Casserole Myth: Religious Motif and Inclusivity in Angels in America

angels_in_americaby John-Charles Duffy

My paper is a response to Michael Evenden’s review of Angels in Americapublished in the September 1994 issue of Sunstone. Evenden’s review was my first exposure to the play and remains to my knowledge the only substantial analysis of the play produced by a Mormon to date (a critical neglect which today’s session, of course, helps to rectify)1. Evenden believes that Kushner represents Mormonism “as an irrelevant joke, a sinkhole of dead values” (56). The play’s use of Mormon motifs constitutes, in Evenden’s view, a “comic undercutting” of Mormon belief, an “unsympathetic reading” of the faith (59), an “elaborate, obscene burlesque,” “comic blasphemy” (60), and “mockery” (62). Kushner also, Evenden claims, excludes believing, practicing Mormons from the utopic space which the play offers in its final scene. The play thus fails to practice the inclusivity it appears to preach: “as it happens,” Evenden writes, “this poignant epilogue, like the play it follows, is considerably less inclusive than many have taken it to be–in fact, it may be just as exclusive as Kushner has implicitly accused the LDS church of being” (61).

I believe Evenden has misread this play on two counts. First, what Evenden reads as mockery, obscene burlesque, comic blasphemy, etc., is in fact, I argue, a fundamentally serious treatment of religious motifs. While it is true that Kushner treats these motifs as metaphors, not literal realities, and while it is true that Kushner levels major criticisms at traditional religious systems, including Mormonism, it is also true that Kushner uses religious motifs to express ideas which within this play are deadly serious. In short, the religious motifs are not mocked.

Second, while I agree with Evenden that Kushner’s utopic vision is problematic, I maintain that that vision is indeed inclusive of Mormons, as well as believers from other religious traditions. The use of religious motifs in Angels in America itself exemplifies the inclusivity which the play preaches in its closing scene; the play becomes a space in which religious motifs from a variety of traditions meet to create what I term a “casserole myth,” an inclusive understanding of the world worked out by diverse individuals who come together to help each other make sense of their experiences. That this myth includes Mormon motifs is, I argue, a highly significant, highly admirable gesture of inclusivity on the part of an individual whom we as Mormons continue to exclude from our own utopia.

Why do I believe that the play’s use of religious motifs is fundamentally serious?

For starters, Kushner himself insists that the religious motifs are to be treated seriously. In the description of the Taped Voice which accompanies the cast of characters for Perestroika, Kushner writes that the “taped intros [to the Mormon Visitors Center presentation and the Council in Heaven] should sound alike: not parodic but beautiful and serious, the way the unseen Angel sounds inMillennium” (5). And in the playwright’s notes to Perestroika, Kushner states emphatically that the play is not a farce. . . . The angel, the scenes in Heaven, Prior’s prophet scenes are not lapses into some sort of elbow-in-the-ribs playing style. The angel is immensely august, serious, and dangerously powerful always, and Prior is running for his life, sick, scared, and alone. Every moment must be played for its reality, the terms always life and death. . . . Particularly in the final act [i.e., the scenes in Heaven] . . . the problems the characters face are finally among the hardest problems–how to let go of the past, how to change and lose with grace, how to keep going in the face of overwhelming suffering. (8-9)

It is to poetically represent these “hardest problems” that Kushner incorporates religious motifs into the play, and it is for that reason that the motifs must be taken fundamentally seriously. I say “fundamentally” because Kushner does spice the religious motifs with comic relief for the sake of defusing scenes which might otherwise wax sentimental. (In his playwright’s notes, Kushner orders directors and actors to “eschew sentiment” [Perestroika 8].) An example of this defusion occurs after Prior wrestles with the Angel in his hospital bed–a serious scene, the stage directions inform us: “the wrestling should begin in earnest and rapidly become furious, deadly” (Perestroika 119). The Angel declares, echoing the story of Jacob’s wrestling the angel in Genesis 32, “I have torn a muscle in my thigh.” Prior retorts, “Big deal, my leg’s been hurting for months” (Perestroika 120). The humor relieves the tension created by the preceding wrestling match. It does not turn the scene into a mockery of the Biblical motif here invoked (Jacob’s wrestling the angel); on the contrary, the fact that Kushner feels the need to defuse the scene with comic relief is evidence that he regards the scene, with its religious motif, seriously and expects his audience to do the same. And it is easy to see why this particular motif should be taken seriously: during this portion of the play, Prior makes the climactic decision to refuse to give up, despite having no reason to expect hope from the future. Prior here undergoes what Kushner identifies in the playwright’s notes as the struggle to “keep going in the face of overwhelming suffering” (Perestroika 9). Wrestling the Angel–who appears in this scene as the Angel of Death, dressed in black–symbolizes that struggle, with all its intensity. And since Joe has already, in Millennium Approaches, identified wrestling an angel as an impossible struggle (“How could anyone human win, what kind of fight is that?” [49-50]), Prior’s victory is all the more significant: in winning the wrestling match, he has accomplished the impossible. If Kushner can be accused of anything at this point, it is not mockery, but a fervently earnest romanticism, an optimism of religious proportions.

As Kushner uses the Jewish (Old Testament) motif of Jacob’s wrestling the angel as a fundamentally serious symbolic representation of one of the play’s messages (i.e., that human beings can find the strength to go on in the face of overwhelming suffering, to secure the blessing of “More Life” despite an apparent absence of hope), so Kushner uses Mormon motifs as fundamentally serious symbolic representations of themes in the play. Consider, for example, the scene in the Mormon Visitors Center. Evenden reads this scene as a “comic undercutting of visitors’ center dioramas” which he says has produced in him a feeling of “mortified hilarity” for the dioramas (58-59). He does not specify those elements in the scene which have produced in him this feeling, but likely candidates include the dummies’ artificial, melodramatic script and Harper’s mocking commentary.

I am convinced, however, that Kushner does not intend his audience to respond to this scene with mockery or mortified hilarity. Anyone who’s experienced Legacy or the Manti Temple pageant can testify that Kushner’s artificial, melodramatic script simply constitutes verisimilitude. And while it is true that Harper undercuts the diorama presentation, it is also true that Harper is an unlikable, unreliable character at this point in the play, which makes me wary of assuming that Kushner intends to undercut the presentation. On the contrary, I have already cited Kushner’s insistence that the taped introduction to the diorama presentation is not parodic; presumably the same can be said of the entire presentation.

More importantly, the motif of the Mormon pioneer trek, portrayed in the diorama, images the impulse to move on in spite of devastation and suffering, an impulse which in this play is supremely heroic; it is the same impulse which leads Prior to demand More Life in spite of the Angel’s insistence that he should give up, stop moving. Later in the play, the Mormon pioneer trek becomes explicitly instructive. It is from the Mormon pioneer mother that Harper learns to change, to move on, to go on with her life in spite of pain. And Harper fairly clearly alludes to the Mormon pioneers when she tells Prior, “I’ve finally found the secret of all that Mormon energy. Devastation. That’s what makes people migrate, build things. Heartbroken people do it, people who have lost love” (Perestroika 122). Depressing as I find Harper’s reflections, the idea of moving on in spite of (or rather, because of) devastation is a variation on Prior’s assertion of his will to live in spite of the apparent absence of hope–again, the play’s heroic ideal. And if the Mormon pioneer trek, as portrayed in the diorama, is another representation of that heroic ideal, it hardly makes sense for Kushner to comically undercut it. The pioneer motif must, therefore, be taken seriously.2

This is not to say that the diorama scene reflects Kushner’s undying admiration of Mormons. The artificiality of the diorama script may be intended to indicate that contemporary Mormons have lost touch with their roots; secure in our insular, institutionalized Zion (in which Salt Lake replaces the New Jerusalem as capital city), we no longer understand, and therefore cannot believably portray, the suffering of those who preceded us. In addition, Harper makes a piercing, and dismally accurate, comment on Mormonism’s institutional sexism when she complains, “They don’t have any lines, the sister and the mother. . . . That’s not really fair” (Perestroika65). As I will demonstrate later, Kushner heartily disapproves of the Mormon claim, articulated by the pioneer father, that there can “only be One True Church. All else darkness . . .” (66). I also suspect that the father’s description of Joseph Smith as “a strapping lad” (66) is meant to subversively introduce–or expose–homoeroticism in the founding myth of a church that eschews homosexuality. Kushner clearly has bones to pick with the Mormon church, and he manipulates the pioneer motif in order to pick some of them. But these criticisms are peripheral to the core purpose of the pioneer motif in this play, i.e., to represent one of the play’s most serious messages, the heroic ideal of moving on in the face of suffering and devastation. Criticisms of Mormonism notwithstanding, the incorporation of the motif into this scene is still fundamentally serious.

The same can be said of the Angel’s appearance to Prior, which Evenden pronounces (59) an “elaborate, obscene burlesque of the First Vision and Moroni’s subsequent visits” (which Kushner, like many non-Mormons, erroneously conflates). I can certainly see why Evenden responds this way. Prior and the Angel experience a mutual orgasm onstage. The Angel stumbles through her script. Prior puts up a humorous resistance to the Angel’s demands (“No fucking way! The ceiling’s bad enough. I’ll lose the lease, I’ll lose my security deposit, I’ll wake the downstairs neighbors, their hysterical dog . . .” [Perestroika 45]). And Prior’s appearing in Charlton Heston’s Moses drag to reject the Book could at first glance seem, as Evenden judges it, “ludicrou[s]” and “ridiculous” (60).

