For Strength of Gay Youth

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For the Strength of Gay Youth

A Guide for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual
Mormon Youth and Young Adults

By Aaron Cloward

Introduction

Topics

Resources & Information

Introduction

About This Booklet

Several years ago, the First Presidency issued a pamphlet called “For the Strength of Youth.”1 This pamphlet was intended to be a guide for young men and young women of the Church, providing them with counsel and direction in their daily life.

While the intentions and motivations behind the pamphlet may have been positive, it has often been a source of great frustration for many youth and young adults. Unfortunately, this booklet from the First Presidency has caused many youth to experience feelings of self-loathing, self-hatred and confusion. This is especially true for youth in the Church who experience attractions to the same gender.

It is my intention to provide a guide similar to the pamphlet “For the Strength of Youth”, but modified so that it is especially designed to address the unique concerns of gay and lesbian youth of the Church.

Message to Gay and Lesbian Mormon Youth

One of the most difficult challenges that any young person in the Church can face is learning how to deal with being gay and Mormon. A few of the many questions that could arise from these issues could be:

  • “Can I be gay and active in the Church?”
  • “When should I tell my Bishop?”
  • “How can I cope with all of this?”
  • “I know I’m gay, but should I still serve a mission?”

There are no easy answers to anything in life that challenges us, and this small booklet certainly doesn’t claim to provide any easy or quick answers, nor does it claim to have all the answers to your questions. Rather, I hope that this booklet can give some basic information and suggestions for youth in the Church who identify with being attracted to the same gender. Throughout this booklet, I will refer to the people who experience these attractions as “gay, lesbian and bisexual.”

The advice presented in this pamphlet has been gathered from several youth and young adults who have all faced some of the very same questions that you may be facing right now.

If you are a youth or young adult who is facing some of the difficult issues associated with being gay and Mormon, one of the most important things to remember is that you are not alone. As you read these words, there are countless others who have walked and are currently walking the very same path that you now journey. When you realize that you aren’t alone and that there are others who actually understand what you are going through, these challenges become easier to handle. The goal of this booklet is to help show you that you are not alone and to help ease some of your burdens you may feel about being gay and Mormon.

Topics

Agency

The principle of agency, or the ability to make one’s own choices for his or her life, is a God-given gift (2 Nephi 2:27). Regardless of what sex you may be attracted to, you have the opportunity to live your life the way you see fit. There are many myths and misconceptions about what it means to be gay or lesbian, both within the Church and in the general public. Some people would classify all life choices of gay and lesbian people into a term called the “gay lifestyle.” There actually is no “gay lifestyle” any more than there is a “straight lifestyle.” Everyone has the ability to create his or her own lifestyle. Be very cautious about accepting counsel from anyone who would tell you that a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other classification automatically makes him or her destined to live a certain “lifestyle”. Your life, quite simply, is your life. You have the power to make it what you want it to be.

Activity in the Church

The level of participation you wish to have as a member of the Church is something only you can decide. This is because spiritual matters are very personal, and every person’s experience as a member of the Church is unique. It can be both fortunate and unfortunate that local leadership in the Church is administered by everyday people. It can be fortunate for gay Mormons, when a bishop or stake president is compassionate and understanding about homosexual members of the Church. It can be unfortunate when leaders have had little or no experience dealing with gay and lesbian Church members or when leaders say or do unkind things because they lack understanding. For this reason, each person will have unique experiences with their sexual orientation and their membership in the Church. Some people will decide to continue activity and participation in the Church, while others will have such negative experiences that they may decide to leave the Church. Leaving the Church or being excommunicated can be a very difficult emotionally. Support groups are available in communities with a large proportion of Latter-day Saints for those who have been through this experience. Some of these support groups are listed in the Resources section of this booklet.

Even among those who decide to continue activity and participation in the Church (in whatever degree) many have found great satisfaction in attending worship services in other churches and synagogues. Some may even choose to attend gay friendly churches or synagogues. Many General Authorities have taught that many great truths can be found in other religions. You may be surprised what you may learn by attending a worship service of another church. A listing of gay-friendly religious groups and churches (including those that have an LDS theme) is listed in the Resources section of this booklet. Some people also testify that they have found a greater degree of spirituality outside organized religions than what they experienced while they were involved with one. There are quite a number of spiritual paths that also could be considered “self instructional” and don’t require a person to attend an organized worship service. Other people have no formal spiritual path and create their own spiritual practices.

Again, it is important to understand that we all travel different paths in life. No path is more correct than another and we should never judge a person for the path that he or she travels. No matter what path you choose, remember that God loves you unconditionally. This is a universal truth taught by almost every religion, including Mormonism.


Should I go on a mission? See comments on the Affirmation Blog

Missions & Other Church Callings

A large part of being actively involved in the Church is accepting callings and church assignments. Often the person being called to a church assignment is required to pass a “worthiness” interview. If you are extended a call to serve in some capacity in your ward or stake, keep in mind that the General Authorities have stated that simply being attracted to the same sex is not a sin.2 Therefore, you should not feel obligated to make your sexual orientation known during an interview for a calling or temple recommend. However, if you have been involved in sexual activity with the same sex, it is up to you to decide if this is something your Church leader should be made aware of.

Another common question that gay and lesbian Mormon youth have is if they should serve a full-time mission. This is a very difficult question to answer, because so many issues involved with serving a mission such as pressure from family and Church leaders, feeling worthy to serve, and having concerns about sexual tension with same-sex missionary companions.

Affirmation, the first organization for gay and lesbian Mormons, gives this wonderful advice for those who are contemplating service as a full-time missionary:

Many gay or lesbian Mormons–gay men especially–have served missions. Many say that their mission was an important positive experience in their lives. Others look back on their mission as a very negative experience.

