Healing from Sexual Abuse

CHEIKO OKAZAKI AUTHOR RELIEF SOCIETYThe following is a transcript of a live presentation given at Brigham Young University on October 23, 2002 by Chieko Okazaki.

My dear brothers and sisters, aloha! This is an unusual experience for me; the conference organizers asked me to speak to you today giving an address I prepared for a regional women’s conference in Portland, Oregon, in the late fall of 1992. That was ten years ago. So this is something of an anniversary for me. A few weeks later, in January of 1993, at the request of Sheri Dew, I taped this talk for Deseret Book. It sold thousands of copies, and even today nearly everywhere I speak, one or two or more women come up afterwards and quietly say to me, “Thank you for that tape. It helped me a lot.” I love the text to be published in a compilation of addresses titled Disciples that Deseret Book brought out in September of 1998, and here I am, giving this address again.

I am indeed honored to be asked, honored to participate in this assignment, and I am greatly saddened by the fact that the information in this talk still keenly relevant to so many members of the Church today. I have never experienced sexual abuse, nor has anyone in my family, but many friends, acquaintances, and troubled Relief Society sisters have honored me with their confidences. President Hinckley and President Monson have condemned this shocking sin in strong terms that brought it sharply to our awareness. In April conference this year, both President Hinckley and President Packer again repudiated this grievous sin. President Hinckley as recently as General Conference earlier this month denounced such sexual abuse again, warning that those who committed it could face action on their membership. I personally believe that the growing awareness of and resistance to sexual abuse in the fulfillment of the scripture which says, “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known. Therefore, whatsoever ye have spoken [and I would add, have done] in darkness shall be heard in the light, and proclaimed upon the housetops.” Each survivor who tells her or his story, each individual who reports abuse, each police officer who arrests a perpetrator, each judge and jury who enforce the law, and each person who teaches children to protect themselves and to report abuse are part of fulfilling this prediction of Jesus Christ about the last days. This evil must be exposed before it can be repented of, and it must be repented of.

Brothers and sisters, let me share with you how I came to speak on this topic. I was the first counselor of the general presidency in the Relief Society at that time, and when I was invited to speak in Portland, I asked the stake Relief Society president about her concerns and the needs of the women in that area. When she sent me the list, one topic leaped out at me: sexual abuse. I felt a burden laid upon me from the Spirit that this was the message I was to speak in Portland. This was a very difficult thing for me to do. When I speak of love or faith or service or sisterhood, I often sense an easing of burdens and brightening in the feelings of those I address. Would this topic add to the burdens and intensify the pain of those who were already suffering? Did I know enough to be helpful, or would I injure those through clumsiness and ignorance? I fasted and prayed. I thought deeply and continually during the period of preparation. I consulted the stake president in the area. Most of all, I sought the Spirit of the Savior, that I would fulfill the responsibility laid upon me in the way that he would have me to do, that I would speak with clarity and with comfort for my own place of love and trust, that I could put an arm around a struggling sister and for a few steps help her walk the long, painful path of spiritual healing. My prayers were answered. In Portland I discovered that I had come to a place and a people prepared to hear this message. Several groups were already dealing explicitly with the support and healing of survivors. Priesthood leaders were informed, understanding, and supportive. I felt heard. People told me that they understood my message and felt the witness of the Spirit. It was both a sobering and an uplifting experience for me, and it has continued. I pray deeply and sincerely that the same Spirit will attend this occasion.

The case of physical or sexual abuse poses particular challenges. In such cases, we have to develop simultaneously protection against the abuse, shape a pattern of life for ourselves that means we do not become immoral and abusive in turn, and finally develop the ability to forgive those who have violated our agency and damaged our trust. I have chosen to focus on trust because I think that out of all the consequences of abuse, out of the pain and grief and shame and hurt and anger and sorrow and cynicism and rage and withdrawal and rejection of self and rejection of others, out of all these consequences, I think that the loss of trust may be the very worst of all. I want to talk about betrayal of trust in context of sexual abuse, and then talk about how to restore it.

