Revelation, Agency, and Integrity: A Discussion of Comments Made in General Conference

Revelation, Agency, and Integrity: A Discussion of Comments Made in General Conference

On October 9 Affirmation sponsored a conference call to discuss the recent LDS General Conference, which included statements by Elder Oaks and Elder Nelson, condemning same-sex marriage. What follows is a transcript of the discussion.

» See also: Strategies for Dealing with Discrimination

Index
The Panelists
The Purpose of This Panel
Palpable Pain and Strong Emotions
Elder Oaks and the Meaning of Idolatry
Handling Anxiety or Depression over General Conference Remarks
Relying on the Spirit to Interpret General Conference
General Conference and the Recent Supreme Court Decision
Using Our Free Agency to Chart Our Journey
The Church as “a Finger Pointing to the Moon”
We Are All Entitled to Personal Revelation 
Dealing with Hurtful Messages
Strategies to “Soften the Blow”
A Testimony of Your Wholeness
You Are Responsible for Your Safety 
The Meaning(s) of Love
Marriage and Procreative Powers
Same-sex Couples and Sexual Desire
The Importance of Making Safety for Oneself
Responding to Hurtful Comments
Finding Your Own Guidance 
The Role of LDS Allies
Love and Mixed-orientation Marriages
Closing Remarks

The Panelists

Tawnya: Hello, this is Tawnya Smith, and I’m your host for this teleconference, A Response to General Conference October 2013. I’m pleased to introduce our panel that is here to respond to your thoughts, feelings, and concerns about the conference. We’d like to first introduce the president of Affirmation, Randall Thacker. I would like to thank him for his dedication and all the work he has done since the conference to provide support for the Affirmation community. He was also instrumental in pulling off this call in such short notice. Thank you very much Randall.

Also, from the Affirmation leadership I’d like to introduce Tina Richerson. Tina is a vice president of Affirmation. Also on the call is Bob Rees. Currently, he teaches Mormon Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and at the University of California Berkeley. He blogs on LGBT issues at, No More Strangers LGBT Mormon Forum. And a welcome to Tim Weymann. Tim is a gay man who was raised Mormon, and is currently a licensed clinical social worker in the Salt Lake City area.

This panel is comprised of individuals – some who are LDS, some who are not; some who are active, some who are inactive; some who have left the church, some who have a testimony, some who do not. We are gay, lesbian, or allies. It is our wish to welcome all perspectives and honor the feelings of everyone, even if, and when, they do not reflect our own personal views.

Tawnya Smith  Teleconferences on Healing

Tawnya Smith

We are here to speak and listen deeply to one another so that we can learn and then reflect upon our own inner truth for guidance. We are all on our own journeys and we have different needs at different points along the way.

The Purpose of This Panel

Tawnya: We are not here to gain a consensus or come to agreement concerning these issues. Rather, we are here to speak and listen deeply to one another so that we can learn and then reflect upon our own inner truth for guidance. We are all on our own journeys and we have different needs at different points along the way. We hope that this discussion will be helpful to you wherever you are on your journey.

The purpose of this call is to create a safe space for callers to share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns, receive support, and for all of us to benefit from a rich dialogue. Because we want to create an environment where we can be completely honest and free to be ourselves, we are not going to make this call available as a recording on the website as we have done with past teleconference calls. This call is being recorded only for our own purposes for making a written account of the call. You will not be identified in any way in this account, so please feel free to be real.

Our format tonight will be totally structured around the comments of you, our callers. Before we start taking calls, I would like to take a few moments to bring us together as a group. Please make sure that you are physically comfortable and that you will not be distracted if at all possible. Take a few deep breaths and release from your body the stresses of the day. Gently set them aside for now. Take a few more deep breaths, and now consider why did you want to join the call tonight? What is important about the conference? Why do we need to discuss it? Why is it important to you? If it is helpful to jot down a point or two, a question or comment, we invite you to do that right now. It might help you better listen to the call while you’re waiting for your turn to speak. As you take a minute to do that, I’m going to turn it back over to our operator who will give more specific instructions for how to indicate that you would like to ask a question or make a comment.

Palpable Pain and Strong Emotions

Tawnya: While we’re waiting [for the first question], I’d like to ask Randall Thacker to comment briefly upon his general thoughts about the General Conference and maybe talk to us a little bit about what you perceive as the reaction within Affirmation generally.

Randall: Hello everybody, it’s nice to be together with you this evening. I asked Tawnya if she would host this call for us because on Sunday I could palpably feel the pain and some of the strong emotions that were in the community. I think a very important part of what we’re trying to do at Affirmation is help people be able to find peace of mind, a space of healing, and a way to move forward with their lives in a healthy and productive way. The goal of this call is for you to be able to come forth and share some of your feelings and emotions. I know that I, personally, was elated at times during conference and at other times was brought down into feelings of sadness. I experienced a range of emotions, so please feel free to share.

Tawnya: Thank you Randall, I appreciate you offering that.

Elder Oaks and the Meaning of Idolatry

Caller 1: Hi, this is Caller 1. One thing I noticed, that I was wondering if I could get your reaction to, is the context of Brother Oaks’ talk, was a talk that began talking about the Ten Commandments and how those for gay marriage are violating the commandment of having no other gods before me, which seemed like a bit of a stretch, but what I took from it was the whole new ground of basic doctrine that could be a bit disturbing. I am wondering where people think this is headed.

Robert A. Rees

Robert A. Rees

We tend to think of idolatry as worship of pagan gods or gods made of stone or wood, but… anything could become an idol or false god to us, even the Church itself.