Recall, however, that Kushner himself insists, in his playwright’s notes, that he does not intend these scenes to be read as Evenden reads them (“Prior’s prophet scenes are not lapses into some sort of elbow-in-the-ribs playing style” [Perestroika 8]). Kushner attempts to neither recreate nor ridicule the motif of Moroni’s visitations to Joseph Smith; rather, he adapts the motif to create a Mormonized version of the motif of Jacob’s wrestling the angel. When Prior returns the Anti-Migratory Epistle to Heaven, he is performing within the framework of Mormon religious motif the same symbolic act he performs within the framework of Jewish religious motif when he wrestles the Angel in his hospital bed and demands More Life. By rejecting the Angel’s Book–with its message to give up, stop moving–Prior again heroically asserts his will to live, his determination to go on in the face of overwhelming suffering.

Such, it seems clear to me, is the message Kushner intends to convey with his adaptation of the angelic visitation motif. And if the motif is to convey the message Kushner intends, the Angel must be seriously regarded as a symbol of heavenly authority; her message must be seen as compelling if Prior’s rejection of the message is to be recognized as a heroic effort, just as the wrestling match between Prior and the Angel must be “furious, deadly” if Prior’s victory there is to be recognized as a heroic effort.3 Which is to say that the Angel must be, as Kushner insists she is meant to be, “immensely august, serious, and dangerously powerful always” (Perestroika 8), not the center of some “elaborate, obscene burlesque” (Evenden 59).

How then can we account for the apparent lapses into the obscene and ridiculous–the mutual orgasm, for instance, or the Charlton Heston drag? First of all, I think we need to keep in mind that neither Kushner nor his intended audience adheres to the sort of morality that proscribes R-rated movies. Kushner writes for an audience who has no qualms about watching a man strip onstage or witnessing two men simulate anal intercourse–which is to say that Kushner does not write for most Mormons. So if most Mormons take offense at Kushner’s play, they do so where no offense is intended. Indeed, in Angels in America, sex is treated not as something obscene, but as a symbol of positive values: health, life, continuance.4 Note that Belize regards the nocturnal emission which accompanies the Angel’s first visit to Prior as a healthy sign, something long overdue: “Well about time. Miss Thing has been abstemious” (Perestroika 23). Prior’s abrupt–miraculous–recovery after the Council in Heaven is accompanied by another nocturnal emission. Sex, then, goes hand in hand with health.

Furthermore, Kushner’s intensely sexual Angel is part of an attempt to provide an alternative to the mechanistic, ergo lifeless, concept of the universe typical of post-Cartesian science; in the worldview propounded by the Angel, the universe is organic, full of life, and therefore full of sex: “Not Physics But Ecstatics Makes the Engine Run” (Perestroika 47). In this universe, entropy does not swallow up all things in death; rather, there is ceaseless copulation, endless reproduction, eternal life in a sense. Prior’s erections and the mutual orgasm identify the Angel as a representative of this organic, sexual universe, as an emissary of Life and Health and therefore Hope for the dying Prior. That the emissary of Life comes preaching Immobility is, of course, supremely ironic, and that irony both foreshadows and validates Prior’s eventual rejection of the Angel’s message. As knowing participants in an organic universe, the Angels ought to know better than to try to impose Stasis.

The Angel’s struggle to follow her script is a variation on this irony. In their desire for Stasis, their desire to contain the otherwise unpredictable flow of human history, the Angels attempt to create a codified text–their script–by which to govern or determine both their actions and human history. Again, they ought to know better. In a mechanical, Law-based universe, it would be possible to create a text or theory that eliminates indeterminacy; not so in an organic universe. As Hannah, Belize, and Louis reflect in Perestroika‘s closing scene, the “sprawl of life” cannot be contained in a single codified, totalizing theory (146). And so the Angel discovers that reality will not be contained by her script; things do not happen “according to Plan” (Perestroika 118). The Angel thus represents all systems, religious or political, which attempt to totalize human experience, which insist on the existence of One True Church or One True Theory. By the same token, the Book which the Angel gives Prior represents all Sacred Texts or Codices of Procedure which profess closure, as the Angel professes closure by concluding her visitation to Prior with the words, “The END” (Perestroika 54). Like codified religious and political systems, the Angel claims to have the last word, the true theory, the solution to humanity’s struggles. In rejecting the Book, Prior rejects the claim to closure as well, as Evenden correctly observes (60). In Kushner’s view, there can be no last word, no theory or belief system to eliminate indeterminacy and the unknown.

Which brings me to the concept of “casserole myth.” Having rejected codified, totalizing theories or belief systems, Kushner turns instead to an organic, open-ended worldview. He describes the process by which this worldview comes into being in the afterword toPerestroika:

I have been blessed with remarkable friends, colleagues, comrades, collaborators: Together we organize the world for ourselves, or at least we organize our understanding of it; we reflect it, refract it, criticize it, grieve over its savagery; and we help each other to discern, amidst the gathering dark, paths of resistance, pockets of peace, and places from whence hope may be plausibly expected. (158)

It is this process of organizing for themselves their understanding of the world in which we see Prior, Louis, Belize, and Hannah engaged in the play’s closing scene. Drawing from Jewish, Christian, and Mormon sacred stories, they create together a new Story, a new myth, the myth of their future cleansing and Prior’s healing in the restored fountain of Bethesda.5 Note that this Story is not a theory; it is not codified, nor does it attempt to totalize human experience. Louis hastens to assure the audience that he and the other characters regard the myth as a metaphor, not a literal prophecy (“Not literally in Jerusalem, I mean we don’t want this to have sort of Zionist implications” [148]). But its metaphorical nature does not lessen the myth’s importance as a space in which a variety of belief systems come together in a mutual expression of hope for the future.

It is this space which I call a casserole myth. I borrow the term “casserole” from my Latin American studies: unlike North Americans, who have traditionally regarded their culture as a melting pot, Latin Americans describe their culture as a casserole (cazuela), i.e., as a combination of elements from a variety of cultures–Native American, Spanish, African, etc.–each of which has retained its identity rather than being assimilated into a mainstream culture. To borrow a phrase from Angels in America, Latin Americans regard their culture as a “melting pot where nothing melted” (Millennium 10). Similarly, what I term a casserole myth is a combination of beliefs, these beliefs not being assimilated or reconciled into some new totalizing religious system, but rather retaining their own identity in what becomes a non-codified, non-totalizing understanding of the world which expresses itself through a diversity of religious motifs and symbols.

Such is the myth created by Prior and company in the final scene of Angels in America. And indeed, Angels in America itself is a casserole myth. The cosmos in which this play is set is a hodge-podge of elements drawn from a variety of religious and quasi-religious sources. The wrestling-the-angel motif, the flaming Alephs, the ladder on which Prior ascends into Heaven, and the Kaddish for Roy Cohn are drawn from Judaism. The angelic-visitation motif, the peepstones, and the Restoration rhetoric (“A marvelous work and a wonder we undertake. . . . The Great Work begins” [Millennium 62, 119]) are drawn from Mormonism. The prominent role of sex in the workings of the cosmos, the hermaphroditic Angel, and the Angel’s multiple Emanations–Fluor, Phosphor, Lumen, Candle–are elements of Gnosticism (which Kushner may have encountered through the writings of Harold Bloom, who calls himself a Jewish Gnostic). The Charlton Heston Moses drag is drawn, obviously, from The Ten Commandments; since, as I have already shown, Kushner insists that the drag is not a lapse into an elbow-in-the-ribs playing style, I presume that the drag is employed as an widely-recognized symbol of the prophetic vocation. (Personally, I think it’s pathetic that Americans’ concept of the prophetic vocation has been determined by Hollywood, but c’est la vie.) The play even incorporates several allusions to the film The Wizard of Oz, which, as a ubiquitous and at least vestigially archetypal story of the fantastic, is the closest thing to a mythic community text to be found within gay culture. Allusions to the film include the lines, “People come and go so quickly here” (Millennium 34), “If you [c]annot find your [h]eart’s desire in your own backyard, you never lost it to begin with” (Perestroika 53), and several lines following Prior’s return from Heaven (“. . . but all the same I kept saying I want to go home. And they sent me home” [Perestroika 140]).

The creation of this hodge-podge, this casserole, of religious and quasi-religious motifs becomes for Kushner an exercise in inclusivity. The creation of a casserole myth implicitly acknowledges that one’s own belief system is insufficient, that one can and must learn from the belief systems of others. By making Angels in America a casserole myth, Kushner invites his audience to learn from a variety of sources: Judaism, Mormonism, Gnosticism, even The Wizard of Oz. I emphasize the inclusion of Mormonism in that list. By including Mormon motifs in his casserole myth, Kushner invites his audience to learn from Mormonism–even as he criticizes Mormonism as an institution for its condemnation of homosexuality and for its claim to totalization and closure. Which is to say that Mormons are included in the common space created by Kushner’s play. Mormons are part of the “we” who, Kushner says, come together to “organize our understanding of [the world].” We as Mormons are, in a sense, among Kushner’s “comrades and collaborators.” We are part of the net of souls from which societies, the social world, human life, and this play have sprung (Perestroika 158).

