Transcription of April 2014 Affirmation Post General Conference Discussion

Speakers: Berta Marquez, Bob Rees, Erika Munson, Greg Prince, John Gustav-Wrathall, Randall Thacker, Samy Galvez

RANDALL: Welcome to the Affirmation April 2014 Post General Conference Discussion, we look forward to this opportunity to discuss your comments, questions, concerns or thoughts regarding the talks that were given during this last conference.

On our call today we have some wonderful individuals from the LGBT/ SSA Latter-day Saint community. I’d like to ask each one of them to briefly intro her- or himself and then we’ll begin to take your questions. So if you would go ahead and go for us first, Samy.

SAMY: My name is Samy Galvez and I was born and raised in Guatemala. I am currently attending BYU, where I am studying neuroscience. I served my mission in the California, Oakland San Francisco mission, got back about 2 years ago. Currently serving as the President of USGA, which is the only LGBT related community here at BYU.

RANDALL: Thank you Samy. John?

JOHN: I’m John Gustav-Wrathall, I was born and raised in the Church. I served a mission in the Swiss Geneva Mission. I’m the Senior Vice President of Affirmation. I teach in religious history at a Protestant theological seminary in the Twin Cities.

RANDALL: Greg.

GREG: Greg Prince, and since we’re talking about missions; I served a mission in southern Brazil from ’67-’69 so that dates me. I spent 40 years in bio med research, retired from that, did a little writing along the way, just finished a biography, and I’m on the Affirmation Board of Directors.

RANDALL: Thank you. Bob?

BOB: This is Bob Rees. I guess I could say I served a mission in the Northern States Mission and then later 4 years in the Baltic States Mission. I teach Mormonism at UC Berkley and UC Santa Cruz. I have long been interested in and engaged in LGBT issues as in relation to Mormonism.

BERTA: Just by way of explanation, Dr. Rees is joining us by audio only, that’s why you don’t see him in so far as video is concerned.

RANDALL: Go ahead Berta.

BERTA: Hi, my name is Berta and I just help in variety of capacities surrounding advocacy for the LGBT community, particularly as it relates to LGBT homeless youth and LGBT persons and how the two intersect.

RANDALL: Erika?

ERIKA: My name is Erika Munson, and I’m the cofounder of Mormons Building Bridges. I live in Sandy, Utah. I’ve got five kids; one is still at home. I have not been on a mission. MBB was founded 2 years ago to make LDS wards and families more welcoming for LGBT people, and to help those people to support those people on their life’s path. I’m probably one of the newest to LGBT advocacy in this group—that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two years. I also teach English at a local private high school.

RANDALL: Thank you Erika. We also have two other individuals who were unable to get onto the call tonight, Tim Weymann, who is an LCSW, and Judy Finch. And hopefully they’ll be able to join us for a future call of this nature.
So to begin our conversation, I’d like to open it up to all those who are participating here on our call to let you know how this will work. If you have a question, a thought, a comment that you would like to hear the panel’s thoughts on, please email contact@affirmation.org. That’s contact@affirmation.org. And then we will take that and read it to the panel and then discuss it.

The first question that we have is in light of Elder Andersen’s talk regarding the Church’s continued stance against same-sex marriage:

“Is there truly a place for LGBT couples, particularly married LGBT couples, within the Mormon faith?”

Who would like to take that?

JOHN: Well, I guess as a married gay Mormon who’s married to a man, I guess I’ll respond to it.

I think that obviously that the situation that somebody like me faces has always been problematic. I don’t think that Elder Andersen’s comments really change anything. They don’t change my status in relation to the Church. If you’re in the situation, obviously you’re going to face some sort of discipline. There are some parts of the Church where that isn’t true, where bishops and stake presidents are choosing not to take disciplinary action.

It seems to me that in light of some of the things that Elder Andersen said… in terms of treating people with kindness and consideration regardless of their decisions or their beliefs. Being as active in my ward as I am, I couldn’t help but think that a statement of that nature would only serve to open things up between members of my ward and myself.

I think what he is saying is that he’s giving permission for members of my ward to treat me with kindness and consideration regardless of the decisions I’ve made in regards to my relationship. And anybody that’s seeking out to me in empathy and wants to understand where I’m coming from, I’m happy to share my story and tell them why I’ve made those decisions and what that means to me as a gay man who also has a testimony of the gospel.

I felt good about the fact that he followed up his very strong reiteration of the Church’s stance. He certainly wasn’t announcing anything new. But to pair his reiteration of what we already knew the Church teaches right now with very strong statements about saying there’s no room for bullying or…

ERIKA: Bigotry. He used the term bigotry.

JOHN: Bigotry. He used the word bigotry. That was a stunner because that’s a word the LDS community has tended to be very defensive about and for him to use that word I thought that was huge too. And that was as much to acknowledge that there are problems on both sides of this issue and we need to treat each other with kindness.

Overall I felt happy about it. I know that I’m not typical in a lot of ways.

RANDALL: Thank you John. Anyone other people who…

GREG: Randall, can I address a question to John as a follow-up?

RANDALL: Sure.

GREG: John, how has your ward changed since you became a part of it?

JOHN: Oh…well, I can say that there’s been a very dramatic change that I’ve
perceived just in terms of people’s openness towards me, and I’ve developed some very deep, warm, positive relationships with members of my ward. I don’t feel like I’m a non-member, I’m excommunicated, but I don’t feel like a non-member. I feel people treat me as if I’m a member of the Church. I can’t give talks and things like that, but I’ve noticed a sea change. I want to say the turning point was 2 or 3 years ago when it just felt like sort of climatic change within my ward.

BOB: I’d like to add something in terms of my observations in terms of Elder Andersen’s talk. It seems to me that one of the problems we face in the Church is that there seems to be a double standard. We don’t use the same rhetoric to talk about people who are cohabitating in our wards.

In every ward I’ve been in, there’s been heterosexual couples who are cohabitating. They are welcome to church. They have home teachers and visiting teachers. There’s a very different feeling towards them. People who live in common-law marriages are generally treated differently as well.

Now, we have a situation now where people are legally and lawfully wedded according to the law of the land. It seems to me that it opens up a possibility that people who are married in same-sex relationships should be welcomed into congregations. And sometimes they are, but by and large, they are not. I think we have a double standard, and I think it’s important we acknowledge that.
GREG: I think what John points out is what we would like to see replicated all over the Church, and that is ‘show up.’ Show up, and be part of the community of believers. Show them that not only is there nothing to be afraid of, but that the whole congregational experience is enriched because you are there. And if enough of this happens over a long enough period of time, then you get the phenomenon of ‘trickle-up revelation.’

BOB: I had a lesbian couple that wanted to come back to church recently. They asked me if I knew a bishop who was friendly. I knew there was one who was friendly—or I thought he was. They approached him about coming to his ward. They were married, and he said that he had no alternative but to excommunicate them if they did come back.

I think that this is a danger and why many people do not feel safe coming back. I think there are stakes in which there is less fear. I think there is no question that many gay people are hesitant to come back despite that they want to.

BERTA: I just wanted to qualify that by saying that research shows that these feelings that people have—of fear, or uncertainty, or even antagonism—come from a lack of actually knowing someone and humanizing that two-dimensional caricature that they might have of what an LGBT soul or family is or looks like. Similar to how we as Mormons have been treated in the past and sometimes still are.

