By: Mara Kofoed, A Blog About Love
Danny & I just gave an opening keynote to the largest audience to date (650 people!). It turns out it was one of the most amazing, holy, spiritual experiences of our entire lives. Preparing to speak there was some of the most important work we’ve ever done.
The audience meant a lot to us: they were beloved LGBTQ people who share our Mormon roots, and they come together annually for an International Affirmation Conference in Provo, UT. This community has been through a lot because of oppression and discrimination within the church, so I can tell you we felt massive pressure to knock it out of the park and bring a message of hope to them. It was an honor to be there and give it our best shot. Here’s our talk:
We spoke about finding our worth from WITHIN instead of ever looking to another person or institution to provide that for us. When we can stop looking to the outside for our worth, we can live our lives more authentically and we can love more fully.
But let’s get to the heart of why this conference was one of the HIGHLIGHTS of our year…
Our favorite moments:
- We met SO many people in our amazing human family. Many gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual, nonbinary, genderqueer, gender fluid, straight, and many others. Meeting people throughout this gender and sexuality spectrum and hearing their stories was one of the greatest experiences ever. I’m learning so much – and I owe it to these amazing human beings for telling their stories. The uniqueness of all humans is incredibly beautiful to me. (Here’s a panel of Trans Mormons.)
- It was exquisite to all feel united as ONE – to witness complete love and acceptance for humanity. At one point, the audience sang, by heart, the Mormon hymn: “As I have loved you, love one another. This new commandment, love one another. By this shall men know, ye are my disciples, if ye have loved one to another.” That kind of love is breathtaking.
- We met a church-going gay man in his 70s who finally decided to come out publicly for the first time. After the church issued a discriminatory policy last November, this man felt it was his duty to humanity to not hide anymore and to make himself known, even though he felt so much was at risk. Wow. So brave and inspiring!
- We met an older gay man who had the most roof-raising musical talent you’ve ever seen. We’re talking Amazing Grace on the piano like you’ve never heard in your life!!! And after speaking to him, we learned that his musical gift was non-existent for most of his life before he came out. His creativity and his gifts were in a shell until he learned to love himself and live authentically. And then his talents just exploded!!!
- Many guests traveled in from Chile, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia and it was so heartwarming (& heartbreaking) to hear them say how liberating it was to see LGBTQ Mormons hand-in-hand, out in the open, and to see that some were even MARRIED (ahhh!!!) These dear Latinos were blown away, as perhaps in their towns or cities or in their Latino Mormon communities, being gay is less accepted.
- It was inspiring hearing transgender/transsexual individuals say they had once been suicidal or had even attempted suicide, but then they decided to start living according to the gender that felt innate to them and they are now ALIVE and living happier than they’ve ever been. I wish this for all our trans brothers & sisters. It was the most beautiful thing ever to see their JOY and LIGHT and TRUTH just beaming!! And you just sat there feeling so grateful that they made it through and so grateful that the world gets to have this human being here as part of the human family and that we can be blessed by all that they are. What a gift.
- We met several gay men and lesbian women who had spent 10, 20, 30 years or more in heterosexual marriages that ultimately didn’t work out – and now they have come out and perhaps were now even dating someone of the same sex! Ahhh! IT WAS SO, SO ROMANTIC TO SEE THEM. They were just giddy beyond belief…and they were quite literally learning what it was like to be in a romantic relationship for the very first time. They had no idea that love could feel like that. I mean, can you even imagine the butterflies? It was really, really fun to see and I’m just so happy they get to experience that.
- There were 70 YOUTH at this conference!!!! That is unreal, folks. Get this: 3 years ago, only 4 youth were in attendance and 2 of them were straight siblings. This is some MAJOR progress and I’m so happy to see more youth coming out and feeling the support of this community. Many of these youth came with their families, also, which was just about the best thing I can imagine.
- After our keynote, we did a Love Meditation with everyone, which Danny led. We had each person stand across from someone and exude love and acceptance. Ahh! Hardly a dry eye in the room. We were talking to a guy from Brazil about how that experience was for him…and he said the woman who was doing the Portuguese translation for them over the headphones was just sobbing as she repeated the words of the meditation: “Dear one, I am here. Dear one, I see you, and I smile at your presence. Dear one, I see that you’re suffering, that is why I’m here. Dear one, I’m suffering, and I need your help.”
- They had a youth night where many of the youth sang, performed, and spoke. The speakers were hands down some of the best youth speakers we’ve ever heard. (And perhaps best talks ever.) That level of wisdom comes from expansive life experience, pain, and transformation at a young age. It was extraordinary. And I’m thankful for these young pioneers who are speaking out, living authentically, changing the world, and paving the way for others.
- We got to connect with some of our favorite people. These friends below are fierce supporters of LGBTQ and it’s been a highlight of my life to cross paths with them and join with them in our endeavors. (Here is Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, Gloria Pak, Cody Startin, Thomas Montgomery, Wendy Williams Montgomery. And below: Dustin Gledhill and Mindy Gledhill of the coolest band, Hive Riot.)
Lots of love to ALL!
And, we’re happy, as always, to discuss and answer questions you might have.
But I’ll just say this: Equality is love. Equality is humane. I wish this for every LGBTQ person. I wish this for them WITHIN Mormon families, churches, doctrines, and temples. I hope that day comes, as there continues to be more heartbreak within this community than you could ever imagine. There’s a lot of work to be done.
P.S. Something really cool: The person who invited us to speak at Affirmation was a former guest of one of our Love Boot Camps! After the retreat, she said she wanted us to speak at the conference, which was such an honor. We owe a lot to this audience for helping us with these kinds of connections and opportunities. Thank you all so much.