|Inside This Issue
2013 Conference Report
by John D. Gustav-Wrathall
The 2013 Affirmation Conference, held September 13-15, was one of the best attended in the history of the organization, with over 400 attending the “Evening of Affirmation” Saturday night, and 270 registered attendees participating in a variety of plenary talks, workshops, panels, luncheons and service projects.
The conference attracted unprecedented numbers of straight allies, and in many cases entire families attended together with their LGBT children and siblings. Wendy Williams Montgomery, mother of a gay teen who is featured with her family in the Family Acceptance Project’s Families Are Forever documentary wrote of her family’s participation in the conference:
I am at a loss for words. I cannot adequately describe the past 4 days. Moments I will never forget. My cup was filled to overflowing. The outpouring of God’s Spirit and the love of dear friends, brothers and sisters in the gospel – gay and straight – was truly some of the most powerful I have EVER felt. There was deep truth, rock solid faith, moving testimonies and Christ’s love shared in abundance.
Seeing two of my children (one gay, one straight) having the time of their lives, dancing, playing with joyful abandon, being allowed to be “normal” teenagers – free to say whatever is on their mind, without fear of judgment or attack from people who don’t understand them. How they need these moments! This was yet another blessing from this weekend – watching Jordan free, uninhibited and radiant.
The conference featured voices from across the full spectrum of LGBT Mormon experience. Benji Schwimmer spoke Friday evening, for instance, of his internalization of the best values from his Mormon upbringing even though he no longer has a desire for affiliation with the LDS Church. Gay former Mormon Daniel Parkinson stressed in his Saturday afternoon luncheon presentation that he no longer affiliates with the LDS Church, but as a therapist supports the choice of LGBT Mormons to engage with their faith and takes an interest in LGBT Mormon religious experience. However, this year’s Affirmation conference placed greater than ever emphasis on affirmation not only one’s sexuality but also their faith, and featured the voices of many LDS LGBT individuals who choose to stay connected with their Mormon faith and/or are active in the Church.
The first night of the conference, the documentary Families are Forever, featuring the family of Tom and Wendy Montgomery, was presented. The Montgomery’s were present with their gay teenage son Jordan. In the documentary, Tom and Wendy posed the painful, poignant question: Is there a future for our son in the Church? What is Heavenly Father’s plan for his gay sons and daughters? An Affirmation Allies Award was presented to Caitlin Ryan, the film’s producer and LGBT Catholic who has taken a strong interest in the experience of LGBT Mormons. A new award, the Tree of Life Award, was presented to the documentary itself as “the best recent book, article, film, play or other creative/expressive material that presents authentic LGBT Mormon stories to the world, that gives us voice and portrays our lives in the complexity and totality of who we are as spiritual, moral, emotional, relational and physical beings.” A $1,000 grant to assist in the distribution of the documentary was also awarded.
At the Friday evening event, after a moving rendition of “Nearer My God to Thee,” Benji Schwimmer spoke of his journey as a gay Mormon, and then transitioned to the Friday night Affirmation social by teaching dance moves to conference participants!
Our sages were there, those who over decades of faithful witness have believed in us when no one else would, when even we had a difficult time believing in ourselves. Saturday morning, Carol Lynn Pearson, who has spent decades lovingly witnessing, hearing and telling and retelling our stories, bore us testimony of our story as she has observed it. We were not unworthy, undeserving and excommunicate. We were heroes. We — reluctantly or not — had accepted a call, faced our darkest demons, recovered the elixir of life, and were now called to return to our tribe to share with them the healing that both we and they most desperately needed.
The strong interest of conference registrants in exploring the challenges and blessings of Church activity was demonstrated in the fact that the workshop with the highest participation – about 120 participants – was the workshop entitled “Restoring our Relationships with the Restored Gospel and Church.” Conference organizers scheduled the workshop twice in one of the large meeting spaces. Both sessions were held for standing-room-only crowds, and many of the participants stayed for both sessions of the workshop. Bob Rees, another of our mentors spoke compellingly of how the principle of restoration could operate in the lives of LGBT Mormons, healing injury and repairing brokenness. Sam Noble, Ellen Koester, Tina Richerson and I shared insights from our experience staying connected to the Church or returning to the Church. Workshop attendees were invited to share their own stories of restoration. The stories revealed pain that was still raw, but also a deep yearning for faith and connection.
