Having served as Affirmation’s online content and data manager since 2017, Joel brings the right mix of talent, experience, and understanding to Affirmation’s senior staff position as director of operations.
Last June, Affirmation phased out its executive director position and created a new senior staff position specifically designed to manage the growing world-wide operations of the organization. The search for qualified candidates for this new director of operations position began in earnest, with the board of directors vetting over 100 applicants in the process.
After careful consideration, Affirmation is pleased to announce the hire of Joel McDonald as the first director of operations of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families & Friends.
As director of operations, Joel will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization under the direction of the executive committee. This includes aiding the board of directors in managing and supporting Affirmation’s budget, fundraising, membership, volunteer leaders, communications, as well as critical chapter and group support.
Joel, 35, was born in Oklahoma while his father was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base. As a military child, he lived in many states in the US, including Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. From 1998 to 2002, he lived in Okinawa, Japan. It was while in Japan, as a freshman in high school, that he first heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After two years of studying, discussions with his Latter-day Saint friends and their families, meeting with missionaries, and a year of early-morning seminary, he was baptized at age 17.
In 2002, Joel moved from Okinawa to Virginia Beach to live with his grandparents and graduated from high school in 2003. He served a full-time mission in the Colorado Colorado Springs Mission. It was while serving as a missionary that he began to wrestle with his sexual orientation and faith. In 2008, he began to come out as gay to friends. He resigned from the church later that year and came out to his family in January 2009.
From 2006 to 2012, Joel was a data support specialist and school improvement coordinator for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. In 2008, he completed an Associate of Arts in information technology and then graduated from Old Dominion University with a Bachelor of Science in political science in 2014. In 2012, he ran successfully for a seat on Virginia Beach’s school board, was re-elected in 2016, and served as vice-chair of the board in 2017. His board service ended last year.
While on the school board, Joel helped develop and approve the division’s strategic plan, a $750+ million annual operating budget, and policies impacting over 65,000 students and over 12,000 employees. He led efforts to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the school division’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies for employees and students, resulting in the unanimous adoption of a resolution calling on the Virginia General Assembly, the commonwealth’s legislature, to amend the Virginia Human Rights Act to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Ultimately the board unanimously adopted his proposed non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
Joel describes his first contact with Affirmation fondly, saying, “It’s hard to explain the feeling of being with other LGBTQ people who are or were Latter-day Saints. Even though It had been almost a decade since I resigned my membership in the church, being with others who shared this similar experience helped heal some wounds that I’d carried for so long. This is the experience I want for all LGBTQ Mormons everywhere: to know that they’re not alone and that there is a community waiting to embrace them for all they are and support them in their journey, no matter what.
“Working to develop and sustain this critical community of support for LGBTQ Mormons and their allies worldwide is an honor and great responsibility that I will work hard to meet as Affirmation’s director of operations.”
Commenting on Joel’s hire, Nathan Kitchen, president of Affirmation, observed, “Joel is the kind of employee that any organization would seek to develop. He brings a formidable combination of tangible and intangible assets to the table. As an executive committee, we are excited to work with Joel. Not only will his role advance our mission as we continue to expand the world over, but most importantly, our local chapters will see the immediate benefit of much needed operational attention.”
In recent years, Affirmation has grown from sponsoring a single annual conference to sponsoring regional and national conferences throughout the world for thousands of attendees. Annually, more than 100,000 unique visitors access resources from Affirmation’s web site, and over 3,000 subscribe to the Affirmation Messenger e-newsletter. In addition, Affirmation supports over 40 chapters around the world where LGBTQ people gather regularly for local support of their shared experiences.
“It has required significant time and effort to build Affirmation to what it is today,” said Laurie Lee Hall, senior vice president of Affirmation. “And we remain committed to ensuring that Affirmation will continue to be the life-changing and life-saving resource it’s been for over 40 years for the LGBTQ Mormon community, and to do so wherever the need for us exists.”