So, showing up certainly does have power—in that you’re humanizing the Other. You’re a safe space for other people, and I think you give others the opportunity to examine some of their preconceptions and notions. But I want to qualify that by saying that it’s going to really depend on the bishopric. I mean, in the LDS LGBT community, we call it “bishop,”… or what—how welcome one is, the tone that is set in the ward, and how you will be treated, and those sorts of things.

You really want to gauge that sort of opportunity to worship and fellowship with the Saints and humanize the Other and be a safe space with what’s going to be most conducive to your wellbeing—spiritually, and emotionally, and so on. And if there’s some kind of aggression, and if to return would need to be subject to a disciplinary council or a sort of entrenched cross-cultural antagonism in that congregation, then you need you have to gauge what’s going to be most conducive to your wellbeing as well… even though I understand and see that beauty in potentiality and fellowshipping with fellow Latter-day Saints at the congregational level.

For me right now, I feel I am better able to be an advocate for the most vulnerable and to do the work that I’m doing and I’m able to protect my spiritual wellbeing more by simply being involved in my ward—only in so far as service projects are concerned.

So, if somebody is sick, if somebody needs their house cleaned, if the chapel needs to be cleaned… So that my worship is based more on my private relationship with my Savior and not so much on the public, communal aspects of worships. I wish that were possible, but to protect myself as far as my emotional and spiritual wellbeing, this is where I am right now. I see both sides and value in both and to people I say: write your narrative based on what feeds your spirit most.

RANDALL: Thank you so much everybody, those are great comments. I’m going to move onto the next question if that’s ok. This question is:

“I am an ally, and every time I hear talks against LGBT members of the Church, I have a stronger and stronger desire to leave the faith. What keeps you in the faith? What will keep me in the faith?”

ERIKA: Can I start?

SAMY: You can start and I can go after you.

ERIKA: Ok. That’s a very personal decision, and I would never want to try to convince anyone to stay. But the reason that I stay is that I have a testimony. I have my experience with the Church, and my whole life has been very wonderful and enriching. But as far as LGBT issues are concerned, whether I stay in the Church or not, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids will continue to be born to Mormon parents, and I feel that we need to get those parents ready.

RANDALL: Thank you very much. Samy?

SAMY: Well, something interesting about the wording of this question is that… where you said ‘talks against LGBT people.’ From my perception at least, I don’t take talks as if they’re against me, even though I very much identify as part of the LGBT community. I think they’re talks that are defining and defending what’s already been established, but I don’t think these are personal attacks on people, and that’s how I chose to perceive it. But I also recognize that it is sometimes hard not to receive talks as direct attacks…. because of things that can be said.
Sometimes it does get hard. I think that, for me, it is based off the atonement of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how I view my own covenants with Him. I recognize that everyone will live his or her own covenants in a certain way, and I have decided that I have to stay in the Church if I want to be true to those covenants.

I have taken those covenants very personally, and they have helped me to develop my relationship with God in a very personal way. And everyone needs to figure it out on their own, but I know that as I’ve strived to find that same kind of relationship, I have found much fulfillment by staying in the Church.

I also recognize that there are so many things to do—especially here at BYU—and so many people to help.

But my main reason for staying in the Church is because I do believe that the Church does have the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I also know that there are many things that we don’t know. So I recognize that I need to be patient, and I need to wait to learn more about these things. But just because we don’t know those these things doesn’t mean that the things that I do know aren’t true. And that’s why I’ve chosen to stay.

GREG: I think the first question that you have to ask yourself is: ‘Whose church is it?’ If it’s their church—however you define ‘their’—then you’re gonna lose. If it’s your church, then make it work for you. If you can do that, then you’re gonna have the best answer to: ‘Can I stay the course in this church?’ But you can’t allow other people to set that agenda for you.

RANDALL: Thank you. Any other comments on this question?

BOB: I just want to say—again, with a lifetime of working on these issues, you generally are not able to effect change outside the Church. So, staying in if you can, in Greg’s terms. Find a way as you define your own personal relationship to the Church and this belief system.

I recognize that some people can’t stay in because it’s too painful, and they get hurt and bruised. But for those allies who can stay, then it seems to me… kind of segueing off what Erika said, of a much greater chance of effecting change. And change is definitely much needed.

JOHN: I was just going to say ‘amen’ to that beautiful testimony that Samy shared. You stay active in the Church because you have a testimony and because it provides you a context for growth and joy.

I find that even with the restrictions on my status, I would never encourage someone who is struggling and in pain and finding that they go to Church and come away feeling injured. I would never advise somebody in that situation to just stay.
If you’re not finding joy in it, maybe you need to take a break, but I really love our allies and it brings me joy to see people who love and support LGBT people and want to provide a solace and support and strength. It makes me happy to see those people when I go to church every Sunday. I have a few allies in my ward, and it’s wonderful.

RANDALL: Thank you everybody, I have a few new questions here:

“I do not want to get excommunicated, so how do you recommend I practice my faith and gradually integrate with other Mormons?”

Maybe I can take this one to begin. So, I spent about 9 years away from active participation from the Church, and I found that the first thing I had to do was to build an ability to pray to my Heavenly Father and to believe that He would hear me and that He would really answer my prayers.

Developing that relationship was the first way I could practice my faith and really feel unconditional love. I also got integrated with other gay Mormons in the area, who did not attend church but had a strong love of the gospel. And I enjoyed really rich conversations in time with them. And I’ve met many wonderful friends through Affirmation, who have given me great strength, and with whom I can really relish in the great truths of the gospel.

I reached a certain point in my life where I finally felt like I was ready to walk through the door, hell or high water, so I walked back in and I was treated amazingly well—even being in a relationship. I know I had a unique experience, and people tell me that all the time.

Gradually I met allies within the ward, and they advocated for me and said they wanted my help in various callings and so then I was given those callings. Of course, not priesthood-related callings—I’m equal to the women now. And so you just have to do what’s comfortable to you. Just have that strong assurance that your Heavenly Parents really love you, tremendously so. And that’s my thought.

Any other thoughts here?

BOB: I would say to anybody who wants to be safe to move to some place like the Oakland stake, where recently a gay couple welcomed into one of the wards in the Oakland stake adopted a baby, and the Relief Society gave them a baby shower. That’s a good story.

SAMY: I lived in the Oakland stake for a while because I served my mission there, and I just want to say that President Criddle from the Oakland stake is just great. Sometimes we need to be realistic, and sometimes we’re going to need to make decisions that will have consequences. If we choose certain things, we will be excommunicated, and we just need to be really aware of that.

We just need to weigh what we treasure most, and I understand that’s very personal. And for some people, it works better staying in the Church because they treasure that membership and that full activity in the Church. But for some other people that can be toxic. Some people need to make an active decision and say: ‘I know I’m going to be excommunicated, but nonetheless I feel like this is what is right for me.’

I think that it should all be made with an emphasis on our relationship with God and making that what’s important—remembering that this isn’t about our relationship with the Church, but our relationship with God. If I feel I can talk to Him and say, ‘I feel like this is what You really want me to do,’ and feel at peace despite what consequences come.

RANDALL: Any other comments?

GREG: Yes. About three years ago, I set up a meeting that involved myself, a General Authority, and Rick Jacobs who was the founder of the Courage Campaign in California. About halfway through our four-hour meeting, he said: ‘Tell me what it is about Mormonism that brings joy to you.’

