Nathan Kitchen Seeks Reelection as Affirmation President, Nominates Vice Presidents

September 21, 2020

Kitchen Díaz Solen

The Affirmation Charter & Bylaws require the election of Affirmation’s president every two years and allow a president to run for a second term. On August 12, a call for candidates and a timeline for the election were published on the Affirmation website, emailed to Affirmation subscribers, and posted to Affirmation’s primary social media channels. September 11 was the deadline for candidates to submit statements of candidacy to be included in the election.

Nathan Kitchen, current president of Affirmation elected in 2018, was the only candidate to submit a statement by the September 11 deadline. He has nominated current Affirmation Vice President Jairo Fernando González Díaz to become senior vice president and Rebecca Solen as vice president. Once elected by the membership of Affirmation, the Affirmation Board of Directors is responsible for ratifying Kitchen’s nominations. If ratified, Kitchen, Díaz, and Solen will become Affirmation’s Executive Committee on January 1, 2021.

The election will open on October 12 and close on October 26. Only those who are members of Affirmation on October 11 will have ballots emailed to them. Use this link to check your membership status.

Kitchen, Díaz, and Solen have provided statements to be published, which can be found below.

Nathan Kitchen

Nathan KitchenFor almost two years, I have had the absolute honor of serving as the elected president of Affirmation. It is no secret that it takes a team of talented and diverse people to build our worldwide network of supportive communities, where all who engage with Affirmation feel known, cared for, and connected with others.

The vision and love of a committed executive committee ensure that this engagement occurs day after day in Affirmation, especially with the most vulnerable in our community. We have all been richly served by the talents of Affirmation’s senior vice president, Laurie Lee Hall, and Affirmation’s vice president, Jairo Fernando González Díaz. As we approach the election of a new president and executive committee, Laurie will be moving on to new projects outside the board and executive committee roles with her love, Nancy. I have a deep love for Laurie. Her talents for building both organizations and people will be felt in Affirmation for years to come.

Today at the beginning of the election cycle in Affirmation, I would like to take this opportunity to announce my candidacy as president of Affirmation for the 2021-2022 term. I am very excited to introduce my running mates Jairo Fernando González Díaz as senior vice president and Rebecca Solen as vice president. Many of us know Jairo from his work in the current executive committee. His ability to connect and engage with others has resulted in the real growth of Affirmation not only in Latin America, but throughout the world. Rebecca was our keynote speaker at the 2019 International Conference and also participated in Affirmation’s strategic planning retreat that will guide the organization for the next three years.

I am grateful for Jairo’s and Rebecca’s talents as well as their willingness, if elected, to be “all in” as we direct the day to day operations of Affirmation and advocate its mission and vision. Jairo and Rebecca will have the chance to introduce themselves to you, and I look forward to you getting to know them better and feeling their commitment.

As for my candidate statement, I will begin with an introduction for those who have not met me and then conclude with some directional thoughts about the future of Affirmation.

I am the proud father of five remarkable children. I am married to Matt Rivera and we will soon be celebrating our first wedding anniversary. I am a dentist and have been in private practice for over 20 years. Some of my greatest satisfactions in life are building smiles for people that not only heal physical pain but increase mental health.

I grew up in Orem, Utah, and moved with my family to Illinois when I was 16.

I was part of the generation of young gay men in the mid-1980s officially counseled in the church to ignore their sexuality and marry a woman as a solution to being gay. Like most gay men in the church, I made the best decisions as a young man with the information I had at the time. By the time I reached the closet door when I was 40, instead of walking out loud and proud, I clumsily and awkwardly fell out, surrounded by a whole community comprising a spouse, five children, parents, siblings, in-laws, friends, and colleagues.

And I kept falling for a while as life reconfigured for me and for all those who loved me.

And then in 2015, I found Affirmation which gave me a place where I could stop falling. Affirmation for me was a refuge to land, to heal, to share, and to be authentic.

This is the vision of Affirmation that guides every decision and informs every strategy we make as leaders. I want you to experience a community where you feel grounded and affirmed in your authentic self. I want you to be a part of a community that is personally meaningful for you and your experiences. Together we can make this happen.

What is our way forward in the next couple of years? Let me share three thoughts close to my heart.

1. The COVID-19 global pandemic ground to a halt Affirmation’s ability to gather together as chapters and groups for activities and conferences. Moving online during the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the possibilities and the limitations of experiencing community in a digital space. Although we will carry on with the successes we have had during our time online, the stark reality is that a huge part of community and support is meeting in person as an LGBTQIA+ community and with our families and friends. These kinds of face to face connections change lives and heal hearts.