One of the most powerful parts of the gospel for me is its promise of peace. I love the Lord’s reassuring words: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Yet that message, which he spoke to his apostles in Palestine in the context of teaching them about the second comforter, he repeated to Joseph Smith, that imbedded in very troublesome message, the Lord told Joseph Smith: “Therefore renounce war and proclaim peace and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers and the hearts of the fathers to the children, lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse and all flesh be consumed before me. Let not your hearts be troubled, for in my father’s house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you, and where my father and I am, there ye shall be also.” Here he talks of war, of the hearts of fathers turned away from their children, of the cursing of the earth and the consuming of all flesh. This is a message that is very relevant, I believe, to sexual abuse. What the Savior told the Saints in a message annunciated in his day and repeated in ours is a very hard message: that war and unloving behavior and trouble and heartbreak and even betrayal are part of human life. We can count on our Heavenly Father, and we can count on the love of Christ as we struggle to love each other, but even at its best, no human love will be perfect. Perhaps betrayal is too harsh a word for most of the difficult experiences that we have. A gentler way of saying it is that everybody is going to let you down. Your spouse is not perfect; your children will disappoint you in some ways. People in your ward won’t always be thoughtful and neighborly, but betrayal is not too harsh a word for the situation in which the trust of innocent and powerless children does not protect them against physical and sexual abuse from a parent, a sibling, a teacher, or from another member of the Church, someone, in short, whose responsibility before God is to protect and nurture.

I have eight messages that I want to share about the terrible betrayal of sexual abuse. The first is this: sexual abuse is a problem for all of us, both men and women, whether we have experienced it personally or not. The most conservative statistic I have heard is that one woman in ten is sexually abused before she is eighteen. The worst I have heard is that the figure is closer to one in three. One in three. A comparable statistic for the sexual abuse of boys is one in ten, and researchers feel that the sexual abuse of boys is even more severely underreported than the sexual abuse of girls. There are no systematic studies of which I am aware done on Mormon men and Mormon women, but those who work with LDS women and men as counselors and therapists say they have no reason to believe that the statistics are any different for them than for the national population.

Now think about the worst statistics: one in three. If you are a woman, it means that you have a 33 percent chance of being that woman. If you are a man, it means that your wife, your mother, or your daughter, may be that woman. If you have three daughters, if you have three sisters, if you have three daughters-in-law, if you have three granddaughters, this terrible evil could have entered your family’s life with or without your knowledge. Consider the men in your life. Think about your sons and grandsons, your missionary companions. Did one of them struggle silently with this spiritual burden? If you have worked in three elders’ quorum presidencies or bishoprics or stake presidencies, the statistical odds are that one of them bore this grievous, invisible wound. Think of your friends; think of the women sitting in your Relief Society and the men sitting in the priesthood meeting. Think of the children in your Primary. Sexual abuse is a problem for all righteous women and all righteous men everywhere.

The second message is that sexual abuse is not the child’s fault. Sometimes we hear statements from people suggesting that sometimes a victim of sexual abuse has some kind of responsibility for the abuse. I asked a woman, a former Relief Society president who had been sexually abused by her father when she was a child, to help me understand why some people feel that women who are raped or wives who are battered or little girls or boys who with sexual abuse may have done something to cause this evil to come upon them. With her permission, I share her answer. She said, “I think for some, it must have something to do with an understandable desire to believe that parents cannot, and therefore, would not do this without some provocation from their children. I don’t know what will help those who want to believe that as Saints we are immune to such impulses.” She continues, “I often find myself wondering why even we who knows our parents as abusers continue to protect them by idealizing them. At the heart of them, I think it is my child’s self-interested hope of escaping pain. She thinks, ‘He’s not bad; I’m bad. If he’s bad, I’m inevitably at risk. If I’m bad, I can be safe because I can stop being bad. If I can believe that I’m making my father do this to me, I can believe that I can make him stop.’ Accepting such responsibility,” she says, “becomes a way of not feeling the absolute despair of conscious powerlessness and the inevitability of recurring attack without possibility of rescue. Of course,” she said, “the hope is in vain, but the time blocked at the price of guilt and shame can save one’s sanity. Eventually the little child must go back and feel the despair, but only when she has matured enough to bear it.

