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2016 Affirmation Annual International Conference Summary

By John Gustav-Wrathall
President, Affirmation

It’s taken me a while to come down from and process the Affirmation Annual International Conference in Provo. We didn’t know what kind of an impact last year’s LDS Church policy announcement would have on us (the reverberations continue to be felt throughout the Affirmation family). We had around 650 attend over the course of the three-day conference — up significantly over last year’s attendance. Three languages were spoken and a dozen countries represented.

14520577_1142286272526967_2289346102355281744_n Much more important than the numbers was the spirit of love, comfort and healing that prevailed throughout. Many came to conference grieving. When James Kent presented the memorial moment to remember those we’ve lost in the past year, there was audible weeping, especially among the youth. As people stood up to recognize those they’d known personally, by the end of his presentation, virtually the entire audience was standing. People found arms to embrace them, shoulders to cry on, and a big, diverse, warm “family of choice” to share stories with and learn from.

14516508_1142286542526940_1919202194475690605_n According to most of the people I’ve heard from, the high point of the conference was our Saturday Evening of Affirmation which centered around “Trans Voices” and “Youth Voices.” The sharing was raw, heartfelt, and transformative, and left few dry eyes. I have never been prouder of our community, or more hopeful about the future.

14433016_1142286709193590_4694250038609593589_nThe youth track had about 70 participants, more than ever in our history, and we were all incredibly grateful to Daniel Parkinson and Jen Blair for their work to foster the “structured chaos” that ensued and that was so life-giving and affirming for our youth. Watching the youth rally around each other, often moving to the margins to embrace a youth standing off to the side was amazing. It brought tears to my eyes to see their determination that NO ONE be on the outside. They are teaching us.

14449777_1142286262526968_8459201681054061959_n14484609_1142286675860260_5056255528122909903_n We had affinity groups for women, men, people of color, bi, pan, queer, trans, nonbinary, mixed-orientation families, ace/aro, gay fathers… Hundreds of straight parents, friends, allies and church leaders attended as well, and participated in workshops specifically designed for family and allies. It was great to give Kimberly Anderson a great big hug and to have her talk about her Mama Dragons Story Project.

14524954_1142286385860289_5323748069486745076_oWorkshop attendees were given opportunities to talk about taking the best of their Mormon heritage with them as they move on, or about the joys and challenges of staying active and engaged in the LDS Church and Mormon faith. The workshop track for “faith transitions” was packed, and so was the “claiming our faith” track. There were also workshops on relationships, community building and self-care. There were more “Affirm Talks”! All the feedback I’ve heard was that the workshops were among the best they’ve ever attended at Affirmation.

14524504_1142286269193634_9053402139625576176_o Of course having my sweet husband Goran Gustav-Wrathall there was the high point for me. People told me how much it meant to them to hear about our 24-year + love affair and marriage from his point of view. (I think y’all enjoyed watching him dance on Saturday night too!) Danny and Mara Kofoed, one participant told me, were “angels” with a life-saving message about believing in and trusting yourself. Mindy and Dustin Gledhill brought stories and songs about compassion and finding your own authentic way forward.

14522707_1142286535860274_372004913018312605_n 14441102_1142292199193041_8740535215369419437_n14469499_1142286415860286_2361507643203448099_n Sara Jade Woodhouse, Augustus Crosby, Bobbee Trans Mooremon, Lee Bobbie, Beth Mikel Ellsworth, Grayson Alexander Moore, Brianna Cluck, and Zoie Young challenged us to move beyond our taken-for-granted assumptions about gender, and moved us with the gripping honesty of their journeys toward wholeness.

14469445_1142286819193579_1188611347971645443_n 14469470_1142286539193607_5890064605293483771_n14523240_1142286299193631_5197529793999554137_n Rev. Marian Edmonds Allen shared her testimony of what it means to empower youth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Lottie Anne Roberts, Braxton Barham, Kenna Delton, and Kayden Maxwell for their empowering messages, and to all the youth for musical performances that brought me to tears for the entire last half of the evening.

14502941_1142286725860255_323703730517532096_n Namaste to Mary Lydia Ryan and Dawni Burton Christensen who brought healing peace through meditation. Emmett Michael at the devotional spoke right from his heart, and right to ours, and I will never forget Jena Lowry Peterson’s message about the importance of “being believed” and of being carried by the love of Jesus. Thomas McConkie delivered a powerful message about “the concrete” vs. “the subtle.” Reality is not everything you see on the surface.

The Unity Gospel Choir brought the Spirit in abundance, and it stayed with us throughout the testimony meeting that followed.

14517485_1142286295860298_125115157855255134_n14522879_1142286652526929_2201232620160410920_n 14435262_1142286382526956_4860403831472711224_o Spirit, faith, love and hope, all present in abundance… Now gratitude.

John Gustav-Wrathall
President, Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends

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