Presidential Candidates’ Answers to Questions
October 23, 2017
There are two candidates for President of Affirmation, Sara Jade Woodhouse and Carson Tueller. Their opening candidate statements can be found here.
If you are not a member of Affirmation yet, you still have until October 31, 2017 to pay the membership fee and participate in the current election.
To help Affirmation members make a more informed decision about who to vote for in the upcoming presidential election, the candidates have each offered their answers to the following questions posed by Affirmation members and leaders:
1) What will you bring from previous work or volunteer experience as a strength to this leadership position? Let us know if you have specific education, work or volunteer experience relevant to managing and leading a mission-driven non-profit like Affirmation.
Sara Jade Woodhouse: I have spent the majority of my life engage in volunteer work. As a teen I served as the President of each of the Aaronic Priesthood Quorums in my Ward. At Snow College I served on both the Yearbook Staff and within the Drama Club organizing events, shows and production elements. On my mission I served for two years in South Africa (Cape Town). At University (both USU and U of U) I ran two non-profit theaters. The first dedicated to original stage productions and the latter dedicated to indie film production. I ran both for approximately 3 years each. After graduating from my many years of schooling (final degree…MFA in Directing), I opened a for profit arcade which I ran for 3 years before going through my divorce and setting my course elsewhere. Eventually I moved back to Salt Lake, after taking a bit of a “sabbatical” to care for my mother while my father passed away from Alzheimer’s. When I arrived in Salt Lake, I started working for Equality Utah. I worked as their Membership Coordinator for 3 years. During that time, I managed membership records, financial reports, 2 Equality Utah Allies Dinners, helped run two campaigns (Non-Discrimination and Marriage Equality) and spent numerous times in front of the camera’s and on live radio speaking as an active trans-woman devoted to the application of equality for ALL humans. During the past 3 years, I have been spending my “off-Affirmation” hours running a Drama department at Highland Jr High. I have managed to build the entire program out of nothing. It now has a season of two shows (one an original musical later this year), a regular special effects make-up competition showcase featured on Fox13 and KSL, and six different courses offered at varying levels of difficulty. While all of this experience is important, I feel that even more important is the life long skills of listening and communication that such experience has brought with it.
Carson Tueller: I have volunteered for the last several years on the Utah Flute Association board of directors. My time on the board has been spent in event planning and managing, as well as managing our media/online presence.
Since February, I have participated in eight months of extensive leadership development training through Landmark Worldwide, a leading professional and personal development company. I have organizational, communication and leadership skills that will allow me to be an effective leader in Affirmation.
2) Which of the following six areas do you feel you bring particular strength in:
* community building
* fostering spirituality
* providing resources
* fostering dialogue within the LDS community
Sara Jade Woodhouse: All of them.
Carson Tueller: My strengths will be in community building, fostering dialogue within the LDS community, and fostering spirituality (not necessarily religiosity, though that may be an important component of spirituality for many members of Affirmation).
3) How much time are you able to commit to Affirmation?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: This is a hard one to gauge. Because so much of what we do these days is done through Facebook, the time that I could devote to Affirmation doesn’t really come in measurable chunks. I do have a full-time job and making enough money to keep a roof over my head and my daughter in school takes precedence over all else, but my connection to Facebook and Affirmation follows me wherever I go. Any free time that I have beyond my job will be devoted to Affirmation and the many human beings that we serve.
Carson Tueller: I am currently a single, part-time student at my local university, and work as self-employed private music instructor. Because of my current position in life, I have not only the time necessary, but the passion and dedication needed to ensure the growth and success of Affirmation. I am willing and ready to work.
4) What are some concrete steps you see us taking to reach and serve more LGBTQ+ Mormons more effectively?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: I think that reaching out to the many branches, groups, clubs, etc. that Affirmation interacts with and really listening to their concerns and their desires is vital to strengthening that which we already have…but I also feel that Affirmation needs increased visibility. There are still too many LGBTQ+ Mormons out there that have no idea that we exist. They make their way through their lives feeling that there is no one out there that can possibly understand what they are going through or provide them with a home and family. That can change by enlarging our social footprint. Whether that is through helping our current members reach out wherever they are to find those who are searching for a place where they can rest their weary heads and receive strength from others, or through making a concerted effort to become more visible in the media and at more events, I feel that Affirmation needs to continue to grow.