Even though we have a scripture [2 Nephi 2:25] that talks about that very thing, we don’t talk about it much, so the General Authority and I both took our turns, and Rick said: “Wow, I never understood that about Mormonism. I get it now.”

I think that’s a lesson to us—that sometimes we get so bogged down in the routine, and whatever the curriculum might be, that we forget that the whole point is to have joy, and if you can have a joyful experience, then some of the other details don’t matter that much. If you’re not having a joyful experience, then you better figure out how to fix it.

ERIKA: You know, I think that’s an essential difficulty with the LGBT community—in particular the non-Mormon LGBT community, who for many years have had every reason to resent Mormons, and that there’s not that understanding. And Mormons haven’t been very good at communicating what it is about their church that they love.

You see happy wonderful pictures of gay families and gay people getting married here in Utah…and then you see general statements coming out of Church Public Affairs. And you can’t compare those two experiences. So Mormons have to talk a little more about that joy. I totally agree with you, Greg.

RANDALL: Thank you. Our next question:

“I am the mother of a son who just came out to me and I’m unsure how to respond. I want him to keep his temple covenants and have a family, and my heart just breaks. How do I respond to my son?”

BERTA: I would recommend reading the Family Acceptance Project pamphlet. We’ll go ahead and provide a link for that on our page, and we can email it to you. It’s wonderful, and based on ten years of research, and helps parents learn how to navigate—especially Mormon parents—how to love their child and affirm their child and not feel like they have to choose between their faith and their child. The direct correlation between how that child is treated in their home and whether or not they will adopt life-affirming behaviors or destructive behaviors such as addiction, etc. ….

So you, as a mom, have a tremendous amount of power insofar as guiding your child to have a happy and hopeful life that is full of possibility in that respect. I think that’s a really great starting point. From the LGBT young people that I work with who are thriving and doing well generally, the parent just expresses unconditional love and is there for that child.

I can totally understand we have this narrative: ‘My kid is going to marry in the temple and is going to have children.’ And it seems that if a child is LGBT, the bets are off. But I think one of the most powerful things a parent can do–at least insofar as the youth that I work with, and the research from a variety of universities, including San Francisco State from where the Family Acceptance Project comes from–is simply… unconditionally love that child and then allow them that self-determination on their path, and be there in a way that is kindly and loving.

JOHN: I want to say something to this.

I know that when I made the decision to leave the Church it really broke my parents’ hearts. I know that was extremely painful and difficult to them. One of the things my parents did do was… they were unconditionally loving. We went through some bumpy terrain, but ultimately my parents came to a point where they accepted that my decisions were my own and they were going to love me unconditionally.

I know that my parents were praying for me for many years and it was really a joyful thing for them when I decided that I wanted to start coming back to the Church and getting active. In many ways, one of the reasons that the Spirit moved me to come back was because of their prayers on my behalf.

I’ve noticed a pattern: Affirmation has sponsored a group for individuals who want to be active in the Church, and we have people in that group who are across the spectrum in terms of decisions that they’ve made. Some are celibate and maintain full standing in the Church. Some of us are, like me, in a same-sex relationship, and in and out of the Church, and may be subject to various kinds of discipline.
But one of the patterns I’ve noticed is that most of the people in that group experience unconditional love and support from their parents. That, to me, seems to be a really strong factor in explaining why people want to stay close to the Church regardless of their relationship status or whatever decisions they ultimately choose to make.

BOB: Let me ,at the risk of promoting something that I’ve written, but I want to talk about the Family Acceptance Project Guide for Latter-day Saint families who have LGBT children. That booklet, which is available for free, gives you the list of those behaviors that lead to high risk for young people who are LGBT, high risk of depression of drug addiction, of suicide. And it lists the behaviors that parents and family members can give, which helps ensure that that child will have a healthy and safe life. I really recommend Caitlin Ryan’s research on this as the most important research that’s been done on the subject, and it’s available to anyone who would like to get a copy.

SAMY: I would also like to point out that I came out to my mother last year, and it’s been a really bumpy road, and it’s been really difficult. She has things that she wants for me, and it isn’t that she’s trying to plan my life or control my life, but it’s just simple maternal desires that are natural and that every mother wants. They’re just following what they’ve been told, that narrative that Berta was talking about.

I think that it is important to recognize that sometimes our Heavenly Father has plans that are different from what we think–yet that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Our Heavenly Father has provided avenues for everyone to be able to be successful in this life, and just because we don’t fit the cookie cutter model that most people fit doesn’t mean that we aren’t able to fulfill our Heavenly Father’s plan, whatever that is for us.

I think sometimes we like to look at the plan of salvation as this carwash and it’s going to be the same thing for everyone… but in reality our Heavenly Father needs special individuals and needs different individuals to accomplish all His purposes. So recognize that, and then help your son to talk to our Heavenly Father and then fulfill that plan that Heavenly Father has for him. I think as we do that and focus on those expectations rather than our own we are able to promote faith and promote a relationship with God instead of destroying by imposing our own expectations and I think that is very helpful.

RANDALL: Thank you everybody. Next question:

“How do I live a decent life outside of Mormonism? I’m afraid to leave but really feel that it’s the best thing for me to do right now.”

BERTA: I am friends with and I work with people who are fully active in the Church, as well as those who feel that for them it’s better to disassociate from it, and there are support groups associated with that.

Ultimately I see a lot of blessings from integrating and including Mormonism in my life on terms that feel life-affirming to me. It is entirely possible to build a personal code of ethics and a cosmology where you are loved and valued, etc. And there are support groups specific to those who feel the need, for a variety of reasons, to leave the Church. So sometimes finding fellow travelers can be helpful. I think, more than anything: try to remember that it isn’t necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Unfortunately, sometimes people, in adopting a different cosmology from Mormonism, feel that you need to go from one extreme binary to the other. But ask yourself what it is that resonates with you within this faith tradition. And if you want to retain that, then retain it and then be the writer of your own narrative, based on your own inner teacher–whether you believe in the light of Christ or in the spirit or on a personal relationship with the divine. Examine closely what speaks to your heart, what feels ethical and good, and trust yourself to be the writer of your own narrative.

Mormonism is beautiful and has many things for me that resonate–that I continue to integrate and practice. And there are things that feel like I’m pushing a handcart and don’t necessarily empower me to be the best person that I can be. So those are things that I feel I don’t need to hang on to. Ultimately, have the courage to be the writer of your own narrative, and it is possible and to navigate a path in a manner that is ethical, and it doesn’t have to involve the rejection of everything.

That’s what has been helpful for many of my friends who need to transition out in a way that’s healthy. Listen closely to what your heart tells you, and your personal relationship with God, and what resonates with you and what doesn’t. Follow what resonates.i

JOHN: I lived away from the Church; I left the Church basically for about 18 years. I think when I grew up in the Church and before I left the Church that I had somehow imagined that life was not possible outside of Mormonism, and I discovered that that wasn’t true.

I lived a very happy and fulfilling life, and I did seek spirituality in other forms. Most of that time I was active in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and then later my husband and I were active in a United Church of Christ congregation. And in those settings I was surrounded by good people. I was surrounded by people who had faith in God, and who loved God, and who were trying to live good lives, and who were examples for me. It provided a really good context for me. I hear other people who have left the Church, and they talk about that experience, and they also have the experience of being surprised at how good their life can be outside the Church. For many people, it’s a great relief especially if you feel you’re living a double life.

