to Yue Xia Lao Ren (月下老人) [the matchmaker god]. I usually advise gay temple-goers not to go to Yu Lao, [the nickname of the matchmaker god], since love affairs between men and women are believed to be his responsibility. He will be confused by homosexuals' prayers and probably say to himself: 'The prayer doesn't seem right. I'll match you with a woman instead.'"
The Rabbit God is perceived to be an affable deity, Lu said, who is willing to assist his followers in every aspect of life. Since he works for Cheng Huang (城隍), the City God, he has both the erudition and social network in the spiritual world to solve any problem mortals have, according to Lu.
Homosexuals may have an edge in the spiritual world because, "Hu Tianbao is rather self-abased both because of the way he died and the somewhat belittling title of rabbit. So if you are willing to believe in him, he will be much more grateful and work harder than other deities," Lu said.
There are several methods of worshipping, asking for and receiving answers from this divine being, but sincerity is what counts most, Lu said. For this reason, followers should address the god as Ta Yeh (大爺), or master, rather than Rabbit God. Then, those with needs can write down their names, addresses, birthdays and prayers on pieces of paper money and burn them to make sure the messages are sent to heaven.
In another form of worship, personal items can be brought before the alter for Ta Yeh's blessings. Some followers believe that blessed skin-care products are more effective and increase the likelihood of romance. Followers can also take fu (符), paper charms, from the temple, place them under a pillow and pray to the deity to fulfill their wishes before going to bed. To Lu, the praying is meant to encourage contemplation.
sacred to secular
That is the spiritual side of the sect, but Lu is also concerned about the status of homosexuals in society, and that is a major reason for establishing the temple. "Religions both in the West and the East have long pushed the homosexual community into the margin," he said. "But providence is benign, and love is given to all human beings as equals." He also added that the temple is not merely for gay men, but lesbians as well.
Lu is planning religious gay weddings. He wants to deliver a message that religion recognizes the union of homosexual couples, and there is no reason why the state shouldn't do the same.
To a 25-year-old adherent - who requested to be identified as Philippe since his colleagues don't know he is gay - the temple offers a source of comfort in time of trouble. Admitting that he imagined the shrine would be a bit gruesome before the visit, Philippe noted that the whole experience was similar as that of visiting any other temple.
"Although I had a secular upbringing, I still feel the need to seek out comfort in religious faith, to know there is hope I can hold on to, a true love that is not far off," said the young internist, who said he would return to the shrine and give thanks to Ta Yeh if the dinner date after the gay parade last Saturday developed into a long-yearned-for relationship.