A panel on transgender Mormon experience featured the stories and testimonies of transgender Mormons Sara Jade Woodhouse and Grayson Moore, and Grayson’s mother Neca Allgood. Other panels/workshops included “Growing Up LGBT in America” (with HRC’s Ann E. Nicoll and Sharon Groves); “Follow Your Heart: Breaking Through Stereotypes and Confronting Shame, a Guide in Being a Fearless Lesbian Mormon” (with Tina Richerson, Hollie Hancock, Berta Marquez, Kim Mack, Anna Empey and Amy Larson); “Circles of Empathy” (with Kendall Wilcox of the Far Between Project); the “LDS Family Fellowship” panel (with Kathryn Steffenson and the Abhau family, Oviatt family and the Weyman family); a panel on “Spiritual Partnerships” (with Karin Hendricks and Tawyna Smith); ” Building Local Communities for LDS LGBT/SSA Individuals, Family and Friends” (with Bryan Hendrickson and Bryce Cook); a BYU USGA panel (with Adam White, Keith Trottier and others); and “Healing Our Spiritual Selves” (with Karin Hendricks, Tawnya Smith and Alaina Hendricks).
Saturday Lunch and Afternoon
In the afternoon, there was a family/parents discussion group with the Montgomerys, Abhaus, Weymanns, and Oviatts.
Saturday’s luncheon featured Daniel Parkinson’s presentation of a montage of testimonies of LGBT Mormons who had, at the end of deep heartache, often on the verge of suicide, turned to God and been rewarded with powerful personal assurances of divine acceptance and approval. Saturday afternoon, conference participants had the opportunity to participate in three service projects: assembling resource packets at a local LGBT community center; preparing care packages for homeless youth; and making quilts for babies in a pre-natal unit.
The spiritual story sharing and testimony meeting, this year held Saturday evening to a standing-room-only crowd, was filled with raw authenticity, belief and hope rendered all the more poignant by honest admissions of doubt. In one testimony a man wept as he told of an experience in which God healed shattering self-hate. Peter Van Der Walt, who had traveled all the way from South Africa, reduced many of us to tears as he told of how he had read the Book of Mormon with the intention to prove the absurdity of religion, and had come away with a testimony of God.
At the “Evening of Affirmation” Saturday night, the Affirmation Choir performed a moving rendition of “Consider the Lilies.” Judy Finch, featured on the MormonsAndGays.org website, told the story of how her understanding unfolded through decades of wrestling to come to terms with the homosexuality of a son and a grandson. Benji Schwimmer performed a moving dance number. Steve Young used an analogy of faith that LGBT Mormons could relate to when he described the experience of “throwing blind,” striving for a goal that you can’t see. His wife Barb Young spoke passionately about the pain caused by Proposition 8, and the story of a heterosexual LDS friend of hers whose life and understanding were transformed by the forgiveness of her lesbian next-door neighbors. Randall Thacker, Affirmation President, presented the Young’s with the second “Allies Award” to be presented at the conference, in recognition of their outspoken support for the LGBT community and their philanthropic support of LGBT homeless youth.
The Youngs stayed afterwards to talk informally with conference participants. Conference participants then remained for refreshments and fellowship that continued till after midnight.
Sunday morning, almost 100 conference participants gathered at 8:30 at the Tabernacle in Temple Square for a live performance of Music and the Spoken Word by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. At the very end of the presentation, Lloyd D. Newell, the “spoken word” narrator, announced the presence of Affirmation members and invited us to stand to the applause of all gathered.
