Women and Non-Binary Stories from Around the Web

collated by Jenn Lee Smith

Welcome to stories of Queer Mormon Women and Non-Binary folks collected from around the web. You will find excerpts of the content within their respective categories, as well as links to the entire content. I tried to find as many stories as possible and hope you will find it useful. If you have additional stories you’d like to link here, please contact Kathy Carlston.  

  • Essays and Blog postings
  • Books
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Poetry and Creative Works

 

Essays and Blogs:

Imagination and Integration: Reflections on LGBTQ Mormon Trauma and Healing One Year Post Policy

November 5, 2016, Laura D.

“In listening to LGBTQ/SSA people who remain in the church, pushing back homo-romantic/sexual needs and seeking to invest in meaningful endeavors and close same sex friendships, is a common strategy to help comfort the inherent pain and challenges of forgoing a same sex pair bond. In listening to LGBTQ Mormons who are either in or pursuing same sex relationships, painfully stepping back from cherished religious community/practice and instead seeking out God and/or spirituality individually, appears to be the most common way forward, in addition to seeking out alternative communities of support. In both general pathways, I hope outside observers can sense the beautiful human spirit of resiliency at work in the face of incredible relational losses. What I also hope comes increasingly into focus is the need for continued imagination and creativity on the part of the LDS community as a whole; to lean further into a process of integration to facilitate greater healing, as opposed to first order coping that pushes things away.”

 

Why I Feel Responsible for the Policy Change

August 2016, Kathleen M.

“When November 4th rolled around and the Gay Exclusion Policy came into my view, I noticed right away it seemed to cover guidelines not only for same-sex marriage participants but another topic Celeste and I had spoken of extensively with our Stake President… our children. I know I wasn’t the only one incredibly heart-broken over this added insult-to-injury, no baby blessings or baptism for our children, but I immediately thought back to the article we’d posted and the stir it had caused.

 

A Prayer to Heavenly Mother

March 2016, Ellen K.

“You once taught me I was blameless
for being the queer woman I grew up to be.
Your Spirit bore witness to mine, assuring me
I was a child of a Heavenly Mother and Father.”

 

Stop Our Suffering

March 2016, Bethany R.

“I testify that I have received a personal witness that the love and level of commitment LGBT people experience towards one another is no less legitimate than any other’s, and it is neither rejected nor condemned by our merciful Heavenly Father. If this knowledge leads me away from the institution of the church, then so be it.  I cannot deny the truth in my heart, nor the God that has placed it there and held me so gently through my ocean of tears. My heart is eternally bound to my Lord. I will continue to kneel and go where He leads me.  I will serve how and where I am able.  I will love without shame or reservation.”

 

Clipped Wings

March 2016, Shawna Fisher

“I was given these amazing eagle wings at birth,
but I was told I could never use them here on earth.
I was told if I wanted my angel wings in Heaven, I would have to watch all the other birds fly.
And so as I watch the other birds soar on their wings, it often makes me cry.
From the pigeon to the hummingbird to the swallow to the hawk,
I watch without a vantage point because my shoes are filled with rocks.
I have these wings, but cannot fly.
I can. They say. But only when I die.”

 

Sister, may I kiss you?

February 2016, Emily W.

“Our mothers blacked their journals out
And taught us to do the same
But no one taught me how to love
A girl made up of rain”

 

My Hope

January 2016, afknick

“I’m looking, searching for the tiniest bit of hope, the tiniest sliver of evidence that I am safe or wanted in this religion that shaped me and raised me. What I am finding, though, is that as a lesbian, my orientation, my desire to be loved by and to love someone of my own gender, is more important than my actions.

It’s more important than the babies I foster, or the sleepless nights spent in the hospital with my medically fragile children. It’s more important than the months spent teaching a neglected developmentally delayed six year old how to use the toilet; more important than the celebration when that same six year old pedals a bike for the first time in his life. It’s more important than the relationships I have developed with friends and family; relationships that allow a friend to feel comfortable enough to let me take her newborn and toddler for days while she recovered from a health scare. And definitely more important than the months of work and effort and faith and love required to watch a mother reunify successfully with her baby girl.”

 

What It’s Like to Be an Ex-Mormon Lesbian

January 2016, Sarah S.

“On Nov. 5, 2015, a leaked document declared gay married people to be apostates, traitors banished from all levels of heaven, whose children cannot participate in church rites unless they disavow their parents. I spoke to 20 women—women who self-identify as lesbian, queer, pansexual, and bisexual—about their experiences, hoping to form some kind of cohesive narrative. I wanted to take data and arrange it into a story that makes sense, in a situation that doesn’t.

Mormonism doesn’t tolerate deviation from dogma. If you take one brick away, the whole tower collapses, which is horrible architecture for an actual tower. And so this legal decision [CA Prop 8], 2,500 miles away from my dorm room, destroyed my faith. And, because Mormonism is such an all-encompassing religion, it also destroyed my sense of self…

To all of us, finally, came the attraction we couldn’t ignore, the one we couldn’t rationalize away. The one that proved the previous girl we “admired” wasn’t one in a million. She was just a girl, and so were we, and that was why we felt this way…

Still, somehow, things seemed to snap into place, like dominos righting themselves when I didn’t even know they’d been knocked down. As Lindsey, who still attends church, says of her own realization, “It all just made total sense. All the pieces I had scattered around me came together, and I could make sense of everything.”

The sky was bluer; sonnets meant something. At this point, the Molly Mormons could picture a future that made sense, instead of being unable to imagine one at all.”’