Here are some things to consider as you grapple with this decision: As a missionary, you will be with a same-sex companion twenty-four hours a day. It’s not uncommon to hear gay returned missionaries joke about being attracted to their companions, but in fact that kind of sexual tension can be highly stressful. A mission is a time of intense same-sex bonding; it’s also a time when you will be susceptible to feeling lonely or down. How will you cope with the temptations that situation will create?

The Church, for its part, does not want gay missionaries: individuals who have confessed to homosexual acts are supposed to wait three years before they can be cleared for missionary service (individuals who have confessed to heterosexual acts only have to wait one year). Therefore, to serve a mission as a gay or lesbian person, you will have to be closeted. How will being closeted affect your spiritual or emotional health?

Missionary service is meant to prepare you for adulthood as a Latter-day Saint. This includes a lifetime of church activity, not to mention temple marriage and raising a family. If you have accepted that you are gay or lesbian–and if one of your goals is a same-sex partnership–then you’re setting yourself up for a life path very different from the one that a mission is meant to set you up for. What do you see as the benefits of serving a mission, given your life goals as a gay or lesbian person? If you decide to serve a mission despite the serious challenges that mission life presents for a gay or lesbian person, you need to be absolutely clear about why you’re doing this.3

The Scriptures

One of the most common questions among members of the Church who are just coming to terms with their sexual identity, is what the scriptures say about homosexuality.

Since the purpose of this booklet is to provide a basic overview on several key areas, it would be unrealistic to include everything that has ever been written on the subject of homosexuality and the scriptures. While some brief highlights can be covered here, it is strongly recommended that you read some of the books and articles listed in the Resources section of this guide for further study.

Three out of the four standard works of the Church (the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price) don’t mention homosexuality at all or even hint about the subject. It is also interesting to note that when Joseph Smith organized nearly every aspect of the Church as we know it today, he never mentioned homosexuality. The only volume of scripture that refers to homosexuality is the Bible. A Presbyterian publication comments on the biblical references to homosexuality this way:

Most people who use the Bible to condemn homosexual people rely on a literal interpretation of the Scriptures. This literal interpretation is very selective: passages which call for the stoning of unruly children or death for all women who are not virgins on their wedding day or giving away all one’s belongings to follow Christ are usually not taken literally. The [first five books of the bible] contains 613 commandments, hundreds of which contemporary Jews and Christians no longer follow because they reflect the limited knowledge and and understanding available thousands of years ago.”4

Another respected biblical scholar summarizes this topic:

Given the appeal to the Bible in the case of homosexuality, one would assume that the Bible has much to say on the subject. It has not. The subject of homosexuality is not mentioned in the Ten Commandments, or in the Summary of the Law. No prophet discourses on the subject. Jesus himself makes no mention of it, and homosexuality does not appear to be of much concern to those early churches with which Saint Paul and his successors were involved.”5

The biblical writers have never contemplated a form of homosexuality in which loving, monogamous and faithful persons sought to live the implications of the gospel with as much fidelity to it as any heterosexual believer. All they knew of homosexuality was prostitution, pederasty, lasciviousness and exploitation. These vices, as we know, are not unknown among heterosexuals, and to define contemporary heterosexuals only in these terms is a cultural slander of the highest order.6

For more specific information on the biblical passages that do refer to homosexuality, including Sodom and Gomorrah, the Holiness Code from Leviticus and the teachings of Paul, please check out some of the wonderful books and articles listed in the Resource section of this booklet. You will probably learn some things you hadn’t even thought of.

Word of Wisdom and Tithing

Some gay Mormons experience a change in their practices and beliefs of Mormonism including the Word of Wisdom and tithing. This can be for a variety of reasons. It could be because these people never fully supported or believed in these practices, even when they were members of the Church. It could also be because people’s doctrinal views and opinions change over time. For example, a person may come to the conclusion after study, that the Word of Wisdom never was intended as a commandment, but only as a suggestion from God. Another reason could be that a person is simply trying to separate himself/herself from the Church as much as possible as a result of negative experiences as a member of the Church.

The Word of Wisdom also contains teachings which are not unique to Mormonism. Some of these teachings are considered simple common sense health advice, even among non-religious people. For example, you’ll learn in any public health education class about the dangers of abusing illegal drugs. You’ll also learn how smoking can be an absolute detriment to your health. In fact, both recreational drugs and tobacco can kill you. So for many people, no matter what affiliation they have with the Church, the choice to not smoke or use illegal drugs is not a matter of religious or spiritual choice, but rather one based solely on maintaining physical wellness.

Other gay Mormons decide to continue with these practices whether they remain active Church members or not. For them, these practices are something they feel strongly about, and they wish to continue with them. Some gay Mormons decide to pay tithing to other charities instead of to the Church. This is often because they feel upset that the Church has used its funds in the past for anti-gay legislation in some parts of the country.7 It is important to note, however, even if a person desires to pay tithing to the Church, their payment could be rejected. For example, if a person is excommunicated or decides to leave the Church, the Church will not accept a person’s tithing.

Whether you or not you remain an active Church member, the decision to continue with these practices is something only you can decide. This topic, like many others in this booklet, is one that requires deep thought and consideration.

Church Schools

Gaining a formal education, in most cases, is necessary for us to be able to provide for ourselves and those we care for. Some young adults choose to attend privately owned schools that are owned and operated by the Church. While these schools may be excellent institutions of learning, they can present unique challenges and difficulties for those who are attracted to the same sex.

If you are attending or are planning to attend one of the Church-owned schools, there are several things to consider. The most important of these is understanding that you will be required to agree to live by a code of conduct (usually called the “Honor Code”) while attending any of these schools. All Church schools have specific regulations which forbid any type of homosexual conduct. Vague terminology in these rules has made it difficult to determine exactly what “homosexual conduct” means. In fact, there have been documented instances where students have been expelled from a Church university for activities as innocent as watching gay-themed television shows.8

As intelligent beings, we experience mental growth and often modify our opinions and views as we grow. Even if you are willing to abide by the Honor Code when you first enroll in a Church school, your opinions and ideas may change after a few semesters or even after a few years at a Church school. After time, you may feel trapped, and your willingness to support or keep the Honor Code may change. Before committing to the Honor Code, make sure you have a back-up plan in place in the event that your situation or opinions change.

