Affirmation 2006 Conference Report
Prepared by James Kent and Hugo Salinas
"Bridging Our Journeys”
Memorable Conference Held in Portland
Over 130 people from the US, Canada, Mexico, and Australia participated in our annual family reunion held October 20-22 in Portland, Oregon, in the Lloyd Center DoubleTree Hotel. The conference weather was wonderful,
and the glass elevators of the DoubleTree offered a majestic view
of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, two of the peaks surrounding Portland.
On Friday afternoon, Olin conducted the leadership meeting. Pat & Chris hosted the first timers' reception at the hospitality suite. During the weekend, that suite gave us an opportunity to visit in between activities, play board games, and enjoy a beautiful view of Portland and its autumn colors.
The conference opener was the trip to "Scream at the Beach," the amazing haunted house that Affirmation member Henry Miller has established in Jantzen Beach. We were impressed by the sheer size of the house, which features 4 different scary exhibitions with distinct themes like jungle temple ruins or a haunted castle filled with ghosts, a pirate's swamp, and nightmares. Henry utilizes visuals, sounds, and special effects to make the haunted house fun and scary for all who dare enter.
As we arrived at the house we were greeted by JaeAnn, leis were placed on our shoulders, and we were whisked to the area where dinner was awaiting us. A talking skull referred to our Affirmation group by name and warned us of the horrors that awaited us! We then gathered at the Monster Theatre for an amusing horror quiz show: Chad, Spencer, and David were our contestants. Our name tags had been pre-labeled with bats, pumpkins, candy corn, and spiders, which allowed us to divide into four groups and enjoy the various routes.
In the evening some of us went to sleep early, while others played board games at the hospitality suite and other went out to enjoy some of the many attractions Portland has to offer.
Saturday Workshops and Lunch
Saturday morning we gathered for breakfast and the first workshop. Emily Pearson, whom many of us remembered from a recent San Francisco conference, made us laugh, cry, and think as she recounted her experiences as the daughter of a gay man and the former wife of another. Emily read some moving passages from No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones, a new book written and compiled by Emily's mother, Carol Lynn Pearson. Emily was given a standing ovation at the end of her presentation.
Sessions 2 and 3 of the Saturday morning workshops discussed a wide range of topics and helped us gain new insights into the GLBT Mormon experience. In one of the panels, three adoptive parents and an adoption professional talked about foster care, adoption, and surrogacy as some of the options available to GLBT people who desire to start a family. Alyson Bolles, Jason Giles, and George Cole, from the Portland Chapter, talked about building a fun and successful Affirmation chapter. Gary and Millie Watts, Joe Dallin, and Bill and Marjorie Bradshaw participated in a Family Fellowship panel entitled, "Unconditional Love, Family, and the Mormon Church.” In a separate presentation, Bill Bradshaw summarized recent research that supports the biological origins of homosexuality. Eric Martin made a presentation on current research findings about drugs, alcohol, and addiction within the GLBT community. Stephen Dunlevy and Joshua Todd discussed issues affecting gay/bi/trans men who are raising children. Kevin Cox gave suggestions about how to incorporate new spiritual perspectives and ideas into our lives.
For lunch, we scattered to the winds: While many women conference-goers went to the home of Nancy and Susan for a special lunch, others attendees scattered in smaller groups, made friendships, and enjoyed some of the many restaurants located in the Lloyd Center area. Gamofites gathered for their annual luncheon, where they gave this year's Michael Farr Award to Morgan Smith of Salt Lake City. Morgan has been generous with his time, talents, and money in making the magic of Gamofites happen.
Does the Law of Chastity Apply to Us?
This conference was unusual in that we also had some Saturday afternoon workshops. While some of the sessions gave us a chance to catch up with sessions we missed in the morning, Olin Thomas moderated a new panel entitled, "The Law of Chastity and the GLBT Community—Does it Apply?"
"I often wondered," Olin reflected, "what would it have been like if there had been a model in the Mormon Church for me to date in as healthy of a fashion as they were modeling for the straight kids. What would have happened had I been able to date in a non-sexual way, in a healthy manner, and really get to know a same-sex partner the way we get to know opposite sex partners in the Church?"
John Donald Gustav-Wrathall said that when he first realized he was gay, he concluded that he had to be either celibate or married, but after he fasted and prayed about it the answer that he got was, "Be open to all of the possibilities."
"I went through the typical 'gay adolescence'—which is the term gay Mormons use," said John. "And then I met my partner, and we have been together for 14 years. At first we weren't completely monogamous, but as I have focused more on him and on my relationship with him, I think I understood what the principle of chastity is—this idea that we reserve our sexual expression for a relationship in which there is genuine, committed love. As I have followed that path, I found an incredible enriching of my relationship with my partner and a deeper and more profound experience of love with him."
Just like in past years, the Saturday evening banquet was the occasion when delicious food got eaten, important announcements made, awards given, and outstanding speakers and entertainers heard. Olin Thomas announced the completion of "Affinity: The First 22 Years," a CD-Rom containing all the known issues of the Affirmation newsletter from March 1980 (charter issue) to April 2002. For information on how to order your copy, visit www.affirmation.org/affinitycollection.