Bob: We tend to think of idolatry as worship of pagan gods or gods made of stone or wood, but as I understand that particular part of the Ten Commandments, especially within the context of how the idea of idolatry is presented elsewhere in scripture, it seems that anything could become an idol or false god to us, even the Church itself. Even if we feel we are completely in accord with church teachings, we still might be guilty in placing our emphasis somewhere other than on the Lord. This is why the first commandment is to love the Lord with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. It’s interesting that there are those qualifiers, and it’s also interesting that the first of these is the heart. When we truly love God in this way, we are much less likely to place our devotion on false gods or to idolize something that we shouldn’t, because the love of God has a power to keep us centered—keep him in our hearts and our hearts on him. It’s easy for each of us to look at others and feel like they are worshipping false gods, and of course there’s a lot of that going on in our culture, but I think we need to be careful not to use that commandment in a way that is too judgmental.

Tawnya: Would others on the panel like to respond, as well? When I was reading the conference talk today, it occurred to me that if one was putting God first, and as many people at the Affirmation conference shared, they shared moments of personal revelation that they knew that they were gay, and that they were completely loved by the Divine, or Heavenly Parents. In that sense, I would interpret it to mean that if you did not go forth on that knowing, on that deep personal revelation, to not go forward and follow that prompting, that guidance, for whatever reason – church or family or whatever – that could be construed as a form of idol worship. You could look at this both ways. The title on Dallin Oaks’ talk was “Are we serving priorities or gods before the God we profess to worship?” If the God that we worship is telling us to love our partners and our families, I think we better consider doing that, even if someone else would interpret it differently.

Caller 1: I agree entirely with what you’re saying, but it doesn’t really address my question. It seems, and my concern is that this is opening up a whole new front of ways for local people to start hassling gay and lesbian Mormons because it’s reducing it to a pretty simple commandment. I’ve already seen a bit of it in our own area. There’s been a lot of talk and concern about it from two different stakes here. Members saying, “uh oh, it’s open season here again.”

Robert A. Rees

Robert A. Rees

Each of us is ultimately responsible for three things: getting our own confirmation of what we are taught, seeking for inspiration and revelation, and doing what we can with our lives in relation to the truths we understand.

Bob: There’s no getting around the difficulty that this talk presents a problem to a number of people. From my point of view, there’s no way to soften the blow that many experienced in hearing it. If one looks at the history of the church, however, there have been a number of instances in which there have been matters difficult for the members to comprehend or follow, so I think that it is important to keep in mind that, as the Church teaches, besides being itself, God’s most precious gift to us is our agency. I had the students in my Mormonism class at UC Berkeley this semester watch general conference. In the discussion we had later, I asked them what major themes they observed in the conference addresses. One student replied, “I was really surprised how much an emphasis there is on agency in Mormonism.” I said, “Yes, that’s very key. The principle of agency and personal revelation are two of the grounding principles of the Restoration, which means each of us is ultimately responsible for three things: getting our own confirmation of what we are taught, seeking for inspiration and revelation, and doing what we can with our lives in relation to the truths we understand. That ultimately places responsibility on each person, and there is a tendency in Mormonism for us to shift that responsibility to someone else, including general authorities. So each person is responsible for how he or she responded to Elder Oaks’ address—and any personal decisions or actions based on it.

Handling Anxiety or Depression over General Conference Remarks

Caller 2: I also felt similar to Randall, with moments of elation and also moments of great sorrow during this past conference, and I had been comforted by a lot of things I read the last few days, the Radio West interview, John Gustav-Wrathall’s post about the conference. My question is about the reconciliation between these two different emotions – the elation and great sorrow. I wondered if anyone on this panel has insights as to how to reconcile these two feelings and how to not let it become overwhelming and a point of anxiety or depression.

Tim: Part of the difficulty comes from the incongruence, these things that don’t come together, and I think we’re really set up for this kind of thinking in our culture, in Mormonism, that things have to go completely, it’s either this or that. One strategy is validating all the truth. The sense of “I was very elated and I’m feeling very sad” – that both things don’t negate each other, that there’s a layer of acceptance to it. I know that doesn’t resolve the situation, but it could soften the edges. Accepting that this is how it is, and this is what I’m going to do, which is the second part of that. It’s very hard because you want congruence, but I think that’s part of the setup, trying to force congruence where there isn’t any.

Bob: Having watched and listened to conference for 60 years now, the emotional ups and downs that many experienced in listening to the different speakers are not peculiar to this particular conference. Most people find particular sermons or authorities who speak to them and others who clearly do not. The emotional barometer at any given conference likely fluctuates, and if we look at that in the context of conferences in the 19th century that were often contentious and openly confrontational, I think that may give us some perspective and ultimately remind us that our individual relationship with Deity is the loadstar of our religion, and that should exist to some extent independent of the fluctuations, contradictions, and conundra, and paradoxes that are inevitable in any human organization.

Tawnya Smith  Teleconferences on Healing

Tawnya Smith

It’s important to take time, especially after an event, to really go into what you are feeling and work through it a little bit and see what’s underneath it.

Tawnya: I would also like to say that for me, when I’m in a situation where I’m having different emotions happening at the same time, it’s useful for me to use the arts as a container for what I’m thinking or feeling. Many people like to write poetry or journals. It’s important to take time, especially after an event, to really go into what you are feeling and work through it a little bit and see what’s underneath it. You don’t want to go too deeply and get stuck there. If you feel you’re in a really vulnerable place, I wouldn’t recommend it, but there’s something really useful to work with those feelings and see if there’s a message for you. Sometimes when I’m having those feelings, there’s some sort of action that I need to take or there’s something that I need to do or say to someone, sometimes I need to just feel those feelings until I’m finished feeling them. Sometimes in our very busy society we tend to want to get rid of our feelings very quickly and move on to the next thing, without feeling bad while we’re trying to do other important things. But I think that especially when we’re experiencing elation and deep sorrow, as you said, both of those deserve equal time. If you take equal time with them, I think they will balance. You might understand something about yourself and what your needs are if you take time to draw out or to write a poem or just journal about it a bit, and see if that might be helpful to you.