If you decide to attend a Church school and remain quiet about your sexual identity, you still may not feel very welcome. For example, a former President of BYU went so far as to ask students to leave the university completely if they were dealing with issues of same gender attraction, regardless of whether they had been involved in any type of “homosexual conduct.”9

Church-owned schools can provide some of the finest educational experiences in the country. However, they may not be the best choice for students who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual even when sexual identity is hidden. As most vocational counselors will tell you, there are hundreds of other excellent universities and colleges throughout the world. Don’t limit yourself by thinking that you have to attend a Church school. If you are experiencing extreme pressure from your family or friends to attend a Church school, consider speaking with the counselor of the non-Church school you wish to attend. These counselors have most likely run into this situation before and can offer some great advice.

Family

Deciding when to tell your parents or family members about your attraction to the same sex is something that no one can decide for you. Be very careful about taking advice from someone who tells you when and where you should “come out” to your parents. No one understands your family life or your relationship with your family better than you. However, you shouldn’t feel like you have to handle family issues by yourself. In fact, it is strongly recommended that you seek out help and suggestions from counselors, other parents who have gay children, or other people who have had the experience of “coming out” to their family. There are also several books that have been written on this subject that you could read that provide excellent suggestions and support (check out the Resources section at the back of this booklet).

If your family is aware of your situation and are quick to anger and slow to understand what you are going through, be patient with them. Remember that you have had your entire lifetime to adjust and learn how to deal with your sexual identity, but your family is probably new to learning how to cope with this issue. Establishing lines of communication and building bridges of understanding are absolutely essential elements when it comes to family issues.

PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) or Family Fellowship (an organization similar to PFLAG with an LDS theme) can provide many excellent resources for parents and family members who are having a hard time coping with issues associated with having a gay or lesbian family member. Be sure to let your family know that they are not alone and that there are others who they can talk to, share frustrations with, and ask advice from. If they aren’t comfortable visiting with other families, offer the option of family counseling with a therapist who is unbiased and professional regarding gay issues. If that’s not an option, share other resources with them, such as books and videos. The most important thing is to work together to build a bridge of understanding. You don’t need to adopt your parents’ views into your life, and they don’t need to adopt your opinions. However, it is important that you each make an effort to understand each other and to continue to show your love for each other.

Under no circumstances is physical, mental, or emotional abuse something that anyone should experience. If you are being abused in any way, if you are unsure if what you have experienced could be termed as abuse, or if you have been forced to move out from your home, contact your local youth shelter for help. They are there to help and can provide you with many resources. Never “run away” from home, especially to travel to an unknown city or state. You may be risking your life in the process. Even if you need to leave your home and stay with a friend or family member for a while, be sure to let your family know that you are safe and have a place to stay. Failing to do so could cause lots of problems with police and law enforcement agencies. If you are under legal age (in most states this is age 18) and you are not able to live at home any longer, either by your choice or the choice of your parents, please refer to the Resources section for of this booklet for places you can contact for specific information and advice.

Friends

Regardless of your sexual identity, having good friends is important. Choose friends that can support you, no matter what your opinions, views, or choices may be. Be careful about associating with people that want you to change who you are, just so you will fit in to their social circles. True friends should accept you and love you for who you are, even if you have different viewpoints or beliefs. They should also motivate you and uplift you, not put you down.

Not only is it important for you to choose friends that can accept you for who you are, you should also be willing to accept the life choices of others as they exercise their own agency. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone you meet. However, it does mean that you shouldn’t rush to judge someone just because their life choices are different than your own. Doing so could result in the exclusion of some very wonderful people in your life.

It is very natural to want to surround yourself with people who have a background similar to your own. There are many gay and lesbian people who are or have been members of the Church. Building friendships with these people can be priceless, because they have actually walked the same path that you are walking. Be aware however, that some of these people may have very unkind feelings toward the Church and its leaders. These people may have had very difficult experiences with the Church in regard to their homosexuality, which have caused them to become very angry or hurt. Opinions relating to homosexuality and the Church are just as varied among gay and lesbian Mormons as they are within the general membership of the Church. Be kind and respectful of other people’s opinions as you socialize with them. Do not be afraid to speak up and share your views as you feel it is appropriate, but try to put energy into actively listening to what other people have to say. As you actively listen, it will be easier for you to see another person’s point of view, and you may actually learn something new!

Depression & Counseling

Depression is a challenge all by itself, regardless of sexual orientation. If you have feelings of hopelessness, extreme sadness, or even suicide, take advantage of the many services your community or mental health center can offer. In many cases, private and confidential short-term counseling can be available to you free of charge through your school or community center. If you have a job, your work place may also offer free therapy through an Employee Assistance Program and counseling may be covered under your health insurance program. Ask your Human Resources department for details. If you don’t have a job or your own insurance, there are still options for you through community mental health organizations (see Resources & Information section). Some middle school and high school counselors can be very wonderful, however sometimes it’s hard to distinguish what type of counselor your school has to offer. For example, some schools only have counselors who have been trained in career and educational guidance. While these counselors may be better than nothing at all, be aware that they might not be trained to handle sensitive issues such as depression. Seek out counselors that have experience with this. Look for titles such as “LCSW” which stands for Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

The biggest challenge when looking for a counselor whether at a school, university, or in private practice, is finding someone that can provide professional services without being biased or letting their own opinions about homosexuality influence a counseling session. Even though it may take some looking, there are therapists and counselors who are unbiased and will not push you to make choices you don’t want to make. Don’t be afraid to call a therapist or counselor first and ask them about their experience in counseling gay and lesbian clients. If you aren’t happy with your counselor after the first few sessions, move on and look for someone else. Finding the right counselor or therapist can make a world of difference in helping deal with your challenges with depression.