Granted, the inclusion of Mormons in Kushner’s myth-making space is problematic. For one thing, Kushner insists on treating as metaphorical motifs which believers regard as literal. When Hannah tells Prior that Joseph Smith’s prayer “made an angel,” one has to wonder how literally she believes, in spite of her declaration that “the angel was real” (Perestroika 103). She waxes explicitly metaphorical when she tells Prior, “An angel is just a belief, with wings and arms that can carry you. . . . If it lets you down, reject it. Seek for something new” (105). This is hardly the standard Mormon understanding of Moroni’s visitations, a fact which lays Kushner open to the criticism that he allows not Mormonism but his own adaptation of Mormonism into his myth-making space.6 Kushner’s attempt to include Mormons in his utopia is also problematic because, as Evenden notes, Kushner insists that Mormons accept homosexuality as a legitimate option for relationships. Which is to say that Kushner excludes from his supposedly inclusive space all Mormons who adhere to current Church doctrine regarding the immorality of homosexual relations. Even so, Kushner has made a highly significant and highly admirable attempt at inclusivity–an attempt not to be readily expected from a gay activist. I myself am gay, as well as a believing Mormon, and as I’ve come out to the gay community, I’ve been disturbed by the ridicule and anger directed by many gays towards the LDS and other churches. I am therefore extremely impressed that Kushner would draw on religious traditions, including Mormonism, in the creation of his play’s casserole myth. That he seriously employs our sacred stories and symbols into his sign system instead of simply ridiculing them, as so many others do, must be acknowledged as an inclusive gesture. A problematic gesture, true, but still an important first step towards reconciliation and community.

To conclude on a political note–and this play definitely invites political considerations–I am frustrated that we as Mormons are not reciprocating Kushner’s attempt at inclusivity. Near the beginning of Millennium Approaches, Harper tells Prior, “In my church we don’t believe in homosexuals” (32). When I first read this line in 1994, I read it as a poetic expression of the fact that Mormons believe homosexuality is immoral. I did not read the line literally, i.e., I did not take it to mean that Mormons deny the existence of homosexuals. Since then, however, Harper’s statement has become literally true. Mormons do not believe that there is such a thing as “a homosexual”; it is doctrinally incorrect, we are told, to use the word “homosexual” as a noun. Which greatly hinders, if not eliminates, the possibility of Mormons and homosexuals meeting in some inclusive space to help each other understand the world. And that I judge a loss for both parties.

I am excited by what Kushner has attempted in this play. The casserole myth-making process which Angels in America both advocates and exemplifies is the process in which I am now engaged as I struggle to work out my identity as a gay Mormon. I hope eventually to create my own Bethesda fountain, a space in which I can sit in community with fellow Mormons, fellow gays, my family, my lover. It will no doubt be a long time before such a space exists; but depending on the response it receives, Angels in Americacould help pave the way.

The Great Work begins.

Endnotes

1. At the time I wrote this paper, I was unaware of David Pace’s fine review of Angels in America for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Winter 1994): 191-197.

2. I am not the first to read the diorama scene in this way. In a response to Evenden’s review published in the Sunstone Readers’ Forum, David Callahan notes that the diorama scene is “comic, but beneath the humor is something profound and inspiring. It is here that Prior is exposed to the idea of migration in response to affliction. It is the idea he takes to heaven” (6). In turn, Evenden responds to Callahan by citing an American Theater review in which, he says, Kushner “briskly dismisses Mormon theology, symbols, and ritual as ‘so dumb'” (Callahan 7). This is a highly clipped quote, for which I would like to see the context; but even if Kushner does indeed dismiss Mormon belief as “so dumb,” this dismissal does not undermine my interpretation of the play. Kushner is not, after all, Mormon and therefore might well be expected to find belief in a literal angelic visitation “dumb.” Hence he uses Mormon motifs purely as metaphor; but as metaphor, the motifs are still employed seriously in the play. I am willing to concede Evenden’s argument that “Kushner depicts Mormonism as a failure, and ultimately an enemy to a healthy, progressive community” (Callahan 7), since for Kushner all codified belief systems, religious or political, are failures and enemies to community. However, as I will argue later, Kushner’s serious use of Mormon motifs is an attempt to open up the possibility of Mormonism’s becoming a contributor to the utopic community foreseen in the play’s closing scene.

3. It should be noted that the Angels are not altogether rejected anyway. It is they who finally bestow on Prior the blessing of More Life; and the final scene is acted out at the feet of the Bethesda angel, whom Prior refers to as a symbol of aspiration and hope (“they [angels] suggest a world without dying . . . . [T]hey are engines and instruments of flight”) and of the reconciliation of difference (“they commemorate death but they suggest a world without dying. They are made of the heaviest things on earth . . . but they’re winged, . . . instruments of flight” [Perestroika 147]). The angel’s presence in the final scene leaves open a space for religion, or at least for religious motifs seriously employed. And since Mormonism is characterized in this play by belief in angelic visitation, the angel’s presence in the final scene seems to reserve a space especially for Mormonism.

4. The sex between Louis and the would-be leatherman in Central Park is an obvious exception; in this scene, sex is associated with domination and pain, becoming an occasion for Louis to punish himself for his sin of abandoning Prior. In the scenes involving the Angel, however, my claim that sex functions as a signifier for positive values holds true.

5. By way of elaboration: the Jewish contribution to the new Story is the legend of the creation of Bethesda fountain by the angel’s descent into the Temple square. It is entirely appropriate that Louis, the Jewish character in this scene, relate this portion of the Story. The Christian contribution to the Story is the legend about the fountain’s healing powers, as recorded in John 5. Belize tells this portion of the Story–appropriately, as the play provides hints that Belize is, at least by upbringing, Christian. A black man with a Hispanic surname (Arriaga), Belize probably hails from a Caribbean country such as Cuba or the Dominican Republic–note that inMillennium Approaches, Belize brings Prior voodoo cream from “some little black Cubana witch in Miami” (59). With a Latin background, Belize was likely raised Catholic. Furthermore, Prior refers to Belize at one point as “a Christian martyr” (Millennium 61). Hannah, naturally, provides the Mormon contribution to the Story, the prophecy of the fountain’s restoration during the Millennium. Evenden believes that this prophecy is “certainly . . . very foreign to Mormon tradition” (64 n. 8). On the contrary: as an adolescent fascinated by Mormon lore about the Second Coming, I encountered this very prophecy, which is drawn from Ezekiel 47. The characters’ new Story, then, is a combination of Jewish, Christian, and Mormon elements, used to support a gay man with AIDS in his suffering. An unlikely or bizarre combination, perhaps, but definitely a powerful one.

6. This charge does not greatly concern me, however, because such adaptation strikes me as unavoidable when one is creating a casserole myth. For example: in my own worldview, the writings of C. S. Lewis have been influential. However, because Lewis subscribes to a neo-Platonic version of Christianity which, as a Mormon, I believe to be an apostate version of Christianity, I must adapt Lewis’ ideas, or take them metaphorically (where he intends them to be taken literally–or at least as literally as a neo-Platonic Christianity can be taken) in order to incorporate them into my fundamentally Mormon worldview. Kushner, I propose, faces the same challenge incorporating Mormon motifs into what Evenden identifies as a probably agnostic worldview (59).

Works Cited

Callahan, David. “Angles on Angels.” Sunstone 18.2 (Aug. 1995): 5-7.

Evenden, Michael. “Angels in a Mormon Gaze.” Sunstone 17.2 (Sept. 1994): 55-64.

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America.Part One: Millennium Approaches. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1993.

——-. Angels in America. Part Two: Perestroika. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1994.

Randall Thacker

Randall Thacker grew up in Taylorsville, Utah, the youngest of three children. He recognized his attraction to the same sex when he was about 8 years old. He grew up focusing prayers, fasts, and birthday candle wishes on removing this attraction.

Not long after returning from a Spanish-Speaking mission to North Carolina, he reached out for help to his BYU bishop who referred him to counseling. The counseling focused on changing Randall’s orientation because he longed to create an ideal Mormon family with many children.

After graduating from BYU with a B.A. in History, Randall moved to Salt Lake City, where after falling in love with a straight friend, he returned to reparative therapy and began attending group therapy as well. Luckily, one of the group therapists introduced Randall to the possibility of self-acceptance.

Randall’s journey of self-acceptance was a long one though, which included a moment of great despair shortly after moving to Washington, DC in 2002. Thanks to compassionate friends and family and a new understanding that he could separate God from emotionally harmful doctrine, Randall moved on. After almost ten years of studying and visiting other faiths and at times none at all, Randall returned to regular attendance at his local LDS ward in 2011, embraced by ward leaders who are welcoming and affirming. “I know that God and spirituality are broader than just the LDS church, yet I also have a testimony of the Restoration and feel the Spirit guiding me to walk my journey of spiritual growth as a Latter-Day Saint.”

Besides his work with Affirmation, Randall is passionate about improving education in Mexico and loves his work as a management consultant and leadership coach, helping individuals and organizations reach their potential. He enjoys rowing, bicycling, running, skiing, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

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John Gustav-Wrathall

John Gustav-Wrathall is an adjunct professor of American Religious History at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He is the author of Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Dynamics and the Young Men's Christian Association (University of Chicago Press, 1998). He has also published articles in Sunstone and Dialogue on being gay and Mormon, and is the author of the Young Stranger blog. Though excommunicated from the LDS Church, John has a testimony, and has been active in his south Minneapolis ward since 2005.

