Participants Share Important Events That Are Coming Up in Their Lives
Note: Women of Affirmation Phone Nights are held every 2nd Monday of the month. The theme for February will be “Replenishing the Well: Feeding Our Hearts and Spirits Through Self-care.” Callers are invited to come and share their ideas, insights, questions or experiences related to keeping ourselves nourished and resilient as we face the difficulties particular to being LGBTQIA women of Mormon heritage. For dial-in number and participant access code, please contact: Beth Ellsworth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Beth Ellswroth
On Monday, December 9, ten women participated in the monthly Women of Affirmation Phone Night. The theme for December was “Moments of Victory.” To start out the call, everyone went around and introduced themselves by sharing where they are living and what their vocation is. The intent was not just to talk about our professions, but to share a little bit about what we consider our life’s callings to be. Among the group we had educators, social workers, LGBT rights activists, community-organizers, lawyers, physical trainers, healers, filmmakers, and artists. We were collectively impressed by each others’ life endeavors, and we joked that within our small circle alone, we likely had the collective intelligence, skills, and heart to solve most of the worlds problems.
The thought focused on the importance of taking time to celebrate the small victories on our way to accomplishing our dreams. We contemplated the importance of employing love, gratitude and patience with ourselves in order to overcome fear and overwhelm as we work towards those goals, as well as while we deal with the tensions that often arise due to being LGBT and of Mormon heritage.
Participants then shared some of their recent moments of victory or difficulty and provided each other with insights and words of congratulations, support, and encouragement. One of the beautiful aspects of the conversation was that participants felt free to share important events that were coming up in their lives such as new employment and education opportunities, new aspirations, or big transitions, and ask for prayers and good thoughts in those endeavors.
by Melissa King, with quotes provided by Mars Booker
To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now. –Alan Cohen
Alan Cohen’s famous quote was most definitely self evident in our January Meeting. All those present expressed how they felt (on various levels), how they came to terms with their sexuality, and how their current lifestyle has provided them the freedom they were searching for.
All were given the chance to have their voices shared and empowered throughout the evening. Major topics included “Where are you in your church membership?” and “What are your phases of coming out?” In addition, some time was spent discussing when and how each of us felt betrayed by church members or ideals.
Despite the variance of thoughts and opinions, we all shared comfort and support for one anothers’ experiences, and it was as if old friends gathered to “catch-up” on old times. This was quite a feat considering that for many of us, it was a first time experience.
Beth, our facilitator did an excellent job of starting and keeping the conversation going, making everyone feel at ease and very welcome. She challenged us to think of new ideas and ways to make future meetings more successful. The idea of perhaps having additional “sub-meetings” was discussed as there were some callers who felt that maybe this type of meeting was not for them.
The night ended for most (some of us stayed on to keep chatting with a thought lead by Mars Booker who quoted both Alan Cohen (above) and Albert Einstein:
“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”
As these meetings progress and we continue to unite, we will have the great privilege of widening our personal circle of compassion both within ourselves and in our communities. I for one am looking forward to this journey!
Circling the Wagons Social
Adventures at Church in Utah’s Double-Bubble
Being an advocate for gay individuals in Utah’s bubble can have consequences, yet no one can take away from us those things that matter most
by Yvett Zobel
I live in a beautiful place in Utah that is known as the bubble within the bubble. Living in a bubble means that the majority of people in your community think, look, act, worship, and vote in a similar manner. A double-bubble is an extreme version of that. I really knew I was in the double-bubble when a girl bore her testimony about the entire high school drill team doing baptisms for the dead. No kidding! A year ago an apostle visited our double-bubble. He told eager open ears at our stake conference and in another special meeting that we are the ones who will stand up and fight against gay marriage…”Like a steadfast rock in a stream of rushing water…we must be immovable!” Our ward and stake has been vocal in being obedient to what this apostle said. The “gay issue” has come up quite frequently in Sacrament meeting, Fast and Testimony meeting, Relief Society, Sunday school, Priesthood, and even again in another Stake Conference.