If you need immediate help, there is an organization you can contact at anytime. Call the Trevor Helpline at 866-488-7386 or 866-4-U-TREVOR. The Trevor Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is especially for gay youth and young adults.

Evergreen, Pilgrimage & Change Therapy

Evergreen International is an organization which claims to help members of the Church to “overcome” their homosexuality. Pilgrimage is an organization associated with Evergreen, but is specifically intended for young adults.

Evergreen has been summarized quite accurately in these words:

“Some people who have participated in Evergreen, but who have since left [the organization], say that Evergreen was a positive experience in the sense that it gave them a place where they could first begin to talk about sexual orientation and come to terms with their [homosexuality]. Other gay Mormons are convinced that Evergreen is dangerous because it offers false hope and false teachings about sexual orientation. Some gay Mormons even believe Evergreen to be hypocritical and deceptive.”10

The entire basis of Evergreen rests upon the hope that a person’s homosexuality can be overcome. This attempt at overcoming one’s sexual orientation is sometimes referred to as reparative, conversion, or change therapy. All major mental health and medical professionals (including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association and the National Association of Social Workers) have stated that a person can not change his/her sexual orientation and that any attempt to do so can actually be harmful to a person’s mental health and well being.11In addition, a recent study by a licensed clinical social worker and several university professors (including one from BYU) concluded that change therapy simply does not work.12

This guide, therefore, does not recommend or endorse participation in Evergreen or any type of change therapy. The few positive benefits that can be gained from participation in Evergreen support groups such as friendship, acceptance, and education can be found equally in other gay support groups. It is recommended that you seek out gay and lesbian support groups whose motives are simply to provide support and guidance. Many of these support groups will do their very best to understand respect your religious convictions and beliefs. There may even be support groups in your area specifically for those who come from an LDS, Christian or other religious background. Before attending, do your homework by finding out and making sure that the group doesn’t endorse reparative or change therapy.

Entertainment and the Media

The media is constantly sending us messages about who we should be, what we should look like, and how we should act. Most recently, the entertainment and media industry has found that targeting a gay and lesbian audience can bring them lots of money.13Be aware that the people who run the media and entertainment industry are not interested in you as a person, or your self-esteem. Their only motivation is to make money. This is especially true with media that tries to send messages about what they think “looks good”.

We all know that what we see on TV and magazines is not usually reality. However sometimes we get so absorbed in what the media presents, that it’s very easy to forget this fact. It’s so easy to fall into the temptation of comparing ourselves to an image or person that simply isn’t real. We all know that photos are often airbrushed and movies are very often digitally enhanced or changed, yet we still find ourselves feeling inadequate because we might not match up to what the media tells us we should be. We are all different and beautiful in our own individual ways. Don’t let the media hypnotize you into thinking that you need to dress or look a certain way in order to be accepted by others. Don’t let those who have already been “hypnotized” by the media drag you down either. Establish your own identity and be yourself.

The media can also be very effective at telling us how we should act, react and feel about certain things. The media has been notorious for portraying certain groups of people in a very stereotypical way. This is especially true about gay and lesbian people and other minorities. This is unfortunate because not only does it misrepresent to the general public who gay and lesbian people really are, but it also makes it confusing for those who are just coming to terms with their own sexual identity. It’s quite easy to feel confused when you can’t identify with the gay and lesbian characters you see portrayed in movies and TV. Again, it may be obvious, but we need to be reminded that not all gay and lesbian people are like the characters on programs such as Will & Grace or Queer As Folk. If you don’t feel you “fit in” with the characters on these and other programs, don’t worry! It’s most likely a good thing that you aren’t like a character on TV!

The Internet

The internet is probably the most popular way for gay and lesbian people to meet one another and also to obtain information about homosexuality. The internet is especially helpful for those people who are not yet comfortable with their sexual orientation, because it provides a way for them to “chat” with other gay people anonymously. While chatting anonymously can be a positive thing for many people, it can also cause very serious problems. Some people you chat with online may pretend to be someone that they are not. In other cases, people will not intentionally try to deceive you, but they may not quite be the type of person in real life that you expected them to be. The most serious problem occurs when someone uses a chat room to lure others into some very dangerous situations. For example, there have been cases where certain persons who strongly dislike gay people will go into a gay chat room trying to lure a gay person into a situation where he/she could be physically assaulted. These cases are quite rare, but they can and do happen.

If you choose to meet someone from a chat room or an online personals ad, you should always take several precautions:

  • Always meet in a high-traffic public location (like a restaurant, mall, coffee shop, or bookstore).
  • Never reveal personal information such as your address, job specifics, etc.
  • Tell a friend or room-mate that you are planning to meet someone from online. Tell him/her where you will be meeting and what time you expect to return home.
  • Provide your own transportation so that you can leave at any time.
  • Trust your feelings. If something doesn’t seem right, leave the situation immediately.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t be afraid of using the internet to meet people. If you use common sense, take precautions, and follow your instincts, meeting people online can be a very positive experience.

Remember that using the internet is becoming less of a “private” or “anonymous” experience. You need to be aware that your internet usage on shared computers can be easily tracked, recorded and monitored. For example, if you are using a shared computer at home or at work, your parents or your supervisors may be able to view what websites you have accessed even if you erase your internet browser history. Another example is that many large corporations have the ability to view their employees computer screens live (real-time) from a remote monitoring station. Unless you have your own computer that is password protected, you may want to consider using a public computer at a library or computer lab. With the exception of Church schools, most public libraries or school computer labs could care less if you are reading about things of a gay or lesbian theme (as long as it is not pornographic or sexually explicit). In most cases, you need not be afraid that a librarian is going to approach you and ask you why you are reading about being gay and Mormon. As long as you are not reading or displaying explicit material, and as long as you aren’t breaking the facility’s internet policy, it’s really none of their business what you read. In fact, some libraries will even let you visit gay chat rooms during your usage time. The most important thing to remember is that no matter where you are or what computer you use, you will undoubtedly leave cyber footprints on the computer which you use to access the internet, even if you think you’ve erased the internet usage history files on the computer.