I came back ultimately because I came to a point in my life where I felt this spiritual yearning. I had a spiritual experience where I felt invited by the Lord to come back to the Church, and that’s why I came back. But I think that in many ways the time I spent away from the Church was a preparation for me and helped me to find a stronger foundation in my life that enables me to find my place back among the Saints.

BOB: One of the things I found in my experience over the years is that because of the nature of Latter-day Saint theology, many gay and lesbian people who leave the Church do not seek a spiritual home elsewhere, and that to me seems to be a huge loss both to them and for other faith traditions.

As someone who teaches people in a ministerial, theological university, I find such goodness and devotion to God and Christ. And there are many places that I feel that if you don’t feel uncomfortable and know you have a safe home within Mormonism, there are many places where you could have the kind of experience John speaks about.

For other people, I don’t think the best choice to them is to join the church of secularism. Because I think if you grow up in the Mormon Church you have a thirst for the spiritual and for the holy, and other faith traditions have that. So finding ways to make a spiritual life outside of Mormonism, if that’s your choice, is certainly one I think could lead to a healthy emotional and spiritual life.
ERIKA: I have two children who have left the Church; they’re both straight, and they live very wonderful, rich, decent, moral and ethical lives and took a lot of the things they loved about Mormonism with them. And it’s still part of their lives in many ways, but it’s much better for them to be in a different paradigm than the Church’s.

RANDALL: Thank you everybody for those wonderful responses. So I have another question:

“So do you think the Church will eventually accept married, committed gay couples without excommunication and allow them to serve fully within the Church?”

SAMY: Well, I would like to think that there’s hope for that. And we were talking about a double standard, right? I’ve certainly seen that double standard here at BYU, especially because straight couples are allowed to hold hands, girls can hold hands with anyone, and even straight guys can hold hands with each other, but I can’t. So it’s an interesting double standard that we’re seeing.

I do believe that there are certain policies that will change over time, I don’t know the extent, but I have hope of that we will incorporate all the talents, all the gifts, and all the goodness that gay couples can bring to congregation — because I believe there is so much that they can offer. In regards to doctrine and marriage I have no idea, but in regards to smaller policies, I’m hopeful that there will be change.

RANDALL: Thank you Samy.

BERTA: I was just going to say that… one of the things that a really good friend told me during the process of trying to figure out how to come out and how to live in a way that’s authentic to me personally—and that’s going to be different for everyone—is: ‘You don’t have to be a martyr to the cultural and historical context within which you operate.’

I really love that because it tells me that I don’t have to limit myself to the perceptions that are popular in my surroundings or any kind of external validation. And in this journey I’ve learned to prize my personal relationship with my Savior above anything, including policy and cultural practices and perceptions.

So whether or not the Church choses to theologically integrate in a way that it is formalized–married LGBT couples, etc.–I feel pretty happy and pretty secure in my relationship with my Savior, and I’m pursuing that for myself.

While I have no way of knowing the future-and I agree with Samy that certainly there are things that may change, in that respect, slowly over time, insofar as inclusion and integration at the level of chapel practice and in our homes, etc.–I don’t feel like I have to be a martyr to that in order to have joy or happiness.

BOB: Twenty-five years ago, when I was released as the bishop of the Los Angeles first singles ward, I commented to my wife as I looked into the future that the only solution for the Church was to have a standard of premarital chastity and post marital fidelity. That meant that everyone should have the opportunity to enter into a relationship.

I think where we are now is that the Church faces a critical decision as to whether or not it is going to have a policy that includes those people who are in same-sex marriages–or keep them from the circle or fold, or the ‘tent’ of the Church.

Essentially, I think it comes down to that—there are exceptions—but we lose, especially after age 30, the vast majority of them. And it seems to me that a solution is there for those who are in legal and lawful marriages to be accepted within the Church.

Whether that happens or not I think many people are hopeful that it will happen.

RANDALL: Thank you. Any other thought on this question?

Let’s see here. I received an email saying that there’s another website this mother could reference that’s gaysandmormons.org. That’s not the mormonsandgays.org website of the Church–it’s just the opposite, gaysandmormons.org. And it helps parents who are trying to understand their children.

“How do we get leaders of the Church to stop equating our relationships to the decline of morality in the world?”

ERIKA: That is such a good question. I am so tired of that. This whole– ‘the world is in horrendous decline!’–thing that people have been saying for eons, centuries, and millennia. I just have a hard time with it. I think that by many measures the world is a far better place: by the number of people who aren’t involved in wars, the number of people that are fed, and the number of people who have families. My first reaction is that of frustration. I don’t have anything to say.

GREG: Perhaps you could give them the rejoinder from joining the choir, and twist a little bit and say: ‘Show me the data.’

ERIKA: Yeah.

GREG: Because I haven’t seen that data. All I’ve seen is scare talk.

ERIKA: Yeah.

SAMY: I think it’s really because homosexuality, for so long, has been connected to immorality in the past. In our society that is definitely hard.
One of the things that helps the most—at least to me—is to come out. I’m not saying anyone should come out, but I do realize that when I do come out to people, they are able to see that immorality does not equal homosexuality or bisexuality and that your sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with how you live your morality.

There are plenty of heterosexual people out there, who are cisgender who are immoral. And there are plenty of people out there who are not heterosexual or who are not cisgender whose moralities I admire and look up to. I don’t know how to approach our current leaders, but our future leaders are walking around BYU campus. So I’m trying to talk to as many of them as I can so I can touch their lives, so that in the future we can remain friends, and they can remember the experiences that they’ve had while they were with me or with other amazing gay or lesbian friends here at BYU.

JOHN: You know, I would just like to say that I’ve talked to a lot of people about the issue of same-sex marriage. Those who support it support it because they want to help provide a moral framework for same-sex couples. I’m old enough to remember when things were very, very different in the gay community. I think that we’re seeing a growing concern among LGBT people that, you know, we want the kind of joy in our lives that comes from having committed, loving, caring, stable relationships. To me, that seems like an increase in morality—not a decrease. We see that support for same-sex marriage is rising dramatically in Utah, as it is throughout the country. I think that if you ask most people why they support same sex marriage, they’ll say it’s for those reasons. So Greg, if we’re going to look at the data, the data would seem to link growing acceptance of same-sex marriage with a growing desire for applying the same moral standards to everybody—which I think is a good thing, in terms of public morality.

RANDALL: Thank you. Any other thoughts on that question? Okay. Alright, I have another one here:

“I hurt every time I go to church and hear talks about following the prophet, repentance, and families. Especially, for example, when I hear Elder Perry talk about living my life to the point of sacrificing Isaac. I feel that my gayness is what I’m supposed to sacrifice. How do we deal with this?”

BERTA: Well, the church itself, in Mormonsandgays.org, has said that being gay is not a choice, so I don’t know how you would sacrifice something that isn’t a choice. Maybe acting on it? It’s definitely not my place to tell another which path is going to be most life-affirming to them. But I would say: find the things… I think “men are that they might have joy”—and joy, not in a sort of like, escapist, temporary sense, but rather that kind of joy that has a long shelf life. I would say: find those things that are life-affirming for you, whatever those are.
One thing that was very helpful to me, as a practice was sort of becoming a scientist of my own brain, as it were. So, figuring out: ‘Okay, this thing that I’m feeling right now, where is it coming from, what was the trigger?’ And then sort of, like, minimizing those things that were detracting from my ability to be happy, to be empowered. And then embracing those things that were strengthening my relationship with my Savior as his disciple, and empowering me, and affirming my happiness and joy.