The final luncheon was graced by the singing of the One Voice Choir, and talks by Robin Linkhart of the Community of Christ’s Quorum of the Seventy, Erika Munson, co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges spoke about loving and knowing. Erika and other Mormons Building Bridges Steering Committee members then received the third and final “Allies Award.” Ricky Gilbert presented Randall Thacker with the 27th Mortensen Award in recognition of his community building and organizational skills used to strengthen Affirmation both locally in the Washington DC chapter, and at the international level.
Affirmation received unprecedented media coverage for this conference, in media sources as varied as the Salt Lake Tribune, the Washington Post, Wonkette, Fox 13 News, KUTV, On Top Magazine, the Christian News Network, Advocate.com, and the Deseret News.
In my personal blog describing my experiences at the conference, I wrote, “Affirmation experienced a kind of rebirth this weekend. We’ve gone back to Affirmation’s roots, to the hopes and dreams of Affirmation’s founders in the 1970s that LGBT Mormons might find faith, hope, and love against all odds in a Church that denied the possibility of gay Mormon virtue. We’ve gone back to the roots of our faith as Latter-day Saints, blossomed from the yearning of a 14-year-old farm boy for wisdom greater than that he possessed, who dared to ‘ask of God.’”
It was amazing to experience this rebirth with a host of allies and friends, with people across the LGBT Mormon spectrum, including bisexual, gay, transgender and lesbian Mormons, including people of all abilities and ages, from teens to old age. As a result of the conference, Affirmation is experiencing an influx of new members and energy, which we hope will continue to carry us forward in the important work we have ahead of us.
Las Vegas, NV Gratitude & Service GatheringNovember 23
Gratitude & Service Gathering in New York/New England, Salt Lake City, and Raleigh, NCFebruary 8, 2014
Affirmation Conference in Mexico CityMay 2-4, 2014
Affirmation Retreat in Nauvoo
Ricky Gilbert (right), Chair of the Mortensen Award Committee, gives the 2013 Mortensen Award to Randall Thacker during the Conference closing luncheon.
Randall Thacker Receives the 2013 Mortensen Award
Other Nominees Included David Baker, Mary England, John Gustav-Wrathall, Robert Moore, Ron Schow, Tawnya Smith, and Karin Hendricks
by Ricky Gilbert
This years Mortensen Award was just presented. Here a some notes from the presentation:
Unknown to most of you, Affirmation almost wasn’t. Shortly after Matt Price started his gay organization, several individuals learned about his efforts. As Matt’s group was slowly fading, these individuals endeavored to start groups in their own areas. They then scheduled a meeting with the intent of creating a national organization. Surprisingly, this effort almost failed. The evening before their gathering in Los Angeles, Paul went out clubbing, where he meet the love of his life, Robert. That next morning Paul considered calling off the meeting and chucking the whole thing. We owe it to him that he followed through with the gathering.
Through the years Paul set a high bar for leadership in Affirmation. Paul is a self-starter and a great motivator of individuals. He is an outstanding leader in the service of Affirmation and the GLBT Mormon community. He dedicated himself to working to achieve the goals of Affirmation. He made and continues to make a difference in peoples lives.
As chair of the Mortensen Award Committee, I am honored to once again welcome a new member into our group. And to recognize the many talented individuals who are today striving to carry on the legacy of Paul and the twenty something members of the committee and those past leaders who never received the Award.
This year is no exception.
We are honored to recognize an individual who is willing to work as a resource to media campaigns throughout the world. David Baker.
Mary England never refuses a request for service and remains a great asset to the leadership of Affirmation.
John Gustav-Wrathall deserves to be recognized for insightful and thoughtful analysis of gay Mormon life.
Striving to be an advocate for women and transgender people in Affirmation, Robert Moore receives a nod.
Ron Schow provides resources for the education of families, wards and stakes, on topics such as suicide prevention and inclusion.
Once again we have a couple nominated. Tawnya Smith and Karin Hendricks rather than directing people to follow one path, they discuss strategies for finding spiritual healing.
Our final nominee is described as being unfailingly diplomatic and unflappable, full of ideas, yet also decisive when necessary. This is Randall Thacker.
If I read your name will you please stand that we may recognize and thank you for your efforts on behalf of Affirmation.
