Affirmation – In the Beginning
The following was written by Paul Mortensen, co-founder of Affirmation, and published in the program for the 10th Annual Affirmation Conference in 1987, under the title “Affirmation – In the Beginning, A History.”
by Paul Mortensen
Affirmation is the story of a struggle for self-acceptance and self-worth. It all began in the 10 to 15 years prior to 1977. During this period many groups of gay Mormons met together at one time or another, principally in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and at BYU. These groups were generally only gay men meeting secretly. Nearly all of these groups were strictly social organizations, with most of them lasting only a short time. These groups reflected the nature of the times; they were, after all, pre-Stonewall days and gay liberation was almost unknown. Times were not right for a lasting organization. However, many people kept trying, knowing there was a great need for an organization of gay LDS people to help one another.
In mid-1977 and early 1978, a group of gay Mormons began meeting very quietly at BYU. One member of this group, Matthew Price, became very enthused at the idea of a national organization of gay LDS people and began to promote it with gusto. He organized a group in Salt Lake City and then moved on to Denver and Dallas, forming groups in those cities. Under Matt’s guidance, a constitution for the organization was written, stating its goals and purposes. A name was selected: “Affirmation – Gay Mormons United.”
During late 1977 and early 1978, Affirmation was struggling to achieve a firm foundation. The Salt Lake and Dallas groups met only sporadically and the Denver group had dissolved completely. Affirmation was still a one person show, surviving mainly because of Matt Price’s determination and persistence. However, a powerful boost occurred when Paul Mortensen read an article about Affirmation that appeared in the Advocate. Excited about the prospects of establishing a branch in Los Angeles, Paul contacted Matt Price. Then after many letters and phone calls, the Los Angeles group was organized in January 1978. Although only six people attended the first meeting, the Los Angeles Chapter exploded and soon appeared as the leading chapter for Affirmation. Through its influence, chapters appeared in many cities around the country and, later in the year, a network was established to allow cooperation among the various branches. During this time, the Dallas group discontinued as Matt became ill and could no longer be involved.
The year 1979 was a year of significant growth for Affirmation and gay LDS people. It was the year that Affirmation decided to proclaim itself. In June of that year, for the first time ever, Gay Mormons marched in a Gay parade in Los Angeles. In September, 14 members participated in the “March on Washington for Gay Rights.” Now there would never be any turning back. It was the first national mainstream coverage Gay Mormons had ever received and it raised our goals and spirits.
August and September of 1979 saw the beginning of chapter in San Francisco and Washington D.C. Robert Axelson in San Francisco and John Laurent in DC saw the Advocate ad and with help of Los Angeles began chapters in their cities. San Francisco took off with the same energy as Los Angeles and it soon became a driving force in the national organization.
Thus, a dream had been achieved. Affirmation groups were meeting across the country. One of the greatest events of 1979, and indeed in the history of Affirmation, took place in Los Angeles on December 8th and 9th. Representatives from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. chapters met to plan the future. Those in attendance started the two day meeting by kneeling in prayer and asking the Lord for guidance. The Lord responded in abundance; there is no question that the Spirit of revelation directed the proceedings. The name of the organization was changed to “Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons.” Generally following Matt Price’s constitution, a general charter was written and accepted for the organization. At the same time, a national coordinated organization was established, and a general coordinator was elected. A national publication/newsletter was also initiated at the meeting. It was first called “New Times & Seasons” and one year later was changed to “Affinity.”
The December 1979 meeting marked the real beginning of Affirmation as a national organization. For the first time, the individual groups from across the nation met to coordinate goals and unite for the common purpose of supporting and helping each other. Since then, many chapters of Affirmation have been organized. There has been a continuous national organization since 1979, meeting each year in general conference and three to four times a year for leadership meetings.
Throughout the years, many dedicated people have contributed much to this organization. Since Affirmation began, thousands of people have been touched and helped. So many have been lifted from despair and isolation and have been able at least to affirm their self-worth. The Lord has blessed Affirmation and the people who have sought it out.
This brief history ends with some words that inspired the beginning of the organization. Matt Price told us: “Don’t forget the work of the Spirit. I don’t want to seem overly dependant on some ‘mysterious’ influence as to what makes Affirmation work, but there is a real need for prayer and reflection on what we are doing — reaching out to our Father in Heaven and to each other. We firmly believe that Affirmation had a place in the plan of our Father in Heaven and His Kingdom, and that the Holy Spirit is still with us, as individuals and as a group of His Children, guiding us in what we are seeking to accomplish. His Spirit is most reflected when we are working toward our goals, ever mindful of the needs of our sisters and brothers, ourselves, and the working of our Savior in our lives and in our hearts.”