Grace, Big Girl Panties, and the Challenge of Heterosexual Privilege

January 2016

“I’m a closeted lesbian, but my aunt has known I’m gay for a long time. I never told her and she never asked. She just knew. She’s like that. Super em-pa-thic. A few years ago I told her I was thinking about coming out publicly. I expected her typical open, affirming, supportive response…”

 

Will My Son Be Baptized With His Peers? Reflections of Lesbian Mormon 

November 2015, Jessica S.

“I will not be silent any longer. Until now I had mostly been at peace with my separation from my heritage church and have never spoken ill of it in public. My greatest fear is to offend the amazing everyday Mormon people I love who had nothing to do with this decision from the top. Even with the history of the church’s well-publicized anti-gay-marriage campaigns in Hawaii and California, I believe the church has upped the ante with this new policy by punishing children for the “sins” of their fathers and labeling all those in committed same-sex relationships as apostates.”

 

Is It Something I’m Born With?

September 2015, Taliatha H.

“There are all the ways the Church works I can’t explain–the way it works in my interior world: the lightness in my soul; moments of reflection, amazement, or loving-comfort when I pray; a feeling as I read the Book of Mormon that a conduit is opening to heaven. These reasons, most of all, are why the Church is a part of my joy I can’t forsake–even though I am no longer a member. As I navigate my relationship to the Church, I don’t feel as much pain and frustration as I probably could. This is because of another aspect of happiness I’ve learned by studying psychology: I focus on things within my control. Sure, I’d love the Church to change towards greater acceptance of LGBT people. But, in order for me to feel peace, I have to play a little mind game. I ask myself this question, “Does the Church present enough value to me, that I would stay…even if it NEVER changed?” For me, the answer is yes! By framing the situation in this way, it removes from the equation a factor that’s outside my control, and places my focus instead on the value I gain from the Church. Rather than worry about how people will treat me or my family on Sunday, I focus on learning and teaching correct principles to my children, strengthening my relationship with God, and serving my fellow man.”

 

Figuring Things Out

March 2015, Taliatha H.

“Once I figured it out, it felt like I’d put on new glasses in which many things in my life that had been blurry and confusing before now made sense clearly.  I enjoy and am drawn to men, but the actual kissing-and-being-physical part always felt unnatural.  From watching movies and reading books, I sort of knew what to do in that arena, but never felt a passionate drive towards men that compelled me to be physical.  For this reason, I only had one boyfriend I ended up marrying.  Rob is a wonderful person on every front, but the process of choosing him was somewhat of an intellectual exercise.  I didn’t understand the “chemistry” component–that it was supposed to be there and was missing.  I feel sorry for messing up his life, but had no idea I wasn’t straight.  We both feel grateful God kept us in the dark long enough to have five lovely kids.”

 

Polyphony of Three

November 2015, Berta M.

I could no longer think, read, medicate, run or swim away from myself. I couldn’t even compose or play the instruments that had once brought me consolation and solace. I had lost my music and light. It was in this state that I finally allowed myself to be vulnerable with God in a way I hadn’t been before. In that tiny tent I prayed, “God, do you love me as I am?”. The subsequent love that I felt come over me was enough to forever change my perception of God, of life, of myself. I call it my sacred grove experience. There were no trees, no wilderness to romance the narrative. It was just me in that cavernous room, but that prayer completely altered the path I had been walking in secrecy, isolation and shame. It lit the way out of the valley of the shadow and to the place of green pastures, beside still waters. It restored my soul and revived me.”

 

Taught by Her Mothers

November 2015, Annalaura S.

Annalaura Solomon was raised by lesbian mothers and joined the Church 12 years ago, at the age of 18. In this interview, Annalaura describes her love for her upbringing and offers her perspective on the new policies added to Handbook 1 on gay couples and their children.

 

“good girl” or asexual?

July 2014, Megan H.

“Maybe that was why I was having no luck in the romance department; perhaps I was a lesbian? I very cautiously began to examine the women around me the way I had done the men, wondering if any of them would spark physical attraction. Before too long though, I realized that there was nothing there, and this brought me both relief and disappointment. Relief, because I know how terribly the church treats those who are gay or lesbian. Finding out that I was one would have turned my life upside down. And yet…the thought of having one person who truly understood me, who I could spend the rest of my life with, is such an appealing thought. I had already ruled out the possibility of finding a man who could be that for me; now women were closed to me as well. So then where did that leave me?”

 

The Gay Law of Chastity

November 2013, Hermia L.

“I want to simply share my experience as a fellow human, and hope that it can open a useful space for conversation and introspection.  Regarding the second goal, I believe it’s high time we admit that there is a huge difference between the law of chastity that we expect straight members to follow and the law of chastity we expect gay members to follow.  As I will explain later, they are not the same and they are not equally difficult to follow. For this reason, I will refer to the two separate laws of chastity as the gay law and the straight law.”

 

Flipping the Switch

July 2013, Kathy C.

“While I can entertain possible conclusions from the years of being kept in the dark as the unnecessary torture of a coy God, I personally don’t feel that way. Even though there has been so much pain, God has renewed my strength hundreds of times. Even though it seems like every 5 minutes I lose faith in myself, God raises my eyes, helps me laugh and sends me comfort. Even though there have been so many times when I’ve felt like I have lost my integrity (my opinions of the church, of my situation, of everything else have been in so much flux that one minute I feel one way and the next my opinion’s the exact opposite), and even though I feel so lost in a sea of noise, God walks patiently by my side, just waiting for me to turn my head and ask for His opinion. At this point in my journey, I’m not sure precisely why, but I feel like part of the reason why it was important for me to walk this path was so I would know that: A) I couldn’t change because B) I wasn’t broken and C) God loves us, walks with us, conspires for our happiness.”