As an advocate for LGBT individuals and a mother of a gay son, this year was fraught with frustration and pain, but also punctuated with joy and gratitude. My bishop is getting well acquainted with me. He gets educational emails from me regularly. We visit in person quite often. My most satisfying moments have been when we practice conscious empathy. I acknowledge that I don’t expect him to be where I am at with this issue. He acknowledges that even though he tries, he will never completely understand what it is like to the parent of a gay son. He does not feel comfortable addressing the entire ward with a a 5th meeting Sunday, but we have a good working relationship.
December was a particularly brutal month with church lessons complete with fear mongering and harsh judgments towards gay individuals. I expressed emphatically to my bishop how harmful and isolating this type of language is to LGBT individuals and to those that love them. He spoke to the priesthood brethren about remembering the great commandment to love our neighbor, especially in these politically charged times with strong opinions and emotions. I appreciated his words.
I have visited with my stake presidency. They were very united with the apostle who visited our stake, and were unable to be empathetic, even as I spoke of LGBT homeless youth and suicides. They had not heard of the church website Mormons and Gays. I introduced it to them. I gave them a Family Acceptance pamphlet. I have found out that even if I do my very best, other people may not respond in the way I would like. But at least I planted a seed.
I have spoken out in lessons about loving gay individuals, and about being kind. I bore my testimony on a Fast Sunday about our baptismal covenant to morn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. I told about a gay youth I befriended who was suicidal and challenged them to open up their hearts a bit more, because gay individuals are all around us. I have received both positive and negative feedback every time I have spoken out. There are those with open hearts and those who feel my words are somehow a threat to them. It has been a great challenge for me to try to show others that we can and should reach out to our LGBT brothers and sisters.
A week ago a in a neighboring bubble stake a good friend and her husband were shocked to find that a “friend” had turned them in for mild internet posts in support of marriage equality. They love their gay son and they love their religion. Always faithful members of the church, they were abruptly released from their callings and and cautioned that they could lose their recommends.
Their experience validated to me that loving our neighbor often gets mixed up with rule keeping. Sometimes fear takes precedence over love and tolerance. Being an advocate for gay individuals in Utah’s bubble can have consequences. But no one can take away from us those things that matter most: the love we share in our families, our commitment to what is right, and our relationship with God.
With gay marriage pending in Utah, I feel uncertain of what I can expect from church members in word, action and deed. My husband has given me advice that helps me as an advocate for LGBT individuals and as member of the church. He tells me to just take one week at a time….sometimes one day at a time. This does help me.
I love this scripture in 2 Corinthians 12:8. I think God is telling us that even though some experiences can be difficult, as we trust in him he will give us strength: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is my testimony of why I do what I do here in my neck of the bubbly woods. These few sentences are taken from emails I have sent to my bishop.
“….. my testimony of the savior and of my heavenly father’s love and guidance are real, and something I pray for constantly. God loves me and is guiding me and I know it. He loves his gay children, and because I love them he is using me as a tool. I know this to be as true as anything I have ever known.”
“As a mother and a steward over my family I go pleading before God for my directives, because the risks are too high to be blinded by religious dogma that doesn’t feel right in my heart and in my gut. Religion has killed many a gay son. Not mine. ….I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ which is to love thy neighbor, to lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. That is why I take the sacrament. I never, ever, take the sacrament and think how grateful I am that the Church is saving me from gay marriage destroying my family! That is not part of my baptismal covenant. And personally I think my family would’ve been destroyed a long time ago if this were true…. Gay people are among the noblest people that I know! My heart has expanded and my life has become much richer because of my association with gay individuals. The shackles have fallen off my eyes.”
This is a one-on-one walk. This is me and Heavenly Father.
by Peter van der Walt
Whether things go my way or not… whether my plans hatch the way they are supposed to… whether my team wins or not… whether things get better or things get a little worse for a while… whether I enjoy the support of my friends, family, ward, denomination, parents, or not…
Whether I’m single, or involved… unmarried or married… whether the world agrees with whether I am any of the above or not. Whether I believe one thing or have been led to believe another… and whether my convictions end up actually, objectively true… or not.
Whether I live in the good side of town, or the bad side of town. Living the dream… or waiting on the world to change. Whether I’m a go-getter, or an introvert. Whether I own no home… or several. Whether I’m buying a Louis Vuitton bag… or wondering where my kids’ next meal comes from.