Now the third message I have is that women and men who have been sexually abused probably need professional help and certainly need personal support. In the vast majority of cases, they need professional help because sexual abuse, and particularly incest, attacks the very foundation of their identity. They need our personal support because they have learned not to trust other people and not even to trust themselves. Sometimes they have terrible memories which they deny. Sometimes there are even more terrible gaps in their memories, which they are terrified to explore. Such profound isolation from other people can come close to a kind of insanity.

One man who shared his experiences of being sexually abused by his father told me, “I told all alone at church a lot of the time. In fact, I have not attended my meetings sometimes for up to a year because I cannot face the members.” And then he told about his agony at sitting through a lesson in which our responsibility to forgive was presented as an absolute requirement. When he tried to suggest that sometimes it is not possible to forgive until some healing has taken place, his comment was received judgmentally and without understanding. The teacher rebuked him, and when he tried to explain his feelings, a heated debate developed. He said wistfully, “I wish that I felt safe and accepted during elders’ quorum, but every time I enter that room that I am commanded to go into, I feel as though I’m going in front of a firing squad.” Normal happy voices, respectful listening, and simple trust can sometimes be lifelines. If you have a friend who needs someone to listen, and if you can be a voice of steadfast love for her or him, please accept that burden if you can. If there are things you can’t understand, please ask questions but also acknowledge you may not want to talk about this and that’s okay. We must never seek to know more than a man or woman is willing to share. We must never violate the privacy of survivors as their bodies and their sense of self have been violated in the past, and we must never betray their trust. That would add one more betrayal to the burden they already carry. Please be wise in your support. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and don’t try to become a therapist. Instead encourage your friend to get professional help while you maintain a close loving contact.

Fourth, women and men who are coming to terms with sexual abuse need all the spiritual help they can get. Pray with them if you wish. Pray for them. Encourage them to seek priesthood blessings. Read the scriptures with them if they wish. Encourage them to read their patriarchal blessings. Attend church functions with them if they need companionship. Go with them to the temple if they want to go. My friend told me that a very important part of her own willingness to start working on her abuse was receiving a blessing from a priesthood holder when she was just beginning to suspect sexual abuse in her past. Her own memories were chaotic and unclear, and she was reluctant to seek the blessings, she says, because, “I needed some guidance from the Lord that I wasn’t able to trust myself to hear. You see, I very much did not want to open a door that could not be closed. I wanted to get on with my life. I feared destroying by my becoming conscious of these things the hard-won and fragile peace in my family, and I was hanging on to the hope that I was making all of this up.” My friend was not making it up, of course, and the priesthood blessing told her things that she did not consciously know about until later. For instance, he told her in the blessing that her mother had played a role in her abuse. Later my friend discovered that her mother did in fact know about the abuse and had refused to help her. Think how much strength you would need to bear that terrible knowledge.

Fifth, those of you who are teachers and leaders have a special role in play in supporting a man or a woman who’s going through the aftermath of abuse. I would hope that every teacher in the Church will remember that in his or her classroom is almost certainly at least one person who has survived sexual abuse. With that person in mind, think of the stories you tell, the questions that you ask, and perhaps most importantly, the assumptions you make. Think of a seven-year-old girl whose father sexually abuses her. What does she feel when the Primary sings, “I’m so glad when my daddy comes home”? Think of a twelve-year-old boy who is physically and sexually abused by an uncle who is the stake patriarch. How does he deal with his confusion during a lesson which teaches that we should obey our priesthood leaders because they want what is best for us? Think of a woman whose husband beats and rapes her. What feelings go through her mind as a Relief Society teacher explains that it is the wife’s responsibility to maintain the spiritual atmosphere in the home and to support the priesthood? To these confused, despairing children and adults in pain, the teachers speak with the voice of the Church. Such messages have a great potential for increasing their pain and despair. Leaders play an especially important role. Parents and husbands, authority figures, and abusive authority figures may make it seem virtually impossible for someone who has been equally sexually abused to seek help from yet another authority figure. But I have had several survivors of sexual abuse tell me that the consistent concern of a priesthood leader, even when he did not fully understand the issue or what was happening, literally kept them from committing suicide. Blessings and respectful listening are very important. They validate to a survivor that he or she is not making it up and does not have to go through the healing process alone.