This years recipient organized Family Home Evenings in his local chapter. He exhibits calm, thoughtful and determined leadership. For the first time in many years, he helped organize a contingent to march in his local gay pride parade. He remains a tireless advocate for Affirmation and Gay Mormons in all his endeavors. He reaches out to our straight Mormon allies in multiple organizations, building bridges and friendships in the larger Mormon community. He connects to LGBTQ Mormons in his own city and throughout the world via Facebook and other means and serves as an eloquent spokesperson for tolerance and acceptance while being open and proud. He devotes countless hours to helping Affirmation adapt to our rapidly changing society and technologies and ensures that Affirmation survives and thrives in this environment. His focus is always on the individual who needs support and love, and not making a name for himself or a political statement for Affirmation. His actions help establish a firmer foundation for the organization and results in widening the spectrum of people, both inside and outside the church, who see Affirmation favorably. He strives to create a sense of camaraderie among leaders, and injects enthusiasm and a sense of common purpose. He is unfailingly diplomatic and unflappable, full of ideas, yet also decisive when necessary.
This years recipient of the Mortensen Award is Randall Thacker.
|Olin Thomas describing the new draft at the Affirmation Conference|
Changes to Affirmation Charter & Bylaws Proposed
Dear Affirmation Members:
Changes to the Affirmation Charter and Bylaws will be proposed to the full membership in conjunction with the annual election of Affirmation’s President. The proposed changes are posted here, with a summary of the changes, for comment and recommendations. Please send me any suggestions or concerns, as I am coordinating the effort to update these documents. You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. These documents are just draft proposals at this point. The proposed changes were also described at the Business Meeting at the Conference as well.
Special Assistant on Charter & Byalws; Corresponding Secretary
by Hugo Salinas
Over a dozen LGBT Mormons participated in a new inspiring video about Affirmation which premiered at the Salt Lake City conference.
The 3-minute video was created using interviews conducted during an Affirmation leadership meeting held last January in Maryland. We wish to thank our Maryland host Greg Prince, video director and editor Kendall Wilcox, and all the Affirmation members who participated in this important project.
Affirmation is planning to hold a spiritual/leadership retreat in Nauvoo, IL, during the first weekend of May. The dates are May 2-4, 2014, but they may be extended from Thursday May 1 to Monday May 5.
A conference for LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends will be held in Mexico City on Saturday, February 8, 2014. The event will include musical numbers, talks, a social over some dinner and a testimony/spiritual story sharing session. An fun outing and service project may also take place that weekend. Specific location to be announced soon.
Affirmation to Sponsor Gratitude & Service Gatherings during November
Many Affirmation Groups to Participate
Affirmation is sponsoring a number of gratitude and service gatherings to be held during November. LGBT Mormons, families and friends will gather in their cities for a service project and a potluck Thanksgiving dinner, sharing in a thankfulness circle and socializing.
More cities will be announced within the next week.
Washington, DC: November 17
Las Vegas, NV: November 17
New York/New England: November 23
Salt Lake City Metro Area: November 23
Raleigh, NC: November 23
Believe in Yourself and Believe in God’s Love for You
A Statement by the Executive Committee of Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families and Friends
6 October 2013
At general conferences, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak to the general membership, sharing counsel. The 183rd Semi-Annual General Conference included many words of comfort and hope from Church leaders. Many in the Affirmation community were encouraged by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk at the Saturday morning session, reminding Church members about the importance of authenticity in our faith, and of the strength we derive from our diversity. We were also encouraged by Bishop Causse’s words during the Priesthood session that the Church must have no outcasts. Two talks, one by Elder Dallin H. Oaks and another by Russell M. Nelson, addressed the issue of marriage for gay and lesbian couples, emphasizing that current Church teaching sees marriage between a man and a woman as the only appropriate context for sexual expression.
Affirmation includes believing members of the Church who attend weekly, individuals who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ but do not attend LDS Church services, and individuals who have left the church and no longer desire affiliation with it. Many LGBT Mormons, their family members and friends have listened and will continue to listen to talks by prophets and apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and, like all Church members, determine how best to apply what they hear from church leaders in their lives through a process of personal discernment that includes study and prayer.