Whether I’m white or black… Chinese or Chilean… Whether I’m always the smartest guy in the room or the biggest fool that everyone laughs at. Whether I have the six-pack abs and the jetsetting lifestyle or I never take my shirt off at the beach – because I am ashamed of the way I look. Whether I have a cute face or people think I’m below average looking.
Whether I live righteously, with blessings and callings and ordinances… or whether I live behind the dumpster outside the restaurant, where I steal food to stay alive… whether I lecture to millions, on live TV, about truth and justice or I’m fighting a heroin addiction and nobody knows or cares if I’m alive. Whether I am waiting for the one wife I will marry or I’m positively living with HIV.
Whether I believe one thing or I believe another. Whether I believe in evolution or creationism. Whether I’m Democrat or Republican, or even American at all… or not… Whether I’m pro-life or pro-choice or pro-gun or anti-gun… whether I get my news from Maddow or from Limbaugh.
Whether I will die in a car crash or from heart failure. Whether I have a long road ahead of me to walk still or the number 10 bus hits me this pm.
Whether I am loved or hated. Supported or prevented. Welcomed or excluded. Celebrated or sabotaged. Uplifted or brought down.
Whether I am weak or strong. Whether I accept those who see things differently or pass judgment on disputable matters. Whether I’m Vegan or a meat lover… whether I praise my God in a crowd or on my own…
I am a child of God… I have my agency, and my truth, and my revelations, and my wanderings in the desert.
And whether the Church changes tomorrow or it does not. Whether justice is swift or whether it is a long walk to fairness. Whether Zion is around the bend or forever just out of reach.
I am a child of God… I try my best, I live my life, I do what I think will help and build and take me and mine forward.
The sun shines on the just and the unjust alike. Who knows all the mysteries of God… they reasons why… the ultimate supreme, full and only truth? This is a one-on-one walk… this is me and Heavenly Father. And it brings many blessings to my life. And it brings peace. And it brings wonders. I do not have to solve it all… not all at once… and everything not permanently.
I simply live. I simple am. And I am, so that I may have joy.
I am a child of God.
And until He decides that I walk no more, I walk on.
Randall Thacker: The Lord Never Forgets Us
On January 11 Affirmation President Randall Thacker sent a message to Affirmation members and friends reminding them that “independent of what may happen at church, the Lord never forgets us.”
“There is a lot of confusing noise out there and it will only get louder as we and fellow church members and leaders navigate the transition to an affirming Zion society that values all families,” Randall wrote. “If we focus on the un-affirming noise or contribute to the unkindness we will quickly lose sight of the sweet peace the Gospel can bring.”
“Let the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit be your guide, and fear not the confusing and un-affirming noise you may hear from those at Church or around you,” Randall added. “I invite you to make a new year’s resolution to stay focused on the Redeemer and let Him free you to move forward with your life in a way that is productive, affirming, and gives you a positive energy to thrive and live joyfully.”
Spencer W. Clark
Coming Out as Families in Utah
The whole reason that we were sent to earth was to learn from our own experience
by Spencer Clark
Note: This is one of several pieces with personal views, opinions, and reflections posted on the website No More Strangers since a federal decision, currently stayed, that briefly allowed Utah same-sex couples to marry. The director of Mormons for Equality, Spencer lives with his wife and two children in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Alongside dropping temperatures across much of the country, on Monday morning we also felt the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay of same-sex marriages in Utah blow a chill across the jubilation of the last two and a half weeks.
While supporters of marriage equality are of course disappointed that weddings have been halted for now, there is still much to celebrate. I think the fact that we saw approximately one thousand marriages in just two weeks is compelling evidence of the enduring value of civil marriage throughout our society. Even among the numerous LGBT Mormons who have left the LDS Church – and who were among many of the newlyweds – it is clear that the importance of marriage and family lives on.
But perhaps most importantly, the events of the past few weeks highlighted the fact that even in Utah, thousands of committed couples and families exist regardless of whether or not the law treats them fairly. And when given the chance to demonstrate their commitment, they were ready.
