By Diane Oviatt
I was not sure what to expect as my husband and I attended the Affirmation Argentina conference in Buenos Aires this past weekend. I knew it would be a small core group of people, but I was not prepared for how large the spirit of love would loom over this group of 15-25 people. Several members had bussed there from remote locations in Argentina, traveling well over twelve hours each way.
The personal stories of being LGBT and Mormon were the highlight of the weekend for me. A devoted dad who had moved heaven and earth to reunite with a gay son who had been estranged from him for most of his life, shared a most courageous tale of church leadership positions he had held clashing with his fervent belief that his son was perfect as god created him, sexuality and all. His powerful testimony of Christ’s love for all his children and the heartbreak of feeling shunned by his rural religious community moved everyone to tears.
Another young adult man told of his lifelong religious fervor, originally as a Catholic teen determined to become a priest. He spoke of his conversion to Mormonism, his missionary service and church leadership history, and his painful coming to terms with his sexuality. By the end of the weekend he had dubbed us his second set of parents, and we happily agreed.
A wonderful talk, full of wisdom and insight that belied his twenty-six years, was given by Ezequiel Rojas, Affirmation Argentina’s president. His skill and passion were evident in how smoothly the conference went. Roxana Lopez, Affirmation Argentina’s vice president spoke on coming out of the closet and shared her powerful moving personal story. Her elderly mother accompanied her to the conference, and she expressed much gratitude over her acceptance and love that had eclipsed religious dogma and community judgement in their remote community.
David, a wonderful transgender man, provided the ice breakers and entertainment portion of the conference, and led a small coalition from the leadership team in meeting with a community group in Buenos Aires which advocates for transgender education, empowerment and equality. He also filmed a video telling his story, in hopes that it will inspire and empower other transgender people of faith.
As usual the Sunday morning testimony meeting was a highlight for me as I marveled at the strength of conviction these friends have in the face of cultural and religious discrimination in so many of their communities and even from their loved ones in many cases. I spoke of my disappointment and anger at the church policy and the faith crisis I was weathering, in an effort to let them know that it is okay to respond that way to rejection.
While affirming my admiration for their faithfulness, I voiced my belief that the only real testimony I currently can state with conviction, is my testimony of them. I said that my dream for them is that they live an authentic life, find a partner and create a family if they desire, and know that it is alright to step away from pain and rejection in order to fulfill their dreams.
These beautiful Argentine LGBT children of God will stay in our hearts forever. I am so happy that they have Affirmation to help them navigate the often disappointing circumstances they find themselves in. My admiration and love for them leads me to pray that they will find a path of truth and fulfillment as their authentic selves. My husband and I will continue to encourage them any way we can.