Dance Clubs

Gay and lesbian people usually are not able to socialize with each other in large numbers throughout the week as straight people do. For this reason, many often choose to enjoy the company of other gay and lesbian people in dance clubs which host gay-themed nights on the weekends. However, some choose not to visit dance clubs because they don’t enjoy the environment there. Just like activities in your regular daily life, your experience at a dance club will be what you make it. For example, many people choose to drink alcohol while at a dance club and they may pressure you to do the same. If you don’t want to drink, be polite but firm in your decision not to drink. Be aware that drugs are also quite common place in dance clubs and bars.

If you are under 21, you most likely won’t be allowed entrance into some dance clubs. However, some places do have alcohol-free areas where those under 21 can dance and socialize. Not only are there rules for who is allowed to enter, but sometimes there are dress codes as well. Before you go, you may want to find out what the club rules are in order to save you some embarrassment of being turned away at the door. If you are over 21 and choose to drink alcohol, do so responsibly. Under no circumstances should you ever drive after you’ve been drinking. This is especially true if you are not experienced in knowing how your body reacts to alcohol. You should also never get into a car when the driver has been drinking or using drugs. If you need to, take a cab. The cost of a cab is far less than that of losing your own life in an automobile accident. This may seem like a lecture from a junior high health class, but you would be surprised at how many grown, professional adults forget this very simple advice.

If you have never been to a gay dance club before, be sure you attend with friends for your first visit. Going alone for your first time can be quite overwhelming.

Dating

The motivation and purpose of dating can be very different for each person. If you have decided that you want to start dating people of the same gender, the most important thing is to first identify what your purpose in dating will be. Dating without having any purpose or intention can lead to hurt feelings and broken hearts on both sides. You may decide to date to find a potential same-sex partner for a long term relationship. You may date just to get to know how gay and lesbian relationships work. You also may date to socialize and get to know other people. All of these (and many more) are perfectly healthy reasons for dating. If you aren’t sure what your purpose for dating is, you may not be ready to start dating.

When you do decide what your purpose for dating is, be sure to communicate it to those people that you date. This doesn’t mean that you should tell someone that you are looking for a life partner or spouse on your first date, but be careful not to mislead anyone or lead them to believe that you want something that you really don’t.

In most ways, dating someone of the same gender is just like dating someone of the opposite sex. Communication, honesty and trust are all important in dating no matter what your sexual orientation may be. However, unlike heterosexual dating, there really isn’t any form of etiquette for gay or lesbian dating. There aren’t any unwritten rules about who should buy dinner or who should open the door at the restaurant. This can be awkward at first, but it can also be a wonderful opportunity to find out about the way your date interacts with other people and how he or she acts in certain situations.

Heterosexual Marriage

Those who consider themselves bisexual may date people of both sexes and one day may choose to marry someone of the opposite sex. Ideally, the bisexual person in the relationship should communicate to his/her partner about his/her sexuality and sexual preferences early on in the relationship. If you consider yourself bisexual, you should never ask someone to marry you if you haven’t been honest with your partner about your bisexuality. To do so would be unfair to your partner and to yourself. Building a relationship on this kind of dishonesty is not only unhealthy, but it could also result in an early end of your marriage.

Likewise, if you know that you are sexually attracted only to members of the same sex, marriage to a person of the opposite sex should be avoided except in the most rare cases. A marriage in this situation should only be considered after much thought and prayer. It is crucial that both partners be made aware of the situation before vows are exchanged and given ample time to consider the likely challenges and heavy strains this will cause for their future marriage. Pre-marital counseling from a non-biased third party is strongly suggested. Meeting other men and women who have actually experienced the challenges of homosexuality or bisexuality in a heterosexual marriage would also be very advantageous. Gamofites, for example, is an organization comprised of gay Mormon fathers and has countless available resources not only in print, but in a person-to-person setting as well. Church leaders have also given very wonderful advice regarding this matter. President Gordon B. Hinckley has advised that marriage to the opposite sex should never be used as a means of trying to diminish your attractions to the same sex.14

Relationship issues relating to bisexuality or homosexuality within heterosexual marriage can be very complex and difficult to handle. If you are having difficulty dealing with these relationship issues, don’t be afraid to seek professional advice from marriage and family counselors who are trained in helping people in these situations.

Sexuality

One of the most common misconceptions that exists about gay people, and especially about gay men, is that every interaction they have with others of the same sex is motivated by desire for sexual activity. As most gay people will tell you, this is simply not true. Sexuality and intimacy are the same for gay people as they are for straight people. The only difference is that gay and lesbian people experience the feelings of attraction and desire for emotional intimacy with the same sex. Most gays and lesbians want to meet that perfect person, fall in love, and live happily ever after just as straight people do.

Just like straight people, gays and lesbians also exhibit varying degrees of attitudes and opinions about sex. There are both straight and gay people who have no desire for long term commitment, and find satisfaction only through sexual activity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there exist both straight and gay people who decide not to ever participate in sexual activity and declare themselves celibate. An important thing to remember regarding our sexuality is that we all have different needs, desires and motivations. Each person’s sexuality is a personal and private matter. No one has the right to pass judgment on another person’s sexual practices. Nor does anyone have the right to tell you how you should or shouldn’t express yourself sexually (unless of course you are breaking the law or harming another person in the process).

Your attitude and views about your own sexual practices will be something that you will need to decide for yourself. You are the only one who can decide what your boundaries and limitations will be. Since you are a young adult, don’t be surprised if you find that your attitudes and opinions about sexuality change over time. There is nothing wrong with this. Young adulthood is the time when most human beings explore and establish their set of beliefs about sex.