John became an activist for greater understanding of LGBT people at the University of Minnesota in the late 1980s, and was instrumental in the establishment of one of the first university-based LGBT programs offices in the U.S. He pioneered the establishment of an inter-faith LGBT ministry at the University of Minnesota. For three years he was actively involved in Lutherans Concerned (now Reconciling Works), as a member of the Twin Cities Board, coordinating their “Reconciled in Christ” project for the state of Minnesota, helping to build a movement of LGBT-friendly Lutheran congregations. Over the years he has spoken in churches and community forums, on university campuses and in religious assemblies and conferences (including at the Sunstone Symposium and at Affirmation conferences) about the issues affecting LGBT people in communities of faith.

John has served as the Minnesota contact for Affirmation since the fall of 2005, and was part of the conference planning committee for the 2012 Affirmation conference in Seattle. He was actively involved as a volunteer, trainer, and faith community leader in the campaign that successfully defeated Minnesota Amendment 1, which would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage in his home state. He organized Minnesota Mormons United for All Families, and the “Mormon Allies” contingent of the Twin Cities Gay Pride parade in 2012.

He currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his husband of over twenty years, to whom he was legally married in Riverside, California in July 2008, and with whom he has foster parented three sons.

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Tina Richerson

Tina Richerson grew up off the grid (without electricity or running water) in a part-member LDS home in the Columbia Gorge of Washington State she the second of six children. Her mother taught her faithfulness, charity, and to follow Jesus Christ. At age 13, while praying, Tina received a spiritual confirmation that, just like her uncle Michael, she too was gay.

In addition to her LDS upbringing, Tina’s life has been enriched by experiences in other religious traditions. In college she accompanied a girlfriend to a Pentecostal church, where she was received with open arms and felt God’s unconditional grace. Later she found a new spiritual path as she explored Zen Buddhism and began practicing daily sessions of meditation.

Eventually, Tina read the writings of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who affirms that one cannot simply convert to Buddhism and leave one’s religious roots behind—that there must be a union of Buddhist practice and what one was raised to believe. “When I read this, I knew it to be true.” Tina says, “I knew that eventually I would have to return to the [LDS] church.”

Tina is currently active in her local LDS ward, where she’s out as a lesbian woman. She serves in her ward as the Ward Coir Director and in her Stake as the Director of the Family History Center. Tina also actively participates in the New York chapter of Affirmation.

In a talk given to her Relief Society she shared “I have learned that God’s will is not what I thought. I didn’t need to spend years trying to make myself straight. I just needed to ask for the guidance and courage to become who He created me to be, and He has given it to me, and continues to give it to me.”

Tina concluded her talk by quoting 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” She follows the belief that change can only happen from the inside out. Attending church will spawn the growth and awareness we need.

Tina is classically trained in saxophone performance. She is a member of the internationally acclaimed Tiptons Saxophone Quartet and Drums, founded in 1988. Music is her passion and life’s work. When Tina is not touring with the Tiptons, she can be found playing with her own ensemble. As well as being a freelance musician in New York City, she enjoys physical activity and healthy food.

To hear Tina play the saxophone, visit her official website or the band’s website at http://www.tiptonssaxquartet.com

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Karin Hendricks

Karin Hendricks grew up in Logan, UT in a loving and devout LDS family, and currently lives in Indiana with her spouse Tawnya. Karin has delighted in being a “mother” and “grandmother” to thousands of children and youth through her work as a music teacher and university professor. She and Tawnya also work locally, nationally, and internationally as researchers and advocates for music education, women, LGBTQ individuals, and youth.

Karin knew from an early age that she was “different,” and in her teens she began to privately meet with church leaders to find a way to change her sexual orientation. For the next 22 years she suppressed her same-sex attraction and endured a journey that mixed extreme church activity and leadership (including as President of every auxiliary organization) with various health problems, physical pain, and depression.

At age 39, Karin began a spiritual discernment process to help her reconcile her sexual orientation with her spirituality. It was in coming to recognize the powerful spirit in diverse places and people that she gained enough courage to be genuinely herself. She then came out to her parents and siblings, who amazed her with their unconditional love and genuine desire to understand. In her final trip to the temple, she had a powerful experience in which she came to understand that she should serve in a global capacity alongside her (then) best friend Tawnya. Karin and Tawnya were married in Massachusetts a year later, and have since enjoyed a loving, spirit-centered companionship that is modeled after the marriage ideals that were taught in both of their churches of origin.

Karin and Tawnya celebrate the diversity of divine expression in all people, religions, cultures, and individual life paths. Karin is grateful to Affirmation for providing her and others a safe and unconditionally loving space to be fully themselves. She is happy to serve among this community of unique individuals as they help one another cultivate a deeper inner peace.

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Tawnya Smith

Tawnya Smith serves Affirmation as the moderator of the Teleconference Series on Healing. Tawnya became affiliated with Affirmation through her partner Karin Hendricks, the Spiritual Director of Affirmation. Tawnya is an arts educator with training in expressive arts therapy, and is currently conducting interdisciplinary research concerning spirituality and states of conscious awareness in arts learning environments.

Tawnya currently identifies herself as inter-spiritual, however, she grew up in and was a member of the Church of the Brethren in her youth. In her early twenties, at the time she came out to herself, she stopped attending church and began to study other religious traditions. During her late twenties and early thirties, she continued this intellectual study of the world’s religions and attended the Unitarian Universalist Church. Later she began to attend a Mennonite Church (a similar denomination to the Church of the Brethren) where she began to integrate and reconcile her spiritual self with her religious roots. Since that time, she has continued to open to new understandings and deeper perceptions of spiritual truths in any form. She especially appreciates Ken Wilber’s idea of the Three Faces of the Divine (first, second, and third person experiences of the Divine) as she finds that this honors and integrates all spiritual experience. Tawnya became familiar with the LDS church during the time of her courtship with Karin as she attended sacrament meeting and sang in the ward choir. Currently, Tawnya and Karin are exploring inter-spiritual understandings with the guidance of a spiritual director.

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David Baker

David Baker grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and Amarillo, Texas with dreams of becoming an Air Force pilot probably inspired by the movie Top Gun. It was watching that beach volleyball scene that he should have realized his sexuality, but instead he went on to keep his attractions repressed until his freshman year at BYU when, after conferring with his bishop it was determined it was best if he didn’t continue his education at BYU.

David spent the better part of 3 years struggling to accept his sexuality as a part of his life instead of continually repressing it. The repression took the form of Evergreen-supported counseling to try to change his orientation, deep depression, and a suicide attempt. David rose out of his despair after a personal revelation in the temple in which he was told of the Savior’s love for him and the plan that he had for David to search for a husband.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the University of Utah, David moved out to Washington DC where he finally embraced the love of the Savior, accepted himself fully and found a ward that embraced him as an openly gay Mormon. He has since served in that ward in several callings, most notably the chair of the cultural events committee. He loves his ward and the friends, allies, and fellow LGBT members that he has met and helped to come out while in that ward.

Far from becoming the Air Force pilot that he dreamed of as a child, David started working on political campaigns in Utah and ultimately in Washington DC. He now serves as a digital strategist to political campaigns and interest groups and enjoys every gut-wrenching moment of it because of the joy it brings. His favorite political experience is when he got to read the The Book of Mormon in the White House’s private library. In the little spare time he has you can find David reading a biography, fencing, playing video games, volunteering, or still following the Savior’s personal call and searching for a husband.

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Todd Richardson

Todd Richardson grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado. He comes from a large family, the eldest of 6 kids and 2 loving parents. Growing up, Todd realized he was attracted to the same sex but was convinced that when he found “the right girl,” the “problem” would go away.

After serving a mission and graduating from BYU, Todd moved to New York City to teach at a middle school. He busied himself with as much church service and work as possible, so as not to have to worry about his sexuality. Having no intention of ever coming out of the closet, focusing on other aspects of life seemed like the best use of his mental energy. However, randomly watching a YouTube video of a gay Mormon touched him deeply. It prompted him, for the first time in his life, to truly seek divine guidance with an open heart and mind. Self-acceptance came as he felt the undeniable peace of God’s acceptance-an acceptance he quickly realized had always been there.

From that peace came the desire to come out to friends and family. He is grateful for their unyielding support. He is also grateful for the lasting friendships he has made through Affirmation. Attending the Kirtland Affirmation conference in 2011 was a pivotal moment in Todd’s life; he is grateful for the opportunity to serve in the organization.

Currently Todd works at a charter school in Harlem, and goes to school in Maryland. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends, attending church, running, golfing, and vacationing.

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Alasdair Ekpenyong

Alasdair Ekpenyong is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University. He is the first to admit that he does not have all the answers, and it is this sense of awareness that leads him to so value the work of creating safe spaces for spiritual growth and exploration and.

He believes that everyone can stand to benefit in some way from such practices as prayer, study, conversation, and introspection--everyone can stand to benefit from reflecting on past and present truths and discovering new truths.

Though well-versed in Mormon history and theology, Alasdair also studies many other forms of theism and nontheism as a participant in the interfaith academic community. He enjoys using the methods of postmodern critical theory to better understand the place of himself and others within contemporary society and culture.

Alasdair's writing has appeared in such forums as the BYU Student Review and the interfaith blog State of Formation. He hails from Baltimore, Maryland, and lives in the Salt Lake-Provo area.