Relying on the Spirit to Interpret General Conference

John Gustav-Wrathall (Caller 3): Bob, something that you said resonated with me when you were talking about how it’s a very typical conference to go and, like you said, connect with certain things and not connect with others. It was very interesting to me that at this conference, the very first talk in the first Saturday session was Elder Hales, and he specifically talked about how one of the main purposes of attending conference is to not just listen to the words of the speaker themselves, but to listen to what the Spirit is telling you. I frequently have this experience at church, not just at conference, where there are things that a speaker might say that, as I’m listening, will trigger my own internal questioning or thought process. Sometimes I will get spiritual insights that may sometimes even be the opposite of or contrary to what is explicitly being said. Sometimes there will be a questioning process in my own head, and I’ll say “can that be right?” and I seek and get my own revelation sometimes right there on the spot. That’s one of the reasons I keep a notebook with me at church, so I can jot those insights down as I listen to them. I thought it was quite wonderful that Elder Hales introduced conference basically by saying this is how we listen to conference. We don’t just listen to what’s being spoken, but we listen to what the Spirit is telling us. I’ve found that really helpful.

I think certainly listening to Elder Oaks’ and Elder Nelson’s talk, I think that I’ve heard those messages about marriage enough that it didn’t shock me. It wasn’t something that really struck me as something I wouldn’t expect to hear at conference. I heard a lot of things in those talks that I really liked and that really resonated with me. I actually liked what Elder Oaks had to say about idolatry. I think that there are a lot of ways by which we become idolatrous in our culture, within our Mormon culture, we can become very idolatrous in many ways. In terms of thinking how do I relate to my fellow brothers and sisters in the church, when I go to church next Sunday, rather than the starting point of the conversation being “gee, this talk was really awful,” there are things we can talk about that were positive, and that begins a certain conversation we can have that hopefully will deepen our relationships. I wouldn’t get discouraged by this, and say there’s no place for me, so I’m not going to engage with the church. I think that would be very harmful by people who need us there and need to be encouraged by our lives and our experience.

Bob: John, I appreciate what you said, and I read your blog. I listen to conference with two sets of eyes, two sets of ears, and two hearts. One of them my own, and one for that person out there that I think might be having difficulty. I think of the young people I met at Affirmation who came away from that conference full of hope and the desire to go back to church and to seek fellowship, or at least hopeful that they might be able to at some point. As I was listening to that talk, I felt in my heart that some of them were going to be depressed over that. I felt that Elder Holland’s talk maybe should have been the very last in the conference, talking about depression, because I think it was inevitable that some people were going to find [Elder Oaks’ talk] very difficult, and our task is going to be trying to help those people bridge from there back to their hope.

General Conference and the Recent Supreme Court Decision

Tawnya: Bob and John, how much do you think the Oaks and Nelson talks were inevitable, considering the Supreme Court ruling that happened between the last conference and this one? Didn’t the church actually need to clarify a position, and in a way, haven’t they repositioned this, in a way, making it a moral issue, because they know, in a sense, that there’s not really a legal issue?

Robert A. Rees

Robert A. Rees

What was disappointing to me at the conference – no one seemed to be articulating that other very hopeful, very positive part of MormonsAnd Gays.org, which is accept, love fellowship, invite.

Bob: The answer is no. I say this because that message is already so clear. How many of us in the Mormon universe are not clearly aware of that position, especially because it’s so adamantly articulated on the church’s website? What was disappointing to me at the conference was that no one seemed to be articulating the other very hopeful, very positive messages onMormonsAndGays.org, which are accept, love fellowship, and invite our LGBT brothers and sisters. I don’t remember hearing one speaker say those words in relation to gays. It was more the imbalance, the contrast, between the message which was not articulated and the one that was. I try to listen to each address with two minds, two hearts and two sets of eyes and ears, and I couldn’t help feel the anguish that I imagined many gay and lesbian saints felt during Elder Oaks’ address.

John: Bob, I think that they did try to articulate that, although they did not do it very clearly. Both of them made statements about how God loves all people, and so on, so there were pieces of their messages that were intended to echo some of the messages on the MormonsAndGays.org website, but they didn’t really explicitly draw that out, and they so explicitly talked about marriage as a political and social and moral issue that obviously that was going to drown [the former] out. I agree with you that they probably didn’t technically need to, but I am sure that they felt they needed to, and I thought it was interesting, especially in light of the letters that were written to the Hawaii stakes, which pretty explicitly acknowledged that members of the church are on different sides of this political issue. It did kind of make me wonder if there was worry on the part of some leaders, and maybe specifically on the part of Elder Oaks and Elder Nelson that people are worried that things are changing too fast, people wondering Is the church losing its voice, and so on. I can see how leaders may have worried about that and how that fear and concern may have motivated what happened.

Bob: Frankly, I don’t think there’s ever any worry about the church moving too fast.

Using Our Free Agency to Chart Our Journey

Randall Thacker

Randall Thacker

Where I’m at is a different space now, and luckily, in a very affirming ward, [but] I recognize, and I think it’s important for every individual to listen to what’s best for them.

Randall: I would just like to throw in that we are all in very different spaces. Years ago, I couldn’t have gone actively to church and heard a talk like that. It would have been impossible for me to emotionally and mentally feel good and to be able to live my life in a healthy way. Where I’m at is a different space now, and luckily, in a very affirming ward, [but] I recognize, and I think it’s important for every individual to listen to what’s best for them. I would hate for someone to feel that because other people are going back to church that that’s [what they should do, too] because that may not be the healthiest space for them, and I know that for me, being away for a while was very helpful to me. It provided a way for me to really hear myself, and to know what I really felt God wanted for me. I want to add that as an option – I almost hate to use that word, but it leans on agency.

