LGBT Mormons, Families and Friends Shared Service Projects, Meals
by John Gustav-Wrathall
Building on a tradition started by the Washington DC Chapter of Affirmation, over 250 LGBT Mormons, their families, and friends gathered in eight U.S. cities throughout the month of November to participate in service projects followed by a Thanksgiving meal and each person sharing what they were grateful for in 2013. The gatherings took place in the San Francisco Bay area (on November 10), in the Washington, DC area (November 16 & 17), and in Las Vegas, New York/Connecticut, Salt Lake, Minneapolis, Raleigh and Phoenix/Gilbert (on November 23).
Gatherings ranged in size from eight participants in Raleigh, NC to larger gatherings of 30 and 60 participants in Minneapolis, Washington, DC, and over 70 in Salt Lake City. Even when numbers were relatively small, the gatherings felt significant. After the Raleigh gathering, where participants collected donations for a local youth homeless shelter and then met for a meal, host Jan Martin wrote, “Our numbers were few… but the love was great. We each shared a little bit about ourselves over a traditional Thanksgiving feast. There was an abundance of laughter and a good time had by all.”
Service projects included gathering donations for food shelves, homeless shelters and hospitals, and volunteering time and energy at LGBT community service organizations and youth homeless shelters. For instance, in Washington, DC volunteers helped to sort through donated clothes at Casa Ruby, an LGBT community center. In New York and western Connecticut, a canned food drive was held for a local food shelf. In the Bay area, Christmas toys were donated to a children’s hospital. In Minneapolis, volunteers performed a deep cleaning of a homeless shelter that serves LGBT youth and wrote letters for care packages distributed by Utah-based Safe and Sound.
LDS families served as meal hosts and participated in service projects as families. LDS bishops and stake presidents were invited to attend and participate. For some LDS Church members who participated, this was their first time getting involved in projects specifically organized to serve and support the LGBT community. For some LGBT participants, this was their first experience interacting with active LDS Church members in a setting where they felt comfortable being out. At the Minneapolis gathering, for instance, some of the sharing was quite emotional, and individuals spoke of how grateful they were for a gathering of Latter-day Saints where they felt completely safe, accepted and welcome. Others commented on how they never could have imagined such a strong showing of support for the LGBT community from the LDS community.
The service projects helped to raise awareness about urgent community needs, and also helped build relationships between the LDS community and the larger community. Service project participants who volunteered at organizations serving homeless LGBT youth learned, for instance, how disproportionate numbers of homeless youth are LGBT – often becoming homeless as a result of family rejection. They also learned how inadequately current needs are being met by available services, with fewer than 5% of homeless youth having access to safe shelter at night. Shelter staff expressed deep appreciation to LDS volunteers for their willingness to help, and hoped to continue to build a relationship between the shelters and local LDS wards.
These gatherings were ultimately about building relationships and caring communities, where service is offered and received, and where love and gratitude is expressed.
“We decided to meet together quarterly,” wrote Jan Martin of Raleigh, “and look forward to [gatherings] to come!”
“Beautiful experience!” said Judy Finch from Oakland. “Delicious food, great, loving and affirming conversation; and between dinner and dessert, sharing of gratitudes.”
“We had a wonderful event for the New York group,” wrote Tom Christofferson. “We had twenty-one people for dinner and collected a sizable donation for the New Canaan Food Bank, which will be especially appreciated this time of year.”