By Christian Frandsen
Just over two weeks ago, thousands of people—gay, straight, and everything in between—painted West Hollywood rainbow to celebrate the annual LA Pride festival and parade. For me, this colorful, vivacious, and very hot weekend was something of a miracle. A few weeks previous, Randall Thacker asked if my parents would be able to host an Affirmation social during the weekend of Pride. They were more than willing and I was ecstatic, so I made plans to drive down from Provo to be a part of this (for me) historic event. Not only did the weekend mark the opening of a new chapter of Affirmation in Los Angeles and Affirmation’s first booth and parade entry at LA Pride in years, but it was my family’s first experience with Affirmation and my first visit to my home ward since coming out publicly. Needless to say, I was thrilled for this trip.
After a late start and some bad traffic, my brother, two friends, and I arrived in LA in time for me to volunteer at the festival booth for the late afternoon and evening. The festival-grounds were practically vibrating with the energy of tens of thousands of visitors—the loud music blasting from the two festival stages probably contributed to that, as well. All of us at the booth had fun getting to know each other, visiting the other exhibits, and enjoying Jennifer Hudson’s spectacular performance. However, the most rewarding moments were unquestionably the numerous encounters with men and women who had once been close to the church but distanced themselves because of the pain they had felt. Most of the visitors who stopped by our booth were excited to get their free Mormon hug and the accompanying sticker, and some even asked about the church, but these Mormon brothers and sisters had a special light that came into their eyes when they read our sign and realized who we were. It was beautiful to listen to their stories, share ours, and express our love for them. We invited each of them to attend the gathering at my home the next night; I was particularly grateful to meet one person who had attended a few lectures at my house several years back and another who knew many of my friends and acquaintances in BYU’s theater and media arts program and happened to live five minutes from my hometown. Though I was only at the booth for a few hours, the entire day was full of providential meetings with these new friends.
The next morning, about fifty of us gathered with signs and flags in hand to march in the parade. Some were dressed in their Sunday best (with rainbow accents). Others were dressed more casually. All of us were melting in the sweltering heat, but smiling and happy to be there. We prayed together and then began to march. As we smiled, waved, and gave hug after hug to the spectators, I was overwhelmed by the love I felt from the cheering crowd. I looked into their eyes and saw surprise, joy, healing, and forgiveness. It was powerful and invigorating and I felt so strongly that we were doing the work of the Lord.
The highlight of the weekend was the Sunday evening gathering at my house. We weren’t sure how many people would come, but we prepared for a crowd and were blessed accordingly with about forty guests. The evening was a simple affair—shredded beef sandwiches for the main dish and a potluck smorgasbord of sweet and savory side dishes to sample as we socialized. We ate, chatted, and ate some more. When dessert was served, we all came together to introduce ourselves, explain our connection to the Church and the LGBTQ community, and share our testimonies of gratitude and hope. One by one we told our stories and expressed our love for each other. I felt the Spirit confirm to me the reality of God’s love and the importance of what we were doing. During the testimony meeting, I recalled a dark moment about five years ago, several months after the passing of Prop 8, when I sat in my backyard (just a few feet from where we were gathered) and vigorously denied my mother’s loving questions about my sexual orientation. I never would have imagined then that one day I would be volunteering at LA pride, marching in the parade, and hosting a gathering for LGBTQ Mormons and allies with my mom and dad. I’m grateful to my parents, those who organized the booth and the march, and everyone else who made this miracle weekend so special. Thank you so much—I can’t wait for next year!