John: Let me ask one question. I hear what Randall is saying, and I appreciated what Bob said. I think it’s right for the focus of the conversation to be on those who are most vulnerable. I’ve definitely become aware, in the last few days, of people who have been devastated by this, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to learn about individuals who have been almost completely shut down by what happened. Those in that situation need to be our primary concern. My question, of Randall, would be, does it make a difference to be able to see other LGBT folks who are active in the church, who did attend conference, who attend our wards, who are finding some ways to cope? Does it help to have people who are in that place present? Is that reassuring? Or is this really a thing where no one can really help and it’s just something you need to figure out on your own?

Randall: That’s a really good question, John, thank you for asking. For certain people, for me, I really wanted to walk back in the door, authentically as a gay man, openly, and have no reservations of what would happen to me. It was when I reached the point where I didn’t give a darn what would happen to me that I walked back in that door. But it had to come from deep, deep, down inside me. I don’t think I would really recommend – I hope people reach deep down inside and follow what, and when, it feels right, if that’s the choice they’re going to take.

Tina Richerson  Vice President

Tina Richerson

The church is just a finger pointing at the moon, it’s not the actual moon itself, to quote a Buddhist saying. We have to keep our relationship with the moon open, and take all of our pain to God directly and say, what am I supposed to do with this? I need some help now! That’s my mechanism.

The Church as “a Finger Pointing to the Moon”

Tina: I’ve been thinking about- to get back to John’s question –whether it’s beneficial for people to stay in the church or for LGBT LDS people to be seen at church. I think #1, it’s not important for anyone else aside from the person experiencing it. I read a blog or post that said If you’re thinking about leaving the church over this, consider the people who need to see good examples and active LGBTQ people at church. Consider the youth, consider being an example. First and foremost, that’s important, but I agree with Randall that it has to come from your own place of safety. If it’s ever not safe to be at church – for years it wasn’t safe for me to be at church, I just couldn’t handle it, and I left until I could navigate into a safe space with myself and my relationship with Heavenly Father. In that safety, I was really truly relying on God and not anyone else. Not what I heard in conference, not relying on what my Bishop told me, but simply the soul-searching and finding the strength from Father, the Spirit, and the Atonement, and really utilizing all of the good things from conference that were said.

What I got from conference was the power of the Atonement, and I let that, those things, feed me, instead of let them hurt me. I focus on my relationship with God and let him show me what to do and try not to worry about the rest, because there’s so much. My mind wants to take me places where it could be unhealthy, and I just try to focus on following the Spirit and the love and embodying the parts of the doctrine that make me whole. You can’t always pick and choose, but we can try, wherever we are. Remember this – the church is just a finger pointing at the moon, it’s not the actual moon itself, to quote a Buddhist saying. We have to keep our relationship with the moon open, and take all of our pain to God directly and say, what am I supposed to do with this? I need some help now! That’s my mechanism.

We Are All Entitled to Personal Revelation

Caller 4: How are you guys? I am happy to finally be back on a call again; it’s been a tough few months here. I think some of the topics that have been raised are really, really important, and I appreciate everything that’s been shared. I kept thinking of myself before the Affirmation Conference, which I so wish I could have been a part of, how much wonderful press the Affirmation Conference is getting via Steve and Barb, when you have someone visible like that within the church, I kept wondering when is it going to be addressed because people listen and people watch, I believe members of the church certainly did. I don’t want to diminish the good that happened through that, because I think that was a huge step forward as far as LGBT people and their allies.

My father’s a Patriarch, and I always think back to the time that Prop 8 was going on, and a friend of mine, a wonderful friend of the community, felt the pressure from his local leaders and ended up giving to Prop 8. He was in the entertainment industry, and that got out, and it became so uncomfortable for him that he ended up leaving his job, even though his employers really wanted him to stay on, and were going to stand behind his right to give to whatever he wanted to, and I remember having some thoughts about that and talking with my father. And my father’s first thing was exactly what’s been said over and over today, which was that he looked at me and said you know, no one in our family gave to Prop 8 because at the end of the day, we’re all entitled to personal revelation, and so everyone has that. It’s always given me comfort in how we’re dealing with what we’re hearing from the pulpit. But I’m old, that’s easy for me to say now, I’m comfortable with myself and the most important thing to me is my relationship with my Father in Heaven.

Dealing with Hurtful Messages

Caller 4 Continues: I go back to the question that was asked and what Randall was saying about maybe those young people, that felt this huge sense of love at the Affirmation Conference, to be followed by this, and what they may be feeling walking back into their wards and stakes and having somebody possibly look down at them because of those words, and if people in our community are strong, and there are a lot of them that are, and are going to church, I think the question might become, to some young people, are they coming because they agree with what Elder Oaks said, are they agreeing with the fact that maybe they made a mistake here. I think an effort’s important to possibly invite young people or allies or anyone who’s a part of the community, to go with them to fulfill whatever spiritual needs we need, I think that’s an important message. I don’t think that going necessarily means that you agree with everything that is said there, but if people need that for a sense of community, I think the best we can do is say “I don’t agree with everything that was said there. There is a part of me that wants to go to church and continue to fulfill that part of me spiritually.” My question to someone on the panel, or anyone that can answer, are we getting any sort of emails or messages that some people are nervous to go back to church, and are we offering any thoughts or suggestions to them?

Randall: I think that would be a marvelous thread to start somewhere. The beautiful thing about social media is how quickly we can develop ideas and solutions, and anybody can do it. That’s a great idea, and I would encourage anyone who is listening to this call, to compile those ideas and stick them on the Affirmation Facebook page, or email them to LDSaffirmation (at) gmail (dot) com and we’ll collect and compile them.

Tawnya: So, you’re suggesting people on the call contribute their own ideas about how to support people who may be feeling vulnerable right now about going back to church after conference. I would also like to ask Tim what your advice would be about how there was a time, for Randall and Tina, when going to church wasn’t healthy for them, and can you offer some ideas to help some of the people who are listening to discern when is it healthy and when is it not healthy, what warning signs or stress signs are important to listen to in terms of internal cues so people aren’t putting themselves in a difficult situation?