I take Elder Oaks’ talk, “No Other Gods,”
very seriously. I don’t deify or—what’s the word I’m looking for—or put what anyone has to say, including the Brethren, above my personal relationship with my Savior and with God, and the feelings of communion that I have with my Father in Heaven, and with the Spirit, what I feel the Spirit guiding me to do.

That definitely isn’t to detract from anyone’s faith. It isn’t to say that there aren’t many beautiful and good things can be said from the pulpit. Certainly that can be empowering and life-giving, but, you know, simply by studying church history—which, again, isn’t necessarily anything, it’s just something that I’ve done. It’s a little bit… not embarrassing, but it’s certainly eye-opening to know and understand the humanity of the Brethren, who themselves said, ‘Pray to get a witness of everything that we say for yourself.’ You know, over and over again, endlessly since the beginning of the church. And so, for me, I don’t know where this current culture of prophetic infallibility comes from. But I know that, historically, the Brethren have always said that they fear that any would be led astray if we don’t pray to get a testimony for ourselves of anything that is said over the pulpit. And so I prize my personal relationship with my Heavenly Parents, and my discipleship of the Savior, and how I am able to commune with the divine. Through the Spirit, through prayer and being open to inspiration from whatever source it may come—that, more than any declarations that are made, both at the highest level down to the level of chapel practice. Any declarations that are made over the pulpit.

Because, you know, my dad’s a bishop, and he’s human, and he’s a very good man. That does not mean that the brethren are not very good people or well-intentioned, but I think that sometimes we are limited in our perceptions, and I include the brethren in that. Based on our formative experiences, the cultural and historical context in which we operate. I don’t prize anything anything—anything—above my relationship with my Heavenly Parents. To me, to do so would be almost a form of idolatry, you know?

JOHN: I would like to officially go on record saying that we should not use the story of Abraham and Isaac as a literal pattern for how we should behave. I think that that story was pretty unique. We don’t have any record in scripture of the Lord asking anybody to make any kind of similar sacrifice, even though occasionally there’s been new stories about parents who have kind of lost it and tried to sacrifice their children. But, you know, if the Lord wants us to make a sacrifice, I think it’s going to be very clear to us what that is.
I can say, in my own personal life, when I left the church I left because I received a very clear personal revelation from the Lord saying, “You need to go for a time.” To me, at the time, that felt very much like an Abrahamic sacrifice. It felt like I was giving up everything that mattered to me. Everything that had been important to me in my life up to that point had been the Church. For the Lord to say to me, you need to go and leave for a time—that was a very shocking thing for me. That was a very difficult thing. And it was equally difficult for me when I felt the Lord saying to me, “It’s time for you to come back to the Church.” I didn’t know what that meant.

That caused a lot of confusion, but I did it, and my life has been blessed as a result. And I asked the Lord, “Am I supposed to give up my husband?” And again I got a very clear answer, and a very clear response to that. The answer from the Lord was, “Do not under any circumstances leave your husband.”

So these were all examples of clear guidance that I got from the Lord. There was no question in my mind that this is what the Lord expected of me. So, I think that we shouldn’t just leap to conclusions out of fear that ‘this is what I’m supposed to do’ or ‘that is what I’m supposed to do.’ I think we should be patient and listen. And I agree with Berta: our relationship with our Heavenly Father needs to be foremost.

RANDALL: Bob, do you have a comment on this? I know you and I had spoken once about Abrahamic sacrifice.

BOB: Yes, it is one of the essays I’m writing now. We use it so frequently and so loosely. That story in one form or another has been told in each generation among the Jews, but I think that we… I agree with John that we tend to use it in relation to other people rather than to ourselves. Even, you know, pushing a handcart across the plains or doing so many other things is not equivalent to sacrificing a child.

There’s a history behind that story, and it’s one that in some ways is very powerful but also in some ways is very disturbing so at some point I will try and articulate my thoughts and feelings about it but I think we use it very loosely in the church for any kind of sacrifice and I think it can be used as a weapon.
GREG: I won’t quote myself here, but I’ll quote somebody else whose interview I did, and that’s Rabbi Harold Kushner. I went up to Boston in November and interviewed him, and the interview was just published in Dialogue.

One thing that he said that really stuck with me: he said, ‘Several years ago, I gave a high holiday sermon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. We read the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son. I’ve said for years that I hated this story, but what I finally came to terms with was that God speaks twice to Abraham: once telling him to sacrifice the child and once telling him to spare the child. Abrahams challenge is to identify which is the authentic voice of God.’

BERTA: That’s really beautiful because it goes directly with …. So, I work with a group of mothers that are parents—LDS mothers of LGBT children. They are very affirmative and protective of their kids and try to support each other in trying to stay in the church while also doing what is best or most life- affirming for their sons and daughters. Um, but one of them brought that up because it was used in a meeting or in a talk in addressing LGBT -related things.

And I said, ‘Well, it’s entirely possible that the voice or the idea …’ Because there are parents who adopt that binary of “I must choose my child or my faith,” which is how we end up with the phenomenon of LGBT homeless youth, etc. Um, imagine that voice, or that perception or idea, or that—as one friend put it, who is LGBT, who said, ‘If we are to cut off our hand if it offends God, and I am the thing that offends God, should I not be cut off?’ The very sad, and I think, mistaken, interpretation of scriptural vernacular.

I told them, you know, I’ve interviewed parents, and when we were talking, this group of mothers whom I’ve interviewed. Parents for a project I’m co-producing. But also again, I have worked with this group of mothers, and many of them, in bespeaking their journeys, talk about the years and years and years of uncertainty—of, like, ‘God please change my child!’, you know. ‘I’m wearing my knees in prayer and fasting and struggling. What does this mean? I don’t understand. I don’t know what to do.’

What a long and arduous climb. But then, coming to the peak. To me, that signifies, you know, coming to a place where we’re prepared to hear the voice of God, and having their hand be stayed. And I’ve had many of these parents articulate feeling from their Heavenly Parents or Heavenly Father… getting a very direct answer of ‘You need to love your child. That is the call-word. That is the beginning and the end of what you must do, above all else.’

And so again, sort of that decision between what is the authentic voice of God… is it the one that is telling me that I have to sort of amputate a part of myself or my child? Or is it this one that says ‘No, this life is precious, and good, and beautiful, and full of potential.’ And so, I really love what you articulated, Gregory, in terms of what that rabbi said. And, you know, with those mothers that I was talking with, we addressed— sure, yes, what a long and arduous climb.

Because the church doesn’t always equip parents to know, like, how to affirm their children. Or LGBT souls to know how to love and affirm themselves.

But at the end, you know, that same answer, just like in [Section] 121, where we begin with, ‘Oh God, where art Thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth Thy hiding place?’ And then we end with the truth, and beauty, and power distilling as the dews from heaven.

If, at the end of things, we can sort of take that lesson… we can take that metaphor of Abraham and Isaac and see what it is that ultimately happens, and what it is that God ultimately directs, and use that as a form of saying ‘Okay, well, what is it that ultimately affirms and sustains life and maintains it?’ I find that to be a way of using that story in a way that is life-affirming and life-giving. Whether to the parent of an LGBT child or to an LGBT soul.