 

What Mormon-Born, Widely-Assumed Lesbian was the Most Loved and Richest Performer in America in the Early Nineteen Hundreds?

June 2013, Carol Lynn P.

“Being a student of theatre at BYU, where I received my M.A., I was, of course, very much aware of the name Maude Adams. I knew that her Mormon mother performed on the stage of the famous Salt Lake Theatre in Brigham Young’s stock company. I knew that Maude left Utah and her Mormon roots and became successful in the East. I knew that she originated the role of Peter Pan, which was written specifically for her by her friend James M. Barrie.”

But I had no idea that, according to Wikipedia, she became “the most successful and highest-paid performer of her day, with a yearly income of more than one million dollars during her peak.” And I certainly did not know that she is widely believed to have been a woman who loved women and that she shares a tombstone with her companion of 40 years.”

 

The Case of the Missing Lesbians: Where are the Queer Women in the LDS LGBTQIA/SGA world?

May 2013, Hermia L.

“After many talks with queer LDS women about the lack of queer women in the LDS LGBTQIA/SGA world, I’ve developed three theories about why queer women are missing and how we can stop marginalizing queer women.

The first theory is simple: queer women are missing because we have failed to make their (our) stories public. When I began exploring LDS LGBTQIA/SGA culture, the lack of queer women caused me to doubt my own queer identity. I can’t help but think that many other queer women have had the same experience, and have repressed their queer identity because they feel there is no place for them in LDS LGBTQIA/SGA culture. The second theory is that queer women are missing because they haven’t yet realized they are queer. As I have shared my story with other queer women, many of them have identified with this narrative. They ascribed their complete lack of sexual arousal in their relationships with men to their righteousness and their naturally low feminine libido. The problem with teaching women that they are not sexual beings is that it damages the sexualities of all women, regardless of orientation. In order to allow young girls to develop their sexualities in a healthy way, we must stop spreading the myth that they are not as sexual as boys. The third theory is that queer women are missing from LDS LGBTQIA/SGA culture because they leave the Church at a faster rate than queer men. As many Mormon women on the Bloggernacle have pointed out, it is difficult enough being a woman in a extremely patriarchal church, let alone being a queer woman. Additionally, Mormon culture tends to value married women over unmarried women. Temple-worthy queer men who choose to remain in the church can still receive the priesthood, regardless of their sexuality.”

 

Playing from Her Heart

May 2013, Tina R.

“Tina knew from a young age that music was her life’s calling and she is a professional saxophonist in New York. It took longer for Tina to realize that she is gay, but a period of inactivity from the Church didn’t stop her from paying her tithing every month. It was appreciation and practice of Buddhism that led Tina back to the Church in her remarkable journey back into activity.”

 

Understanding Who She Is

June 2012, Bridey J.

Currently the president of Brigham Young University’s Understanding Same Gender Attraction club, Bridey Jensen has spent her college years coming to terms with the fact that she is gay. Although she’s suffered through years of struggle and depression, Bridey now feels more confident and loved by God than she ever has before.

 

Documenting the Lesbian Experience

July 2005, Karen E.

Karen Everett is an independent filmmaker living in San Francisco. Her award-winning documentaries and personal film memoirs have played in festivals worldwide, aired on television, and are distributed to the educational and home video markets. After attending Brigham Young University in the early 1980s, Everett moved to Massachusetts, where she accepted her lesbianism and fell in love with a woman. Two of Everett’s Mormon-relevant documentaries are My Femme Divine and Framing Lesbian Fashion. Part memoir and part documentary, My Femme Divine draws from Mormon teachings and Jungian psychology to explore the butch/femme mystique. Throughout this remarkably crafted film, two lively groups talk butch-to-butch and femme-to-femme about yin/yang chemistry and a love that borders on worship. Framing Lesbian Fashion includes a semi-autobiographical account of director Karen Everett’s “fashion journey” from a traditional Mormon student at Brigham Young University to coming out in Northampton, Mass.–nicknamed “Lesbianville, U.S.A.”  More of her work can be found here.

 

Loving Both Men and Women

April 2003, Joyce B.

When I found out what people were saying about me, I was devastated.  I began to obsessively worry about appearing too affectionate with other women.  For nearly three years after, I wouldn’t even kiss my own mother.  Conversely, I began to act “boy crazy”.  I chased after boys and fantasized obsessively about getting married someday and having children. I have often wondered if my pattern of choosing unavailable men started then, because the boys I chased almost never liked me back.

 

BOOKS:

Saving Alex by Alex Cooper, Joanna Brooks

“It really matters that there are people in conservative and religious communities who speak up for a loving and accepting God, even when others don’t.” 192

“No question, I had been a difficult kid. But I had always told them the truth and taken the punishment…I had always been the girl who didn’t fit into other people’s expectations, the curious one, the hardheaded one, the one who stood on the edge of the crowd, who didn’t believe everything they taught me, who dreamed of running away to the city. I had always been different. That difference would make me strong.”

 

“My parents both needed to believe that there was a plan that would make everything okay and keep them safe…to belong to a community that told them they were okay, even if it had no place for people like me…just like the people in st. George who saw Johnny and Tiana beat me in the grocery store parking lot but could not find a voice to intervene, just like the missionaries who saw me at the wall but could not say anything…my parents were locked in by their need to believe and belong, so locked into their hunger for answers that they could not be with me in my questions and struggles as a gay girl in a religion that was so impossible for people like me. I did not blame them then, and I do not blame them now. Still, the realization hurt. It hurt me deeply.”