Keep in mind however, that exploring your sexuality does not require having experimental or even promiscuous sex. For example, you can explore your sexuality by reading books on the subjects of human sexuality, sex and religion, and the history of sex. You can also explore your own sexuality by discussing with other people what their own views and opinions are. As you learn about your own sexual self, be sure to keep an open mind. Sexuality is not something that can be explored freely while holding on to preconceived ideas. You don’t have to accept or believe the things you’ll learn in your exploration, but be open to new ideas and be careful about passing judgment on those whose sexual practices you may not agree with.

Deciding to actually participate in sexual activity should come only after you have given yourself a good education of the subject. It should also happen only after you have taken the time to ponder what sexual activity would do for you and what it will not do for you. Think about how sexual activity will affect all aspects of your life. These are all questions that you can’t answer in the moments after someone makes a sexual advance toward you, when you are trying to decide how to proceed. These are things that need to be considered well in advance of any possible sexual encounter.

If in your exploration of sexuality, you decide to participate in sexual activity, educate yourself first about safe sex practices. To reduce the risk of the transmission of the virus that causes AIDS (HIV), as well as other sexually transmitted diseases, learn how to use a condom or latex barrier. Always use a condom (or latex barrier) for oral sex (mouth to genitals), vaginal sex (penetration of the vagina), or anal sex (penetration of the anus). Never use any type of oil-based lubrication with a latex condom. Condoms are available in many places for no cost, such as family planning clinics. Your school health nurse may even have some for you. Condoms can also be purchased at any drug store or ordered via the internet to avoid embarrassment. There is no age restriction on the purchase of condoms, so you won’t need to show your ID or get your parent’s permission to buy them.

Remember that there are many ways to participate in sexual activity that don’t require oral, vaginal or anal sex. Kissing, rubbing on each other while clothed (sometimes called “dry humping” or “dry sex”) or masturbating each other are activities that are considered quite safe and have a lower risk of transmitting sexual diseases.

It’s quite common for gay and lesbian Mormon youth to participate in some type of sexual activity and then immediately afterwards feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. This guilt and shame can come about for many reasons. One person may feel guilty because he has just done something which he has been taught not to do, even without understanding why he was told not to do it. Another person may feel shame because she may not be considered “worthy” in the eyes of the Church. For a variety of reasons, this person may then involve themselves in additional sexual activity which results in more guilt and shame. This is a very uncomfortable and frustrating cycle to find yourself in. It usually happens when a person thinks he or she is ready to be involved sexually with someone else, when in actuality the person is far from ready. The cycle can also start when someone finds themselves in a situation that they didn’t expect to be in. When you’re in the heat of the moment, things can happen very quickly and the situation may end with something you didn’t expect to have happen. If you find yourself in this frustrating cycle, realize that doing something sexual with another person doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Even if you are active in the Church and wish to remain so, life will go on. We are human beings and human beings are sexual beings. God created us this way, so even He understands that humans will be sexual, even at times when they don’t expect to be. Regardless of the reason, remember that guilt and shame are useless emotions. It’s ok to learn from your experience, but it’s pointless to shame yourself. Don’t drown yourself in your own sea of guilt.

You also need to be aware that sex can carry with it some very powerful emotions. Humans are not like most other animals. Very rarely can we have sex and not have it impact us in some way, no matter how small. If you have never experienced sexual activity with another person, be prepared to have feelings about yourself and about your sex partner that you may not have expected to have. For example, you may enter a sexual situation thinking that it will only be about sex and nothing more. During sex and even after you’ve had sex, you may be surprised to find an overwhelming attraction or connection to your sex partner. Your sex partner may even feel this toward you, even if this wasn’t your intention at the beginning of the encounter. In another example, you may be very romantically interested in your sex partner, however he/she may be only interested in you for a recreational sexual experience. You must be prepared to handle your own feelings, your partners feelings, as well as situations that may occur after having sex.

After a sexual encounter, reexamine your feelings about your own sexuality. If you weren’t ready for what happened, that’s perfectly acceptable! We all travel different paths in life and at different speeds. Don’t rush yourself, especially with sex. If you truly aren’t ready for sexual activity with someone, be very careful to not allow yourself to get into a similar situation again until you are absolutely sure you are ready. Finally, talk to other gay Mormons for support and advice. As with most every topic in this booklet, many gay Mormons have experienced the same feelings you are going through.

Values

While each of us may have very different opinions about doctrine, policy, or practices, no one can argue that membership in the Church can provide a person with great opportunities to learn some very important principles. As members of the Church, we have been taught about the importance of honesty, hard work, integrity, and discipline, just to name a few.

For a variety of reasons, some gay Mormons decide to leave the Church or they may be removed from Church membership. Sometimes because of anger or sadness about this, a person may leave behind almost anything that has anything to do with the Church in their minds. Unfortunately, this sometimes includes abandoning some very valuable truths, many of which aren’t even specifically Mormon. If you decide to leave the Church or have been removed from Church membership, remember that no matter where your life leads you, don’t move from one stepping stone to another without taking with you the important lessons and values that you have learned along the way.

Service to Others

Being of service to others is one of the values that we learn from being members of Church. However, this is a value that is not unique to Mormonism. It is something that we should always remember to incorporate into our lives. Being a gay Mormon, you have a unique opportunity to be of great service to other gay Mormons. As you know from experience, being gay and Mormon is not the easiest thing to deal with. There are many gay Mormon youth who also feel very confused and alone and could use your help and guidance.