GREG: The Midrash is full of stories of people, including prophets, who are asked by God to do something, and who challenge God in terms of the justice. And one can imagine that in this story. Abraham saying to God, ‘He’s not only my son. He’s also his mother’s son, and she should be part of this equation.’

And so, can we … can I look at this in a different way? But again, we tend to use that as sort of… polygamy is the Abrahamic sacrifice. Uh, all kinds of things are the Abrahamic sacrifice. But I think it’s essentially used as a kind of…. something to bludgeon people with rather something to teach them about the nobility and the justice of God.

RANDALL: Alright, thank you everybody. So, we have a couple questions that have been posted on that actual live broadcast page, and then we have three, also, that have come in by email. I’m gonna go with one of the ones that has come in by email, prior to those that were posted:

“I want to join the Church. I feel I have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, but I’m not sure I’ll be accepted as a gay man. Am I crazy?”

*light laughter from several participants*

JOHN: No, you’re not! We just posted a beautiful story on the Affirmation website of a gay man in Mexico City who was introduced to the Church through the Affirmation conference. He saw the missionaries and read the Book of Mormon and gained a testimony. And as a gay man, he did his homework, you know. He talked to people in the Church about the fact that he was gay and what this would mean. He talked to his bishop.
And of course, it’s a very personal choice. It’s a very personal decision, and it’s not going to be an easy thing. And no, I don’t think it’s crazy at all.

ERIKA: I think it’s a really exciting development, and I think the Lord is bringing gay people into the church through conversion and missionaries. And they will bring something that hasn’t been here before in terms of that convert’s testimony, without perhaps the baggage of the last 20 years.

SAMY: Yeah I definitely agree, in that there’s much to be gained by starting a covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father. As long as you understand that it’s a relationship with Him, and as long as you think of it very personally and decide how that will affect your life, and how you will let that change you, and then how you’re gonna live that. Yes, it’s going to be hard, but I don’t think you’re crazy. And, I mean, all Mormons have a little crazy in them. I know I do.

*laughs*

It’s gonna be quite an adventure, but then again, our fight to get to know Heavenly Father will always be an adventure, regardless of where we do it. I think that as long as you are being honest with yourself, and if you feel like this is what He wants you to do, I will be very glad to see you venture into that relationship—that covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father. And I know that you can find lots of great things and lots of spiritual fulfillment.

RANDALL: Okay, I’m gonna ask a question here that’s posted on the live feed, that’s sort of a different person in a different place:

“I guess I don’t understand why we are trying to fix something that is broken instead of moving forward without it. What makes you guys stay?”

JOHN: Well, I kind of feel like a couple of us have already answered this question. I’m here because I have a testimony and because I feel this is where the Lord wants me to be, and that’s it for me. It’s as simple as that. And, I have to say that this has been one of the most rewarding journeys of my life. The last eight years that I’ve been active in my ward, I can say that I’ve experienced more genuine joy in my life than ever before. And so I feel like I’ve been blessed for following that prompting.

BOB: At the risk of speaking too much and, again, self-promoting, I would recommend a book I edited a few years ago called Why I Stay. There’s a wonderful essay by Greg Prince, who’s part of this, and by Erika Munson’s mother and father. It’s a collection of essays by thoughtful Latter-day Saints, articulating their reasons for staying in a church that is broken, as all churches and all human beings are. But I think I think that one would find in that collection a list of very good reasons for staying within Mormonism.

SAMY: You know, I think it’s easy sometimes to focus on what’s broken. In reality, I believe we live in a broken world, and just because it’s broken doesn’t mean that it’s not beautiful. Because I know that there is so much beauty within the brokenness as well. And there are people out there, who are in the Church, who need us. And I’m not saying that they need me, but they need voices of hope and voices of faith, and something that’s really hard is to find role models within the LDS LGBT/SSA community. And I believe that we can make that happen. We can help others as well who do desire to stay, and I don’t think just because something is broken we have to leave it. On the other hand, I believe it is an opportunity that Heavenly Father has given us to let His identity as a creator and as someone who can mend broken things to shine through His children.

RANDALL: Thank you. Another question on the live feed is:

“I don’t see the church leaving its position against LGBT marriage or redefining the Law of Chastity without a revelation. What would be your thoughts about starting a campaign to ask the prophet for a revelation? Would church members get behind this as a solution to our problem of LDS acceptance?”

BERTA: I think there’s a great deal of cultural entrenchment right now, in terms of anything that is perceived to question the status quo, or even to petition the Brethren to petition God. For me personally, I see the greatest change coming from those are able to advocate for change from the inside out and from the bottom up. What that is, and what that looks like, will be different for different people. But those who are messengers for inclusion, and for things not as they are but as they may become, and who are loved by their congregations… because you know, they take that soup to that sick person finds out that they have an LGBT son, or that you are LGBT.

You know, I think that it is really through those one on one encounters, that are loving and empathy-based, that things are going to change in the church in any kind of systematic way. I don’t know necessarily that … I see a lot of cultural entrenchment as far as, you know, anything that is perceived to be different or ‘liberal.’ But I think that entrenchment breaks down in the face of love, and empathy, and exchanges with the scary Other. That sort of helps for misconceptions to break down and for the love of Christ and the love of neighbor to really be evidenced.

GREG: If you look at Church history, particularly over the last half-century, the very best way to ensure that an agenda will be set back is to make demands. The Brethren have a guaranteed response to anything that they perceive as a frontal assault—and that is to dig them. The thing is to show up, and you show why you’re indispensable. And if enough people do that, over a long enough period of time—that sends a message that you cannot send in a direct fashion.

RANDALL: Any other thoughts on this question?

SAMY: I just wanted to add that… right now, I don’t think starting a campaign would be … because of the complicated political state in Utah, I think that it could be perceived as an attack against the Church. And I think many people would be, um… wouldn’t take it the right way. But I do believe that, like, as Berta was saying, when it comes from within… I see so many gay and lesbian brothers and sisters here at BYU whom I know will go out and change the world, and I know there’s much hope for the future.

And when people see, for example, Tyler Glenn from Neon Trees who just came out and so many prominent Mormons who are also gay. People will recognize that and realize that, and maybe then more changes will happen. I’m not sure, but it will come from within.

BOB: One of the things that I feel in response to that—and I feel that probably most of you, like I, listen to conference with two sets of ears, and two sets of eyes, and two hearts—and one of the things I think is reasonable to expect is that the messages that were very clear in conference about loving others. About loving all of God’s children. About loving within our families. About all of these things.

To take that one more step and identify those clear gospel behaviors, in relation to our LGBT brothers and sisters, I think that is something that we could expect. For example, I was listening to Elder Ballard, who challenged people to invite someone at least once a quarter to hear the gospel. I thought, ‘We should invite a gay or lesbian member, or their families, into our home at least once a quarter.’

And, listening to President Monson’s addresses about the importance of loving all of God’s children—whether they be our family members, or friends, or mere acquaintances. When he talked about Christ’s legacy being one of love. When he talks about this being the very heart of family life, and all the times that it is not .I immediately think of all the gays and lesbians who do not feel that love, who do not feel people reaching out to them—not only once every quarter, but once in their lifetime.