 

Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, Hannah Wheelwright

“Collecting essays, speeches, poems, and prose, Mormon Feminism presents the diverse voices of Mormon women as they challenge assumptions and stereotypes, push for progress and change in the contemporary LDS Church, and band together with other feminists of faith hoping to build a better world.” Even though there is almost no reference at all to lds queer women, this book is the first to address what it means to be Mormon and feminist.

The Confession of an Unrepentant Lesbian Ex-Mormon by Sue-Ann Post

March 2005

Anyone who knows Sue-Ann Post’s comedic work would realize that she’s fearless in tackling difficult issues in her stand-up work. She can make an audience weep from laughter as she candidly deals with such unfunny topics as incest or the pain that comes from being rejected by her family. She uses the same tactic in her book, however less for a comic effect than a profound investigation of religion and her upbringing as a Mormon. At the age of 41, Post has made a circuitous journey towards reconciliation with her past, and the book she has written now – full of understanding and deep reflection – would never have been possible ten or 15 years ago.

The book came about from an invitation to appear at the Mormon gay and lesbian conference, Affirmation, held in Salt Lake City, Utah. It quickly suggested itself as an ideal subject for a filmed documentary, and after overcoming numerous hurdles eventually the popular ABC TV program Compass came on board. The book opens with a well-researched and thoughtfully argued potted history of Christianity, followed by an historical overview of the Mormon faith. Here Post balances her shifting views about faith and religion and offers insights into both through glimpses of her life and writing from the time of her break with the Mormon church. At the time of reading these chapters, I was partly impatient for Post to get to Utah to mix it up with queer Mormons, but by the end of the book appreciated the level of detail and philosophical underpinning of this section. It worked to deepen my understanding of her time in Utah and showed an impressive intelligence and love of learning.

 

PODCASTS:

Out in Zion #4 — August 30, 2015

A discussion exploring what it’s like to be LGB Women in the context of LDS culture. Contributors discuss obstacles they encountered, how they developed a positive LGB identity and their individual processes of determining their romantic relational choices.

 

Out in Zion #41 — June 26, 2016

Podcast regulars Berta Marquez and Kendall Wilcox take the conversation on the road to include local members of their community in Provo, UT. First they check-in with David and Christian, young gay Mormon intellectuals who have thought deeply about the counsel to identify themselves solely as “children of God” and how it impacts their ability to function as full, healthy individuals. Next Berta and Kendall stop by Susan’s home to hear from a Mormon artist, wife, and mother who struggles to hold her space in her LDS community while also reaching out with love and acceptance to her LGBT friends and loved ones. Finally, Berta and Kendall sit down with Celeste and Keisha, a newly married couple attempting to form a sense of community in their Provo neighborhood.

 

Mormon Stories #623 – February 22, 2016

Elizabeth Grimshaw was raised Mormon. She knew she was lesbian as a teenager, but spent her early years (teens and 20s) attempting to date men and to marry a man. In her early 30s, after many failed attempts to be “straight,” she came out as a lesbian, stopped attending the LDS church, and began dating women. Elizabeth found a committed partner 10 years ago, and married her partner 8 years ago. They are currently happily raising a daughter in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Even though Elizabeth has not attended an LDS congregation since her early 30s, she was recently approached by her LDS bishop (whom she’d never met) in her driveway, and told that: 1) she needed to pray to God about whether or not to leave her wife and child, and that 2) if she wouldn’t divorce her wife and child, that she would face excommunication from the LDS church.

 

VIDEOS:

Voices in Exile: Stories of Lesbian Mormons

March 2004

Beginning with the first interview in November of 1999, Randall filmed lesbian Mormons willing to go on camera and speak of their experiences in the culture. Many women refused to be recorded, fearing loss of friends and family, as well as standing within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) or Mormon Church. Whether filmed or not, the emerging stories focused on their pain and anguish as they dealt with perceived mutual exclusivity of being Mormon and lesbian.

 

Affirmation 2015 International Conference

Laura Dulin – The Woman I Love

 

Evening of Affirmation International Conference – September 24, 2016

 

Trans and Non-Binary Performances

Sara Jade – My Name is Transsexual – 43:32

Aubree Lyman – Girl-Boy, Boy-Girl – 55:06

Augustus Crosby – Abandoned – 57:15

Lee Bobbie – The Spaces Between the Pronouns – 1:02:32

Brianna Cluck – Wickedness Never Was Happiness – 1:09:50

Performers’ Panel – 1:13:18

 

Far Between

Kathy C.

After years of trying to change on her own, Kathy resorted to reparative therapy to change her attraction towards women. But the main premise of that therapy–that some sort of abuse or hurt was at the core of her orientation–never fit her own life experiences. Then her LDS stake president referred Kathy to resources that did not involve trying to change herself and she began reading everything she could find on gay Mormons.

As she read a man’s account about no longer asking God to change his attraction to men, but simply asking God what He thought about it, everything changed for Kathy. When she prayed and asked God about her orientation, she felt God’s approval and desire for her to find a wife and be happy. For the first time since she was six years old, her desire to be dead was gone, and she felt a new enthusiasm for life.

Although Kathy is not currently active in the LDS church, she loves and respects her Mormon family and friends, and she believes someday the church will have room for people like her. Being a lesbian Mormon has taught Kathy that God loves all of us, He’s happy for all of us, and that there’s hope out there.