Carson Tueller: Affirmation’s diversity is represented by is many Affinity groups, and by better understanding the unique needs of these groups, we will better know how to serve the diverse needs of our membership. There needs to be increased coordination between the leaders of the Affinity groups and I intend to make that coordination happen through regular meetings.
5) How do you plan to more effectively engage and nurture volunteers?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: I believe that Affirmation has grown beyond the capacity of just a few volunteers working under the guidance of one volunteer coordinator. If we more effectively break up the volunteers into groups that work on very specific items and put a separate group coordinator in charge of each one, the work done by our volunteers will have more powerful guidance and stronger direction. By communicating more with the individual coordinators on a more regular basis and making sure that their needs are met and that they are effectively leading their volunteers, I believe that our volunteer base will grow because of the positive experiences fostered within them.
Carson Tueller: We can more effectively engage our volunteers first by organizing them more clearly, based on the work they’re interested in doing. Volunteers need to know that they have a specific set of tasks that are performed at specific times (perhaps like callings in the LDS church, which are rotated through). Volunteers also need to be organized clearly into larger teams with leaders. We have people who are willing and eager to help, but we need to better organize the volunteer efforts to utilize the support that already exists.
6) Knowing that there is no substitute for experience, do you feel that your relatively short time in Affirmation will be a disadvantage to you as president of our international organization? How will your leadership rely on the experience of more veteran Affirmation members and leaders?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: Firstly, no. Why? Because I have always prized myself on being able to speak to anyone, to listen to everyone and to act for the better of all humans. Everyone in my leadership team knows the value of those that have come before and we will tirelessly pick their brains for useful information.
Carson Tueller: While I recognize that my time in Affirmation is relatively short, I have gained a strong grasp of our vision through my ongoing participation and volunteer/leadership experience in the organization. What I lack in experience in Affirmation, I can compensate for in the time and resources I have to dedicate to this position. Life experience with paralysis has taught me great determination and resilience, qualities that I will bring to my leadership as Affirmation president. I fully intend to utilize the knowledge and expertise of the other experienced leaders in Affirmation, especially that of John Gustav-Wrathall, whose position as executive director will be a tremendous strength to Affirmation’s next president.
7) Have you selected your leadership team? If so, tell us about them.
Sara Jade Woodhouse: Yes. And we will be making an official announcement probably before the newsletter goes out. I feel like an introduction now would lessen the impact of an official reveal and letting the VP candidates speak for themselves.
Carson Tueller: I have selected Francisco Ruiz and Kimberly Anderson and to run with me as my vice presidents.
Francisco Ruiz: Francisco has served extensively in Affirmation Mexico, most recently serving as the vice president. Francisco continues to attend church and hold callings, despite having conflicting feelings about his experience in the LDS church. I asked Francisco to run as vice president with me because he is a compassionate and nuanced individual, who has great respect and little judgement toward all people. I have worked personally with Francisco both during the international conference in Provo, as well as the Affirmation Mexico conference. He has a great knowledge of the workings of Affirmation on an international level, and will be a great asset in our efforts to strengthen affirmation globally.
Kimberly Anderson: Kimberly transitioned to living authentically as a woman gradually over the past 5 years and finalized that transition about 3 years ago. As an adopted child, she was raised in the Mormon church, participating actively in the all-male church activities. After 20 years of marriage it was clear that “things were not going to work the way the Mormon church said it would”. Kimberly removed her old name from the records of the church and no longer practices any aspect of Mormonism. The last several years have been a process of reclaiming her life in nearly every aspect imaginable. Kimberly is currently pursing a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and works with Native American Two-Spirit people in Sacramento. I asked Kimberly to run with me as vice president because she brings an awareness to issues that are not typically addressed in queer spaces, and is fiercely inclusive of all individuals under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.
8) Are you open to hosting international conferences outside of Utah?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: Absolutely! I would like to have two International Conferences. One in Utah and one on closer to the East coast. We could have one International Conference be where all the business of Affirmation is conducted (financial reports, candidacy announcements, main Board meetings, etc.) along with the Plenaries and Breakout Sessions/Workshops, and the other International Conference would have Plenaries and Breakout Sessions/Workshops…but none of the other business meetings (except a Board meeting involving the East coast chapters).