My friend shared one specific way in which leaders can perform a very real service for survivors in that situation. She pointed out that self-doubt is one of the inescapable results of enduring abuse. “That is why,” she continued gently, “it is so painful when others stand at the pulpit and doubt you, too. I think the reassurance of receiving a blessing from a priesthood leader spared me any further delay from the hopeful doubt that the work ahead of me didn’t need to be done. With the blessing I had permission to undertake the cure.” She continues, “That is one enormous contribution Church leaders can make: give permission to take the cure. Release the victims from having to continue to take care of their victimizers. If you wish to challenge the victims of child abuse, do not challenge the reality of their memories or accuse them of being responsible for what happened to them. Rather, challenge them to take responsibility for their own fate while expressing sympathy for the painful undertaking this will be. And always hold out the promise of the Savior that “I am with you even to the end.’ Who can do this better than those who are his witnesses.”

Another woman who had survived years of sexual abuse from her father spoke to me of the dreadful task of healing. I think of the Savior who shuddered because of the suffering, who suffered and bled at every pore, and drew back from the bitter cup, hoping that it was not necessary. He shrank away, but it was necessary. He says, “And I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” Children of men is a stock phrase in the scriptures that means all human beings or the human family, but in this context, I hope you will also hear it as a literal phrase, as the little children who have been betrayed and injured at the hands of men, especially who were entrusted with their care. Christ finished his preparations for these children. The time of their physical torment may be over, but the time of their spiritual torment is great. Christ also adds significantly, “Glory be to the father.” For him, accepting and fulfilling the atonement was a dreadful task, but because he did it, we too can lift the dreadful cup to our lips. The scriptures tell us, “He descended below all things in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all, and through all things the light of truth, which truth shineth, this is the light of Christ.” It may seem inconceivable that the light of Christ is eradiating and illuminating the horrifying images and memories associated with sexual abuse, but such is his promise. If this is your situation, cling to that promise. Cling to the light, and let it grow stronger.

The sixth message I want to share is that healing from sexual abuse is a very long and very painful process. According to one study that included LDS women, being able to reach the ultimate step of forgiving the perpetrator and moving on took an average of fifteen years. Many women and men who have been sexually abused respond in ways that they cannot control, with irrational fears and compulsive behaviors, even in repeated transgressions. Very often they are so filled with guilt and self-loathing that repentance seems impossible for them. Let me borrow an image from a sensitive bishop who works hard to help members of his ward who have been sexually abused. He urges leaders, family, and friends to realize that their loved one, a ward member, has been injured, just as if he or she had broken a leg that had never been set properly. Even though the person can walk and may have forgotten about the injury, true healing and true strength cannot return until the injury is acknowledged, the bone rebroken, and the leg set correctly. Please recognize and realize that someone who has been sexually abused has been deprived of part of her or his free agency. The individual cannot get it back except through the long and difficult process of healing from sexual abuse. If you are willing to make a commitment to be a friend during this process, make a long-term commitment. Often when we acknowledge a problem, we want it fixed quickly. We think a few visits to a therapist, a few priesthood blessings, a few tears shed, a few hugs should make everything all right. Not so. The process of healing may be more complex than I realize, different for each survivor, but let me share with you again what my friend says: “It is hard to answer questions that one hasn’t been asked, to explain to people who already think they know, to talk to people who do not talk to you. It is especially hard when their talking to you is an attempt to make the subject go away. I want it to go away, too. I thought it would go away after I woke up screaming in the night, or after it made me so afraid I would throw up over and over, or after I’d recovered the three-year-old and the six-year-old parts of myself, or after I wrote the letter to my father, or after, or after–the pain just ebbs and flows. I am in so much pain that I will do anything to pass through this as efficiently as possible. A lake cannot repent of its pollutants; it can only submit to being dredged and flushed of its debris and poisons. I am learning that the pain is not an end in itself, but it leads me to what I am to learn, and with each lesson, I get more of my life back.”

Now the closing words of her most recent priesthood blessing assured her “that Christ not only sorrows at my suffering, but suffers with me as I suffer. I am amazed at the love he offers me. I also lose what hope I had of escaping my pain any other way than by experiencing it. I wanted to be otherwise; then I remember Alma’s great testimony that Christ will descend below all things that he may succor his people according to their infirmities.” And then she continues, “I remember my own experience of being with someone who is suffering, knowing that it is their fate and that all I can offer is to suffer with them. Though I would take it away or explain it away or find someone else who would and who could, the Spirit tells me that it cannot be done and that I must stand there in the pain with them in the suffering.”