We are known for creating worldwide communities of safety, love, and hope. A big part of this is meeting in person, and feeling the spirit and camaraderie inherent in connecting as friends in a physical space with your network of queer peers. As soon as it is safe to gather together, in-person gatherings will be the first thing we bring back to our programming in Affirmation.

2. A couple of weeks ago, I attended an Affirmation meeting for the entire Latin America Area, where Rita Fidelia Gómez Orta, Bishop of the Ancient Church of the Americas in Colombia, addressed us and commended us for our work as an organization. She reminded us that spirituality is a human right.

For me, this statement brought the importance of our spiritual well-being into focus.

Affirmation will always be a place where you will be supported as you define your individual spirituality and intersection with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of us have spent countless hours in our own sacred groves and have undeniably heard God reveal to us our unique spiritual path forward. What we do with these personal answers honors the revelation given to us.

Come what may, do not let what others say about you destroy the reality of your vision. God loves you and will see you home, like all goodly parents do.

In the meanwhile, you have the full support from your Affirmation community in your faith-based decisions. Your self-determination deserves all the affirming voices possible. Affirmation is here for you. Affirmation is a place where you can cultivate your spiritual well-being.

3. Leaders and leadership matters in Affirmation. The connection of mentors to peers is critical as we build and enjoy the supportive communities Affirmation has to offer. Part of the vision of Affirmation is to provide a place to share your abilities and to volunteer in any capacity you feel comfortable as we make the road easier for those who travel with us as LGBTQIA+ peers. A diverse body of leaders can create a diverse landscape of communities that are meaningful and powerful for every member of Affirmation, no matter age, identity, or experience.

When it comes down to it, that one-on-one connection with others can make a life-changing difference in our community. I encourage you to get involved both in the work we do in Affirmation as well as with our collaboration with other organizations serving the wider LGBTQIA+ community.

As a leader, I take this statement in Affirmation’s Charter and Bylaws very seriously: “Members of Affirmation shall be the ultimate governing authority of the organization.” Affirmation has a mission and vision approved by the vote of our members. This is what I will champion.

In conclusion, Affirmation has always had an eye on the most vulnerable in our population. We all get to the closet door in our own way, and in our own time. Understanding our own sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in the context of the dominant narrative about LGBTQIA+ people in society and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a complex and sometimes traumatic journey.

No matter where we are in life, all of us seek connection. What this connection looks like is different for everyone. Despite this difference, to know that in Affirmation we can meet as friends who share a common experience as a visible minority with a shared heritage is restorative. To have a team of cheerleaders as you navigate your unique intersection with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is lifesaving. To have a network of mentors who have traveled the road ahead and can affirm your place in your own journey is powerful.

I am asking for your vote and confidence to serve you and serve with you for another term as president of Affirmation.

Thank you.

Jairo Fernando González Díaz

Jairo Fernando González DíazIn December 2016, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrated its 50th anniversary in Colombia. Almost 4 years have already passed since that milestone; some stories of that time wander about the internet. In my position and in my memory they are intertwined in memories of a more frugal and provincial life.

My sisters joined the Church sometime in 1967. They were the first, even before my parents, who did so a year later. We all came from a Catholic family, where family ties with an ordained priest revered. This was very true of my great uncle. The arrival of the missionaries to family stirred division. It was bittersweet. It was in this atmosphere that I came into the world.

Obviously, my parents taught me in the ways of Mormonism, while my Aunt Margoth, with her tender smile and the constant smell of lavender, struggled with not seeing me raised in her faith. I still remember her watching with sorrow as her tradition of praying her rosary was abandoned by my parents while she covered herself with a veil to go to her Sunday mass. Far from being divided by religion, my grandmother accompanied me in reading my early texts, the books of Dickens and Mark Twain; the latter an acidic critic of the Church, for whom the Book of Mormon was, “chloroform in print.”

I was blessed without conscience within Mormonism and as a child in the arms of a missionary in the days of the Prophet David O. McKay, the one who preached in his talks that no success in life can make up for failure in the home. The family was then understood as a smiling set of optimistic eyes, composed of a man, a woman, and some smiling children as if taken from a Hollywood movie, a fairy tale that emerged from the distant 50s, where success was in a homely woman who made cakes and bread and a hardworking father, provider of goods and services.

There was much to learn, but in spite of the preaching, the gospel did not always have the right answers, although I thought it did. For everything and in some way, I believed there was an answer, even if it was inspired by the absurd.

Of those in my family who were not members of the Mormon church, there were my brothers who had no qualms about leading a different lifestyle in opposition to the more puritanical and gentile norms of the church. I learned that beyond the walls of our large house, there was a bizarre world, where one lived in a different way. One only had to walk two streets from the chapel to find yourself at the entrance of the old cemetery. Only a little further was a steep street that on weekends became a party, with its red and blue lights. I came to realize that cities usually have extra walls to hide their shame, and protected within those extra walls were those excluded from society, forgotten by the sky, or buried in time: those who were trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and so many others.