Strategies to “Soften the Blow”

Tim: Every person is different, but I think there are some general things, I think like the previous caller who talked about the emotional factors, I think that what we have a tendency to do is when things aren’t fitting, we internalize and blame ourselves, so the cue could be feeling sad or dejected, but then what we do from that cue to resolve that cue is blame ourselves instead of recognizing that that’s the cue that this doesn’t jive and this isn’t right. Externalizing the message instead of internalizing it. That’s one strategy for minorities to deal with. I really encourage people to be really intentional, again that other caller, I really liked how you recommended the journaling – what is it about this situation that’s so uncomfortable about these things not reconciling? Sitting with that with curiosity rather than fear will provide you with an answer to what your boundaries are and what’s safe for you. But you’re certainly in a quandary being in that type of setting because you don’t always know, it always has the potential to be unsafe to you. That’s true for all LGBT people, wherever we are, but especially more so in some of these conservative religious settings.

Tim Weymann

Tim Weymann

This will be a requirement, if you’re in the church as an LGBT person, to have some level of detachment for your psychological health. An ability to separate yourself when things like this are spoken, otherwise it really will crush your soul.

I would say going in with a safety plan, counting on that if you do choose to go in, it will happen, not in a sense of denial but realism, knowing the limits of what you’re going into, so that you have a plan of when this happens, I will…. And following through with that “will.” When I go and this is said, I am going to do this…. Those are some strategies to mitigate, to kind of soften the blow. Those are the main things I would add. We certainly are setting ourselves up if we’re not recognizing the reality of the situation, and the whole setup is that chain of disappointment: I want Elder Oaks to say this, and he doesn’t, so I’m sad, and what do I do with that? A lot of it goes back to that acceptance piece, acknowledging where people are at, not in the sense of accepting it as your truth but accepting that’s where they are, and then finishing the story by that’s where they are and this is what I’m going to do. This autonomy idea, Tina was touching on it, and Randall has, where you have a detachment, at least some. This will be a requirement, if you’re in the church as an LGBT person, to have some level of detachment for your psychological health. An ability to separate yourself when things like this are spoken, otherwise it really will crush your soul.

A Testimony of Your Wholeness

Tawnya: There are definitely times when it’s safer than others, and that has to do with how you’re feeling about yourself or how strong a sense of self you have. If you’re confused about what you’re about, you might be feeling more vulnerable than when you’re sure and confident. I just think of at the Affirmation Conference hearing all the testimonies of people saying they had a sense of personal revelation, where they knew they were gay and loved, that that was how they were made, that they were sure of that. If you have that testimony of wholeness, you have a sort of strength that gives you a confidence that when you hear something, you’re still going to feel sad or maybe rejected, but you’re still going to know what your guidance is, but if you’re still discerning that, trying to figure out what is God’s message to me, or maybe I’m angry and don’t even want to talk to God because I’m so frustrated – I know I was in that place for a while – if you are still struggling and going back and forth between messages from the outside and what are your internal messages, I think it’s really important for you to be honest with yourself about what you really need to preserve or maintain a sense of stability within yourself. I know that was important for me for a time when I couldn’t attend a church. Later, I could, but there was definitely a time I didn’t know myself well enough, and I needed some space and time to figure that out, and Tina and Randall both touched on that.

Tim Weymann

Tim Weymann

There are two ways to have safety – you are either around safe people or you make it safe. The moment that that person you hoped or thought was going to be safe, when they become unsafe, it is your job to make it safe for you.

You Are Responsible for Your Safety

Tim: What I would add to that is to really simplify what I was saying earlier: There are two ways to have safety – you are either around safe people or you make it safe. The moment that that person you hoped or thought was going to be safe, when they become unsafe, it is your job to make it safe for you. That may be doing some of the things you were just saying, it may be simple mental efforts, reframing what you’re hearing, mentally rejecting what you’re hearing. It could be physical things like getting up and leaving, turning something off, getting other points of view by talking to other people about it, like what we’re doing now. The underlying foundation is that you’re responsible for your safety, and you have two ways of doing that – being with safe people or making it safe.

The Meaning(s) of Love

Tawnya: This email question (Caller 5) says the following: It seems to me that Elder Oaks is trying to make a distinction between God and love. He classifies our sexuality, or more accurately the nature of our love for others, as a behavior, as idolatry, and most important as something contrary to God himself. The primary reason that these ideas conflict with my own is that in my understanding the primary purpose of the plan of salvation and the fundamental nature of God, is love. My understanding is that God and love should and cannot be divorced from each other. I would like to know the reaction of the panel towards this juxtaposition made by Elder Oaks. Also, how do we move forward with our efforts to help others understand this, when revered and powerful leaders of the church continue to establish the nature of our love as some sort of sinful, foolish infatuation?

Bob: One of the difficulties is that we have one word – love – for so many kinds of deep (and sometimes not so deep) and complicated human emotions we associate with that word. When we equate God with love, I think we have to be more precise as to the kind of love we associate with deity—that of which the gospels, John’s letters, and Moroni speak– the pure love of Christ. There are many other kinds of love, of course, including the range of intimate love between humans. One of the truths of the Restoration is that romantic, erotic and sexual love are part of our divine inheritance and therefore part of our promised eternal glory. One of the difficulties is that our culture has refused to acknowledge that non-heterosexual love in its complexity and multiplicity fundamentally is no different from heterosexual love. That is, on the experiential level, deep intimate bonding, deep emotional connectedness is common to all healthy humans.

Tawnya: Because that precision was not used in the talk, is that potentially exploitive, then, in maybe blurring the boundaries by what is meant by love? Blurring them up and confusing the issue. It’s basically making it seem like persons that are gay or lesbian can’t possibly have a divinely inspired love for one another, and I have a personal testimony that that is not true. I believe that I do love my partner and that is a very sacred love. Is the Oaks talk really taking advantage of the imprecise description of the word love here, and using it to suggest that gays and lesbians can’t possibly have that kind of love?