The seventh point I want to make involves the perpetrator. I realize that women also physically and sexually abuse children. What I saw applies to them as well, but in most cases of sexual abuse involving women, girls, or boys, the perpetrator is male. As women we know the victims and hear their stories, but we also know perpetrators. Most abusers have mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters, yet the secrecy with which we shroud the victim is nothing to the secrecy with which we shroud the perpetrator. When the abuse is incest, that means that a wife and a mother either does not know or chooses not to know what her husband is doing to their child. She may love him and choose to not know what is happening because the knowledge is too painful, because she feels to helpless, because there is too much to lose. Please remember the words of the Savior: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea.” If you know a perpetrator and if you love him or if you love his victim, set the processes in motion so that the perpetrator can receive help and start on his own process of healing. He needs professional help; he also needs ecclesiastical help, and he has committed a crime which he must answer for in the courts of justice. My friend was born into an LDS family that had been active in the Church for generations on both sides. That lineage did not make her father pure; it did not make her mother brave. It did not protect my friend. I implore you not to shield perpetrators out of mistaken sense of love. I’ve never seen any studies suggesting that those who sexually abuse children will alter their behavior without direct intervention. We must believe this message. No child in the neighborhood is safe from a sexual abuser. No child or grandchild in a family is safe. In many ways, the whole topic of sexual abuse is strange to me. I feel unskilled in thinking about or in knowing how to help someone who is a survivor. I’m one of the other two women, not the third. I think of my father, of his steadfast willingness to work his life away as a laborer on a plantation in Hawaii to provide for his parents, for my mother, for me and my brothers. I think of his quiet pride in me and the determination he and my mother had that I would get an education even when that meant sending me away from them, even when it meant sending me beyond economic and social level they had reached. I think about my husband, who lived his life for others in the purest expression of Christ-like love I have ever known. I think about my two sons, strong and gentle and loving. My heart is filled with gratitude to the point of overflowing for these men in my life. Then I think about other daughters who are brutally taught that they exist as instruments to serve the twisted sexual needs of their fathers. I think about sons who are abused until they grow up thinking that all fathers torture their sons. I think of wives who live with the threat of physical abuse from their husbands or turn their heads away from the tears of their daughters or other mothers who see their sons grow up to become abusive husbands. I am filled with sorrow.

My eighth message is that we can do much to stop the abuse before it starts by holding the men and women in our lives to gospel standards. I’ve heard the disgusting report that some incestuous fathers justify their vile behavior by saying they are simply carrying out the Church’s instructions to make sex education a topic that is handled in the home. We can refuse to accept rationalizations and twisted logic. We can label such behavior for the sin and the crime that it is. We can raise sons and daughters who do not make disparaging remarks about other girls or boys or who think that they can bully anyone else just because they are stronger. We can teach children to feel ownership of their own bodies and to trust their feelings. We can insist that our sons respect the young women they date. We can raise daughters who have a sense of themselves and daughters of God too strong to submit to abusive treatments from their husbands. But perhaps most importantly, we can be adults who accept fully our divine identity as children of our Heavenly Father. We can accept and be ennobled by the eternal sacrifice of Christ’s atonement, not for someone else, but for us, ourselves. We can refuse to accept abuse, to make excuses for an abuser, or to turn our heads away from those who have suffered abuse. We can refuse to keep the guilty secrets of abusive men and women in our families, our wards, and our neighborhoods who are damaging and destroying innocence.