Being different within the Church was not acceptable, and, in many cases, there was no room for forgiveness.

As cruel as it sounds, the work to ensure civil rights had barely begun in Colombia. In countries like ours, your rights weren’t considered unless you were accepted within the circles of the economic or intellectual elite. At the end of the day, money and power were all that mattered. Not much has changed today.

Growing up in the bubble of the Church meant experiencing strange contradictions and challenges when I finally had to go to school, especially considering it was a religious school. Here I was a Mormon under the shadow of Saint Francis of Assisi. Here I was expected to project machismo by society. I felt the need to surpass all intellectually and not be overwhelmed by bullying and fear. Perhaps this is what led me to study Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae and Marx’s Das Kapital. This was a time when socialism was considered a superior form of government to all others. Being ingrained in it provided opportunities for leadership and commanded respect within the student world. Sadly, some of my comrades of that era were absorbed by the related culture of death. All I have left connecting me to their friendship are birth cards and the memory of listening to “ping pong sobre los árboles” with them.

In the shadow of so much exuberance, I appreciated the doctrine and learned to love the Church. I still remember fondly the trait that most impressed me about the Prophet Joseph Smith, which for me placed him beyond the criticism and his detractors. I can only think of that old hymn that he identified in his compassion:

“A poor wayfaring Man of grief hath often crossed me on my way. Who sued so humbly for relief that I could never answer nay. I had not pow’r to ask his name, whereto he went, or whence he came. Yet there was something in his eye that won my love; I knew not why.”

So many ideas… all together in a child’s mind.

With Affirmation came the bridge I needed to reconcile my faith. That bridge exists and is real. Today, I want to continue in this process of building new relationships that will ease the pain.

Within Affirmation, with the passage of time, it was precisely this trait of mercy and the teachings learned in my youth that gave me the courage to face my condition of being gay and Mormon and finding no contradiction in what is fundamental. It could not be different. After all has passed, my hope is to perpetuate reconciliation between these seemingly opposing worlds.

Rebecca Solen

Rebecca SolenI am deeply humbled and honored by the prospect of serving as the Vice President of Affirmation. I feel that the work I can contribute will build Affirmation to be a refuge for any who are attempting to find their way through a society that still has a long path to ultimately integrating the LGBTQ+ community.

I have spent over 20 wonderful and adventurous years married to my wife, Melissa — the love of my life. I am the proud parent of four incredible children. Before I came out and drastically changed how my life appeared to the world, I pursued a number of different paths including serving on active duty in the Army, a run for Congress, and a lengthy career in information security — the field that I currently work in.

I am relatively new to being a louder voice within the LGBTQ+ community, having publicly come out as transgender in December of 2016 and began the arduous process of transition. The contrast of where I am and where I’ve been stands as a testament to how far I’ve come. I spent my formative years in an active Latter-Day Saint household. Coming out at the age of 39 broke decades of internal walls I had built to present to the world what the church said I was, and brought my life into alignment with the person that I am. Being authentic has bestowed a sense of peace and happiness. It has not been without challenges, some pain, and a constant attentiveness to patience and understanding as family and friends re-calibrated their relationship with me. Coming out also instantly put me into conflict with my church ward. Church discipline was administered. I fought back keeping my membership hanging by a single thread where it remains to this day. I have managed to find happiness in the midst of questioning all of my previous spiritual experience. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t do it alone.

As I put together my vision for what I believe Affirmation can do for the community, I find that two simple principles serve as the basis for my ultimate goals to make the lives of Affirmation members better:

1. Build the strength of personal spirituality: Your personal relationship with God is a direct connection. Church entities should serve to assist in that relationship and help guide mortals to find faith and build their relationship with God. Should churches fail to provide that support, the personal relationship with God remains while the individual forges their own path. My goal in Affirmation is to pursue the improvements that will build individual strength, empowering all those who seek support to construct their personal path to spiritual fulfillment, whether as a part of, or separate from, church.

2. Educate church organizations and promote LGBTQ+ inclusion: More work needs to be done to build understanding between all churches and the LGBTQ+ community. Anti-LGBTQ+ doctrine is still enforced amongst a number of churches, including within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This enforcement leads to shunning of LGBTQ+ members. Building understanding and maintaining support networks amongst ecclesiastical leaders can promote inclusion through education of congregations.

I look forward to the opportunity to bring connection and a sense of spiritual fulfillment to those seeking it through Affirmation as we look with optimism toward the future.

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