Carson Tueller: I am invested in Affirmation’s success and vision at a global level. In September, I traveled to Mexico to attend and present a workshop at the annual conference, and witnessed firsthand the amazing work that Affirmation is doing internationally. Being a fluent Spanish speaker will allow me to personally participate in Affirmation’s growth in Central and South America.
9) How will you strengthen Affirmation chapters in the United States?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: I believe that regular check in’s with all Affirmation chapters by the Executive Council is essential to strengthening Affirmation and growing our numbers. Both online and in person. I would make regular annual trips to the zones where many of Affirmations family live and visit with the local leaders there. And I would like my VP’s to do the same.
Carson Tueller: As Affirmation continues to become a stronger presence outside of Utah, it is essential that non-Utah chapters have the funding they need in order to have meaningful conferences and meetings in their respective locations. Historically, Affirmation has made its annual international conference a financial priority. A reallocation of funds toward supporting other chapters financially is necessary to supporting their growth.
10) What is your level of familiarity with funding in the non-profit world?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: As stated earlier, I worked with Equality Utah as their membership coordinator which includes there fundraising efforts. I worked with Pioneer Memorial Theatre under their Development Director participating in their fundraising efforts. I ran two non-profit theaters and kept them functional and in the black for the years that they were operational. Finally I have raised/secured over $50,000 for the theater/fine arts department at Highland Jr High.
Carson Tueller: Having served on the board of directors of a non-profit organization for several years, I am familiar with how funding works in such an organization. Affirmation’s new hired position of Executive Director was created to assist with finances, budgeting and fundraising efforts in conjunction with the executive committee and board of directors. I fully intend to utilize the expertise and experience of the executive director in this capacity.
11) How will you interact with all Affinity groups and how would you assist them?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: I would regularly check in with them and ask them how I can help. This might include getting out of their way and providing simple support as they run with their excellent ideas. But, should they need my help, whether that be through listening, providing what answers I can or by acting on their needs in any way I can.
Carson Tueller: I plan on meeting quarterly with Affinity group leaders. By having frequent contact with representatives of these groups, I’ll better understand what changes need to be made to support them. We can assist them by working toward equal representation of the Affinity groups within Affirmation’s leadership and on the board of directors.
12) What do you see as the president’s role in Affinity group meetings and conferences?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: Affirmation is an organization that lives for its members. Diversity is part of our nature as an organization. The one thing we have in common is our Mormonism. Whatever type of Mormonism that may be (fully active, non-active, anti-church, pro-church, etc.) we need to support everybody and make sure that they feel loved, needed, safe and valued. Our Affinity Groups hopefully do just that. They are there because segments of Affirmation need them desperately! I feel that as President it is my job, along with my Executive Council, is to support them in all that they are trying to do. The one thing that is our greatest strength is our unity. Affinity Groups celebrate our diversity, but it is important that the communicate and respect one another. We are there to help us do that.
Carson Tueller: I believe that the role of the president is primarily to listen to the needs of the Affinity groups, and then find solutions to meeting those needs in a way that enables and empowers the individuals in these groups.
13) What do you think are appropriate boundaries to maintain in Affirmation’s working relationship with the LDS Church?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: I think it’s important for Affirmation the organization to stay connected to the Church in order to affect change as well as be there when it happens. I also think it is important for our members to stay healthy (physically, spiritually and mentally) and if that means that they need to distance themselves from the Church then Affirmation needs to support them. Just because Affirmation spends time speaking and interacting with Church officials does not mean that it’s membership needs to do the same. The reality is that a church, any church, is free to believe what they will. They are free to claim inspiration for their standards, beliefs and codes of conduct. But, that same reality applies to us. We are free to believe or not believe. We are free to act or not to act. Affirmation is there to make sure that its membership lives healthy and happy lives. We, the organization, are also here to carry the message of our members pain and sadness to those in the Church who will listen. We are also here to carry the message of hope and success that some of our members are experiencing in an attempt to show the Church what is possible.
Carson Tueller: Sensitive bridge building with the LDS church is essential to reducing the harmful messages that LGBTQIA+ members receive in their faith communities. I value this bridge building. However, an important part of creating boundaries with the LDS church is clearly communicating the devastating effects that anti-LGBTQIA+ messages have on the lives of queer individuals, and naming those messages when they appear within the LDS church.