I have spoken today of us and them as though all of us are the fortunate two or the fortunate nine and as though the one statistical victim of abuse is someone else, a woman or man who is a statistic in another state, a person who is comfortably distant so that we do not have to deal with his or her pain. This is not the impression I want to leave. We are all here together in this Church. We are all here together in this problem, and we must be all part of the solution. How is it possible to reveal trust that has been betrayed? When the fabric of our lives is ripped and wrenched, what will make it whole? Let me use the analogy of a piece of lace or a crocheted dolly or a cat’s cradle. All of them begin with a long, straight thread or string. It becomes complex and beautiful when it touches other parts and other strings, but all of them are fragile. They can be shredded, unraveled, and torn, but we need to remember that there is a pattern. Even if it is damaged, it can be rewoven. Second, each part supports the other parts and is connected to them. You cannot pick one string out without destroying the whole pattern. I am part of the pattern. The bishop who sits with the injured members of the ward while they face the injury and begin healing is part of that pattern. My friend who discovered the abuse buried deep in memories of her childhood is part of the pattern. You are part of this pattern, and the Savior is part of this pattern. I like to think of the Savior’s love as filling the spaces in the lace where there is no thread because there wouldn’t be a pattern if there weren’t spaces. I think of him as the intersections where the threads come together, making something special happen where they touch and connect. We can be part of this network of service and support, and we can be part of the Savior’s pattern.

And now how can you build and keep that image in your mind? One thing that helps is to find a scripture that breathes a promise of healing to you or a hymn or a poem. When I was recovering from the sudden death of my beloved husband, who died in the spring of 1992, I clung to the second verse of “Abide with Me,” which says: “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day. Earth joys grow dim; it glories pass away. Change and decay in all around I see. O thou who changest not, abide with me!” The promise of the sacrament prayer, that we may always have his spirit to be with us, is another promise of great power and consolation. Hymn 115, “Come Ye Disconsolate,” acknowledges pain but also promises hope. Let me read the first verse: “Come ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish; come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel. Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish.” And then it promises and says, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.” These words breathe a spirit of comfort and consolation to me. I hope they do the same for you, that you can find others that speak the same strength from the Savior, the same never failing support and love. When times are hard for you and when you struggle with emotions you wish you didn’t have, will you think of them again? Draw deeply from their strength. But there is healing in the gospel and in the unfailing love of our Father in Heaven. How do we rebuild our trust in the Lord and in other human beings when a human being has so seriously violated that trust? First accept that you will have very conflicting emotions. It is normal that you should. Psalm 55 seems to me to be something like a dialogue between the hurt and the injured self and the self that trusts in the Lord. Listen as I read it, adapted slightly to this situation; first the troubled and pained voice speaks: “Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my plea. Hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me, and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked, for they bring down suffering upon me.” And now this seems to me to be the very antithesis of the Savior’s reassuring promise when he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” And in a situation of betrayal and violated trust, even our memories bring down suffering upon us, so the troubled voice continues and says, “My heart is in anguish within me. The terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me. Horror has overwhelmed me. I said, O that I had the wings of a dove. I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee away to my place of shelter.” Then the sense of betrayal comes out sharply, and it says, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it. If a fool were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a person like myself, my companion, my close friend with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we watched with the throng at the house of God. This person attacks his friends and children; he violates his covenant. His words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” Now as sisters and brothers we can understand this. Because of this betrayal comes rage, violent anger, even a desire for revenge. Now listen to the voice of the Psalmist as he prays in anger and despair: “Let death take my enemies by surprise. Let them go down alive to the grave. Bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption, bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days.” But then, ah, then comes the voice of promise and reassurances and says: “But I call to God and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning, and noon I cry out in distress and he hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. Cast thy burden on the Lord and he shall sustain thee. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. Thou, O God, I will trust in thee.” Accept that ye will deal with much emotional turbulence, with anger and pain, with desire for revenge with a desire to flee away. Accept that the process of having the corruption drained away is a long and painful process. Trust in the Lord throughout that process. Second, find others whom you can trust. I think it is very important that you seek out your bishop or another priesthood leader when you feel you can and share this burden. It may be hard to talk to a man if a man was your abuser. Find a trusted woman leader to talk to and accompany you when you are ready to go to your priesthood leader. In material prepared with the support of the Brigham Young University’s Women’s Research Institute, I quote, “Victims need to be believed. They need to be listened to. They need to be relieved of any inappropriate guilt about their role in the abuse. Many women reported the strength they felt as their bishops and therapists worked together. This arrangement allows bishops to concentrate on the spiritual and physical welfare of their ward members while the trained professional works with the victim to resolve emotional issues.” One of the women was so anxious and frightened about going to her bishop that she wouldn’t let him shut the door of his office during their first conversation. But when he heard her story, “he cried with me,” she said, “and that is when I started trusting him. He is the first man I ever remember trusting. I gave my therapist permission to talk with him to better understand how he could best help me.” And now another woman reported that her bishop was also initially baffled about how to help her, but he took the time to go out and get educated. He still keeps in touch with her even though she has moved to another state.