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Trevor Cook

Trevor grew up in Mesa, Arizona, served a mission in Calgary, Canada, and graduated from BYU in International Relations and Linguistics. He used the time he saved not going on dates or having much of a social life to learn Chinese and continues to be fascinated by things China. He spent a year between Nanjing and Hong Kong after graduation and now is living a dream working at the US consulate in scenic Shenyang, Liaoning.

Although he enjoys the Middle Kingdom, Trevor misses hanging out with his five younger siblings and their growing families. He is grateful for a loving family and mostly happy childhood during which he was able to gain a testimony of a Heavenly Father and his love that has served him through later darker days and continues to sustain him. He is very proud of his parents who are reaching out to love and encourage a new and growing LGBT family at home in Arizona.

Sometimes Trevor wishes he could ditch his faith because it would make his life a lot easier. However, he can’t abandon his personal relationship with God, and--whatever life brings--he can’t see himself not praying. Similarly, while he has mixed feelings about the Church and his enthusiasm for the institution waxes and wanes, he believes in Zion and imagines he will always strive--in one way or another--to bring it about.

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Fred Bowers

Frederick “Fred” Bowers has been a part of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons for over 20 years. Fred has served in leadership roles at the chapter and national levels for many years including: Washington DC Chapter Director; Chapter-at-Large Director; Assistant Vice President for Strategy and Development; Affirmation National Board of Directors; Conference Director; and founder and current Director of the Affirmation People of Color and Allies Group.

A former career U.S. Air Force Financial Management Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, Fred is currently employed as a management and technology consultant for a leading international consulting firm and is involved with its LGBT business resource group. He also is involved with Out and Equal Workplace Advocates as part of their People of Color Advisory Committee. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management from John Brown University, and a dual master's degree in Public Administration and Management from Webster University. Fred is a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and currently resides in Arlington, Virginia.

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Lismarie & Michael Nyland

Mike and I met in 1995 while attending BYU in Provo, UT. We were married in 1997 and graduated together in 1998, Mike with a BA in Geography and Lismarie with a BFA in Design and Photography. We currently live in Bremerton, WA (a ferry ride away from Seattle) and stay busy raising two girls and two boys.

2012 was an eventful and busy year for our family as we became involved with Mormons for Marriage Equality, marched in the Seattle Pride Parade, and attended the Affirmation Conference in Seattle. We continue to support the cause of full acceptance and equality for all of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

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Suzi Fei

Suzi Fei lives in Portland, Oregon, and is a wife, a mother of one young daughter, and an active and devout Latter-day Saint. She has a Ph.D. in computational biology and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon Health & Science University studying cancer genomics. Over the years, she has served in many callings in the church including Relief Society presidencies and Oregon State University Latter-day Saint Student Association president.

Suzi has a deep love for LGBTQ Mormons and serves in several capacities that aim to increase love and acceptance within the church. She's on the steering committee for Mormons Building Bridges and the ally committee for Affirmation. She also formed a local group for gay Mormons in Oregon and SW Washington. Her husband, Yiyang, is on their stake’s high council and works with their stake president to train leaders and members in how to be more loving to gay members.

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Duane Andersen

Duane Andersen is a film producer, writer, and director. His films have been released theatrically throughout the world and have played at major festivals such as Sundance and South by Southwest. Films he has produced include White on Rice, Surrogate Valentine, Last Kind Words, Congratulations, Daylight Savings, Crazy Beats Strong Every Time, and others. He is also CEO of the start-up company Brainwave Accounting Systems which is developing accounting software for independent media projects. He received an MFA in painting from State University of New York at Buffalo and taught as an adjunct art professor at Brigham Young University for nine years.

While Duane works professionally out of Los Angeles, he lives in the lovely town of Salem, Utah with his wife Rachel and their three sons. An active member of his local LDS ward he has served as a Mission Leader, an Elders Quorum President, and as a Counselor in a Branch Presidency (in Brooklyn, NY). His involvement in Affirmation and other LGBT causes stems from being raised by progressive LDS parents in Palo Alto, California and from his close association with gay teachers, mentors, and friends throughout his life. Recently several of his film projects have been gay-themed including the forth coming drama Facing East based on the play by Carol Lynn Pearson and the documentary An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story.

Duane has for years thought that what the church needed were its gay Jackie Robinsons. “Jackie Robinson was chosen to be the first black player to play in the major leagues by Dodger general manager, Branch Rickey, not because he was the best black player available, but because he had the strongest character,” says Duane. “Branch Rickey knew that he was the one who would not spit back, who would not give up, who would keep at it no matter what people said or did to him. We also need are more Branch Rickeys. We need the Bishops and Stake Presidents who are the ones speaking up. Who are standing behind their man (or woman), who are setting the tone.”

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Peter van der Walt

Peter van der Walt lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He grew up in various small towns in a relatively staunch Calvinist family. He realized he was different at age four… and at age fourteen, in a conservative, Afrikaans high school, came out. After reading the Book of Mormon, pondering about its relevance to him as an out gay South African man and praying (for the first time in years), he had to come out again… but this time as a Mormon.

He began his career as clown at a local steakhouse… no, seriously. Since then he’s been a waiter, a guest house assistant, a bankteller, an assistant real estate assessor, an auctioneer and a medical practice manager – among other things. For the past ten years he stopped pretending to want a real job and he now writes professionally, in the communications and strategy fields.

He enjoys listening to and making music in his spare time, tortures himself at a gym, practices some martial arts (if he feels very inspired, say, after watching an old Kung Fu movie) and hangs out with family and friends.

Peter believes that being a Gay Mormon is a fascinating and amazing journey and that it should be a joyous one. It is true that there are many personal histories that include their share of hurts, scrapes, bumps and bruises – but it is also true that LGBT Mormons are loved by their Heavenly Father. Pete strongly advocates having some fun with your life and living each day as joyfully as possible.

Peter contributes to networking and communications, seeing service to Affirmation as a religious obligation for himself, as a gay Mormon… and as a way to make amazing friends all over the world and have some fun being both gay and Mormon. When it comes to living up to the measure of your creation, there’s no time like right now.

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Mark Schneider

Mark Schneider grew up in western Pennsylvania as a 2nd generation Mormon, the third of four siblings. An idealist at heart, Mark took his faith seriously and sought to please all the right people by doing all the right things, sometimes at the expense of being true to himself. At nineteen, he went on an LDS mission to Florida where he learned valuable lessons from the Haitian community there: levity in the face of hardship, faith in God’s ability to communicate with His children according to individual need, and how to eat enormous amounts of rice in one sitting.

Upon returning from his mission, Mark envisioned a typical LDS life for himself, one with a wife, kids, and a church calling. Instead, God put him on the eye-opening path of the gay Latter-day Saint. He learned what it meant to fast and pray and hope for a change that would not come. He learned what it meant to not fully belong in the Church and what it meant to not fully belong in the world either. And he learned that, in spite of what people say, sometimes even the “right” people, God cares less about who we love and more about how well.

While Mark does not count out the possibility of a wife, being one part gay and one part straight, he is committed to the cause of the LGBT community out of principle and out of love. From his Mormon eyes, he sees the full inclusion of LGBT Saints in the Church as a critical step in its long walk to Zion.

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Sam Noble

Sam Noble grew up in Muncie, Indiana, served a mission in Taiwan, studied business strategy at BYU, and has recently worked in Minneapolis for two years. Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Sam has found that to ring true in his life as he’s successfully sought out opportunities to travel the globe since his mission, including working at the Beijing and London Olympics.

Although aware from a very young age of his attraction to other boys, Sam repressed his sexuality until after his mission. He then spent several years rediscovering God’s love and how his feelings for men align with that. During that time, he found love and support from Fred and Marilyn Matis and friends he met through their firesides. A counselor at BYU helped him come out to his wonderfully supportive family. He’s found love and truth to guide him in countless religious and secular settings, both in and out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He was introduced to Affirmation after meeting John Gustav-Wrathall while living in Minneapolis and is grateful and excited at the increased understanding happening in both LDS and LGBT communities. He has an ever-increasing testimony of the restored gospel and is currently active in the Muncie Indiana young-single-adult congregation.

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Justin

Justin hails from Fairfax, Virginia, and before that, Texas. He served an LDS mission from 2006-2008 in Seoul, Korea. He's currently in medical school in Cork, Ireland.

Justin came out to his family on Christmas day in 2004, when he was a freshman at BYU. It was his Christmas present to himself. Since then, his family and friends have learned a lot about what it means to be gay and are now quite accepting. He continues to be pleasantly surprised and humbled by their understanding.

Justin was raised LDS but lost the faith as he grew up. He came back to the church in 2006--a journey inspired in part by Stuart Matis's story. He's glad for many of his experiences in the church but sincerely hopes for change in the organization and looks forward to when the LGBTQ community is fully accepted.

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Prince Winbush

Prince Winbush III, 19, was born in Plano, Texas and grew up in suburban Chicago. He’s currently in his first year at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois, studying Business Administration and Economics. Prince joined the LDS Church in 2008 with the full support of his Catholic family.

Prince came out to himself in late 2008 and struggled to tell his family for 4 years, but finally made the announcement in December of 2012. “I knew who I was and I knew my family still loved me, so I took the plunge,” Prince says.