So, I think they’re raising the consciousness, just as we are hoping that General Authorities will more-increasingly include women in their language. They use gender-inclusive language. They talk about foremothers as well as forefathers. Our pioneer mothers as well as the pioneer fathers. I think it is reasonable and not too challenging to say, ‘When you speak about these things, could you also, from time to time, raise the consciousness among members of the Church about how gays and lesbians fit into this ethic?’

Because twice—at least twice, when I was in Salt Lake last week, I heard good members of the Church say very derogatory things about gays and lesbians. I heard one friend say that the lesson on the fifth Sunday was taught by the Relief Society president, who said…. The essence of the lesson was that ‘we have to keep these gays and lesbians from coming in and trying to recruit our children.’ I heard a man say that he would… if he discovered that his child was gay, he would kick them out of the house. So I think that it is reasonable to think that the language can be more specific, in relation to a population that is not being loved and not being accepted within our congregations.

RANDALL: Okay we have about 8 minutes left in our call. I have a question that’s also similar to our follow up question, that was posted on the live feed:
“Why is the Lord’s only true church, and its supposed apostles and prophets, allowing so many people to suffer while they wait for a ‘revelation?’”

BERTA: I feel like that’s the collateral of unrighteousness, honestly. I feel that that is sort of, like, one of the meetings that I attended for USGA. It was a testimony meeting last year, and this really sweet beautiful, beautiful boy bore his testimony. And during his mission he sort of, like, felt the… similar to… well, I’m trying to remember the Book of Mormon scripture, but basically where things were allowed to go bad because of pride among the children of men. I don’t think that’s justifiable. I think that we can—and must—improve upon that, but I think that we’re a group of imperfect people striving for the divine, the other entity. And there’s beauty, and divinity, and there’s a great deal of shortcomings as well.

And I don’t… in any faith tradition, or in any associative entity, religious or not… I don’t see the divine forcing people to do what is right, but I do see the manifestation of the divine in you and I and the fact that we’re here and we have the possibility and opportunity to engender change. And so I don’t think that it’s something, like, that our Heavenly Parents rejoice in or allow but I think there’s a great deal of pride, a great deal of cultural entrenchment, misperception.
It’s really, really super easy— intellectually easy and emotionally safe to Other-ize and to find a source that we can unilaterally cast our… anything that is scary or wrong…. place it at fault, you know, use it as a scapegoat. Because then we don’t have to look at how we’re failing in our marriages, for example, if we say it’s the fault of gays. And we don’t have to look at how maybe all isn’t well in Zion, but, you know, I think that’s purely the result of unrighteousness, honestly, and pride and unkindness. But that doesn’t mean that you and I don’t have the power to change that, or that members of the church don’t have the capacity to improve upon things as they are right now.

GREG: I think that anybody who wants to ask the ‘why’ question about deity should go back and read several times the book of Job because, ultimately, Job struggling with that ‘why’ question demands a face-to-face encounter with the deity. And the response is, ‘Fine, when you get a face, we’ll talk.’ And often that’s the best that we can do. We would love to know the ‘why’ to these questions… it isn’t gonna happen.

SAMY: One of the things I thought about when I was asking that question myself is… I said, ‘Okay, let’s assume that the Church comes out next General Conference and says, “Okay,” you know, “we approve of gay marriage, and we are going to start sealing our gay brothers and sisters in the temple,” and so on. “We have full acceptance and full equality.”’ And I thought what would happen in those African countries where homosexuality is still criminalized and where anything that seems to be pro- the LGBT movement is seen as a criminal act.

What would happen in Russia? What would happen in Indonesia? What would happen in the Middle East, where the Church hasn’t even come into yet? And I thought of all those people who are being brought to the truth, especially in Africa with the Church blooming. And so I realize that this is not a Utah church, let alone a U.S. church—this is a worldwide church. And I realize that if the Church were to accept that right now, there would be very serious consequences internationally, and many members would be persecuted if they were to adopt these positions.

I realize that the Church needs to deal with many countries, and the world is certainly not ready for this. And the Church is trying to… I believe, I like to believe that the Church is trying to accommodate things little by little. But we still need to get into those Arab countries, and we still need to keep the work up in Africa. And I think that, little by little, things will come in. But I think the Lord has a timetable, and maybe we don’t understand the reasons. I feel like this is one of the very good reasons why the Church doesn’t come out in full equality, or why the Lord doesn’t allow full equality to come in right now. But, in the end, we have to trust the Lord’s timetable and believe that there are reasons that we don’t understand.

BOB: Could I offer a very quick dissenting suggestion? Had the Church not had its doctrine about blacks and the priesthood, the Church would have grown enormously earlier and faster in Africa than it has. And this is an instance in which, by the Brethren’s own acknowledgement recently, they were acting counter to, probably, what we would say the will of the Lord is. So, I think we need to look at this perhaps as… I think it was a long time before people really understood that there was a horizontal revelation before a vertical one, and maybe that’s what we’re talking about here.

BERTA: Well, and I was gonna say also, there’s a lot of casualties associated with the current lack of acceptance. And the lack of integration, and the lack of what I like to think of or call ‘big tent Mormonism,’ where there’s room for everyone, and where it’s a hospital where the sick can find solace… And by sick, I mean not in terms of pathology, but those who are suffering and who have been made casualties of this particular cultural war.

The church itself Is having difficulties in retaining young people. One of the primary sources cited, at least in countries with developed economies, is because of its treatment of LGBT souls. But separate and aside from that, just the great loss of life associated with those who are made to believe that they are less-than or secondary citizens in the kingdom.

As well as just the material casualties associated with homelessness. For some, at the ages as tender as 11 or 12. So, I don’t necessarily think it’s the Lord’s will, but I do think that it sort of goes to the existential question of suffering all around. And I don’t necessarily … we could go into a whole philosophical discussion, but at the end of the day for me, it’s like, ‘What do I have, and what is God’s answer?’ And, for me, God’s answer is that I have two hands and a heart, and a capacity to advocate for kindness, for love, for inclusion, for social justice. And not just LGBT issues, but whether it’s for the poor or other marginalized communities…

And to me, that is a great answer to the book of Job and to the great existential question of suffering is that you and I have the opportunity to, you know, when someone is saying something that is contrary even to what the Brethren have said, you know…. because mormonsandgays.org may perhaps be limited in some foundational ways, but it is certainly a call to love that I think is elevated beyond what we have presently practiced in our chapels. By saying family members should not be excluded or ostracized for being gay, for example. By saying being gay is not a choice, etc. Which are expressions that members at the level of chapel practices are still making, and that parents are still making.

So I think that you and I have the opportunity to spread awareness, and to challenge people to live up to… not just, let’s say, that half of Elder Anderson’s talk that says the Church will never embrace gay marriage, but that other half that says—that speaks out very, very clearly against bullying, ostracism, unkindness, etc. And be speaking that, and saying, ‘Well, what about this part of what the Brethren are saying?’

JOHN: Could I just add one word for this question? I don’t think that it would fulfill the Lord’s purpose to necessarily give us all the answers to these kinds of very difficult questions, without us struggling first and having to learn how to love each other through these kinds of difficult situations. So, I see this as an opportunity and as a blessing, and I think that when the Lord sees that we’ve achieved a kind of clarity that enables us to get a better answer about this… I think that’s when we’ll get it. But it seems to me like so much of the purpose of this life is for us to struggle and find these answers—sand not just answers to the question of homosexuality, but answers to the question of ‘How do we truly love each other through our differences?’

