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"The Elohim teach us that gender roles keep us from understanding our true selves, and therefore our creators," explains Rael. "They are so evolved and enlightened that they have transcended gender barriers." Sexual experimentation and gender play is encouraged. For example, Raelians throw a transgendered ball each year: "Men come dressing and acting like stereotypical women, and women come dressing and acting like men," Rael explains. In this way, he adds, Raelians learn respect for the other gender, and become "inspired to act more human, and less like 'women' or 'men.' We are really quite feminist," he concludes. Raelians welcome gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals into their religion, and march in gay pride parades all over the world each year.
"The Raelians are more tolerant, progressive, and enlightened than the followers of most new religions," maintains Palmer.
Despite their openness, Rael says that his followers have been heavily persecuted in France, which, he points out, is the only country with an "anti-cult ministry." Dr. Boissellier says that she has faced painful discrimination there: first losing her job due to her faith, and then losing custody of her youngest child to her non-Raelian ex-husband. "When I began publicizing my interest in cloning and my religious affiliation, my bosses asked me to leave out the Raelian part. I refused, and they fired me. I brought them to court on charges of discrimination, lost, and appealed five times until I finally won. They had to pay me six months' severance for discrimination."
Swiss business consultant Gerard Jean Pupeux, Rael's top assistant in Europe, says, "After 20 years of being a Raelian, and 15 years working in the same company, I appeared on a major national television show in December in France, discussing my religion, and was fired the next day." Clients called his office the day after the program aired and told his bosses that they would choose another company if he wasn't let go. "After every public appearance I have problems at my job," he adds. He now says he no longer agrees to do interviews in Europe, but made an exception for this article because "the United States seems far enough away" from his job.
Rael himself left France about 10 years ago due to persecution, and started the Quebec chapter, which is now one of the largest in the world.
The Raelians hope to get a friendlier reception in New York. Parent is expecting 20 to 25 guests at her meditation class on Sunday: "We will close our eyes for about 30 minutes at 10 a.m., just to become aware of the infinity in ourselves, and then have telepathic communication, sharing prayer and love with the Elohim at 11. Afterward, a few of us will hit the streets with flyers and books." The only public event she has planned here so far is a three-day appearance at the New Life Expo at the New Yorker Hotel in October. "We are not really advertising now," she says. "I have a list of people's names I have collected in past visits when I came here to speak."
Parent is very excited about establishing a New York chapter. "Rael teaches us to see the positive side to everything," she notes. "I have lived in Francea country with a lot less religious tolerance than here. America is the freest country, and New Yorkers are the most open people.
"And they're used to seeing just about everything."