The Affirmation Leadership Gathering
Potomac, MD, January 25-27, 2013
by John Gustav-Wrathall, Senior Vice President
About two dozen members of the Executive Committee, Board, and other officers, team leaders and allies gathered in Washington, DC and Potomac, MD the weekend of January 25-27, 2013, to envision the future of LGBT/SSA Mormons, and what role Affirmation would play in helping bring that vision to pass.
The only disappointment was the unfortunate and unavoidable absence of Affirmation vice president Karin Hendricks, who at the last minute had to travel to Utah because of a death in the family. Karin was in our thoughts and prayers throughout the weekend.
Friday evening, we gathered in downtown Washington to socialize, eat a fantastic dinner (planned and executed by Doug Balls and Colby Goddard), and share our stories with one another. The storytelling took longer than we expected, until about 10:30 p.m., but it was an incredible opportunity for us to get to know one another better, and to understand what yearnings had brought us all together.
Gathering participants had prepared by submitting in advance a detailed questionnaire, asking us what we envisioned the world looking like for LGBT/SSA Mormons in 20 years, in 10 years, and in 5 years. We were to think about what role Affirmation would play in helping to create that world, and then envision what Affirmation would have accomplished in the next three years. We envisioned what the organization would look like, who would be there, and what would have been our main accomplishments. We also answered detailed questions about our goals in a variety of areas, what challenges we would face, what we would do to achieve our goals or overcome challenges, and how we would know whether we had succeeded in the end. Trevor Cook, Todd Richardson and Sam Noble compiled the results of the surveys into a report that became the most important working document for the weekend.
We began early Saturday with a rousing rendition of “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” and an opening prayer, inviting the Spirit to be present with us and to help us in our visioning and planning.
In the morning, Olin Thomas and Hugo Salinas gave a moving account of Affirmation’s three and a half decades of history. Then we discussed the collective vision and goals that had emerged from the surveys. In the afternoon, we broke up into groups in six different areas identified through the goal setting questions: Spirituality, Dialogue, Community, Connection to Resources, Communications, and Organizational Development. Teams identified the top actions that they felt accomplishment of their goals required. They estimated the amount of time and the cost to execute an action, and what other goals would be affected by that action. We then reconvened as a united body, reviewed the work of each work group, and then voted on which actions ought to be a priority for the organization.
We closed with a hymn and a prayer.
Saturday evening, members of the Washington chapter of Affirmation were invited to join us for food, socializing, and hymn singing. Sunday morning, some of us attended Church at the Washington DC 3rd Ward, where we were warmly and lovingly welcomed and acknowledged at the end of Sacrament meeting.
The gathering was deeply moving, and extremely productive. Participants reported coming away with deeper love, respect and gratitude for one another, and enthusiasm for the work we’d envisioned for ourselves. The Executive Committee (Randall Thacker, president, and John Gustav-Wrathall and Karin Hendricks, vice presidents) will, in consultation with the Affirmation board, be reviewing the work of the leadership gathering in the coming days, and will report to the general membership of Affirmation which goals we will focus on in the coming year, with an action plan for accomplishing those goals.
Affirmation Potluck in Seattle
Family Fellowship Forum in Salt Lake City
Affirmation Annual Conference in Salt Lake City, UT
Affirmation 2013 Conference: New Frontiers
Conference to Be Held in Salt Lake City on September 13-15, 2013
by Joshua Behn, 2013 conference chair
We welcome you to return to Salt Lake City for Affirmation’s 2013 Annual General Conference: “New Frontiers,” to be held September 13-15 at the Guesthouse and Conference Center of the University of Utah.
This will be the most entertaining, educational, and spiritual conference in a long time. With great music, delicious food, and inspiring speakers, this conference will be a great event not just for LGBT Mormons of all stripes, but also for families, friends, and allies.
This year’s conference registration fee will be only $99 or less depending on how much of the conference you plan to attend. The soon-to-be opened airport extension of TRAX will take you inexpensively from the airport to the conference venue. We also negotiated an especially low rate for the hotel: $99 for 2 people, $109 for 3 people, and $119 for 4 people per night.
Be sure to mark the date on your calendars and join our Facebook Event. Stay tuned in the coming months for information on speakers, workshops, and registration.
Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons joins families, Scouts, and others in supporting LGBT youth by calling for an end to discrimination in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)
Add your voice and stand up for your values right NOW
January 30, 2013
Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons wants LGBT young men to be able to participate fully in the youth programs of their wards in accordance with Church policy, but the current BSA policy prohibits this. We urge the BSA to adopt a proposal that would allow sponsoring organizations, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to set the standards of membership for their own troops. We ask you to stand up with us to support this worthy goal.
In 1992, The Boy Scouts of America released an official statement prohibiting gay people from acting in leadership positions, formalizing a decade of discriminatory decisions. The statement reads in part: “We believe homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout should be morally straight … homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.”
Regardless of the organization’s historical beliefs about homosexuality, thousands of gay individuals have participated in the Boy Scouts of America over the years as both leaders and Scouts, including many members of Affirmation.
One Affirmation member and Eagle Scout, Trevor Cook, describes his experience, “Scouting was a big part of my life growing up. I was a member of a very active, outdoorsy troop, and some of my best young memories are from our hikes and campouts.
“Maybe my Scouting experience was positive in part because I kept my sexual orientation secret through my teens. My being gay did not interfere with my normal participation in the program, but constant exposure to society’s denigration of homosexuality–including the Scouts’ policy–added to the heavy emotional burden I carried growing up.”
Hopefully, young people will soon be able to enjoy the benefits of Scouting without having to endure the effects of a needless policy of discrimination: after receiving over 275,000 signatures collected by Eagle Scout and founder of Scouts For Equality Zach Wahls on May 5th 2012, the BSA undertook to consider a resolution that would allow individual troops to accept gay adults as troop leaders. They are expected to vote on it by next week.
Friends, brothers, sisters and families, add your voice and stand up for your values right NOW.
Affirmation prays that the BSA will revise its policy to allow full participation of gay LDS youth in Scouting activities and bring it into alignment with the Church’s own policies of full inclusion of youth, regardless of sexual orientation.
Here’s your chance to have your voice heard and be counted; for equality in Scouting, please take a moment to do both and advance equality:
- Send a short, respectful and positive email clearly voicing your support for removing the ban to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your own experience with Scouting, whether as member, leader, parent, or community member. If comfortable doing so, include the descriptor “Mormon” after your name so the voice for equality can be heard from within the Church.
- Phone 972-580-2330. Ask to have your opinion recorded and that you wish to support lifting the ban on gay, bisexual and non-religious members from the BSA Sexual Orientation Policy. Be prepared to spend some time on the phone – but remember that the longer you have to wait on the line, the more effective our efforts will be.
Additional groups supporting full participation of LGBT Scouts:
Jim Best (third from left) with former Scouts at the Mt. Airy Ward
Gay Scoutmaster Welcomed in Former Ward
Affirmation Member Attends “Sit-with-Me” Sunday in Mt. Airy, North Carolina
by Jim Best
Former bishop Bob Bradley and Eagle Scout Taylor Bradley welcomed their out gay former Scoutmaster and former first counselor to the Mt. Airy ward this Sunday. Other Scouts from troop 551 joined in, too. It has been 8 years since I left. It was great to come back as an honest man, knowing I was probably the first person to come out in a Sunday School and elders quorum meeting in the Mt. Airy Ward in North Carolina. I had served in Mt. Airy as ward mission leader, chorister, elders quorum teacher, first counselor, and Scoutmaster for almost 30 years.
I explained that I was participating in Mormons Building Bridges’ “Sit with Me” Sunday and asked if they would mind my posting pictures with their out gay Scoutmaster. I had come out to a former bishop after the Salt Lake City Affirmation Conference several years ago. We shook hands again and again, hugged and hugged again. Yes–I was welcome, and would I like to attend the next Eagle Scout ceremony? My former Scouts now dwarf me and have taken their rightful posts in church leadership.
After sacrament meeting, I had opportunity to speak briefly in Sunday School and elders quorum in my true identity as a gay man. I don’t know if these brothers and sisters realize that I had to live a lie in order to serve them, which I did with all my heart. They cannot know how deep the wounds, how bitter the grief I have buried nor how long it will take to dismantle the walls of self-defense I have built in order to survive. I have been forced to move on and find sanctuary within.
How wonderful it would be to think that that quarter century of my life might not have ended in the defeat of an outcast, but might serve as an example to welcome other LGBT youth to an opportunity for acceptance and self-realization within the Mormon fold. The simple truth is that I loved them first, knowingly. I believe that they cannot be made perfect until they can accept and cherish all of God’s children as I know God does.