Consider volunteering for gay Mormon organizations, so that you can help other youth and young adults realize that they aren’t alone and that there are people who truly care about them. If you aren’t comfortable volunteering for these organizations, you can do many other things to be of service to gay Mormon youth. For example, be ready and willing to talk to others about your experiences when asked. If you see a post to an internet message board or group from someone who is just beginning to deal with his or her sexual orientation, send that person an e-mail letting him or her know that you would be happy to answer any questions he or she may have. Often times many confused youth and young adults visit gay chat rooms, hoping to find someone that will understand. If you spot one of these people while you are visiting a gay chat room, say hello and offer your online friendship.

Finally, one of the most powerful ways you can be of service to other gay Mormons is to be proactive in discouraging hurtful comments about gay and lesbian people at church, work, or school. This happens most often because people have been misinformed about something or they simply don’t understand. Speaking up to reeducate them or remind them to be respectful of others can be very difficult and takes a lot of courage! However, doing so can have the most powerful and lasting effects in the minds of those with whom you associate.

The Way Forward

Finally accepting the fact that you are gay or lesbian can be one of the most stress-relieving and freeing experiences that you will ever have. No longer do you have to wonder why you feel a certain way toward the same sex. No longer do you need to fight the war of feelings every day. You finally know who you are and why you feel the way you do. The next task is deciding what you will do with this “new” you.

One of the most important pieces of advice that can be given to gay youth and young adults is to slow down and simply take your time. Don’t rush your own “coming out” experience. It can be such a relief to finally figure out who you are, that you may find yourself pushing things faster than you may be ready to handle. Take time to figure out how your sexual orientation will affect your daily life. Use this new stepping stone in your life to set new goals and then carry them out. Give your goals priorities, putting first what is the most immediate and important for you to accomplish. Some of these goals may be related to your being gay or lesbian, and some may not.

Whether or not you are experiencing depression, a counselor or therapist can be of great help in helping you pace your life, set goals, and create the type of life you want to live.

Above all, remember that you are in control. This is your life. You have the freedom to make it the life you want it to be.

Resources & Information

Suggestions for Those Under Legal Age

Not being of legal age can have its own unique challenges when dealing with being gay and Mormon. Since people who are under the age that the law considers to be an “adult”, the ability to handle certain situations without parental involvement can be challenging. The purpose of this section is to provide some basic advice to those under legal age.

Finding a trusted adult to talk to about being gay and Mormon is extremely important. However, finding an unbiased person on your own with whom you can trust can be extraordinarily challenging. When trying to find an adult in whom you can confide, remember to “think outside the box”. Consider all of the adults you know. Try to think of adults such as teachers, co-workers, advisers, coaches or trainers, tutors. If you can’t seem to find a trusted, non-biased adult that you can speak with, try finding a professional counselor. Call a local mental health clinic and explain your situation. Let them know that you are in need of speaking with a counselor or therapist, but that you are a minor. They will let you know what you need to do to proceed.

If your parent or guardian is already aware of the issues about your sexual orientation, he or she may want you to see a counselor. Counseling may be provided by Church resources. If this is the case, be sure to have a discussion with your counselor before your sessions begin to outline what things are confidential and what things he will be allowed to communicate to your parents. Also discuss what your goals are for the counseling session. If your parents have requested that your counselor undergo “reparative therapy” with you to attempt to re-orient your sexuality and this is not something that you want to have happen, be sure to make this known to your therapist. As an alternative, you can use the counseling sessions to talk about other issues that you may want to discuss (such as school life, career, family relationships, etc.).

Transgender and Transsexual Issues

Transgender and transsexual issues are not covered in this booklet. In fact, an entirely separate booklet would be required to cover these important subjects. It is hoped that future editions of this booklet will cover these topics. For the time being, please consult your local library for more information on these topics. Visit the transgender area of the Affirmation website at www.affirmation.org/transgender. You may also find a great deal of information on the internet by searching for “transgender Mormons” or “transsexual Mormons”.

 

Resources

Physical Needs

Sexually Transmitted Diseases
www.plannedparenthood.org
Up-to-date information about how to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (formerly called sexually transmitted diseases or STDs)

Emotional Needs

The Trevor Helpline
www.thetrevorproject.org
If you are thinking about suicide or just feeling down and need someone to talk to, call the Trevor Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 866-4-U-TREVOR or 866-488-7386. The Trevor Helpline is for gay/lesbian/questioning youth. It’s a toll free, which means it’s free and no evidence that you made the call will show up on the phone bill. Confidentiality is a top priority. The counselors at the helpline are trained to deal with any kind of crisis. All are trained in gay and lesbian/confused/questioning and coming out issues; all are non-judgmental and they will not make any judgments on you regardless of how you identify your sexuality or even if you can’t identify it.

Crisis Intervention Center [USA]
1-800-999-9999

London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard [UK]
020-7837-7324

Spiritual Needs

LDS THEMED RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL ORGANIZATIONS

LDS Reconciliation
www.ldsreconciliation.org

New Order Mormons
www.newordermormon.org

Reform Mormonism
www.reformmormonism.org

Community of Christ
www.cofchrist.org

NON-LDS CHURCHES

Cathedral of Hope
www.cathedralofhope.com

Church of Religious Science
www.spirituallyfree.org

Disciples of Christ
www.gladalliance.org

Episcopal Church In The United States [Gay issues are a hotly contested topic right now in the Episcopal Church. Please be aware that some congregations are more gay welcoming than others.]
www.episcopalchurch.org

Metropolitan Community Church
www.mccchurch.org

Quakers (Society of Friends)
www.quaker.org/flgbtqc

Unitarian Universalist
www.uua.org

United Church of Christ
www.ucc.org

SPIRITUAL ORGANIZATIONS (NON RELIGIOUS)

Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC)
www.rosicrucian.org

Builders of the Adytum
www.bota.org

The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids
www.druidry.org

Theosophical Society in America
www.theosophical.org

POLICIES & TEACHINGS ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY AMONG VARIOUS RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS

Policies Of 45 Christian Denominations On Homosexuality
www.religioustolerance.org/hom_chur2.htm

Policies & Teachings About Homosexuality In Judaism
www.religioustolerance.org/hom_judaism.htm

Policies & Teachings About Homosexuality in Non-Judeo-Christian Religions
www.religioustolerance.org/hom_chur3.htm

OTHER WEBSITES OF INTEREST

Bridges Across the Divide
www.bridges-across.org
“cyberspace initiative providing models and resources for building respectful relationships across the divide among those who disagree about sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Gay Mormon Organizations & Other Support Groups

Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons
www.affirmation.org
The official web site for Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons. “Affirmation serves the needs of gays, lesbians, bisexual LDS and their supportive family and friends through social and educational activities.”

