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Affirmation Conference 2014 – Who knew!?!

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!!!

2 thoughts on “Affirmation Conference 2014 – Who knew!?!

  1. Dear Emric, Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts, which have brought both comfort and a deeper understanding for me. I very much wish I could have attended the conference and perhaps will be able to next year. My youngest daughter is gay. That is not her only challenge in life but sheds a little light on her struggle with serious, sustained drug addiction (and dealing) as she tried to navigate her place in the world and where she fit in. (She entered rehab 2 years ago and is doing quite well now.) She has many mountains to climb still as she rebuilds her world but she knows we love and accept her for who she is. Church for her is a distant memory and we are praying some day that by the time she expresses a desire to come back, things will have changed enough that she will feel she has a place there, that she is welcome, and that she has an important contribution to make. I never used to think of myself as judgmental, but the process of dealing with some of the choices my young adult children have made over the past 12 years has taught me that I was far more judgmental than I could have ever imagined. I have learned more about the Savior’s love in these years than I though possible – for my children, my husband and me, and for everyone. I find that I must frequently remind myself that the most important attribute I can develop in my life is to love like the Savior. That is the most important part of the journey. I have found that I have let go of the expectations (and yes, some hopes and dreams as well) I have had as a parent, and have learned to let my children just be who they are. I have learned to appreciate their uniqueness and goodness. The church part for me has also been a struggle……my testimony is strong and firm, but the actual reality of church life has frequently been depressing at best as we have dealt with these issues with all of our children. We are far from the typical Mormon family and yet, despite it all, I cling to my faith and my testimony. I want so desperately to know that they will someday know that there is a place for them there. I guess I am just stubborn enough to go anyway, even when I don’t feel there is a place for me there – I just make my own place, I guess. Anyway, I am not quite sure where I am going with all of this, but wanted you to know that I felt a connection as I read what you wrote and that it was so very meaningful to me. I hope to meet others like you and those that attended the conference as I continue on this journey. I, too, am looking for ways to change my outlook, to hopefully be an instrument of change for the outlook of others as they walk along side me, and embrace hope. Thank you!!!!

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