 

Ellen K.

Since she was a little girl, Ellen knew she was different–but it wasn’t until junior high that realized she wasn’t attracted to boys. She worked hard to shut off her attraction to girls, but being dishonest with herself made it hard for to be honest with others, including her parents. In college, Ellen converted to the Church, but hearing her ward members blame the world’s problems on gay people brought up all of Ellen’s fears and shame. She held onto the missionaries’ promise that sacrifice and covenants would lead to blessings–and the the biggest blessing she desired was to not be gay. She put in her mission papers, hoping her service would lead God to remove her attraction to women.

Shortly before getting endowed in the temple, Ellen disclosed her orientation to her bishop, although she was living the law of chastity. He bishop revoked her temple recommend and told her that Christ’s Atonement doesn’t cover the sin of homosexuality. Ellen was crushed, and although her next bishop responded with much more kindness, she still wrestled with the question of why she was gay. A short time later, while praying in the baptistry of the Oqrr Mountain Temple, Ellen received a strong spiritual witness that God loved her as she was, and that she should find a wife and prepare for a family. This revelation enabled Ellen to rise above her depression and begin dating while still attending Church. Having the Spirit in her life has not gone away because she is gay and dating women.

 

Elise and Sam

Sam and Elise’s motto has become, “You can’t expect respect unless you are willing to give it. ” Sam and Elise met in college and instantly became best friends–they didn’t know they were gay at the time. It wasn’t long before they realized that their relationship was becoming more than a simple friendship. At that time, the Church was a very important part of their lives. They worked hard to fight their growing romantic relationship, concealing it from their parents, bishops and professional counselors and support groups–many of whom backed up their growing belief that they would have to choose between a relationship with each other and involvement with the Church (one bishop even compared homosexuality with murder). It proved to be a very difficult decision–the Church was more than just their belief system, it was their culture as well. Still, they chose their relationship, which continues to prove difficult for their families, who also feel a pressure to pick between the teachings of their church and their relationship with Sam and Elise.

 

Anna

Coming out as a lesbian has taught Anna more about letting love in and letting fear go, than any other life experience. When she became more open about her sexuality, she experienced a wide range of reactions, from a coworker’s support and her family’s love, to friends who walked away. Through it all, Anna has come to believe that fear is at the heart of our inability to love those who are different from us. But when she stopped asking, “Why me?” and began asking, “God, what do you want me to do with this?” Anna’s whole life changed. Today she is happy to be able to finally say that she truly loves herself and that she knows that her Heavenly Father loves her just as she is. Although she no longer feels at home at church, groups like Affirmation, Mormons Building Bridges, and Family Fellowship have given her the support and space needed to dig deep and choose what she wants for her life. As the “master of her own destiny,” Anna feels she finally has a reason to live and be happy as she chooses what is right and true for herself.

 

Mormon and Gays: The Forefront Talks

A series by Laura Dulin on coming out in the LDS Church and how to offer support to those who do.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsx-Lem5yDkO-k6Y_U6htkw

 

POETRY AND CREATIVE WORKS:

 

Girl-Boy, Boy-Girl
by Aubree Lyman

You have no idea how hard I tried to disappear for you. At first it was just the parts that I knew you didn’t like. The parts of me that were male and attracted to women and sad. I was raised to believe that I lived in a world of opposites and I was hurting so much because it was too much, being a boy and a girl at the same time. You can’t be both, so cutting out the boy part should be easy, right? Only trying to get rid of the part of me that was male was like trying to bleach the blue out of lavender. The pink goes away too. I can’t be only a woman, only attracted to men, only happy or sad… I have to be both or I’m nothing. And I realized that the part of me that I could get rid of, the part that was really causing all the pain was the part that kept trying to pick a side because their are no sides to me. I’m just a girl-boy boy-girl who feels so many things all at the same time and if you want to pretend that I am lying or naive, then go ahead. But you can’t make me disappear. Because for the first time in my life I am happy that I exist. So that’s what I wanted to tell you. I brought some chocolate if it’ll make you feel better?

© 2016 Aubree Lyman

 

The Spaces Between the Pronouns

by Lee Bobbie

At first there wasn’t a word

And then I learned a word

Gay.

And then a more specific word for persons who are

Assigned female at birth,

The L-word.

And that was what I’d say,

The L-word.

But never

The word itself.

 

And for a long time

I couldn’t say it

And

I couldn’t figure out why.

 

We try to fit ourselves

Into existing words

Because words mean we exist

Even when they don’t fit right

Even when they feel so wrong

But there’s nothing wrong with me

Is there?

 

I was never one of them girls, or women

Nor did I feel like one, I don’t

But damn did I try

And just like the pretty dance of straight pretense,

I failed

Miserably.

 

Yet I also

Always knew

I never wanted to grow up to be

A man.

 

So what was I?

What am I?

 

I’m not pink or blue

Although I certainly like the color blue,

Perhaps, perhaps

I’m just my own hue.

 

But also,

What the heck is pink or blue?

Colors like gender

Assigned by culture

The very moment you “appear”.

Colors like gender

Assigned by culture

Not by your own will.

It’s like saying straight people               Can’t like rainbows.

 

I walk in those spaces

The spaces between the pronouns

Plastered across our faces

She, her, hers, he, him, his

How I wish I could fit in somewhere, somehow

Yet for whom to please?

 

It’s not a big deal I tell myself

It’s not like I want or need to take hormones

Or have surgeries

To be myself

 

Okay I lie.

 

Just as my body does.

