Affirmation Conference 2014 – Who knew!?!
September 17, 2014
By Emric Delton
I did not know what it meant to be an LGBT person in an LDS environment. I did not know the anguish and struggle felt by many in understanding their place in the world and their own worth. Neither did I know the role we play through empathy or apathy in comforting aching souls or contributing to depression, self-destructive behavior and suicide. I still don’t completely know… but after a weekend spent at the annual LDS LGBT Affirmation conference, I have a much better idea and a whole lot more love and compassion.
I was surprised to learn of a substantial network of LGBT groups within the LDS community, as well as the existence of a few LDS wards and leaders that have actively welcomed LGBT couples . It is obviously not something that is a subject of discussion in traditional LDS circles. Unfortunately, I do know people in my own community that have struggled with their own faith because of their LGBT orientation. Interestingly and sadly enough, their struggle isn’t so much a result of trying to cope with conflicting ideas on morality and religion, but more as a result of apathy, ridicule, bigotry and judgment on the part of uninformed church leaders, members and at times, family. There are still “Mormon” families today that tell their kids they cannot play with their neighbors because they are non-members. Imagine that conversation and the permanent heartbreak and irreparable devastation when that conversation is about your LGBT child…
It turns out, there are young men and young women today, who upon discovering having attractions for their same respective gender and struggling with understanding of their own worth, have felt nothing but discontent and rejection from their own community and family. Some of them live in the mountains around Salt Lake and Ogden area because they literally have no place to turn to. They have been made homeless by their own kind and blood in the name of morality, religion and tradition. Even in the 21st century, ‘would be’ morality, religion and tradition, still trump basic human decency, let alone the gospel message of universal Love.
Some people call that a “lifestyle choice”. What kind of lifestyle choice would that be? The lifestyle choice of being rejected by those you love and who are supposed to love, support and protect you? What lifestyle choice does a kid have when he or she feels a stranger in his or her own body or culturally constructed identity and only associates their own identity with the opposite gender? Those are not feelings and inclinations that can be turned off or prayed or fasted away. Neither can feelings of attractions, wherever they might be directed. Those are physiologically driven, built -in, programmed behaviors that cannot be erased or wished away. Is there any wonder why most people, under such circumstances, will fall into deep depression and self-destructive lifestyle and behavior? And even suicide? or why they would become angry at the god we present them with? One that is hateful and vengeful? And that would see them as an abomination of nature?
After all of our righteous Christian indignation, it turns out we are partly if not largely responsible for this tragedy. In both speech and practice, we seem incapable of empathizing with and embracing people that may be different than we are… because we feel God created us superior and more perfect than they. This is nothing new. That sense of self-importance and superiority has always existed, especially among a people that believes to be “chosen”. We too often fail to realize that the appointment isn’t because we are better or more worthy. As a result, we feel God justifies us in hating, passively persecuting, partially loving or pulling out our book of moral conduct and assigning sin in the name of the all mighty. This religious zealotry is both a travesty and a tragedy and the world of today could use a lot less of it.
For this and many other reasons, I have been very close to do as many of my LGBT brothers and sisters have done: throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. If my faith tradition is going to condemn such generous, compassionate, life loving and forgiving people and promote bigotry, in the name of superior morality or even in the name of what the perfect Mormon family ought to look like, then this tradition is not the tradition I have adopted and loved. It has been hijacked by fear, ignorance and pride. It is not who I am or want to be. It certainly is not the God I believe in.
This is where I have been and where I was when I stepped in the Affirmation conference this weekend. A lot of anger and resentment towards what I had come to consider a big business with political agendas vs. a humble God loving church. An organization that at times, seems more interested in tending to the needs of those who have passed than the needs, heartaches and struggles of the living. What happened next was very unexpected. How could the same people I felt I had to defend, the same that were oppressed and discriminated against, feel so strongly about preserving their faith tradition!?! How was I the one frustrated with Cognitive Dissonance and not they? How could that be? I was really thrown back by the amount of love, acceptance, friendship and support I felt. Here it was, right in front of me, that humble gathering of latter-day-saints I had grown up with and grown to love. This was the church family I knew. Although I did not know any of them, I completely related to them and felt so many powerful emotions that it changed my outlook in many ways. It reminded me that there are indeed many beautiful things about our faith and it gave me a glimpse of hope. It also helped me realize that there is no purpose in focusing on the negative and imperfections. The church is made up of people who come with their own perspective, cultural and life experience baggage. It is what it is and its up to me to make the best of it. In the end, I felt inspired in a way I had not felt for many many years. It will be a long road… but now I have a glimpse of hope and I am thankful for it. For this, I thank my new LGBT and Ally family!!!