RANDALL: Thank you John. Okay I know we’re at the end of our time, but I have one question left. Is it okay if I ask it?

*communal yes*

RANDALL: Okay:

“It appears that you condone homosexuality. Why are you not promoting celibacy for gays? Do you truly believe that is a place for gay couples in the eternities?”

BOB: Well, one of the responses to that, if I could speak about it, is that in the 19th century, the Brethren inveighed very strongly against celibacy as a principle within religion. I think that it ultimately comes down to an individual’s choice about what kinds of things are important. John kind of alluded to this when he talked about what happens to a person who is involved in a relationship, which is one that challenges spiritual, emotional, and other kinds of growth.

My question, always, to people who ask that question, and it’s such an individual one, is: would you be willing to do that? The heterosexual people to whom I ask that question almost always pause, and some of them do not answer. So anyone who is willing and honestly can say they would choose to be celibate, if that were the only choice for them, rather than it being imposed—I think is someone who can then perhaps raise that question with greater moral centeredness.

BERTA: Um, I think also everyone has been very conscious in qualifying that—in being pretty epistemologically-humble. Meaning—not making sweeping generalizations, and saying, you know, ‘This is what was right for me,’ or ‘What I felt.’

So, I don’t think, you know…. I think I would like… for example, I bet that I would be a great hypocrite if I were to say, ‘I felt like I was to find partnership, and the communion of partnership, and the sacrament of companionship, with this person who happens to be the same gender as I, but you who feel that—or have received revelation that for you the path is to work with, and enter into a mixed orientation marriage, or to be celibate…’ I think that I would be deeply hypocritical if I were to say, ‘No, my lived experiences are the only ones that are right. I am the beginning and the end of truth…’

And that, somehow, my narrative has to be yours, you know. And imagine what a difference it would make if we would really, really, truly espouse the principles of agency and self-determination. And really, actually respect that. And I think that, insofar as celibacy is concerned, it’s not my place to tell another what to follow or what to do. But I think it is really fair, as Dr. Rees said, to question the questioner, right? And to say, ‘Okay. If there was a revelation right now, saying that you needed to let go of your marriage, and of the seven or seventeen years of marriage that you have created together…. The life you have. The children that you’ve raised. The home that you’ve built together. And you now have to disavow all of it.’

And is that something … think about it, really, and think about what you’re asking, or what you’re prescriptively imposing. And I think, sort of, we’re really quick to make statements, and, I think, maybe, not quite so quick to try and empathize with the path of another whose life may not fit the template necessarily.

RANDALL: Thank you Berta.

ERIKA: I think there’s a lot we don’t know. And the Brethren are always very willing to acknowledge that. And on mormonsandgays.org, they’ve acknowledged that. There a lot that we don’t know, and I consider it an act of faith—of living in that not-knowing, and loving my gay, married friends, and being very inspired by them in the way that they choose to live their relationships.

JOHN: Can I also just say, as a panel member, and also as a leader in Affirmation, that the purpose of this panel was not to advocate for same-sex marriage. Our purpose is to support individuals in their efforts to be faithful, and to support individuals in their personal discernment process of trying to figure out, ‘What’s going to be best for me? What’s going to bring me closest to my Heavenly Father?’
And if the person who asked this question was here for the entire, panel you would have heard us talking earlier about our support for individuals who have chosen to join the Church, and accept the Church’s standards, and live according to them. So that’s very important to us. That’s something that we value. But I think, as a panel, we certainly value individual freedom to discern what’s the best for you and make those choices. And we’re not gonna condemn anybody for particular choices that they feel they need to make.

SAMY: I agree. I don’t think this is an issue about condoning homosexuality because that’s like condoning short people or condoning tall people. I feel like it’s more about condoning morality. And what we’re trying as a panel… what we’re really emphasizing is developing a personal relationship with God, to the point to where we understand the plan that He has for us, and then we work with that.
That can take different meanings for different people. Jesus himself said that there are many places established in His Father’s mansion, and we do not understand how things are going to work out. What we do know is that He loves us, and that we can communicate with Him, and that He has provided several different avenues through which we can do that. And as we do that, we can develop that relationship with Him, and then we can find joy and fulfillment in this life.

BOB: One of the things that I feel—if I can just take another minute—is that the gospel calls us to go to the deepest parts of the heart. To reach for the greatest empathy and imaginative charity that we can find. And so, when at the age of three or four, the ideal is for us to find the other person who completes us, and in that person both express and receive the love that will allow us to the grow into the full measure of being.

And then when we reach age… fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, whenever it is… and all of our yearning has been toward that kind of fulfillment, and suddenly it is foreclosed to us. Those of us to whom it is not foreclosed are required by Jesus Christ to understand, and love, and help those whom presently our Church does not allow to fulfill that dream. That grows from that first, earliest understanding of who we are, and what we are supposed to be.

And I think of all the things that we are called on do—there is nothing more important than for us to have empathy, and therefore to reach out and to pull into the circle of our love, and our fellowship, and our congregational fellowship, those people for whom this is denied.

RANDALL: Thank you everybody. I think this has been a wonderful call. Thank you, Berta, for your leadership in setting up the technical aspects of the call and for having the idea to do this. Thank you Bob. Thank you Erika. Thank you Greg. Thank you John. Thank you Samy. And I want to reach out to everyone who’s there on the call and tell you that I hope that you have gained something from this. Berta, will this be available? We’ve recorded this right?

BERTA: Yes. It’s been recorded and will also be available on Affirmation’s YouTube channel.

RANDALL: Wonderful. Okay, thanks everybody! We hope you have a wonderful, wonderful week. And please live your lives to the fullest, and know that God loves you.

[transcribed by Keith Trottier and Alasdair Ekpenyong]

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Randall Thacker

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

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

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

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

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

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John Gustav-Wrathall

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

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

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

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

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Tina Richerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Karin Hendricks

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

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

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

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

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Tawnya Smith

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

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

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David Baker

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

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

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

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

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Todd Richardson

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

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

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

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

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Alasdair Ekpenyong

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

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

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

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

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Trevor Cook

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

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

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

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Fred Bowers

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

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

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Lismarie & Michael Nyland

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

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

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Suzi Fei

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

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

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Duane Andersen

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

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

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

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Peter van der Walt

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

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

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

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

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

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Mark Schneider

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

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

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

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Sam Noble

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

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

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

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Justin

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

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

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

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Prince Winbush

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

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

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

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

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Melanie Carbine

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

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

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

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Robert Moore

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

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

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

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

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Peter Howland

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

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

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

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Rapha Fernandes

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

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

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

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

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

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Carol Lynn Pearson

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

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

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

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

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Judy Finch

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

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

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Jorge Valencia

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

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

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

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

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Gregory Prince

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

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

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Yvette Zobel

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

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

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

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Doug Balls

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

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

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Wendy Montgomery

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

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Ron Schow

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

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

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

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

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

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Fred Bower

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

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

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Sam Wolfe

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

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

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

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Tom Christofferson

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

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

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

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Anna Empey

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

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

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Ellen Koester

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

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

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

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

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Jamison Manwaring

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

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

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

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Bryan Clark

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

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

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Patrick Wendel

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

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

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

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

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Scott Halle

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

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Devin Bourne

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

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

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

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

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Derek Lundahl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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James Brinton

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

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

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