 

I have upper body dysphoria

I never wanted them things

And though I know I have ’em “small”

Well, they’re there

Since twelve, they’ve been.

 

Because our bodies have a mind of their own

Just as we do

And in my ideal world

These two minds would be as one

And mine would be

In the words of my friend Zoie,

A Ken Doll,

NOT BARBIE,

KEN.

Because Ken doesn’t have them things

AND KEN ALSO DOESN’T HAVE THEM OTHER THINGS

Ken doesn’t have

Anything.

 

Except a beautiful face.

Well, I hope he’s more than just a beautiful face.

And yet because humans are complicated beings

I’d still keep ’em things

For my future

Kids.
Yes, people like me want kids, too.

 

And in the meantime

I’ve just suppressed the extreme anxiety

About how people look at me

Question me

Stare at me

And not just when I need to go to

The bathroom.

 

Oh the bathroom.

Oh the discomfort and confusion on people’s faces

As I keep my gaze to the floor

Make a swift beeline to a stall

And be

Asinvisibleashumanlypossible

 

Because one time when I wasn’t so invisible

A lady walked in and saw me

And she looked so shocked that before I could catch myself

I said,

“I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m sorry”

I guess I’ve been saying that a lot

Feeling that a lot

 

So unless I HAVE to respond I don’t

Like when someone calls me as “sir”

I know my voice’d betray me,

Causing embarrassment to the other.

 

I’m not a “sir”

Tho it’s okay if you think I am

As long as it ain’t a bathroom matter

My silence proves a “peaceful” end

But maybe instead of “sir” or “ma’am”

We could try to use the word,

“Friend”?

 

Truly we are conditioned to be this or that

To WANT to be this or that

To ASSUME that others ARE THIS OR THAT

But what if we’re NOT this or that?

And what if maybe, JUST MAYBE

It’s okay.

 

I am.

We are.

Both, neither, or none.

And not just one.              Or the other.

 

For a long time I believed

That gender is eternal

And that was hard

Because

I believed in something that

Didn’t have a place for me

 

Kinda like being queer I guess.

 

At first there wasn’t a word.

And then I learned a word.

 

Agender.

 

I’m a masculine-presenting agender person

But I’m not a man

Or a woman

 

I’m just

Me.

© 2016 Lee Bobbie

 

Wickedness Never Was Happiness

By Brianna Cluck

I grew up in a religious household and, if there’s one thing I’ll always remember, it’s that wickedness never was happiness.

Growing up, it was just a phrase that I heard sometimes at church, but then I felt it inside me.  Everywhere.

It grew from just being heard once every couple months to seemingly every week at church.

It came up when we talked about my brother who made a great living as a programmer but had declared himself an atheist.

Wickedness never was happiness.

It came up as I was on the way to work and smelled the inviting scent of coffee from the shop around the corner.

Wickedness never was happiness.

It came up on the battlefield of the courts where it seemed that the laws of man were in a battle against the laws of God.

Wickedness never was happiness.

It became repetitive, intrusive, but altogether separate from my life.

And then suddenly the intrusion burst past my barricades.

Forcing me to evaluate my own worth, my own body, my own identity.

I’d subside the thoughts by donning my shirt, my slacks and my tie.  I’d carry my scriptures as a sword and my suit as my armor.

Wickedness never was happiness.

I’d visit the mighty fortress of our God.

But still the invaders flooded in, slaughtering every thought, toppling my psyche, pillaging my soul.

Wickedness never was happiness.

I found myself, at 2 in the morning, in my friend’s bathroom

wiping the mascara from my eyes

praying it would all come out

praying to God all mighty

to wipe away the mark

of the beast

 

Wickedness never was happiness.

 

I sat on my bed, knife in hand.

Praying to God to take this bitter cup from me

And to stop labeling it as lemonade.

Wickedness never was happiness.

And then, suddenly

Divine intervention

in the form of a text

from a friend.

 

It simply asks:

Why don’t you transition?

 

I went to the doctor

I took the bitter pill

I wear my mascara

I see the curvature of my body

and I know that wickedness never was happiness

but I’ve never been happier.


© 2015 Brianna Cluck

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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 served as Senior Vice President of Affirmation, 2013-2014. 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 attorney and advocate with the Southern Poverty Law Center who has led high-profile litigation of national significance. Sam founded and continues to help lead the Southern Poverty Law Center’s LGBT Rights Project. His work, often set in the Deep South, focuses on achieving greater respect and equality for LGBT people.

His cases include the first-ever, consumer fraud lawsuit challenging conversion “therapy” that purports to change sexual orientation from gay to straight. He represents transgender clients in employment and prison discrimination cases and initiated the first marriage equality case in Alabama. He also helped defeat a policy that prevented teachers from stopping anti-LGBT bullying, something never before accomplished by litigation. The suit also achieved a landmark consent decree that established a blueprint for remedying anti-LGBT school environments nationwide. Sam and his team have restored freedom of speech and expression to LGBT students in multiple Southeastern school districts – often negotiating resolutions without the need for litigation.

Previously, Sam was a litigation associate at a leading international law firm in New York City. He is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center. The National LGBT Bar Association has recognized Sam as one of the Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40. Other experience includes service in U.S. Air Force special operations, and as an English teacher in Taiwan where he also was a bungee jump master.

Sam completed a two-year Mormon mission in northern France, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Later, he obtained an undergraduate degree at BYU. Although he recognized his orientation much earlier, it was at BYU that Sam met his first boyfriend and 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 and afterward facing excommunication.