During the banquet, Affirmation presented a special award to Millie and Gary Watts of Provo for their tireless efforts in educating the LDS community on the subject of homosexuality. Duane Jennings, Marjorie Bradshaw, and Mike Green gave tributes to the Watts, and Olin Thomas presented a beautiful award made of glass. The text on the award read: "Affirmation Gay & Lesbian Mormons Honors Gary & Millie Watts for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Support of Our Community - 2006". (Read more about the tribute
to the Watts.).
Millie and Gary Watts Receive Award
Brus Leguás Contreras
Serena Cruz Walsh
Laurie Mecham as Cherry Jubilee
The Mortensen Award, Affirmation's highest honor, is presented each year at our annual conference to an individual who has served Affirmation in outstanding leadership and service. This year's nominees were Alyson Bolles, Brus Leguás Contreras, Jason Giles, Aaron Vinck, and James Morris. The award went to Brus Leguás Contreras, founder and president of Affirmation Chile.
"Three and a half years ago Brus Leguás Contreras launched Affirmation Chile," explained Hugo Salinas as he presented the award. "He was completely alone, he didn't speak English, and he had limited financial resources. Today, Affirmation Chile is a national organization with chapters and contacts extending from Iquique in the north to Futaleufú in the south. Brus Leguás Contreras is the Paul Mortensen of Chile." The full text of the award presentation is posted at www.affirmation.org/ conference_archives/ 2006_mortensen_award.shtml.
Though Brus was unable to attend the conference, a phone hookup allowed him to follow the ceremony and say a few words when the award was announced. "To all of us living in this remote corner of the world, all of you are an example," said Brus speaking from his home in Quilpué, Chile. "We are grateful for your support. We are a fellowship, and we cannot make it alone. Affirmation is here to save lives. Wherever Affirmation is established, it's helping save lives."
The keynote speaker was Serena Cruz Walsh, a commissioner who was instrumental in establishing equal marriage rights in Multnomah County. In March 2004, that county made international news when marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples. Serena, who grew up in an LDS home, shared anecdotes about her close friendship with Affirmation member Rick Fernández going all the way back to when they were in law school together. Serena's courageous decision to allow same-sex marriages in March 2004 resulted in over 3,000 licenses being granted to gay and lesbian couples—including Rick Fernández and his partner of 18 years, Henry Miller. Serena pointed out that a discriminated member of society should not have to wait for their civil rights while trying to convince the majority to approve, be it the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, desegregation, interracial marriage, or the rights of gay and lesbian couples to be legally recognized under the law.
This banquet also featured the talented Laurie Mecham, whom some of us remembered from her first appearance at an Affirmation Conference in Las Vegas in 1994 as the hysterically funny Sister Fonda AlaMode. Laurie's Special Living Lessons for Relief Society Sisters was published in 1996 and instantly became a classic of Mormon humor. This year Laurie came as Cherry Jubilee, a heavily medicated, NRA-supporting Christian woman. Her witty humor kept us roaring with laughter.
The Sunday devotional focused on six different aspects of the journey that we bridge as gay Mormons and as part of the GLBT community. Speakers included George Cole, Mark Wilkinson, Alyson Bolles, Tia Owen, Eduk, and Nancy Batchelor. "I want to thank all of those who have come and gone in Affirmation and have added so much to the tapestry of my life," said Nancy, after recounting her coming out story. "Your lives have comforted me, strengthened me, and given me the courage to live my life openly and in peace." (Nancy's full remarks are posted at www.affirmation.org/voices/crossing_my_bridge.shtml).
The music for the devotional was outstanding. JaeAnn Atwood was our pianist, and Micah Bisson, chairman of the Denver Conference in 2005, was our chorister. We sang, "Because I Have Been Given Much,” "Come, Come, Ye Saints,” and "God Be with You Till We Meet Again.” Julie Mark and Mike Borgstrom gave an inspiring rendition of "No One Is Alone,” from Stephen Soundheim's musical Into The Woods. Nefi Chena sang a Spanish version of John Lennon's "Imagine” and received a standing ovation.
Brunch and Columbia River Gorge
During the Sunday brunch, Olin Thomas presented his candidacy as executive director of Affirmation for 2007. The Washington DC chapter put on a great skit to advertise next year's Affirmation Conference, to be held in Washington DC over the Columbus Day weekend. The hotel is centrally located, and the conference committee has managed to negotiate an incredibly favorable price for the rooms. Information about the conference is permanently posted at conference.AffirmationDC.org.
In the afternoon, we boarded a tour bus for a drive through the majestic Columbia River gorge. We visited the Multnomah Falls and crossed the Columbia River into Washington state via the Bridge of the Gods. Multnomah Falls was cool and misty, and some of us walked up to the upper bridge for a better view of the falls. The bus tour ended up in the picturesque town of Stevenson, where Alyson Bolles grew up. We walked out to the edge of the pier and enjoyed dinner in the town's various restaurants.
Thanks to the conference chairperson, Jason Giles, and his committee: Alyson Bolles, George Cole, Nancy Batchelor and Susan Gilson, Chris Allen and Pat Warnick, Tia Owen, Kevin Cox, Mathew Cowan, Mark Wilkinson, Jared Ivie, Henry Miller and Rick Fernandez. They put together a fantastic conference. We leave Portland with great expectations for next year's conference to be held in Washington DC.