It is time to reach out beyond and make a safe space for everyone through understanding and love
by Tina Richerson
As I walked into the HRC building in Washington D.C. I found members of the Executive Committee hard at work, reviewing and discussing the values and objectives of Affirmation for the upcoming year. This is what we intently engaged in for the next 36 hours.
Although I was the only Lesbian in attendance, I did not feel out of place. A recurring theme for the gathering was that we wanted Affirmation to support individuals in every path.
After dinner Friday night we took the opportunity to share our stories. This turned into each of us bearing our testimonies of the power and realness of God’s love, and his inspiration through the Spirit to live rich, authentic lives. I am deeply moved by the fact that everyone at that meeting actively seeks a personal relationship with God, that we all feel moved to help grow Affirmation into an organization where every perspective and experience is valued and respected. I felt the Spirit that night as I listened to each person tell their story and how everyone had experienced a moment of “God knows that I am homosexual, I was created this way, I fit into his plan, and now it’s time to help others find that same peace.”
Saturday was a full day of understanding the history and mission of Affirmation, then coming to agreement of where and how to take Affirmation forward. Randall Thacker is a wonderful president, with such incredible organizational and leadership skills. Working under his direction is so easy, and he creates an environment in which people want to work together and get things done. He is a fantastic motivator and facilitator.
This weekend was well organized, well thought out and well executed. If this weekend is any forecast for the upcoming year, we are headed in an incredible direction with love, acceptance, clarity, action and wisdom. We have some fantastic people on the board of directors that are going to help us with connections and direction. Everyone involved wants to see Affirmation grow and become more sustainable and reaching out more widely than ever before. We are ready to broaden our perspective and help spirituality flourish and be a part of healing. Each of us wants to practice more love and understanding in relating to the straight members of the church and the church leadership. We want to create an organization that can accomplish goals and provide a space that offers good role models of healthy relationships and self-acceptance. We welcome our straight allies, and need their help! It is time to reach out beyond and make a safe space for everyone through understanding and love.
A Place to Find Community and Support
I am proud to stand with Affirmation today as we are creating a space for all LGBT Mormons
by David Baker, Communications Director
Four years ago I was asked to join Affirmation’s leadership team as the National Youth Director but after doing some research I felt that Affirmation wasn’t a place for me. But all that has changed now.
This weekend I joined with Affirmation’s leadership in my new my role as Communications Director for the organization and after working with the board and various volunteers involved in Affirmation, my opinion of four years ago has fully changed.
I witnessed intense discussions on being truly inclusive of all LGBT members of the Church, allies, and family members.
I saw efforts to find how to engage with leadership of the Church that takes a different tack from the past four years, but that might help us have a large seat at the table.
I saw us rally around finding solutions to helping LGBT/LDS youth in the Church who desperately need helpful resources that encourage a healthy life and trying to balance that with the tools and resources of where our existing cadre of members, some of whom have been in leadership since before I was born.
And most importantly I saw an emphasis on including spirituality back into the set of goals for the organization which back in the first newsletter in March of 1980 stated that it was possible to be openly gay and actively Mormon.
Together this encourages me that Affirmation is shifting back to its roots, but from a position of strength. Because 35 years ago when Affirmation was formed, we were ignored by the Church entirely despite constant efforts to communicate with them, and now we have the Church asking for our help in cleaning up the harm that they did in 2008.
I am proud to stand with Affirmation today as we are creating a space for all LGBT Mormons be they staunch members of the LDS Church or cultural Mormons, openly gay to all they meet or simply questioning themselves in the dark closet. We will be a place for you to find community and support.
The Lord Is Extending the Saints’ Understanding
God is directing us in our efforts to save lives, educate others, and bring peace to the Church
by Mark Schneider
From Elder Uchtdorf’s recent CES talk to the sacrament meeting I attended today, it seems that I am more frequently reminded that ours is a living church and God still has more to say. We can’t predict what God will or will not say, but at the Affirmation Leadership Conference this past Saturday that is the hopeful message I felt as LGBT Mormons from across the globe unabashedly sang the lyrics of “The Spirit of God” and heaven seemed to echo back: The Lord is extending the Saints’ understanding; The knowledge and power of God are expanding; The veil o’er the earth is beginning to burst.