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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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John Rodriguez

John Rodriguez was born and raised in San Francisco de Macoris, Northeast of the Dominican Republic. He joined the LDS Church when he was 15 years old, he was the first one to join the church in his family, they all followed him and were baptized later. He served a regular mission for the LDS Church in the southern part of the Dominican Republic, Hispaniola Island.served a brief period of time in Central America, in Guatemala. (1992-1994) He was a leader in his mission and his stake as well. as a child he recognized his attraction to same sex and accepted his identity during his mission recognizing that he was created different for a special purpose.John has a strong testimony of the restoration of the Gospel of JesusChrist,he is actually a less active member of the LDS church by own choice. Suffered discrimination and persecution in his stake but his behavior and leadership helped him to gain respect from members and other leaders. John Studied Hotel Management in the USA. and is currently studying Psychology, marketing and couching courses at Harvard University Online or Distance learning. He is also an activist for LGBTQ marriage equality and manages facebook support groups Mormons building equality and worldwide gay mormons, His brother Carlos Rodriguez is also a Gay mormon, served a mission and helps John organizing Affirmation Dominican Republic Chapter meetings and reach out campaigns. they are planning to organize meeting groups in other regions in the Dominican Republic as well as in other Caribbean islands.
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Natalie Darling

Natalie Darling is a wife, and mother of 3 wonderful children residing in Murray, UT. She has studied natural healing, color, and personality traits for the past 15 years and gives private consultations through email. Natalie has also been active in the theater community for the past several years, serving on the Draper Arts council, performing in many shows, as well as working as production manager, choreographer, costumer, and music director. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her family and friends.

As a typical Mormon, Natalie was pretty ignorant of the LGBT community until a friend came out to her as gay while they were in a show together. Knowing her friend needed and deserved love, acceptance, and full support, she reevaluated her understanding of what it meant to be gay and how Heavenly Father felt about His LGBT sons and daughters. In March 2014, she walked into an Affirmation FHE activity not knowing anyone, and within a few months had helped decorate and man a booth for the LA Pride Festival and marched in the parade, worked as the production manager for the evening programs for the 2014 Affirmation Conference, and had the privilege of meeting and entertaining many LGBT friends at her home for dinner parties..

She is currently a co-chair for the upcoming 2015 Affirmation Conference and is grateful for the opportunity to serve her incredible LGBT brothers and sisters in this amazing organization.

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Jen Blair

Jen Blair was born and raised in the Wasatch Front of Utah and lived all her school years in the same house. She attended Brigham Young University and earned a B.A. in Elementary Education. After college graduation, she and her young family joined her husband on the adventure of medical school and spent time living in Missouri, Ohio, and Iowa before settling down in Twin Falls, Idaho. She is interested in politics and recently served a term as a precinct committeewoman. She has 4 amazing, talented, and beautiful children that occupy most of her energy.

Spirituality has always been an important guiding force in Jen’s life and entering the world of LGBTQ individuals has been faith changing. When her oldest child and only son came out in September of 2012, she knew life would never be the same. Spirituality remains important as she navigates life and motherhood.

Jen is now passionate about helping other people understand and love their LGBTQ friends and family members. She believes we can save lives and help develop healthy relationships. Jen loves to talk with her friends, and considers most everyone she meets to be in that category. Reading is one of her favorite past times, and her interest ranges from serious literature on religion, to the entertainment of fantasy. Most of her time, however, is filled up with raising her children. She participates as a board member of a children’s theater group, which all her children have participated in. This plays to her strengths as an efficient organizer and thoughtful planner. One of her most recognizable traits is a hoodie, an article of clothing she wears with relish.

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Ron Raynes

Ron Raynes, 58, loves his mixed orientation family. He and wife Sue have managed to come out of the closet together during the last ten years. They are proud parents of three beautiful, all grown up now daughters. Ron and Sue joined Affirmation three years ago, and have worked to establish and build the Affirmation Affinity group for Mixed Orientation Families, which is a healing place for a variety of people impacted by mixed orientation marriage in their family life.

Ron was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, and after forty years of prodigal wandering in the wilderness, is thrilled to be back home. Ron joined the LDS Church at age 18, served a mission and did most of the things a good Mormon boy should do, like getting married. The only problem was, back in 1981 he wasn't willing to identify as anything close to being gay. Ron currently serves in his LDS congregation as a Home Teacher and is the Ward Choir Director.

Ron enjoys a variety of interests, such as vigorous singing in the Eugene Concert Choir, raising chickens and vegetables, and writing poetry. Someday he vows to paint landscapes and burden his children with them.

In his everyday life, Ron employs his creative talents as a Food Scientist, inventing ice cream for the masses. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. He has played around in product development roles for 30 years in the food industry and holds degrees in Food Science from BYU and Utah State University. Ron particularly enjoys the challenges of incorporating fudge and sprinkles into as many flavors as possible.

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Beth Ellsworth

Beth Ellsworth grew up in Austin, TX, but now calls Minneapolis, MN home. She comes from a devout Mormon family with ancestors on both sides who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its early days. She served a Spanish-speaking mission in New York City from 2000-2002. The stories and experiences of the people she met in her mission led her to an interest in immigrant rights and social justice issues. After recieving her B.A. in Theatre Studies from Brigham Young University, she did two years of graduate work at the University of MN focusing on Latin American Theater and Theater and Social Change. She also graduated from a training program in a somatic therapy modality called Global Somatics, and is working to build a massage and bodywork practice. Beth's somatic work recognizes the interplay between body, mind, emotion, and spirit in societal as well as individual healing. She a is a founding member of the People's Movement Center in Minneapolis, MN--an emerging collective of indigounous, people of color, queer and trans healers, artists, and orgainizers whose work is dedicated to supporting movements for social justice.