Marriage and Procreative Powers

Robert A. Rees

Robert A. Rees

It is in a sense like growing up in a family in which every child is promised an opulent Christmas, only to wake up on Christmas morning to find that all of the other children in the family have multiple Christmas gifts and surprises, but there are none for you.

Bob: Elder Oaks says that outside the bonds of hetero-normative marriage all uses of our procreative powers are to one degree or another sinful. Most sexual expression among humans does not focus on procreation but rather on physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy. To think of this complicated and even mysterious amalgam of expressions and emotions as primarily procreative is to somehow diminish their richness and complexity. Again, part of Joseph Smith’s enlightened understand is that our sexual powers, expressions and pleasures are gifts beyond that of procreation.

Also, we need to keep in mind that church doctrine and practice on the use and expression of sexuality have been quite elastic at times. In the 19th century under the practice of polygamy there were many kinds of marital relationships, some of which were procreative and some that were not, some that were sexual and some that were not, and some that were eternal and some that were not. Elder Oaks was very clear, as the church’s website is, as to what is acceptable and what isn’t in the eyes of the contemporary church, What I sense most gays and lesbians want the Church to recognize is that from their earliest years the Church itself teaches all children (whether they turn out to be gay, bi or straight) to desire, plan, and prepare themselves for that deep intimate connection with another person who ultimately completes them fulfills them, and makes them whole. This is taught at their parents’ knees, in primary, in Sunday school, in young women’s and young men’s programs, in seminary—everywhere. No one can grow up in the Church without understanding that his or her crowning achievement in life is to find that special someone and create a mortal and eternal nuclear family unit. To devote one’s life to that objective and then be told that it is not a possibility, at least in this life, and that what and whom they truly desire is also not a possibility in the eternities, causes a profound existential crisis, one that can unravel all prior teachings and obliterate future promises. It is in a sense like growing up in a family in which every child is promised an opulent Christmas, only to wake up on Christmas morning to find that all of the other children in the family have multiple Christmas gifts and surprises, but there are none for you.

Thus, something that is absolutely given in every normal human being to desire and that the church itself emphasizes as the great crowning achievement of human beings is denied to a significant group of people. As a church we have not and currently do not have any idea as to what this must feel like for gays and lesbians. Not only have we have failed to understand our gay and lesbian saints, we often blame them for not being sufficiently patient, acquiescent and righteous.

Same-sex Couples and Sexual Desire

Tawnya Smith  Teleconferences on Healing

Tawnya Smith

They see that only as some kind of sexual desire, and there’s no acknowledgement that LGBT people have a type of love that’s not lust or just sexual desire, but that there is a clear, undeniable, unmistakable longing to be united with that other person in that sense of oneness that you were just describing.

Tawnya: In Elder Nelson’s talk, he’s talking about appetites, about freedoms from self-slavery and things like this, then goes right into defining marriage, specifically. To me, that is exactly what this caller is getting to. The Church sees any sexual relationship between two men and two women, they see that only as some kind of sexual desire, and there’s no acknowledgement that LGBT people have stated and told bishops and leaders in the church that they have a type of love, that it’s not lust or just sexual desire, but that there is a clear, undeniable, unmistakable longing to be united with that other person in that sense of oneness that you were just describing. To me, that is very problematic, especially for people who know that to be true, that they know they are meant to be with that person, to love that person, and that is something they are being called to do by their Heavenly Parents. The juxtaposition of the word appetite, and then suggesting that that’s all that LGBTQ people experience, again, is kind of offensive, at least to me.

Randall: I was forwarded, first thing Monday, by a colleague who knows about my work in the LGBT community, the article in the Washington Post, and I found it profoundly ironic that they talked about Oaks’ talk, and right after talked about President Monson expressing his loss for his wife and says “She was the love of my life, my trusted confidant and closest friend. To say that I miss her does not begin to convey the depth of my feelings.” And that is love. That is the love that same-sex relationships feel. To answer the original question, as we just live our lives in that kind of love and relationship, we will have to be patient for people to see that it is real love. I know a couple who has been together for 40 years, one now getting sick with Alzheimer’s, his partner’s caring for him in all the ways that my mother and father have cared for each other in their troubles as well. It’s our demonstration of that same kind of love, I don’t know any other way for us to really overcome that stereotype.

The Importance of Making Safety for Oneself

Caller 6: Mine is more related to making safety for yourself. It’s a comment. When my son started junior high, he was having some trouble adjusting to the changes, and being with ninth graders. The assistant principal told him “I know this is tough. You’re welcome to come in here and cry to me whenever you want, or if I’m not here close the door and you can cry yourself, but when you’re in the hall, I want you to hold your head up high. Do not cower. Do not invite bullying.” Knowing who your allies are – if you want to go to church and already have some identified – make contact with them. Let them know you need their support. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re inviting bullying. Don’t call up the person you know is waiting to hear those words, on Sunday, and then get both barrels from that person. You just don’t have to do that. You can protect yourself. I would invite comments on how to identify our allies. Some of us know that our bishop is our ally. Maybe just connecting with him or someone else in our ward if you want to go to church.

Tina Richerson  Vice President

Tina Richerson

Even though two or three apostles came out and blatantly said what they said, creating a certain type of environment, the 99% majority of people attending church are sensitive to what we’re experiencing as a culture.

Tina: It has been my experience that #1 in church, people are not necessarily going to attack you, because we are raised to be kind and gentle, Mormons, in my experience, are trying to be kind and gentle. I’ve never met a person, in church, who would ever say anything harmful or hurtful to me, when I let them know that I’m a lesbian. I take a lot of comfort in that. I would say that to the person who does want to still attend church, even though two or three apostles came out and blatantly said what they said, creating a certain type of environment, the 99% majority of people attending church are sensitive to what we’re experiencing as a culture. I’ve had so many people reach out to me saying “Are you okay?” People I go to church with asking me, that was probably a hard conference for you, and I’m here. I’ve had a great outpouring of concern from my member friends.