From hearing others’ stories and witnessing the peculiar amount of harmony present at the conference, I can’t help but believe that God has His hand in this work and is directing us in our efforts to save lives, educate others, and bring peace to a church that has been restless and divided over these issues of love and family that affect so many. It is a tall order, I must admit, but I believe we can do it and we will need everyone’s help– Including yours!
Affirmation provides a forum for listening to stories, suspending all judgment, and challenging assumptions when open to be challenged in return
by Brad Wood
I just returned home to North Carolina from Affirmation’s 2013 National Leadership meeting where I was greatly impressed by the energy and ambition of the new leadership team. Affirmation seems ever more committed to affirm our LGBTQ identity and relationship rights, all while seeking to “help LGBTQ people reconcile their spirituality within the context of a common Mormon background.”
Truth be told, I was once hesitant to affiliate with Affirmation specifically because of its connection with Mormon faith. Despite 30 years of faithfulness in the Church, including a cherished mission to Surinam, my own coming out process forced me to confront my belief system such that I ultimately rejected the role of faith.
This proved to be confusing and isolating for a time; I had never fathomed I could lose my faith! And while feeling real joy in discovering a world suddenly full of new questions, I felt misunderstood by faithful friends and family. Plus, I resented having spent so many years as a faithful member in first denying, then trying to repair my gay identity. I could hardly control hard feelings that developed toward many things Mormon (“MTM”, my own acronym).
This continued for several years until I realized I did not want to feel such ill will toward “MTM” anymore. For starters, I knew that my family would always be Mormon. And moreover, Mormonism had shaped me for the first 30 years of my life; it felt tragic to just discard all that was good in my spiritual and social upbringing. Harboring resentment was simply not useful.
As much as I understood all this, I couldn’t just will that resentment away. So I began to take active steps by attending various Mormon Stories conferences and Affirmation events. I wanted to hear the stories of believing and non-believing, gay and straight Mormons alike; how they confront difficult issues such as history, science, and sexuality that challenge so many testimonies. Through 2011 and into 2012, the effort took me multiple times to New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City.
What I heard, after countless hours of talks and conversations, and what I most take to heart now, is that there is a growing place for paradox among those who share the Mormon experience. More and more people seem increasingly willing to confront and accept the contradictions within faith and non-faith.
Some are at first uncomfortable with its vague approach and outcomes. But it is the willingness to discover and embrace the inconsistencies in each other’s worldviews that proves so healing. It comes just by listening to the stories of another sincere truth seeker. Suspending all judgment. Challenging assumptions only when open to be challenged in return. Affirmation provides such a forum!
Perhaps the highlight in my healing process was in June 2012, when I marched with the New York Affirmation chapter and faithful Mormon allies in the NYC Pride Parade down 5th Avenue. The Freedom Tower, still under construction, rose high in the distance ahead. I had never imagined that I would associate with anything Mormon again, and yet there I was carrying a sign before throngs of parade spectators with a quote from 2nd Nephi, “All are alike unto God.” I realized I still firmly and sincerely believed it! Within the paradox of my non-belief, I sensed a universal love of some higher power, and I found sustained healing of resentments rooted in a faithful time.
Affirmation Facebook Group for LGBT People of Color (PoC) and Allies Announced
A forum to explore and express the intersections of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and LDS faith
by Fred Bowers
The Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons People of Color (PoC) and Allies Group is a group of self-identified people of color and allies gathered to explore multiple identities and the intersections of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and LDS faith. This group is designed to be a virtual space much like the meeting of the Affirmation POC and Allies at the annual Affirmation conference. This group is created to encourage LDS LGBT PoC to begin to find their voice in a world where we are often invisible unless we “speak our truth.” LGBT Mormon PoC are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals that are non-white and are members or former members of the LDS Church.
BYU-Idaho Group Fosters Understanding around LGBT Issues
USGA Group Launched in Rexburg
by Keith Trottier
Understanding Same Gender Attraction, commonly referred to as USGA, is an unofficial group of BYU-Idaho students, whose primary goal is to foster understanding on the topic of homosexuality as a Latter-Day Saint. We strive to create a safe place for both those who experience same-gender attraction and their allies. The group meets every Thursday at 8 PM to discuss the trials and blessings of being LGBT. It is a place where those who feel alone can find support and friendship and know that it truly does get better. All are welcome to join and may find more information on our Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/USGA.Idaho.