Beth's involvement in somatic and social justice work over the past several years gave her the insight and courage to embrace her bisexuality and gender fluidity, parts of herself that she had denied and pushed away for most of her life due to her Mormon upbringing. While working in a community-based immigrant rights theater program as an allied supporter, she felt the strong spiritual prompting that it was time to re-direct her advocacy efforts towards her own Mormon community. Since then she has been working in connection with Affirmation in order to build support among LGBTQ+ Mormons figuring out their own paths to productive lives that are affirming of both their faith and sexuality or gender idenity. Beth maintains strong feelings of connection to her LDS heritage and faith, considering it her spiritual birth-place and the "home" where she is to do her work in life. Yet, her spiritual practice and belief have shifted and she claims a less orthodox version of Mormonism than she once did. Beth is active in her local Affirmation chapter and also is a member of the Affirmation Leadership Team where she helps to run the Women and Non-binary People and Bisexual+ affinity groups. She is also creating a performance piece which will explore the interplay between queer identity and religious/spiritual identity from a Mormon perspective. She hopes this piece will help to build understanding betweeen the LGBTQ+ and LDS communities.

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Justis Tuia

Justis normally serves as both the Program Manager of the Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations Program and as a Program Officer with the Magnet Schools Assistance Program at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). In these roles, he oversees a portfolio of discretionary grants in the areas of diversity, arts education, arts integration, strategic foreign languages, communication, leadership, STEM, gifted education, international baccalaureate, and cross-cultural understanding. For the duration of the Obama Administration, however, he is serving as a special advisor in the Office of the Director at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), where his portfolio consists of diversity and inclusion initiatives across the Federal workforce. His interests and specializations lie in the areas of program management, process optimization, research methods, cross-cultural communication, comparative politics, and East Asian foreign affairs. Justis joined the Federal workforce in January 2010 as a Presidential Management Fellow after spending several years working in the fields of higher education and human resources. His first position with the Federal government was with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, where he split his efforts between the Office of Culture, Religion, & Military Equal Opportunity and the newly established Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response. He currently serves as the president of LGBT and Allied Employees at ED, the principal representative for Asian American Pacific Islander Connections, a board member of the Joseph Priestly District of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and a member of the Truman State University National Alumni Association Board of Directors. He is a former International Scholar Laureate and Diversity Fellow of The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. He earned an MA in International Communication from American University's School of International Service and a Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, in Political Science from Truman State University.

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Laura Skaggs Dulin

Laura Skaggs Dulin holds a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from San Diego State University where she specialized in therapies suited to multi-cultural contexts; with a further emphasis in LGBT/SSA related issues.

Since 2013, Laura has endeavored to develop culturally competent and research based outreach interventions to promote the greater well-being of all LGBT/SSA Mormons. Laura co-produced “The Forefront Talks youtube series: A story about coming out in church and how to ideally support those who do” and published an Op-Ed in the Deseret News refuting the use of gay conversion therapies. Laura continues to write on her personal blog “Stars in the Ocean” to promote increased social support for LGBT/SSA Mormons no matter what their life path.

Presently, Laura is a regular contributor on the OutinZion.org podcast: a dialogue that attempts to equally and respectfully honor both spiritual and sexual orientations and gender identities. She is also a co-producer on the Far Between documentary project which is an upcoming film exploring what it means to be Mormon and homosexual.

Laura married her husband, John, in the San Diego, California Temple 12 years ago. Together, they’re the parents of two cherished daughters.

The Forefront Talks https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsx-Lem5yDkO-k6Y_U6htkw

Op-Ed in the Deseret News http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865606977/Sexual-orientation-is-no-ones-fault-it-is-an-opportunity.html?pg=all

blog Stars in the Ocean http://starsintheocean.typepad.com/my-blog/2015/11/when-a-gay-person-shows-up-at-church.html

OutinZion.org

Far Between http://farbetweenmovie.com

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Richard Keys

Richard Keys calls Sacramento, CA, home, and has been a life-long member of the church. In addition to BYU, a South German mission, and a temple marriage, he has held many church callings in teaching, music, and leadership. Along the way, Rich gained a strong testimony, as well as a very personal and practical relationship with his Heavenly Father, the Savior, and the Atonement. “When I go to my personal sacred grove, Heavenly Father is not standing above me or sitting on a throne; He’s on a sofa with His arm around me, and I’m feeling His unconditional love as we discuss how things are going in my life. He doesn’t judge; He teaches me.”
Rich majored in Music and Business Administration in college, minored in Silliness, and had a career in Human Resources Mgmt. Following a divorce, he realized he was gay and finally understood why West Side Story and Barbra Streisand meant so much to him as a teenager. He prayed how he could endure to the end as both divorced and gay in his church, and the Spirit’s plan was specific: “Keep your sense of humor, act a little silly, and spread that around and share it with others, because they’re going through tough times, too, and you may be able to help them endure things as you endure them too.”
He was led to a high councilor that he did not previously know, and was told the Lord had an important work for him to do: To help members understand what it means to be gay and what it does not mean, and to help build bridges among both members and non-members. Coming out as both gay and a temple-worthy Mormon, he’s been led by the Spirit in everything from sacrament meeting talks to the dating scene. That includes Affirmation, which he discovered and joined shortly after coming out to himself. Meanwhile, he volunteers as a pianist at various nursing homes and dreams of the day when cuddling will become an Olympic sport.

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Vince

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Vince

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