Prince is still considering the next step--whether to continue with school or go on his mission. “I’ve wanted to be a missionary since the two elders knocked on my door and changed my life,” Prince says. He’s a bit hesitant as he fears making waves because of his sexual orientation.

This is Prince’s very first year in Affirmation. He found the group thanks to the Chicago Gay Pride Parade, where Affirmation Chicago marched. He’s very excited to meet new faces and work with everyone.

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Melanie Carbine

Melanie Carbine moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan from Salt Lake City when she was 10. Fortunate to have grown up in a self-selected Mormon community of liberals and intellectuals, she has always been able to appreciate her religion for its spiritual benefits and community. Ironically, even though the first two people she saw kiss in public were women, she didn't realize her bisexuality was notable or different. She assumed all people's sexuality was as fluid as hers and would regularly conform to social expectations.

This understanding changed when she studied English Literature and Asian American Studies at the University of Michigan, studying also with performance artist Holly Hughes. It was among discussions with her straight and gay friends in college that she realized she was like both. Melanie didn't want to give up her religion but didn't think she should have to choose, so she hoped for change among Mormons and went on a mission in the Marshall Islands.

Working with so many young people and living in a developing country led her to a change in her career path. She received her teaching certification in K-8, Math and English. Teaching Middle School Math and English in both the Marshall Islands and now the DC area, she happened to be in the right place to find Affirmation. It's definitely a wonder to her to see the possibility of active LGBT Mormons accepted by their church communities. She also enjoys drawing, glass art and reading. Above all she loves traveling, being outdoors, and visiting friends.

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Robert Moore

Robert grew up in Oregon and is 7th generation Mormon. When his family found out that he was gay, he was kicked out and disowned. He took what little money and clothing he had and bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Portland, Oregon.

“My first night sleeping on the street was very cold and rainy. On my second night in an effort to try to sleep indoors out of the cold put me in a situation that ended with me being raped." A few days later he was able to find a shelter for homeless youth. In the following months he found a paid internship and permanent housing.

Robert moved to San Francisco in 2007. Since the passage of Proposition 8 in California he has traveled the country fighting for Full Federal Equality for the LGBTQ community. Robert is an activist at heart and has stood up for marriage equality, women's rights, trans rights, worker's rights, LGBT people of faith, homelessness and suicide prevention. Since testing HIV positive on March 1, 2012 Robert is now working on HIV/AIDS awareness, advocacy and to end the stigma of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Since joining the leadership of Affirmation in 2009 Robert has served as the Young Adults Program Director, Outreach and Advocacy Director, Membership Director and in 2012 as Vice President.

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Peter Howland

I currently work as a data entry specialist for a non-profit organization in Salem, Oregon, while residing in McMinnville, Oregon. I have attended Affirmation conferences since 2009, which is shortly after I became honest with myself and acknowledged that I am gay.

My spiritual journey continues to evolve. I am currently inactive in the LDS Church, but still (as far as I know) on the Church membership rolls. My path has led back to the Episcopal Church, which was the church my parents attended while I was growing up. Currently, I serve my local parish as a member of the vestry (the governing board of the parish).

I have no desire to completely sever my ties with the LDS church, and I fully support the members of Affirmation in whatever relationship they choose to have with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joining the LDS Church after missionary service age, I have not served a mission. However, I did host missionaries in my home for three years, which was an interesting experience.

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Rapha Fernandes

Rapha Fernandes, 22, lives in Guarujá, on the coastline of Brazil near São Paulo. He knew he was gay since he was a young boy. At age 17, Rapha fell in love with a returned missionary. They dated and lived together for a long time.

The relationship eventually fizzled out, and Rapha returned to his parents’ home. “I had my first interview with the bishop in the Church [and] my parents together, and the stake presidency and the bishop began ‘the therapy’ without much result,” says Rapha. “Today I live a normal life, I am happy, I love making friends and meeting new people. I love doing different things, traveling going to the movies, theater, and the beach.”

Trying to reconcile his orientation with the gospel was an overwhelming challenge for Rapha, who tried to commit suicide twice.

“The Lord has always comforted me, taking away all the feelings of confusion I had in my heart and turning them into a single feeling: I KNOW THAT MY SAVIOR LOVES ME, KNOWS ME, UNDERSTANDS MY HEART ABOVE ALL THINGS. That was enough for me to live from that day forward, accepting who I am, happy to be a member of the Church and not to be confused in any way.

“I know that when we need it, God’s holding us in his arms and saying in our hearts how important and big we are.”

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Carol Lynn Pearson

Carol Lynn Pearson’s first contribution to the LDS gay community came in 1986 with the publication of her book Goodbye, I Love You, which tells the story of her marriage to Gerald Pearson, a homosexual man, their divorce, ongoing friendship, and her caring for him as he died of AIDS. The book is credited by many as opening the conversation in many homes about the subject of AIDS and about homosexuality in general.

Since then Carol Lynn has spoken to and encouraged thousands of LDS gays and lesbians and their families, as well as educating church leaders about the damage being done through inaccurate and unloving teachings about this important subject. In 2006, twenty years after the publication of Goodbye, I Love You, she introduced a stage play, Facing East, which tells the story of a Mormon couple dealing with the suicide of their gay son. The play won the “Best Drama” award for the year from the Deseret News (tied with Hamlet at the Shakespeare Festival) and went on to a limited off-Broadway run, a run in San Francisco, and subsequent productions by many community theaters and universities.

Also in 2006 she published No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones, a book that has healed many families and saved lives. Her most recent work is a small gift book, The Hero’s Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon, which she describes as a traveling companion to give LDS gay people a better vision of the calling they have been given.

Carol Lynn served as a resource to her stake presidency in the ground-breaking work they did in the Oakland Stake in 2009. A report on that work can be found at her website, www.clpearson.com, where her books are also available.

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Judy Finch

A convert to the church, Judy Finch is retired from a long career in elementary education. For nearly twenty years Judy has had a private psychotherapy practice, currently from her home office in the Oakland hills. Judy and her husband Richard have blended their family of six children in three states, soon-to-be 12 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.

“My interest and commitment in Affirmation results from a gay son and two gay grandsons who have all left the church,” says Judy. “Having negotiated the rocky path of parenting gays, I feel excited about positive changes in our society and our Church. I feel part of a beautiful process guided by our Heavenly Father to promote understanding and unity.”

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Jorge Valencia

Jorge Valencia has served since 2007 as the Executive Director of Point Foundation. The organization empowers promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential ­ despite the obstacles often put before them ­ to make a significant impact on society. He brings to this job a wealth of experience in managing and growing nonprofit organizations, a proven ability to design and manage the infrastructure of expanding organizations and extensive experience with, and sensitivity to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth issues.

Before coming to Point Foundation, from 2001 - 2006 Jorge was the President and Executive Director of The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a nationwide non-profit organization established to promote acceptance of gay and questioning teenagers and to aid in suicide prevention by operating the nation’s first round-the-clock toll-free suicide prevention helpline aimed at LGBTQ youth. Jorge’s leadership contributed to Trevor’s growth as a nationally recognized youth service organization.

As an openly gay man who grew up in a Mormon Latino family in Texas, Jorge has a keen personal awareness of many of the issues of rejection and marginalization faced by many LGBTQ youth, including Point Scholars. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brigham Young University in 1989. While at BYU, Jorge served as Vice President in charge of social activities for ASBYU (Associated Students of Brigham Young University). He performed for two years with Lamanite Generation, a performing arts group that travelled to China with late Apostle Neal A. Maxwell and then the southern states during Jorge’s tenure. Jorge served an LDS mission to Brazil and taught at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for two years upon returning home.

Jorge’s diversity of life experience includes extensive travel abroad and within the United States. He is fluent English, Spanish and Portuguese and is a talented and accomplished public speaker. Jorge has a passion for helping LGBTQ youth and an ability to communicate that interest and passion effectively to both the LGBTQ community and the general public.

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Gregory Prince

Dr. Gregory A. Prince was born and reared in Los Angeles, California. He attended Dixie College from 1965-67, graduating as valedictorian. He attended the UCLA School of Dentistry from 1969-73, again graduating as valedictorian. He received a Ph.D. in Pathology from UCLA in 1975, studying respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the primary cause of infant pneumonia worldwide. Over a period of fifteen years at the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University, he and his co-workers developed the thesis that RSV disease could be prevented by administering antiviral antibodies to high-risk infants. He co-founded Virion Systems, Inc. to commercialize this thesis, and serves as its President and CEO. In 1989, Virion Systems and MedImmune, Inc. formed a joint venture to conduct clinical trials that ultimately resulted in the licensure by the Food and Drug Administration of RespiGam™ (1996), and Synagis™ (1998) for the prevention of RSV pneumonia in high-risk infants. Synagis™ is the first monoclonal antibody ever licensed for use against any infectious agent. He has published over 150 scientific papers.

In addition to a career in science, he has developed an avocation as a historian. His first book, Power From on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood, was published in 1995; his second, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, was the recipient of four awards and is in its sixth printing. He and his wife, JaLynn Rasmussen Prince, are the parents of three children. He serves on national advisory boards of six colleges and universities: Johns Hopkins University, Montgomery College, Wesley Theological Seminary, University of Utah, Dixie State College and Utah Valley University.