Third, do not try to rush or short circuit the forgiveness process, but continue to work towards it as you can. Wendy Ulrich, a psychologist in private practice, talks about the need to balance both justice and mercy during the process of coming to forgiveness. She writes, “The principle of justice requires an honest appraisal of our current systems and the realities of our pain. To forgive prematurely can close doors to the important realities that pain can open. Justice requires that we not assume responsibility for sins we have not committed, that we not assume power to control decisions we cannot control, and that we not exonerate others’ actions when they are dangerous and destructive. To attempt to be merciful in the absence of justice is to deny the characteristics which make God God. The principle of mercy follows the principle of justice but cannot rob it. Mercy allows peace to come to the forgiver as he or she enlarges her understanding of all contributors, take action on his or her own behalf, and extends to others the mercy he or she would claim for himself or herself through the atonement of Christ. The forgiver leaves to God the sorting out of responsibility and intentions, acknowledging others’ circumstances and agency and accepting any and all good consequences that have come from his or her relationship, just as he or she has acknowledged the evil.”

Brothers and sisters, we still have our free agency no matter what other people do to us and even if we must work hard to regain parts of it that have been taken away. Our Heavenly Father’s spirit is constantly available to us. He sorrows with us and is with us in our pain when abuse occurs. He is there when we start to make the first steps back. His love is steadfast. We may feel betrayed by our family, our Church, our society, and even by God, but God does not betray us. His love is never changing. I want to read to you another psalm, and I want you to speak the words in your own mind to imagine that this is your psalm, spoken in gratitude and praise to the Lord: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. In him will I trust. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my high tower and my refuge, my Savior, thou savest me from violence. When the ways of death compass me, the floods of the ungodly made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compass me about; the snares of death captured me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he did hear my voice out of his temple and my cry did enter into his ears. He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy and from them that hated me. He delivered me because he delighteth in me. Thou art my lamp, O Lord. Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation, and thy gentleness hath made me great. Thou hast girded me with strength to battle. The Lord liveth, and blessed be my rock, and exalted by the God of the rock of my salvation.”

Perhaps these are not words that are in your heart yet. I pray that someday they may be, that the words of other scriptures sink deep into your heart. Hear his voice saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He knows the burdens with which you struggle. He understands your heartbreak, your self-doubt, the anger, and the despair. Perhaps when he says, “Come unto me,” all you feel is paralysis. If you feel you cannot go to him, remember that he is already with us. Listen to his words from Hebrew 13: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” So that we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what others shall do unto me.” Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Matthew records the Savior’s final words to his apostles: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” In 2nd Kings, the Savior speaks gently to a sorrowing person: “I have heard thy prayer. I have seen thy tears; behold, I will heal thee. Go up unto the house of the Lord.” Now think of those words as if they were spoken to you, and listen to this promise of the end times as though it were your vision: “And I, John, heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is among us, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God

himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither there shall be any more pain for the former things are passed away.” Believe that assurance. Believe the prophets who promise us, “And he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness, and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female.” What greater bondage can there be than being enchained by a sin from which you cannot even repent because it was not you who committed it? I implore you to turn to the Savior. I testify to you that when the scriptures tell us, “He descended below all things,” it means that he understands, knows, and accepts the pain of sexual abuse, as well as other kinds of innocent suffering. He is there with you in that suffering. I tell you that I love you. I pray daily for you, for your help and healing. For those of you who have been spared the scourge of abuse, I ask you to open the circles of your sisterhood and brotherhood. Include those whose trust has been betrayed by those who should have been their protectors. Open your hearts to them. Let them open their hearts to you. This is a burden that is grievous to be born. May we shoulder it together, not many adjust it upon the backs of those who have born it so long alone. May we love each other with a pure unselfish active love as the Savior has loved us. May our troubled hearts find the peace we seek with him, I pray, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

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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