Each marriage in Utah serves as a stark reminder that those who view civil marriage equality through the lens of sexual morality have completely missed the mark: the availability of civil marriage didn’t create these couples and families. They were already a part of our society. The only question for us should be: will we treat our neighbors as ourselves? Or will we hypocritically claim that while marriage is in the best interests of society because it strengthens and protects the families of heterosexual spouses and children, that somehow the same is not true for these gay and lesbian couples and their children?
As a result of Judge Shelby’s ruling, Utahns have been exposed to the real-life families who are affected by the discrimination that has existed in our society. We have seen their faces and know their names. We can move past the charged rhetoric and ask very concretely: Are the seven kids of a lesbian couple in Provo going to be better off if their family is denied the same legal protections that the big Mormon family down the street enjoys? While the debate in Utah will continue for some time, it will not be the same.
As an ally, I take heart from the fact that attitudes change through exposure to lived experience. Indeed, as Mormons we believe that the whole reason that we were sent to earth was to learn from our own experience. And there is evidence that when confronted with facts on the ground, Mormons are apt to change their minds on matters of public policy, even if they don’t change their religious beliefs. We should remember that after a decade of seeing the negative effects of Prohibition on society, and its ineffectiveness at actually stopping the consumption of alcohol, Utahns voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 18th Amendment in 1933. This came in spite of the objections of LDS Church leaders, most notably President Heber J. Grant. Similarly, even though many Mormons today may still choose to believe that gay and lesbian relationships are immoral, they are increasingly seeing that hurting these families is detrimental to society and in fact does nothing to further their “moral agenda.”
The most powerful influence in the LGBT rights movement has always been for individuals to come out of the closet. At the close of 2013, we saw over a thousand couples come out to their communities not just as gay and lesbian individuals, but as families. Though the weddings have stopped for a season, Utah’s “Marry Christmas” will undoubtedly further the cause of equal rights within the state, across the country, and yes, even among Mormons.
Jordan and Pilar Fish
Mexico Conference to feature LGBT Mormons, Allies
A diverse group of speakers is scheduled to participate in the conference for LGBT Mormons, their families and friends to be held in Mexico City February 7-9. Speakers will include LGBT Mexican nationals, a Spanish-speaking mother who supports her gay son, Affirmation leaders, and other LGBT Mormons who will travel from the U.S.
Pilar Fish, an LDS mother who is originally from Spain but lives in Nevada, will attend the conference with her gay son Jordan. Kendall Wilcox, who learned Spanish as a missionary in Barcelona, will discuss some of his LGBT-supportive projects, including the upcoming film Far Between.
The conference will include plenty of opportunities to share experiences, see the city, and make new friendships. Sunday morning will include a devotional/testimony meeting.
For more information and registration, please visit this page or contact Randall Thacker.
Registration for the Nauvoo retreat is now open! Sponsored by Affirmation, this retreat is not just for LGBT people, but for all those who desire to serve in the LGBT Mormon community. The event will be held in historic Nauvoo the weekend of May 2-4, 2014. Stays can be extended from Thursday, May 1, to Monday, May 5.
Rather than a full-fledged conference, this Nauvoo gathering will be a spiritual/leadership retreat. In addition to regular workshops, the program will include time to explore Nauvoo together, cook, eat, and share experiences. A focal point of the retreat will be the historic Nauvoo House.
Nauvoo is located 3 hours north of the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL). For more information and updates, check out nauvoo.affirmation.org.
by Diane Oviatt
We had a beautiful evening Sunday night with around 25 souls, gay Mormons, gay non- Mormons, and many straight allies. We watched John Dehlin’s amazing Ted Talk, and shared stories of our personal journeys and hopes and ideas for opening hearts and minds. We laughed, cried and ate.
My wonderful friend Craig Stewart, first counselor in the Oakland Stake presidency, graced us with his loving presence and was moved by everyone’s words. He was his usual affirming self, and it meant a lot to everyone there. It is my firm belief that it is through personal accounts, names and faces, that we will soften hearts and open doors.
Posted on the Affirmation Website and Blog:
|Independent of What May Happen at Church, the Lord Never Forgets Us||Upcoming LGBT Mormons, Families, and Friends Events in Salt Lake City|
Posted on the No More Strangers Blog:
|On the “Defense of Religious Freedom” and Marriage Equality||Today I performed the most beautiful and moving wedding!|