Responding to Hurtful Comments

Caller 6: I have a ward member from Europe who is very blunt. He has tried to line me up with women. I say, “I don’t think that’s going to work out.” He says, “You’re going to settle for guardian angel, then?” That can be very hurtful. Certainly the Montgomery’s have described that or worse in their ward.

Tina: It’s true that people can be people. They can be harsh and they can be rude and just being Mormons doesn’t make everybody super nice and lovely, it’s true. You’re right. But maybe drawing on what Caller 4 said, being prepared with some ammunition when someone is vicious or malicious, if that happens what are you going to do? What is your response?

Caller 6: My point is don’t cower, don’t invite the bullying.

Tina: Reaching deep and finding a point of calm. I struggle with that myself – I don’t even want to say nice words right now when people, I just have the blinders on so severely and they ask you the stupidest questions or they say the stupidest things, the most hurtful things, how to find that place of letting go of my gut reaction and saying something mindful. Something not reactionary but thought provoking to them, or just pointing that they are being really mean. Sometimes that goes a long way. “That’s not a nice question. That hurts my feelings.” There’s a lot to be said for that. I think often people don’t realize what they’re saying.

Caller 6: Or “Did you intend to be mean just now?”

Tina: Perfect, that’s a perfect response. “Did you intend to squish me like that? Is that what Jesus would do? Would he just step allover my emotions? Do you realize that’s what you just did?” That will definitely disarm a situation for sure.

Caller 6: And if you can do it with good humor, too.

Tina: Yeah, this is such a heavy topic, and we’re all walking around with our hearts on our sleeves. It is nice to try and approach it with a little less severity, even though that’s really difficult to do. I’m forty, and have been living with this my whole life and am just now at a place where I can say you’ve got your head in the wrong space, friend, and try to make light of it.

Tawnya: What about when the bullying or confrontation comes not in a one-on-one situation, but it comes in someone’s testimony in testimony meeting, or comes in someone’s talk that they’re giving, and it’s more of a blanket situation? I think sometimes people might hide in that situation because there is not that one-to-one element.

Tina: You’re right, Tawnya, that definitely is the hardest situation, when in Relief Society there’s a talk on chastity, and there’s a paragraph all about homosexuality, and how it’s all bad no good, and how to sit in there and just let it pass. Just let it pass and realize you’re in a particular situation, and perhaps the best way to address it is going later to the person who gave the talk and doing it one-on-one, or even being super bold and super courageous, and stopping the class and saying, Look, I am that person that you’re naysaying, that will definitely change the environment of the group, but you definitely want to be sitting by a good friend.

Caller 6: There have been posts on Facebook about speaking up in Sunday School. I think Randall had many people come up and offer support afterwards, and thank him.

Tawnya: Thank you Caller 6 for helping us to process about more direct issues, with other people at church and how to maybe keep ourselves protected, and how to speak up in good ways, hopefully to dispel some of the myths and help people realize when they’re being insensitive.

Finding Your Own Guidance

Another email (Caller 7): Why should I stay in the church when it seems like most of the prophets and apostles and local leaders and membership in general don’t want us here? Or, if they do want us here, it seems like it is only conditional on us changing in ways that we can’t, by denying our homosexuality? I have an inkling that President Uchtdorf meant this to be part of his message even if he didn’t say it outright.

Randall Thacker

Randall Thacker

Get to the point where you see that full, beautiful, harvest moon, and feel God’s love that’s really big, and you can decide if that pointer to the moon is going to help you in growing in that relationship.

Randall: I want to go back to what Tina said about the moon, the church not being the moon but pointing its finger at the moon. First of all, maybe step back and detach yourself from the question of going to church or not, and attach yourself to the question of what do I really feel? And what does my relationship with God really mean? Get to the point where you see that full, beautiful, harvest moon, and feel God’s love that’s really big, and you can decide if that pointer to the moon is going to help you in growing in that relationship. If it is, maybe find an ally in your local area who could help you find a safe space. When I decided to go back, the Elders Quorum president approached me that first day. He wanted to come visit, and I told him if you come visit, this is what you’re going to find. And he said that’s ok, that’s ok. He talked to the bishop and told me later that night “the bishop’s fine, don’t worry about it.” You don’t know what you’re ward is going to do. There are people out there who will take you as you are, and who will put your to work. And there are leaders up above, in headquarters, who are fighting for us. But many of them, their hands are tied. The first, most important thing is to see that beautiful harvest moon yourself and then make the decision that’s best for you.

Tawnya Smith  Teleconferences on Healing

Tawnya Smith

The most important thing is your relationship to the Divine, and that you’ll know whether it is right for you based on what guidance you’re given. What are you called to do? It has really nothing at all with other people and other people’s views or opinions or beliefs about you.

Tawnya: I know of a person who was a member of the church for over forty years, who has since removed their name from the records. I know this person very well, and in this person’s experience, she feels that she is not called to stay in the church, that she is to search for truth and meaning and the love of God, and at least at this time in her life, it’s absolutely correct for her to do that outside of the church. I know that in my personal experience, I went through a period of being away and coming back and being away, and I felt that I was following my guidance at all of those points. I would reiterate what Randall was saying, the most important thing is your relationship to the Divine, and that you’ll know whether it is right for you based on what guidance you’re given. What are you called to do? It has really nothing at all with other people and other people’s views or opinions or beliefs about you. It has everything to do with what is your guidance telling you and follow it. Don’t worry about that and don’t be worried about if it changes 2 years from now or 5 years from now or 10 years from now, but continue listening to what is really best for you in your heart.

