Surrounded by Arms of Love
By Carlos Castillo Casas, President, Affirmation Colombia
Talking about happiness is often taken as something idealistic and even unreal, especially when the reality is hard for many of us. We had to endure situations that are not easy to deal with, but certainly they teach us valuable lessons of life and faith. When you are LGBT and you are a Mormon or you live surrounded by a Mormon environment it becomes more complicated to feel that we do not fit into what is taught to us as God’s plan. Sometimes it is in the Church that we hope to receive guidance and revelation about how to deal with mixed feelings and where there are moments where precisely the opposite is received: pointing, judgments, negative comments, even mockery or some kind of discrimination.
Despite this, it is not very different from what society does. In Colombia we have found cases where leaders advise parents to expel their children from home, if they know that they are LGBTI. There are people who have referred to us as slag or as something worthy of total disapproval, for not fitting into their moral or traditional standards. This has brought us pain and anger, because no one knows what it feels like to be discriminated as we know it, we have been like this sometimes.
That is why Affirmation becomes a beacon of light and fraternity where we can feel safe, without judgments, without discrimination, where we can be ourselves spontaneously and where we can find people who understand us and the circumstances we pass through. I remember myself having passed through a personal experience and felt that I could go to some Affirmation friends and the answer I found was understanding, sincere listening and support. Thanks Diego, thank you Luis, thank you Christian for that. I did not feel alone, I felt sustained and surrounded by the arms of love and that sincere people are willing to give us their support when we need it.
Identifying that there have been Mormons who have committed suicide, others who are still suffering desperately in search of answers is where our mission takes on significant value because we can not only help people in their process of affirming themselves, but we can also save lives. That is why it is so important what we do. George, a young man in Colombia mentioned that before his search for answers, he had contemplated suicide but he learned of Affirmation and has found guidance and answers that have allowed him to reconcile with life and with himself. Others did not have the same fate. Carlos in another city, a year before Affirmation arrived in Colombia, sought support from their leaders and after only receiving judgments and indications, died by suicide, leaving a deep void in his family and their relatives.
It is very difficult for our LDS friends to feel safe in an environment where there is discrimination, it is not easy to be authentic and take the determination to be LGBT and continue to attend church where you are sometimes asked about when you are going to marry a wife and have children, or even in your family. It has also not been easy for some people to want to approach and attend the group for fear of being singled out, judged and disciplined. Others, on the other hand consider that they do not need a group to feel affirmed, and prefer to lead their life in the church pretending that everything is well.
It is not easy to deal with different personalities and sometimes there are situations where you try to serve and the answer is not the best. On many occasions I have felt alone and even felt discouraged in this task. However, a teaching of the Church that has marked me is to persevere, so despite adversity, we seek ways to reach people and persevere. We have even reached people who profess another belief and many of them are our most faithful friends.
One way in which as Affirmation has become well known has been through constant meetings or even promoting programs that are striking and interesting. In Colombia we promote the Gay Choir of Bogota and a Karate group. It has been a fantastic experience to hear from others outside Affirmation that we promote art and discipline as part of our mission.
In the course of these two years I have seen many tears, I have heard very painful testimonies from members of the Church who have been mistreated, discriminated against and excluded, but I have also seen examples of strength and perseverance. Some have departed and feel distant, though they desire to return. Others do not want to know anything about the church because of the pain they experienced there, and have adopted other beliefs. Others remain immovable in the Church and bravely face the pointing and criticisms.
At the second national annual conference, we received the visit of some mothers. Even my own mother was there. I thank her for her support in this work. I feel enormously grateful for Affirmation. It is a wonderful organization that helped me to be myself , not to be afraid, to feel close again to Heavenly Father and to be authentic. I want to serve with fervor in the organization to help more people to have a reconciliation with their faith and their sexual orientation or gender identity, to dialogue with more leaders to provide a better understanding about us. I love this work and it has been wonderful to work in it.