"Hearts Knit Together in Unity" - April 8-11, 2004
Report prepared by Miguel Riveros
"Hearts Knitted together in Unity" was the theme for this first conference to occur in Mexico City. And a theme made reality for those of us who attended the conference. The different activities and conversations our hearts truly were knit together in friendship and harmony.
Thursday, April 8th, was the first day of the conference and the hostel (Anglican Church Hostel and Conference Center) began receiving several of the conference attendees who were a mix of Mexico City residents and those that traveled from the United States. While some searched for their room, others of us filled the conference room with colored balloons in the shape of a rainbow in preparation for the opening of the conference. Still others were meeting new arrivals with greetings and name tags. It was an emotional time for all of us as we met face-to-face for the first time instead of our distant communication via the web.
Preparations were made in the hostel dining room for a true Mexican dinner. Tables were decorated with colorful tablecloths and other décor from Mexico. At 6:00 p.m. Carlos Peralta opened the conference with an announcement that we could all enter the conference room. There were many people and some had to remain standing because there were not enough chairs. Carlos welcomed all to the conference stated how grateful he was for our presence. Everyone introduced themselves one by one. There were people of all different situations and circumstances. Some members were active in the church, some not. Some had been missionaries and others did not go on a mission. Some came from a long LDS tradition and others were more recent converts to the LDS Church. This was truly a diverse group of people and in the end this diversity made every aspect of the conference interesting as everyone expressed themselves uniquely. There were those who shared their life story while others simply shared their name and where they came from. Some members still arrived while in the middle of this introductory session, expanding this diversity even more.
Later, we went into the dining room to first enjoy typical Mexican appetizers with fresh juices. Dinner was then served. It was a time for us to socialize further and get to know one another better. After dinner, hostel employees brought out Mexican sweets and desserts. We talked and joked with one another for a time and then retired to our different rooms to prepare for the next day's events. Several of us continued the "party" in one of the rooms as we met to talk and share experiences. Although there were some language barriers, generally we all communicated well. We were still awaiting the arrival of some members from the United States that evening at the hostel.
On Friday, April 9th, we arose early and met in the dining room for breakfast. At 9:00 a.m. we went into the conference room and we had the opportunity to listen to several testimonies and talks from several individuals. Olin Thomas, Affirmation Executive Director, began with his words and we saw that he was very enthused by the advances of the Mexico City chapter. We also had the opportunity to hear from Alyson Bolles, Affirmation's Senior Assistant Director, and the only woman at the conference. We then heard from Nefi and Hugo Emilio, both members of the Mexico City chapter activities committee. Nefi and Hugo Emilio spoke about the impact of spirituality in relation to sexuality in our lives. All of these talks as well as the activities planned helped every one of us understand that we were part of something of great importance. Miguel from the Mexico City chapter and Miguel from the U.S. were the primary translators of the conference.
After the morning workshops, we went into the dining room for lunch and afterward boarded a bus scheduled to take us to the historical center of the city. We traveled through the south part of this enormous city and arrived at the center of the city, the Zócalo, where we could appreciate the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace and the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor. We wandered through the Zócalo, in and out of people selling all kinds of goods on the street, seeing the old Aztec Templo Mayor and a plan of the ancient city Tenochtitlán. We entered the cathedral and found that there were several Masses occurring in commemoration of Good Friday. We then made our way through the downtown streets arriving at the Latin American Tower, where several of us went up the 40-story tower and found wonderful views of the entire city. We later returned to the hostel via the famous Mexico City Metro, giving our U.S. visitors the opportunity to experience the subway.
In the evening several of prepared to take on the nocturnal sites of the city. We took the subway to the Zona Rosa and went to one of the local gay clubs where we could dance, talk and enjoy the ambiance. Alyson, most notably, was "queen" of the dance floor! We left the club at an early 1:30 a.m. to head back to the hostel in preparation for the following day's event, the excursion to the pyramids of Teotihuacán.
On Saturday, April 10th, we arose to our routine of meeting for breakfast before the day's events. The Mexican chapter arranged for a bus to take us to the pyramids of Teotihuacán, located a few hours northeast of the city. On our way we stopped at the LDS Mexico City Temple to take several pictures. It was an emotional moment for several of us, all with our different reasons and situations. The Mexico City Temple is the largest of all the temples outside of the United States. After this stop, filled with great emotion for some of the members, we continued on our way to the pyramids.
From a distance, even before arriving at the pyramids locations, one can see the enormous Pyramid of the Sun like a great mountain. Upon arrival, we began walking through the immense grounds of Teotihuacán until we finally came to the Pyramid of the Sun. Some of us made it all the way to the top of the pyramid while others lingered behind. The weather was in our favor - sunny with a wonderful breeze to keep us cool. We then visited the Temple of Quetzalpapalotl or Temple of the Butterflies to observe the beauty of that site. Some of us continued the route to the Pyramid of the Moon and admired smaller structures that surrounded the great mall of the pyramids. At 5:30 p.m. we boarded the bus again, many of us exhausted after a full day of walking and climbing. We arrived just in time for dinner at the hostel and retired to our rooms in preparation for our last day together.
Finally, Sunday, April 11th, had arrived. We all got ready to be present at the Devotional planned to close our conference. The conference room was set up with chairs and Hugo Emilio prepared a projector with his laptop to show the film, "The Blessing." Many of us were dressed in shirts and ties, and church hymns were played as background music. Little by little, people began arriving and making themselves comfortable. Carlos Peralta, Affirmation Mexico Director, opened with a "welcome" message. We sang a hymn and then began the closing of our conference.
We first began with the video, "The Blessing," which shows the dilemma of a strong LDS family whose gay son who arrives at the parents' home to witness a blessing to be given to his sick father. After viewing the film, we then heard from Victor, Nefi and Alyson. Each one was asked to answer a question relating to how they reconcile their sexuality and their religion. The importance of family and friends was discussed, as well as the importance of our own identity and relationship with God. Some family members of the Mexico City chapter members were in attendance to show their support. One of these families sang a beautiful hymn. It was a very moving experience and gave true meaning to "Hearts Knit Together in Unity."
Before ending the conference, those that traveled from the United States stood up and expressed their gratitude for all the efforts of the Mexico City chapter. Olin Thomas recognized the Mexico conference committee, in particular, Esteban Obregón, Carlos Peralta, Nefi, Hugo Emilio and Alfredo. Then the Americans gave out a yellow rose to each Mexican Affirmation member and explained that a yellow rose in U.S. culture means continued friendship and relationship. We ended the conference with a hymn and closing prayer, and then proceeded to a wonderful buffet lunch prepared by the hostel.
After sharing addresses, e-mails, good-byes, photos, videos, smiles, hugs and farewells, we departed from the conference gathering all our belongings. Without a doubt this experience had been fortifying and powerful. We learned a great deal from one another and moreover we shared experiences that helped us understand that neither are we better or worse than anyone else, but we are in this world to work, progress and obtain happiness.
We are grateful for the efforts of all those who helped organize the conference. Without them, this wonderful event would not have taken place. We thank them for their work and many hours of planning to carry out this conference. Every one participated in one way or another y we recognize the effort of all. This was an unforgettable experience for all of us who attended. We encourage those who read this and who are not familiar with Affirmation to join us and share their experiences with us. You will always be welcome. With events such as this conference we will be able to triumph over ignorance, frustration and hate in the world and begin to be people of compassion, principle and value.