A Farewell to Paul Mortensen
January 14, 2022
by Ben Jarvis
As I have thought about how to memorialize Paul Mortensen in the wake of his passing, I found this farewell I wrote back in 2009 when Paul formally stepped back from Affirmation. I think this sums up things nicely.
Change is a part of life, that is one of the few things that is constant. This year, Affirmation bids farewell to a stalwart supporter, and for those of us here in Los Angeles, it is a farewell to the father of our chapter. After more than three decades, Paul Mortensen is taking a long overdue, and much deserved, step back. He and his husband, Robert Jacob, are retiring from Affirmation and handing over the reigns to the next generation.
I first met Paul Mortensen in 1994. Like many others, I was terrified to knock on his apartment door thereby acknowledging my Mormon gayness. Many of us laugh at those stories now, and we’ve heard them all. We had people drive from an hour away only to circle the block and head home. One friend actually walked up the stairs and stood in front of the door before chickening out and leaving. For those of us who did make it into Paul’s apartment on our first attempt, we often sat there stunned as we realized that we were not alone and that far from being different, we were very much like those sitting around us. Paul Mortensen was a big reason for that.
I know that Paul Mortensen hates receiving praise and recognition for what he has done in the last three decades. That gives me all the more pleasure to use his name (Paul Mortensen) as many times as possible in such phrases as “Paul Mortensen was the person who was there for me when I called Affirmation for the first time;” or “Paul Mortensen comforted me and helped me realize that I wasn’t alone;” and my all-time favorite “Paul Mortensen thought that Oscar acceptance speech was dull . . . and what the hell was Bjork thinking with that swan dress?” Okay, so I made that last one up. Nonetheless, Paul Mortensen is an Affirmation icon and one of the great pioneers in the gay community. More importantly, Paul Mortensen is a decent, humble, human being whom I have the privilege of calling a friend.
When Paul Mortensen founded the Affirmation Los Angeles Chapter in 1978, there were no resources for the GLDS community. Paul nurtured the chapter and was a driving force in the national organization. In the early days, so many people attended Affirmation meetings that they all couldn’t fit in Paul and Robert’s apartment—a hall had to be rented to accommodate everyone. Paul saw the number of Affirmation members increase, though sadly, as the horrible epidemic of HIV/AIDS swept through Los Angeles, he mourned the loss of many dear friends and loved ones. There are many Affirmation greats who passed away before I found the organization. Paul took the time to sit down and tell me about their lives and how sad it is that they were no longer with us in the world. Paul Mortensen taught me about these great pioneers and impressed upon me the importance of carrying on their legacy.
Paul Mortensen helped me feel at home with myself and to embrace both my Mormon and gay sides. In the beginning, I thought those two aspects of my life were forces pulling me in opposite directions. Paul helped me understand that both identities were important and that they were complementary: I did not have to choose one over the other.
When I first met Paul Mortensen, a large part of me still wanted to be straight. I was scared about what the gay world held for me and preferred to remain in the familiar territory that I knew. I wanted a marriage, a life to share with another; maybe even kids. Paul listened intently and presented options I had not considered. He introduced me to family members I never knew I had—Affirmation members who, like me, were struggling to find themselves. Through the years I watched as different members of our chapter found love. Families were created all around me. Later on, Paul expressed the jubilant emotion of a proud grandfather when Kassandra and Jered were born (Jacki and Tere’s children). These two children—now young adults—spent many hours in Paul and Robert’s apartment on Hollywood Boulevard. To them, gay people weren’t scary or abnormal. They had two Moms who loved them and whenever they went to an Affirmation function at Paul and Robert’s place, there were plenty of other gay aunts and uncles who fawned over them. The church would have us believe homosexuals cannot form families or be happy, but Paul showed me how the church was mistaken and how I had the ability to make my own happiness.
My husband Pat and I had the honor to have Paul and Robert attend our wedding last year in downtown Los Angeles. When Paul pronounced the evening as being FABULOUS, Pat and I knew we had pulled off a successful social event. A few weeks later we returned to Paul and Robert’s apartment where we watched as Robert married our long-time friends Jacki and Tere. Their children, Kassandra and Jered, watched as their mothers were legally married, opening another chapter of their lives with Paul there cheering them on.
Paul Mortensen was a major influence in my life, creating within me a drive to reach out and help others who are struggling along the trail. After experiencing so many uplifting, wonderful, and life-changing moments through the people he has introduced me to, it is almost funny to think back to when I sat in his apartment for my very first Affirmation meeting, remembering my fear and trepidation.
It is impossible to overstate my gratitude for Paul Mortensen. He has helped shape the modern GLDS community and my life specifically. In fact, Paul Mortensen has positively impacted the lives of my entire family, from Hawaii to Louisiana to Brazil. I would love to have Paul involved with Affirmation forever, but that just is not realistic. All of us will move on eventually and I fully support Paul in this next chapter of his life. In fact, I am more than a little envious.
Paul, best of luck to you and Robert. You’ve left your mark and you can take a breather now and watch as those of us you trained and mentored step in to shoulder the burden for the next thirty years!
It has been 12 years since I wrote the piece above, celebrating Paul’s retirement from Affirmation, and getting ready for his and Robert’s move to Palm Springs. It is strange to reread what I wrote now that Paul has passed away. Paul was a mentor and was unapologetic in his ability to fall in love with members of his own gender. It is hard to say goodbye.
See Also: Paul Mortensen, Affirmation Co-Founder, Dies at 80 by Nathan Kitchen, Remembering Paul Mortensen by Olin Thomas, Affirmation – In the Beginning, A History by Paul Mortensen