by Nathan Kitchen, Affirmation President
One of the aspects I like about Affirmation is the comprehensive view that we not only care for each other within the organization, but we encourage participation in the LGBTQIA+ community at large. In the spirit of the poet, Mary Oliver, by turning our imagination and attention outward, it helps us recognize our place, our belonging, “in the family of things.”
This value was illustrated last month during two back to back Affirmation weekends.
During the third weekend of June, Affirmation held its International Conference in Provo, Utah for LGBTQIA+ Mormons, their families, and friends. We learned from each other and shared our experiences. It was an invaluable moment of connection that we created for ourselves at the shared intersection of Mormonism and Self. This is our community we have built together over the years.
And then we turned around the very next weekend and joined the LGBTQIA+ community at large to participate in World Pride in New York City. On Saturday the 29th, we met together to hear from two incredible speakers. First, from Richie Jackson an award-winning Broadway, television, and film producer who not only spoke from his heart about his personal story, but reminded us that we are superheroes. It takes Herculean effort to go from cocoon to butterfly and to stay aloft daily.
We ended hearing from Bianca Cline, Affirmation’s Atlantic Region Vice President, who shared her story and thoughts. She concluded with a quote by Mother Theresa: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” She then pointed out that as LGBTQIA+ we typically can read this and place ourselves as the ones being judged and not loved.
However, as an experienced cinematographer, she challenged us to look at this quote through a different lens. If we as LGBTQIA+ people are busy judging those who are not, we won’t have time to love them. This was an empowering end to our day.
On the 30th, we gathered at noon on 33rd street, between Madison and Park. We were right in the middle of five million people in Manhattan for the world’s biggest Pride celebration. The energy and excitement were palpable. An acknowledgment and a big “thank-you” to Affirmation’s New York City Chapter President Dustin Enrique Larsen for organizing and leading such a great event! I hope you enjoy the pictures we have included of the event.
I’ll end with some reflections I wrote during my flight home. The experience of the march helped me understand my place, my belonging, in our incredible family of things.
Yesterday as my fiancé Matt and I marched hand-in-hand with Affirmation at World Pride, we had five million people cheering us on. This number is not a figure of speech, it really was five million friendly faces of enthusiastic support, joined together to be proud of us.
I have been in many packed stadiums, but this far surpassed anything I have experienced before. It was a surreal experience to hear the noise from the crowds rise from the streets and echo from the skyscrapers, to fill a city the size of New York with joy.
For most of the route, we were so close to the sidewalk that the crowds became individual people. People we would never meet again stood in what felt like an endless reception line, reaching to clasp hands, give a hug, or slap a high five.
For one brief moment repeated over and over during the march the world would go silent as a stranger-turned-friend would look me in the eye and say “I am so proud of you,” “I support you,” “Happy Pride!” and “Hey, I am Mormon too, you are my people!” One woman yelled out “What? Gay AND Mormon? I didn’t know that was possible, but I support you!”
As we approached the 1st Presbyterian Church and the Church of the Ascension along 5th Avenue, clergy and members ran (again, not a figure of speech- they ran) to greet us, bringing us trays of water cups. It was a hot afternoon and the water sweet. As I thanked a collared pastor holding a trash bag for empty cups he looked at me and said, “You are so loved. Don’t ever forget that.”
Right before I tossed it, I noted it had all the semblances of a sacrament cup. It was a stunning moment of love and acceptance.
I marched with an incredible band of Affirmation people: LGBTQ+ Mormons, our families, and our friends. We are doing incredible things to carve out spaces where we want to be. We are doing incredible things, setting boundaries and honoring them. We are doing incredible things, creating loving and affirming communities as we work to keep our families together both in this life and the next.
As I write this, I sit on a plane from NYC to Phoenix. I am leaving Pride and returning to a world that is not as affirming. But I know that in the end, I don’t need a crowd of millions of people cheering me on. I have the personal communities I am helping to build in places such as Affirmation. This is a circle of love and support cemented by personal connections even stronger than World Pride. It is the kind of community building that Mormons are known for. And I hope you all will join in.