Bob: I edited a collection a couple of years ago called Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons and I’m working on a second volume right now. I would encourage people to read these personal stories of faithfulness because sometimes it helps to see why other people have made the decision to stay and how they’ve negotiated that territory. I think it’s much more challenging for an LGBT person because generally if a heterosexual member decides to come back to church h or she is greeted with open arms, but for gays or lesbians it can be like walking across minefield. I recommend to my LGBT friends who feel the urge to reconnect with the church inquire as to the openness of the ward they are considering attending and the flexibility of the bishop before venturing a return. Nothing is more discouraging than to make an effort to return and find that it is not a safe or hospitable congregation or an open and compassionate bishop.

The Role of LDS Allies

Sherri Park (Caller 8): I’m in Mormons Building Bridges, and the leadership would have really liked to be on this call, but they’re doing another LGBT activity tonight. I’m taking good notes, though, for them. I want to talk about the “Sit with me Sunday” that I did last year. I got this idea, I felt like it was revelation, and what we had over and over was many people wanting to sit with someone, and not being able to find an LGBT person to come to church with them. I wanted to say that we’ve had some absolutely devastated people on our website this week, and have been trying to work through letting them vent and letting other people comfort them. We’ve had some veiled suicide threats. It’s been a rough couple of days here. I want to do this “Sit with me Sunday” again, and hope you can help with that.

Randall: We’d love to help out, Sherri.

Sherri: It’ll be on the website, and I’m trying to match people up. Most people will say I don’t know anybody, but we’ll try it again this year, maybe at Christmas.

Love and Mixed-orientation Marriages

Tawnya: A man sent this in (Caller 9): My wife is gay, and President Monson’s talk brought her to tears for most of the rest of the day. She said she wanted what he had with his wife, even though we love each other very much. It prompted a lot more questions about our marriage and our plans for the future, divorce, eternal friendship together, etc. This gentleman is saying that his wife is gay, is longing for the kind of love that President Monson described, which we’ve already discussed a little bit. Would anyone like to respond to this?

Robert A. Rees

Robert A. Rees

I find this absolutely heartbreaking. It illustrates… the failure of heterosexual Latter-day Saints to truly understand that what they desire is no different than what their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender fellow Saints desire.

Bob: I find this absolutely heartbreaking. To me it illustrates what I said earlier about the failure of heterosexual Latter-day Saints to truly understand that what they desire is no different from what their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender fellow Saints desire. In their book The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, Terryl and Fiona Givens talk about that deep longing for intimacy that is such a part of who we are, and that none of us feels complete without it. Many people find this love, some find it and lose it, and some never find it, but continue to hope for its possibility. To be denied even the possibility of such love in mortality is to suffer an enormous loss, a blow to one’s very soul. I feel that those of who are heterosexual need to awaken our greatest imagination and compassion for this dear woman and all of those who suffer as she does. Beyond that, I feel we need to petition the heavens constantly on behalf of all of those who wake up on Christmas morning expecting that what has been promised to them will be fulfilled, not on some faraway future Christmas but on the very one in which the rest of us open our gifts, which, after all, are made possible by our Lord and Savior who gave the greatest gift of all and who makes all gifts possible.

Randall: I’m wondering if Tim would have any general advice around what they might do to address this.

Tim: A relationship is so unique, whether it’s a relationship between you and the church or you and a significant other, whether it’s a mixed orientation marriage or not. However, the implication I’m getting in that is there’s something stirring in this current relationship, and my heart goes out to both of those people involved. It’s reevaluation time for what they want and what is important to them in their relationship, and that could be coming to terms with what can’t be or even mean changing things. It’s a very complicated situation, but I don’t know that any of us have an answer other than support, emotional support as people process. I would echo what Bob says, our culture has made this recipe clear, it seems like that. I would just encourage this person to have compassion and patience with himself and his wife, because they were both doing the best that they knew how with what information they have, and that’s what they’re currently doing, and now it’s probably time to seek even more information. I don’t know that I would say anything beyond that.

Closing Remarks

Tawnya: We’ve covered a lot of different territory. We don’t have any more calls or emails, but let’s go around our panel quickly for a final statement or closing word.

Tina: I’m very happy to be on this panel and hear the concerns. It is my hope and deepest desire that people are able to deeply root in themselves their relationship and feel the power of God’s love, and put that above and beyond anything else. And to know that love is the answer, love is always the answer.

Tim Weymann

Tim Weymann

I do have a list of strategies for dealing with discrimination, stigma, maybe we could post that online so people have an idea of what to do, so you have a safety plan, something to draw back to, so that you can practice before you come across those situations.

Tim: I do have a list of strategies for dealing with discrimination, stigma, maybe we could post that online so people have an idea of what to do, so you have a safety plan, something to draw back to, so that you can practice before you come across those situations.

Bob: I really appreciated what thoughtful questions the callers asked, how sensitive they were, and I appreciated the response of my fellow panelists. I come away with two lasting impressions: one, the deep caring, love, and concern, expressed in this discussion, and, in contrast, the suicide ideation that plagues so many of our young LGBT brothers and sisters.. None of us should be indifferent to the fact that many of our best and brightest have chosen that ultimate exit because they could find no consolation, no hope. It is imperative that we change our church culture so that never happens again. None of our intransigence, our lack of charity, our lack of emotional caring is worth one of those many suicides. I hope none of those who listened to conference came away with that impulse.

Randall: I’m continually learning from all of you and I take great joy in the love that we feel in this Affirmation community, and I hope that we go out and spread that with others.

Tawnya: I’m going to close our call tonight with a quote from Elder Oaks’ talk: “A moral coward is one who is afraid to do what he thinks is right because others will disapprove or laugh. Remember that all men have their fears but those who face their fears with dignity have courage, as well.”

May we all go to our Creator to discern if we are in right relationship, seek to do our best to be loving and kind to others, and find the courage to face our fears that we may have dignity and peace.

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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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