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Yvette Zobel

Yvette Zobel is originally an Idaho girl who spent her growing up years in Idaho Falls, Idaho . She journeyed next door to the state of Utah to attend Utah State University and has a degree in music with an emphasis in piano. After great adventures living in Washington, Oregon, and California, she and her family now reside in Utah. She has taught piano in her private piano studio for many years. She considers teaching music one of the most joyful professions possible! She is a wife and the mother of 4 children including a wonderful gay son. Yvette is an active and devout Latter-day Saint.

Yvette has deep love and respect for LDS LGBT individuals. She serves on the board of LDS Family Fellowship, a support group for friends and family of LGBT’s. Her passion and love for LGBT individuals has led her on a wonderful journey. As a result she has become friends with and worked with many great and noble people who have touched her life profoundly.

Yvette enjoys hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, working out, and dabbling in music composition.

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Doug Balls

Doug Balls is a man who loves the lessons of history and the world of travel. He grew up in the Cottonwood area of Salt Lake City. As a youth he spent his summers working on a ranch in the mountains of Northern Utah for his father. It was here that he acquired a deep appreciation and love for horses and the beauty and creation of nature. He served a mission for the LDS church in Scotland, attended the University of Utah, and later went onto embark on several entrepreneurial ventures mostly in the hospitality, travel and entertainment industry. Realizing his talents in event production and venue management, he has spent almost thirty years managing some of the finest venues in the world.

Doug knows that understanding is less important than that feeling of love and respect you can give to another. The goal is having more than mere acceptance, but experiencing the feeling of true inclusion and true pride. Currently residing in St. George, he lives his life expanding circles to bring others in. He is excited to be a part of Affirmation and is looking forward to making a difference.

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Wendy Montgomery

Wendy Montgomery was born and raised in Southern California. She has always been a member of the LDS Church. She and her husband were married in the Los Angeles Temple in 1995. They had 5 children in 7 years – not recommended. They found out in January of 2012 that their oldest son (13 years old at the time) was gay. It has at times been unbearably painful. But it has also been an enlightening, spiritual and joyful journey. Wendy has many new LGBT-supportive heroes in the LDS community. The Montgomery family lives in Central California. Wendy is a voracious reader, loves history, and is doing everything she knows how to make the LDS Church more welcoming and inclusive of its gay members.

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Ron Schow

Ron Schow splits his time between residences in both Pocatello, Idaho and Salt Lake City. He is Professor Emeritus at Idaho State University (ISU) where he has taught since 1975. Although semi-retired he continues to teach some in the School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences in the Division of Health Sciences.

A fifth generation Latter-day Saint with ancestors from Denmark and England, Ron grew up in Preston, Idaho. He served a mission for the LDS Church in the Central Atlantic States Mission (Virginia/N. Carolina, 1961-63). Later he graduated in Biology at Utah State University and then earned a Ph.D. in Audiology from Northwestern University in 1974. Before coming to ISU, he taught at Illinois State University (1972-75).

Ron is the author of numerous books and journal articles and was one of the editors of Peculiar People: Mormons and Same Sex Orientation (Signature Books, 1991). He had a close association with his nephew, Brad, who was gay and died of AIDS in 1986. That gave him a desire to study all the implications from professional and Church perspectives.

Ron has served in numerous church callings, including high council, bishopric, and as stake mission president. Currently, he serves as home evening chairman in a small branch for elderly members. He is the father of 5 children and 19 grandchildren. In addition to participating in his branch and stake in Idaho, he currently, attends when in Salt Lake City, an LDS ward and stake where sometimes there are several gay men attending. There he is in a supportive role to make the ward and stake a welcoming place for LGBT Latter-day Saints who continue to be or who might be encouraged toward activity in the Church.

Ron regularly attends LDS Reconciliation meetings in Salt Lake City, and Family Fellowship Forums in the Salt Lake/Provo area. These are groups in which he was a founding member and that he helped organize. LDS Reconciliation (now Affirmation FHE SLC) was formed in Idaho Falls in 1991 and continues to meet each Sunday night in Salt Lake City. Family Fellowship was formed in Salt Lake City in 1993. Many members of these groups are active in the Church and their meetings involve prayer, singing hymns and gospel discussion (Reconciliation) or scientific discussion (Family Fellowship) in a format which encourages wholeness and spirituality. Ron participates on the North Star Friends and Family discussion group and wants to support the emphasis in Affirmation of encouraging participation in the Church.

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Fred Bower

Frederick “Fred” Bowers has been a part of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons for over 20 years. Fred has served in leadership roles at the chapter and national levels for many years including: Washington DC Chapter Director; Chapter-at-Large Director; Assistant Vice President for Strategy and Development; Affirmation National Board of Directors; Conference Director; and founder and current Director of the Affirmation People of Color and Allies Group.

A former career U.S. Air Force Financial Management Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, Fred is currently employed as a management and technology consultant for a leading international consulting firm and is involved with its LGBT business resource group. He also is involved with Out and Equal Workplace Advocates as part of their People of Color Advisory Committee. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management from John Brown University, and a dual master's degree in Public Administration and Management from Webster University. Fred is a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and currently resides in Arlington, Virginia.

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Sam Wolfe

Sam Wolfe is a civil rights lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center where he helped launch the LGBT Rights Project and continues to help lead the nation-wide project. Sam’s work, often set in the deep south, focuses on achieving greater respect and equality for gay and transgender people. The project’s cutting edge legal action has been reported on the front page of The New York Times, CNN Presents, Rolling Stone Magazine, and in an hour long program for Anderson Cooper 360.

Previously, Sam was a litigation associate at a leading international law firm in New York City where his pro bono practice focused on representing LGBT clients. He is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center and is a member of the Alabama and New York bar associations. The National LGBT Bar Association recently recognized Sam as one of the Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40. Other experience includes service in the armed forces as part of a special operations team and as an English teacher in Taiwan where he also was a bungee jump master.

Sam is the oldest of twelve children. He completed a two-year Mormon mission in northern France, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Later, he obtained an undergraduate degree at BYU in Mandarin Chinese and international relations. Although he recognized his orientation much earlier, it was at BYU that Sam began activating as a queer Latter Day Saint. Sam has participated in Affirmation since “coming out” to his Mormon congregation during a fast and testimony meeting in 2006.

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Tom Christofferson

Tom Christofferson is the Chief Marketing Officer of J.P. Morgan Investor Services in New York City. Tom’s career in asset management and banking has given him opportunities to live and work in Europe and the US. Additionally, he has twice served on the global diversity council for his firm, and continues to be a senior sponsor there of its Pride business resource group. He is currently a member of the advisory board of his firm’s political action committee.

Tom was born in Utah and grew up in New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. He served as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Canada Montreal Mission. Before and after his missionary service, Tom attended BYU. As part of his coming-out process he was an active member of Affirmation in Los Angeles in the late 1980’s before moving to New York.

In addition to his efforts with Affirmation, Tom has served on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations, on the finance committees of Senate and Presidential campaigns and is currently as a member of the National Advisory Council for the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. Tom lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, with his partner of eighteen years, Clarke Latimer.

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Anna Empey

I was born and raised in a small town in Washington state on my family farm. From a young age I knew I was different I couldn't pin point exactly how. It wasn't until I was at BYU in 2007 that I really realized that I was fully attracted to girls and that this was something I could not change. I recently graduated from BYU (December 2012) with a degree in Anthropology and I have been working in marketing and public relations.

In the last year, I have gone from fear and self-hate to more self-love and understanding for who I am. Now as I strive to understand who I am in terms of being Lesbian and LDS, a place that is uncomfortable at times, I am learning that I can accept and understand all of who I am without giving up either part of my identity. One of my goals in life is to make the world a better place, and help others understand their individual importance to those around them, that they are lovable and important.

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Ellen Koester

Ellen Koester grew up in Defiance, Ohio, and currently lives in downtown Salt Lake City. Ellen grew up dreaming of changing the world, and is currently studying constitutional law, and government policy, with the goal of becoming a civil rights lawyer.

Growing up Catholic in a small town, it didn't take much for her to realize that she was different from other girls. This internal contention caused rifts between her and her family that were made permanent when she joined the Church in 2009, and subsequently when she came out in 2011.

Ellen joined the Church knowing that the Gospel was true and pure, but was blinded by the missionaries claim that being baptized would bring blessings. After a failed attempt at a mission, and months of following the exact letter of the law, an experience in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple changed her entire outlook on life, and on being a lesbian in the Church. From that day forward, she has been active in her wards, while actively seeking, and engaging in same sex relationships. Her final goal is to find and marry a woman who can put up with her endless projects, overactive enthusiasm, and countless pranks and antics.

Latter Day Saint by summer, but Powder Day Saint by winter, Ellen is often caught sneaking out of the house in the early morning, skis in hand to catch the tram for first tracks at Snowbird and Alta. In milder season's however, Ellen trade's in her ski boots for a good book, and a jam session on her piano.

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Jamison Manwaring

Jamison lives in Salt Lake City and publicly came out in March of 2013 via a Youtube video. Subsequently, he and members of his family have done interviews with NPR's Weekend Edition, and other news organizations, about the experience of being a gay Mormon. He has found peace and happiness being his authentic self - an active believing Mormon and a gay man. He is dedicated to providing a supportive community at Affirmation for all LGBT Mormons who live with honesty and integrity regardless of life path including those who are a) in same-sex relationships, b) celibate, or c) enter into a mixed-orientation-marriage with full disclosure.