Ex-Mormon
www.exmormon.org
An online informational support for those who are questioning their faith in the Mormon Church and for those who need support in the transition from membership in the Church. The organization does not advocate or affiliate with any particular religion.

Family Fellowship
www.ldsfamilyfellowship.org
Family Fellowship is “a volunteer service organization, a diverse collection of Mormon families engaged in the cause of strengthening families with homosexual members.”

Gamofites – Gay Mormon Fathers
www.gamofites.org
“Men united in the joys and challenges of being fathers, Gay, and Mormon. We are dedicated to fostering and supporting the needs and individual growth of members in an environment of confidentiality, trust, and unconditional love.”

Gay and Lesbian Acceptance
www.galaweb.org
“GALA is an association of gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight persons, their families and friends of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) faith community.”

GLYA World
www.glyaworld.wordpress.com
Resources for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender LDS young adults

GayMormon (website only)
www.gaymormon.com
Loaded with information about everything related to being gay and Mormon. This site includes information on doctrine, policy, case studies, advice, and resources.

Gay Mormon Stories
www.gaymormonstories.com
A website to provide a forum for gay men, lesbians and their families and friends to share their stories. The common denominator is Mormonism with the hope that those who are journeying therein will feel less alone after reading these stories.

Student & University Organizations

DLSU
organizations.weber.edu/dlsu
Delta Lambda Sappho Union at Weber State University

LGSU
www.utah.edu/lgsu
Lesbian and Gay Student Union at the University of Utah

Gay Student Center
gaystudentcenter.studentcenter.org
Website for gay students in the USA

Youth Organizations & Websites

Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth
www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/justthefacts.html
Wonderful article produced by the American Psychological Association and endorsed by over 10 other professional associations.

Youth Guardian
www.youth-guard.org
A site run by gay youth, giving support via the internet to gay/questioning youth.

Youth Resource
www.youthresource.com
Search for gay youth resources in your area! Plus, the website is full of resources on health, sexuality, community, and lives of gay youth.

Magazines

XY Magazine
www.xy.com

Oasis Magazine
www.oasismag.com

Endnotes

  1. For the Strength of Youth, 2004, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  2. Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, p. 7.
  3. Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons, website article.
  4. The Presbyterian Church, Mt. Kisco, New York, The Blue Book: What We Wish We Had Known, located online at http://www.pcmk.org/blue_book.pdf.
  5. Peter Gomez, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1996) p. 147.
  6. Gomez, ibid. p. 162.
  7. Dan Egan, “LDS Stance on Gay Law Divides Members”, The Salt Lake Tribune, March 2000.
  8. Jodi Mardesich, ” Pass or Fail,” The Advocate, 25 Sept. 2001.
  9. Ernest L. Wilkinson, “Make Honor Your Standard.” BYU Speeches of the Year, 1965-66. Provo, UT : Brigham Young University Press, 1966, p. 9. BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson expressed BYU’s intent not “to admit to our campus any homosexuals. If any of you have this tendency and have not completely abandoned it, may I suggest that you leave the university immediately after this assembly; and if you will be honest enough to let us know the reason, we will voluntarily refund your tuition. We do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence.”
  10. Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons website, “Youth Frequently Asked Questions.” The original article text uses the word “gayness” instead of “homosexuality”. The synonym “homosexuality” was substituted by the author of the current work to create a more professional and grammatical tone.
  11. American Psychological Association, “Just the Facts,” www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/justthefacts.html#2.
  12. Ron Schow, Ph.D., Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., William Bradshaw, Ph.D., Marybeth Raynes, LCSW, The Persistence of Same Sex Attraction in Latter-day Saints Who Undergo Counseling or Change Therapy, 2004.
  13. Media Awareness Network, “Advertising and Gay Consumers”, 2005, located online at www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/gays_and_lesbians/gay_advertising.cfm?RenderForPrint=1. “Advertising and Gay Consumers,” posted at www.media-awareness.ca.
  14. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Reverence and Morality,” Ensign, May 1987, 45.

Photo Credits

Photos included in this work were obtained from the Getty Images website (www.gettyimages.com). These photos are royalty-free and permission is given for non-commercial use.

About the Author

Aaron Cloward was raised in the small Mormon community of Mt. Pleasant, Utah. In high school he was actively involved in student government as well as Church leadership. He served on his high school LDS Seminary Council as a youth presenter and speaker in several area Stakes.

From 1995-97, Aaron’s church involvement and leadership continued into his full-time missionary service in the California Ventura mission. Upon returning from his mission Aaron attended Dixie College in St. George, Utah where he fulfilled other church leadership callings in Elders Quorum presidencies and as President of the LDS fraternity Sigma Gamma Chi.

After involvement with Evergreen International, Aaron saw a lack of positive, healthy and safe social opportunities especially for gay youth and young adults who shared a Mormon background. As a result, he created Gay LDS Young Adults in March of 2001 in Salt Lake City, Utah. GLYA, a social organization for GLBT Mormon youth and young adults, is now organized in various parts of the western United States.

Since the creation of GLYA, Aaron has been an active advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and young adults from a Mormon background. He has presented several workshops at national conferences for organizations such as Affirmation, PFLAG and Sunstone Symposium.

Aaron currently resides in Salt Lake City.

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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