by Beth Ellsworth
At this year’s “This is the Place” Affirmation Conference September 12-14, we are piloting a new way to open the Saturday workshop experience by offering Affinity Group Sessions. From 8:30 to 9:50 AM on September 13, conference participants have the opportunity to meet in smaller sub-groups with others who share a more specific common experience or identity within the greater Affirmation umbrella. Many groups will be meeting, representing a range of experiences within the LGBT Mormon experience—from Millenials to Elders, same-sex couples to those in mixed-orientation marriages, and from those going through faith transitions to those seeking to stay active in the LDS church. (See this link for an article about all the affinity groups being offered). In addition, those who have experienced marginalization in unique ways as minorities within both the LDS Church and the LGBT movement—Trangender People, Bisexuals, People of Color, and Women—will be meeting together. Part of the vision of Affirmation is to better serve, foster leadership, and make visible the issues specific to these underrepresented groups. The Affinity sessions will be both places of support and action for people who identify in these ways, as well as spaces where supporters and allies can come to learn more.
Transgender and Bisexual Groups
In the beginning of 2013, the official name of Affirmation was changed from “Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons” to “Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Family, and Friends.” This name change responded to the realization that the organization needed to grow by visibly recognizing the presence and proactively involving Transgender and Bisexual people. One of the ways Affirmation is working toward making this inclusion be more than in name only is through the Transgender and Bisexual affinity groups at this years conference. While in the past few years, the organization has included workshops on Trans* issues at its conferences, this marks the inaugural year of a Bisexual affinity group. Bisexual people have been in participation in the past, but not with a clearly visible and organized presence. Using these affinity groups as a springboard, we seek further leadership, presence, and support of Trans* and Bi* people in the future.
Transgender Mormons and Allies of Affirmation
The Transgender affinity group at the Affirmation Conference will be a space of support for Transgender Mormons, family, friends, and allies to share experiences and learn together about Trans* issues. The group will be facilitated by Paula Ison and Sara Jade Woodhouse, both trans educators and activists, and will include a short presentation and open discussion on the following topics:
- What it means to be Transgender or gender non-conforming
- Trans* friendly terminology
- Trans* LDS experience
- Best practices for talking to bishops and stake presidents about Trans* issues
- Ways to build Trans* leadership and support in Affirmation
Bisexual People of Affirmation
The Bisexual Affinity Group of Affirmation provides community, support, and friendship for those who identity as bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, unlabeled, or as any other non-monosexual identity. Allies who identify as gay, lesbian, or straight (monosexual identities) and others who desire to better understand the uniqueness of the bi* experience and support this community—particularly within the context of Mormonism—are also invited to participate.
The session will be facilitated by bisexual Affirmation leaders Chris Wright, Michael Timothy, and Beth Ellsworth. The session will consist of a brief presentation, followed by discussion and sharing of experiences on the following topics:
- Who Are LGBT Mormon People of Color? – U.S. and Worldwide
- What is bisexuality? What do all these words mean: bi*, pansexual, omnisexual, queer, fluid, monosexual, etc.
- Common myths and stereotypes about bisexuals
- The unique hardships and stresses of being bi* and LDS
- Bisexual erasure
- Bisexual culture in the LGBT community and the world
- The Kinsey Scale
- Science and sexuality
- Bisexual resources
People of Color
People of Color have had a long-time presence in Affirmation, but responding to the need for more visibility and support, African-American board member Fred Bowers organized the LGBT Mormon People of Color and Allies affinity group in October of 2011. This is a group of self-identified people of color and allies gathered to explore multiple identities and the intersections of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and LDS faith.
In his recent article, “We Have a Vision – Making It Better for LGBTQ Mormons of Color,” Fred explains that when he became a member of Affirmation in Washington D.C. in the 1990s he felt welcomed and comfortable, but that “many other people of color, both LGBTQ and straight, have had the opposite experience. They have experienced alienation and verbal abuse from intolerant and ill-informed church members on the issues of race/ethnicity and sexuality.”
Fred will be facilitating the LGBT Mormon People of Color and Allies affinity group at this year’s conference and welcomes all to join in support and learning. He writes, “I am not alone in being a LGBTQ Mormon of color. There is an LDS lesbian Filipina woman somewhere in the world needing to know she is welcome in Affirmation. There is an LDS transgender Latina woman that needs to know she is welcome also. There is an LDS bisexual Japanese man that is looking to be welcomed into Affirmation. There are people of color who are current Affirmation members. Their voices and stories about Mormonism, sexuality, and race/ethnicity need to be heard.”
Session topics will include:
- Who Are LGBT Mormon People of Color? – U.S. and Worldwide
- Major Challenges Faced by LGBT Mormon People of Color
- Addressing Challenges Faced by LGBT Mormon People of Color
- Next Steps to Address the Challenges
- Discussion about the LGBT Mormon PoC Experience
Women of Affirmation
The Affirmation Women affinity group seeks to create a tighter community of sisters in Affirmation, providing a space of support around issues specific to the experience of being both LGBTQIA and woman-identifying within the broader LDS and Gay communities.
Facilitated by Anna Empey of the Affirmation Leadership Team, the conference affinity session will focus on how harnessing the power of self-love and acceptance can enable us to confront, overcome, and undo barriers we face as LGBTQIA women in the Mormon community. Allies are welcome to participate. Open discussion and sharing of experiences will center on the following questions:
- How has sexism and patriarchy affected us as LGBTQIA Mormon women?
- What are ways we can come to self-love and acceptance and create a life-affirming path for ourselves as LGBTQIA women–wherever we are in our relationship with Mormonism?
- How can working from a place of self-love and acceptance help us to better confront inequalities and overcome the obstacles we face?
- What are our particular needs and what resources and support structures do we want as LGBTQIA women and allies in Affirmation?
All of these affinity sessions offer opportunities for support, community, and learning both for people in our organization who are minorities within the minority and for those who desire to be better able to act as allies on the issues affecting them. We hope to see you at these sessions as we continue to work together to build a stronger, more inclusive, equitable, and resilient Affirmation—one that is robustly filled with our diverse voices!
*The use of the asterisk in Trans* or bi* indicates that these terms are meant to be inclusive of the many identities that can fall under the transgender umbrella or the bisexual umbrella. Bi+ is also used.
Affinity sessions at the 2014 “This is the Place” Affirmation Conference will take place from 8:30 to 9:50 A.M. on Saturday September 13. In an effort to make these sessions as accessible as possible, the registration fees for the Saturday sessions have been broken down into smaller increments, allowing participants to attend the affinity sessions for only $10, which will include snacks. Participants are encouraged to stay for the whole morning to attend the workshops and TED talks for an additional $20. Scholarships are still available allowing students and those with financial need to attend the whole weekend of workshops, talks, performances, and meals for only $50. See the conference website and registration page for full schedule details and costs.