Jamison founded and leads the Affirmation Millennial group, envisioned the recent affirmation.org redesign and is a managing editor of the web-site. He joined the board of directors in January of 2014.

Jamison has been an Equity Analyst covering the software sector for Goldman Sachs since graduating from the University of Utah in 2012. Prior, he was a Summer Analyst for Barclays Capital in New York City. Before attended college, Jamison founded an online based real estate firm in Phoenix Arizona. He was born in Idaho Falls and is the youngest of 8 children.

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Bryan Clark

Bryan is a recent graduate from Brigham Young University, with a BS in Exercise Science. He spent his childhood in Upstate New York with his 8 siblings, two of them being his triplet sisters. While he remembers vividly in his childhood being attracted to the same sex, it wasn't till relentless attempts after his mission of dating woman, that he fully realized his sexuality. He believes that as hard as the experience has been in coming out, that it's made him a more loving, Christlike person.

As an running aficionado, Bryan enjoys training for marathons and hopes to one day run the Boston and then an Iron Man. In his free time, you can also always find him baking something in the kitchen, clinking away on the piano or acting out Parks and Recreation episodes with his friends.

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Patrick Wendel

Like many around here, I was born and raised in the LDS Church. I was born in Washington, but moved to Utah when I was young, so I was raised on the “Utah Mormon” bran. Went through life happy as could be, graduated from High school, graduated from seminary, and started getting ready to serve a mission. That is when the “shizz” hit the fan. I had struggled with porn for a few years, and in preparation for a mission, I was put on probation, to get things under control. My bishop, curious if it mattered that it was same sex porn, wrote to some uppity in Salt Lake to see what needed to be done to ready me for my mission. He advised counseling through LDS Family services. They have mission prep specialists there, and they would be able to determine if I would be ready to go and serve. So, into counseling I went. I was passed from one to another, who specialized in SSA issues. He was the first one who told me that it actually might not be a good idea for me to serve. I was adamant, and told him I would be serving. So, we tried working through different issues, and I learned some good things, but eventually hit a wall with him, and so I was switched to a different program. This one was specifically tailored to help young men with addictions to pornography. I love/hated that place. Learned a lot of great stuff, but again, it eventually stopped being useful and helpful. By that point, the counselor of that program told my Bishop that I was ready to put my papers in. My Bishop let me and my parents know that we were good to go, and that’s when I started feeling like I shouldn’t go on a mission. My parents did not like that as an answer. My bishop told me to pray again, because he thought I was getting wrong revelation.

From there, I went back to school up at Utah State where I had to start accepting the fact that I am gay. I couldn’t say exactly when I came out to myself as gay, it was a very gradual process. Mostly because, at the time, the church was still teaching that SSA is something that can eventually be “cured,” so even though I knew I liked guys, I still wasn’t “gay.” As I came to realize that this was something that wasn’t going to change, and as even the church started saying that we don’t know why people are this way, or if it will be something that is changed in this life, I had to start accepting the fact that this is how it would be the rest of my life. Then I went through the phase where I was still 100% devoted to the church’s teachings, and if they wanted me to stay celibate, then I would. I had to. From 2010, to 2012, That’s about how life went for me. Along with all this came feelings of depression, self-hatred, the works. I had only just begun to crack open the egg of emotional turmoil I held.

In 2013, everything changed for me. I started out the year just like any other, walking through campus with my head down, trying to avoid acknowledging the fact that there were very attractive guys walking past, trying to keep things under control, etc. But in one of my classes, I made friends with someone, (someone VERY attractive) and as the year went on, and our friendship grew, I ended up falling in love. Being in love completely changed my outlook on “SSA.” First of all, I can no longer think of it as a disease, or a problem, or a trial that I need to endure. No disease, no trial could possibly be so wonderful!! I truly felt that these feelings could come from God alone. It is by far the closest thing to God I have felt in my life thus far, and the surprising thing, was that these feelings were mine! They were coming from inside me! God is the source of all love and goodness. As his children, we carry that same capacity within us, and for the first time in my life, I felt just a glimpse of what it must be like to love as God loves. I could now believe that I was a child of God, because I found such a powerful manifestation of him, within me! It was incredible to feel that way about someone. Depression? Gone. Life was beautiful in ways it had never been. For years prior, I was overwhelmed with depression. I remember feeling shocked that life could hurt so much, and for so long! Nothing helped. And now, suddenly, it was exactly the opposite. I was shocked that life could feel so wonderful! Sleepless nights, fraught with loneliness and pain, were replaced with sleepless nights, giddy with the thought of seeing him the following day.

I could go on, but you get the idea. After an experience like that, I just couldn’t view SSA the same way. It couldn’t be bad. I knew it couldn’t, because nothing so wonderful could come from something ‘supposedly’ so evil. I was still very confused as the school year came to a close. At the time, I still didn’t realize how real it was. I was still doubting my feelings, their authenticity, and where they were coming from. When he left for the summer, life ended for me. I cried the first week. And the second. And the third. I would sit in church, tears running down my face all through sacrament. My bishop probably thought I was very spiritual. I wasn’t. I was going through my first heart break. And it hurt. That was last summer, and it still hasn’t stopped hurting. I still love him, and I am grateful that I do. Because as confusing as it has been, as I have started questioning my church leaders, and as I continue to question my feelings, and whether God affirms my love or not, It is nice to have that constant reminder that, ‘Hey, This is real.’ The feelings are powerful, and wonderful, and I cannot believe they come from anywhere but God. So, when the church tells me that marriage is between man and woman, and when an apostle compares my “inclination” to someone who is alcoholic, or has anger issues, it is there to remind me that they are not 100% correct. They don’t know what it is truly like. It has taught me that my spiritual development is up to me. My decisions in my life are between me and God. I no longer follow the structure of the church, and I have learned to take my spirituality into my own hands. I still love the church, and I still go. But everything is evaluated. I am a lot more cautious with my worship.

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Scott Halle

Scott studied Psychology at BYU and has been working in the child welfare world for the last 6 years. He recently enrolled at the University of Utah to go back to school for business. He served a mission in Oakland, California from 2005 - 2007. Scott came out to his family just two years ago after struggling to come to terms with his sexual orientation and his faith in the LDS church for many years. Though not active in the church, Scott hopes to one day see greater acceptance and love of LGBT mormons from church leaders and its members. Scott enjoys the outdoors and anything adventurous. He has been skydiving and bungee jumping multiple times and is always looking for something new and exciting to try. Scott joined Affirmation a year ago and has enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people supporting the LGBT community.

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Devin Bourne

Devin was born in Calgary, Canada but has grown up in Utah for the most part. The oldest of 6 children in a very Mormon family, he became aware that he had different feelings from the age of 4. As a teenager, he finally started to understand what these different feelings were, but tried his hardest to ignore and suppress them hoping that they would go away.

After many years of struggling alone, Devin came out to his Bishop and parents at age 18. He attended a year of counseling and then he served a mission in San Jose, California. Upon returning home, he continued to hope that he could find a way to marry a woman and have the stereotypical mormon family he has always wanted. But after several years of struggling and numerous experiences, Devin decided to change his perspective to one of more self acceptance.

Getting involved with several groups, he was able to make wonderful friends and find much needed peace in his struggle with his sexuality. The church has been a huge part of Devin’s life and he continues to attend and serve in his callings actively. “I love the Savior and I know this is where he wants me to be….in the church.” He hopes to show others that is possible to embrace your sexuality and still maintain your spirituality.

Devin is attending the University of Utah School of Pathology and will graduate with a Bachelors Degree in Medical Laboratory Science in May 2014. After graduation, he plans to apply to Medical School and fulfill his dream of becoming a Thoracic Surgeon. He loves playing the piano, traveling, reading, watching Star Trek, Nova, Downton Abbey, and The Big Bang Theory, and having fun with his amazing family.

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Derek Lundahl

Derek was raised in northern Utah county and is the oldest of 4 children.

After serving a mission in the south of France he furthered his education going from USU to UVU. Graduating in Biology with a minor in Music.

He's met with several church leaders in trying to understand his purpose and the origin of homosexual/heterosexual feelings.

While finding there are many opinions out in the world. He feels very strongly that God loves him and his fellow LGBT brothers and sisters. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.

Admittedly he doesn't have all the answers. But he does know that God gave him this life for a purpose. Knowing with all his heart that God wants him to happy.

When not in school or work he loves running, singing, cooking, being outdoors, swimming, random adventures, volunteering, traveling and playing with their dog Zoey. He loves serving and helping those in need, wherever he can.

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James Brinton

James Brinton is a native of Mesa, Arizona and has been a life-long member of the LDS church. After serving a mission in Japan, he pursued an education and moved to the east coast, where he works with individuals with disabilities in the Washington DC metropolitan area. As a counselor at Mesa Community College's Student Diversity and Leadership Retreat, he recognized a greater need for dialogue between groups within his own community, and has since helped plan interfaith service gatherings in Arizona and Washington DC.

After attending the DC Circling the Wagons Conference in 2012, he felt a growing desire to somehow be connected to the LDS ward and community where he lived. He now lives with his partner in Arlington, Virginia, attends his local ward and is very grateful for the blessings both bring into his life. He is inspired by the many LGBT individuals, allies, and family members across a spectrum of spiritual belief and experience who contribute to the conversation around the intersection of Mormonism and LGBT issues.

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