Many in the Affirmation community have responded to the statements on same-sex marriage with disappointment. Others were not surprised by these statements, because they reiterated positions laid out in previous general authority talks on the subject, in official church publications, and on “mormonsandgays.org.” Many were also encouraged by a continuing emphasis on inclusion and welcome.
To those who feel disappointment and heartache, we say continue to trust in your own personal discernment process, believe in yourselves, believe in God’s unconditional love for you, and believe in God’s desire that you be happy in this life and in the next.
We are grateful that in recent years a growing number of members and leaders of the church are showing greater openness and willingness to hear our experience and to walk a journey with us that has been very painful for many. We hope that this journeying and wrestling together will continue, and we trust that as we stay in this path that we will continue to grow individually and as a church. We encourage all people on both sides of this very difficult issue to continue to reach out to and listen to one another in empathy, patience, and love.
Randall Thacker, President
John Gustav-Wrathall, Senior Vice President
Tina Richerson, Vice President
Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families and Friends
P.S. If you are on Facebook, we invite you to use the attached image as your profile picture with a possible caption of “We will move forward as LGBT Mormon pioneers.”
BYU Students Speak Candidly about Suicide
USGA Releases “Just Be There” Video
Understanding Same-Gender Attraction (USGA), a BYU group for LGBT students, has released “Just Be There,” a 6-minute video featuring LGBT BYU students who describe candidly their experiences dealing with depression and their attempts to take their own lives.
The students describe some of the negative messages that made them feel lonely, sinful, and hopeless. For instance, one student says he heard the message that homosexuality “was a mortal experience [that] didn’t exist in the Spirit World, and we would be immediately freed from its bonds when we died.”
“In a weird way, that did the opposite of comfort[ing] me,” the student explains. “In my mind the option was, ‘Well, if things really get that bad, if you just die, then suddenly it’s not an issue any more, and you’ll be right with God again.’”
Another student says he found comfort in reading the scriptures and realizing that “whatever I was going through, Christ had gone through, too.”
“If you’re trying to reach out to somebody, the most important thing you can do is just be there for them,” a student explains.
USGA at BYU meets each Thursday, with weekly attendance growing to 70 to 80 students, professors and church leaders. The individual interviews used in this video will be made available on the USGA YouTube channel in the coming months.
Posted 18 months ago, BYU’s original “It Gets Better” video has been watched over half a million times.
David Melson Remembered
Memorial Service Held at the Headquarters of HRC
In a service held at the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington DC, friends and associates gathered on October 12 to remember David Melson, former president of Affirmation, who passed away last August. Judy, who traveled from California to be at the service, sang the gospel song “In the Garden.” Two years ago, David asked Judy to sing at his memorial service when the time came.
“Such a moving service for Dave [and] so many heartfelt memories,” wrote Robert Moore, who served in the national leadership of Affirmation under David. “[We honored] a man who meant so much to me and did so much for LGBT Mormons and to move equality for all LGBT people forward.”
“On this day we say a final farewell to our brother David Melson, who although considered an outcast by some, was outspoken and continued to praise Jesus and thank God even if not welcomed by his original faith community,” commented Baptist Pastor Jill McCrory, who worked with David as part of a religious coalition which helped bring marriage equality to Maryland. “His work with Affirmation is a testament to his love of God and God’s love to all.”
David served as Affirmation president for three terms (2009 – 2011). In 2009 he received the Mortensen Award, the highest distinction Affirmation bestows on a member.
Posted on the Affirmation Website and Blog:
|“Not Only for Yourself, but for the Entire Tribe”Affirmation Conference Honors AlliesBest Time EverAffirmation to Hold Conference in Mexico City||Schedule for the Affirmation Family Home Evening Group – Salt Lake CityLGBT Mormons, Families and Friends Invited to Halloween PartyAffirmation to Hold Nauvoo Retreat|