14) Over the last few years, there has been a growing push in Affirmation for the organization to increase it’s intersectional awareness and to be a safer place for underserved and often invisible members in our Affirmation community. Will continuing in this direction be something you prioritize and if so, how do you imagine doing so? Please name some concrete steps you think that Affirmation can take in order better meet the needs of and be a more welcoming space to people who experience an intersection of marginalized identities in our community (ie,for folks who experience marginalization not just regarding their sexuality or gender identity, but also in regard to things like race, gender, disability, class, age, etc.) In addition, how will you ensure that the specific needs of our various Affinity groups are listened to and addressed?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: I think the key word here is “listen”. As a Presidency we will actively listen to every section of our membership. Hearing their concerns will enable us to take concrete steps towards addressing them. Without that knowledge, it’s impossible to know exactly what steps to take but it is common knowledge that steps need to be taken. Those steps, in the broadest terms, would include, among other things, venue choice for our Conferences; speakers at our plenaries; workshop coordinators; the organization of Affinity Groups; to name just a few.
Carson Tueller: My spinal cord injury has made me acutely aware of the necessity and value of intersectionality, and is an important part of what I want to achieve as Affirmation president. Instead of speaking on behalf of underrepresented groups within Affirmation, we need to create a platform for them to speak and lead themselves. Essentially, we must understand what true allyship looks like in the context of intersectionality.
15) A problem that has manifested in our organization is burnout and some leaders being over-tapped in order to sustain the programming we provide as an organization (such as our yearly International Conference and other regional and country conferences). The tremendous growth of the last several years has meant that we have grown too big for our all volunteer leadership structure and have started to bring on paid staff to lessen the load on and better organize our volunteers. Do you have any thoughts or ideas about how to tap the desire of our membership base to give of themselves in service to others, but to also do so ethically so that we do not perpetuate unhealthy expectations? Additionally, the emotional and intellectual labor involved in service-organizations often falls the hardest on those who are already in more marginalized life situations. How can we put a stop to this pattern in Affirmation, while still making sure to seek out leadership from marginalized groups?
Sara Jade Woodhouse: “Non-profit burnout” is a well known problem and occurs in virtually every non-profit organization. It is not unavoidable. The most important way in which any organization can work to help their volunteers stay healthy and sane is by regular check in’s with the volunteers themselves and by working with the ED and the volunteer coordinators to ensure that there are enough volunteers to handle all aspects of what we are trying to do and enough coordinators to manage them. If we simply can’t get the number of volunteers to accomplish everything we want to accomplish at an event…then we need to scale back that event until we have an appropriate amount of tasks to be handled by the volunteer staff we have. It’s a delicate balance but one that has to be reached…because a healthy membership is a happy membership.
Carson Tueller: Affirmation has an enormous group of individuals on its leadership team. This team has over 100 members that have already made themselves available for service and volunteer work. Through intentional delegation and clearer organization of this team, as well as by utilizing willing volunteers within Affinity groups, the responsibility of moving Affirmation forward can be distributed across this generous group of individuals, reducing the risk of burnout.
16) Affirmation is a large tent, not only geographically but also in terms of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow, races and ethnicities, languages and cultures, relationships to the LDS Church, degrees of hurt sustained and after-effects of those hurts, philosophies and theologies trying to make sense of our place in the universe, etc, etc. Talk to us about how to foster unity among us.
Sara Jade Woodhouse: The most important thing to remember when living in a community where diversity and inclusion is a must is that everyone needs to respect one another. As hard as it may seem to see something from another’s perspective, as hard as it is to walk in another’s shoes, it is still within everyone’s capabilities to respect, allow and accept their right to their beliefs, opinions and choices. Affirmation needs to maintain that balance at all costs. If even one of our members is lost to us because of our insensitivity…that is one too many. Affirmation needs to provide outlets for all expression. We need to have places to put our pain. We need to have platforms to express our grief. And, we need to have venues to celebrate our victories. I, and my executive council, would work tirelessly to ensure that everyone felt welcome at Affirmation. Not just within our separate Affinity groups…but when we are together in our meeting places.
Carson Tueller: What each of us longs for within Affirmation is belonging. So many of us came to Affirmation because we didn’t have a place to call our own. I believe that we need a common spirituality among us, a common sense of connection that each member of Affirmation can feel comfortable with, despite individual differences. I believe that this common spirituality is love and compassion. We need to continue to develop the capacity to be around and connect with those whose life path is different from our own. By nurturing greater empathy for each other, we can find the confidence to show up as we are, and allow others to do the same.