Two dozen LGBT Mormons, families and friends met near Manizales, Colombia the weekend of January 6-9, 2017 for the first Colombia West Affirmation Conference. Jairo Fernando González Díaz, Affirmation member who lives in Manizales, organized the conference to provide support to LGBT Mormons living in the south and west of the country.
The conference began with breakfast together in downtown Manizales, which is a city perched on hills in the heart of the Colombian coffee region. Afterwards, we visited a nature preserve where we learned about the biodiversity of Colombia, that the orchid is Colombia’s national flower, road a chairlift, and saw 100s of beautiful butterflies! This gave everyone the opportunity to break the ice and get to know each other.
We then traveled to an outdoor restaurant where we had traditional Colombian food and then traveled to the beautiful retreat center where we spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming and playing various pool games. For some, this was their first time interacting with other LGBT Mormons and being in an environment where they could be 100% authentic and not be worried about what others were thinking about them as LGBT individuals.
In the evening we had 2 workshops: 1) “Self Acceptance: Navigating the Challenges of Coming Out of the Closet” led by a professional therapist from Manizales, and 2) “Increasing our Sensitivity to the Spirit” led by Randall Thacker, member of the Affirmation International Board of Directors. Lots of personal stories were shared by participants about their struggles and their victories in self-acceptance and about how they are seeking to continue their spiritual growth by listening to the still small voice in their lives.
Following the workshops, we ate dinner together and then shared time visiting in small groups or one-on-one with others about our experiences as LGBT Mormons and our personal lives. Many new friendships were formed.
Sunday morning we had another delicious meal prepared by our own team of volunteer chefs, followed by three more workshops. The first was a message from Adrian Sanchez Roman, Affirmation’s International Vice President. Adrian shared a message about how we can find greater peace through living our lives authentically and overcoming our ego and pride. He also expressed the international leadership team and presidency’s gratitude for the Colombia leadership team’s work and the generosity of Jairo in taking the time and putting forth the effort to organize the conference.
The second workshop, “What ‘affirmation’ means to me” was led by Colombia Affirmation Vice President, Carlos Castillo Casas, in which he shared stories as a therapist of real struggles that LGBT people and their families are having and then asked small groups to develop possible solutions to the challenges. The outcome of this activity was the realization that ‘Affirmation’ means: acceptance, refuge, support, life-saving, and self-actualization. The second workshop was led by Paula Andrea Vargas, Affirmation Colombia’s other Vice President, where she shared her story of interacting with her local LDS Church leaders to help them understand her as a lesbian and to understand her participation in Affirmation.
We then held our Sunday Devotional, which included hymns, a beautiful musical number, and then the sharing of individual spiritual stories / testimonies. Afterwards, we had lunch together and then Carlos Castillo Casas shared with the group the history and objectives of Affirmation. It was moving to see a Colombian gay Mormon in 2017 sharing the story of Affirmation’s founders and beginning from the late 1970s.
Some participants had to begin their travels home Sunday afternoon and others remained until Monday as it was a holiday in Colombia. A leadership training session was held Sunday evening with the Colombian leadership team, Jhon Botia Miranda, President, Carlos Castillo Casas and Paula Andrea Vargas – Vice Presidents along with others interested in helping plan the annual Colombian Conference scheduled for June 3-4, 2017 in Bogotá.
We are so grateful for those who serve with a desire to help others find peace and acceptance in their lives. Thank you Affirmation Colombia for all you do!!!
International Board of Directors