Report on the 2015 Affirmation Conference in
We gathered August 7-9 at a retreat center on the outskirts of Querétaro, México, one of México’s safest, most prosperous, and fastest growing cities located a few hours north of Mexico City. LGBT Mormons came from the all parts of México and two from Peru and one from Colombia. The weekend began Friday night with dinner together around a long table in the dining hall. As we ate more people arrived and gave hugs to old friends and became acquainted with new ones.
Following dinner we gathered in a circle, sang a hymn, had a prayer and then each person shared briefly their story with the group. Tears, laughs and feelings of affinity began to develop within the group. Each person shared their challenges and triumphs, including a young man who came with his mother from Mexico City and who shared with the group how much he hated that he was gay and hated how the Church treated gays. His pain was palpable as was his mother’s as she listened to him speak.
Saturday morning we awoke for an early breakfast in the dining hall, followed by three rounds of workshops focused on: 1) relationships with your parents and family, 2) your relationship with the Church and its leaders, and 3) healthy couple relationships. In the family workshop various individuals shared their challenges in talking with their parents about being LGBT and parents shared their challenges in learning how to best help their LGBT children. Ideas were shared on how to improve family acceptance and unconditional love and support.
The workshop on your relationship with the Church and its leaders included the visit of a member of a Mexican stake presidency. He came to listen to the attendees experiences with Church leaders and to better understand the challenges for LGBT Mormons and their families. Individuals shared negative and positive experiences with Church leaders and ideas were shared on how to improve individual dialogue with Church leaders. The member of the stake presidency recognized the many errors that Church leaders have and continue to make when ministering to LGBT Mormons. He recognized the unfortunate common reaction from leaders to focus entirely on the individual’s sexual orientation and if discipline should be immediately taken instead of on the whole person and how to help them grow spiritually. In particular, he emphasized how the Handbook of Instructions, Chapter 2 emphases how a Church leader should work with members. His presence and willingness to listen and understand was enriching for many.
The workshops were followed by a plenary session with 4 speakers, Dario Lopez, President of Affirmation Peru, Jorge Luis Apolaya of Peru, Ricardo Sarmiento of Colombia, Linda Luz Torres del Rio, and Yohyotzin Edgar Tapia Juarez.
Delicious authentic Mexican enchiladas were served for lunch in the dining hall as we listened to the local Affirmation leaders from different parts of Mexico give presentations in which they shared their hopes, desires and plans for helping more LGBT Mormons in their areas.
After lunch we all boarded a chartered trolley bus for a tour around Queretaro, where we saw important Mexican historical sites, including the place where Mexico’s current constitution was signed, it’s national anthem first sung, and the hill were the Austrian Emperor Maximiliano was killed by order of the Mexican government. Queretaro is a beautiful and very clean city with lots of history and character.
In the evening, we all dressed up in our best attire and went to a nice hotel where recognition awards were given to those who had helped with the conference and with Affirmation Mexico and Peru during the past year. A beautiful “tree of life” was given to Affirmation International Leadership from a gay Mormon who lives in Queretaro. It represents the hope that Affirmation will continue to give life to LGBT Mormons and fill their hearts with joy and hope.
The gay chorus of Queretaro also performed for us. The beautiful thing about the gay chorus was its diversity, seeing a man with Mohawk, tattoos and many body piercings singing with a gay Mormon who holds a current temple recommend. One of the beautiful things about Affirmation is seeing how freedom of expression is given within a Mormon space for all types of individuals to participate in an affirming manner. Following the program, we had an excellent 3-course meal on the hotel’s terrace overlooking the city, followed by a dance to live Mexican music. The evening couldn’t have been more enjoyable.
Sunday morning began with breakfast in the dining hall, followed by a devotional/testimony meeting in the main hall. Randall Thacker, President of Affirmation, began the meeting by sharing Affirmation’s values and principles, and then his personal testimony. A beautiful talk was given by Roberto Gomez, followed by a musical solo of “Love at Home” by Francisco Villalobos. The next hour and a half was filled with the sharing of testimonies. One of the most moving moments was when the young man who on Friday night had shared how much he hated being gay stood up and took the microphone and shared with the group how grateful he was for the conference and how he had for years, due to the way gays are treated at Church, thought that God didn’t love gay people and that God wouldn’t answer his prayers. He then told us, “I learned this weekend that God does answer prayers and that I am special.” It was one of the many miracles that resulted from the weekend. Others shared how they had been spiritually nourished during the weekend and how they appreciated the healthy spiritual LGBT Mormon environment as an alternative to what they find in the world.
The conference closed with lunch and then many hugs and some tears as people parted for their homes. A brief leadership training session was held following the conference. The next Affirmation Mexico Conference will be held in Veracruz in the summer of 2016.