By Fred Bowers
We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.
—Max de Pree
The words “Eight stars of gold on field of blue” have a special meaning to me. So do the words “Melchizedek Priesthood.” It was in 1986 at North Pole, Alaska that these two sets of words converged together as part of my life story as I was ordained an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The state song and flag of Alaska both refer to the eight Affirmation Resources stars of the Big Dipper and the North Star on a blue background.
As an African American convert, I quickly learned about the 1978 Church Revelation on the Priesthood. It was one of the first things I learned about in Church and a topic I am always asked about in conversations with members. As part of a military ward at an Air Force base, diversity was the norm as we had church members from various racial and ethnic backgrounds serving in the military.
After I was transferred to Washington D.C. in the 1990s, I had another diverse military ward experience and also attended a ward led by an African American bishop. For all of my life, I have looked to other African Americans as role models, and this reality confirmed for me that I too could be a bishop one day. At this point in my life, life was changing drastically as I began to question my sexuality for the second time. It was at this point I entered the three-way intersection of gay, African American, and Mormon identities. I also started attending Affirmation in Washington D.C. while stationed there. I was welcomed into Affirmation at that time and have always felt comfortable with my fellow members. However, many other people of color, both LGBTQ and straight, have had the opposite experience. They have experienced alienation and verbal abuse from intolerant and ill-informed church members on the issues of race/ethnicity and sexuality.
I am not alone in being a LGBTQ Mormon of color. There is an LDS lesbian Filipina woman somewhere in the world needing to know she is welcome in Affirmation. There is an LDS transgender Latina woman that needs to know she is welcome also. There is an LDS bisexual Japanese man that is looking to be welcomed into Affirmation. There are people of color who are current Affirmation members. Their voices and stories about Mormonism, sexuality, and race/ethnicity need to be heard.
To create a space and a forum for LGBTQ people of color within Affirmation to discuss their unique challenges, I asked the Affirmation Executive Committee to start a new group in Affirmation, Affirmation People of Color and Allies. The first meeting of the group was at the Cleveland/Kirtland Ohio conference. Kirtland Ohio was where in 1836, the rules established by the church for governing assemblies in the Kirtland Temple included attendees who were “bond or free, black or white.” (History of the Church, 2: 368-9). The openness and diversity created in Kirtland were later declared null and void by subsequent events in Church history, but diversity is alive and well today as Affirmation gathers at the upcoming Salt Lake City conference.
The Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons People of Color and Allies Group is a group of self-identified people of color and allies gathered to explore multiple identities and the intersections of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and LDS faith. When individuals “speak their truth” and affirm their identities, it can inspire others. As a gay African American Mormon, I understand that if I do not stand up and speak out about the fullness of my identity, that some young LGBTQ African American Mormon might not begin to grow and understand that “IT GETS BETTER!” for LGBTQ African American Mormons too.
Through this group we join several LGBTQ faith groups in bringing their people of color together for a forum that addresses the needs of LGBTQ persons of color within a faith context. They include: MCC: 2011 MCC People of African Descent, Our Friends and Allies and Dignity USA: Latino/Hispanic People.
It is my hope you will join the People of Color and Allies group as we gather at future conferences as a caucus and community within Affirmation. During the time set aside for Affirmation “affinity groups” at the upcoming (2014) Affirmation conference in Salt Lake City, please consider joining the people of color affinity group. I look forward to hearing the stories of many more LGBTQ Mormon people of color throughout the world who are saying:
Soy una lesbiana, un gay, un bisexual, o un transgenero mormón. (Spanish)
Je suis un mormon/une mormone lesbienne, gai, bisexuel, ou transgenre. (French)
Mimi ni Mormoni wasagaji, mashoga, bisexual, au transgender. (Swahili)
Ako ng isang lesbian, gay, bisexual, o transgender taong may maraming asawa. (Filipino)
I am a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender Mormon. (American English)
For further reading and viewing about the experiences of people of color in the LDS Church, refer to the following books and videos:
All God’s Children: Racial and Ethnic Voices in the LDS Church. Edited by Cardell K. Jacobson, Bonneville Books.
Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon. Keith N. Hamilton, Deseret Book.
Celebrating the LDS Latina. LDS Living Magazine.
Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord’s Lessons in Everyday Life. Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes, Ensign Peak