By Christian Harrison
On a soft bluff overlooking the Los Angeles river as it meets the Pacific ocean, sits one of North America’s premiere Jesuit universities — Loyola Marymount. It’s a beautiful campus filled with students from all over the country, and on the weekend preceding Martin Luther King Jr Day, it played host to a Southern California regional conference for LGBT Mormons, their families and friends. One hundred fifty or so attendees carved out a few days from their busy schedules to fellowship one with another. You can view the talks on our AffirmationLDS YouTube channel.
This conference followed a familiar pattern… Friday evening, a local family — the Andersons — hosted a potluck. It was wildly successful and the beautifully appointed home in Cheviot Hills was the scene of a great deal of laughter, some tears, and some newly minted friendships. Jena Lowry Peterson and Affirmation president, John Gustav-Wrathall shared a few words of welcome. Guests lingered late into the evening, talking in the corners and on the stairs, in the kitchen and on the back patio. It was a magical evening.
I feel full in a way that I have heard described but never echoed until now. Thank you, Affirmation, for helping to facilitate such a genuine space in which to explore some of the dustiest, darkest, most unwanted pieces of my soul. I have experienced healing in areas that I’ve waited a lifetime to feel.
The conference began in earnest early Saturday morning with four wonderful talks — first by Craig Pulsipher of the “AIDS Project LA”; then Sara Jade Woodhouse, Senior Vice President of Affirmation Int’l, on “Policy & Family”; followed by California natives, Joshua Christensen, on “Thriving as a Gay Mormon”; and Christie Frandsen, on “A Mother’s Perspective”.
From these talks, attendees broke into workshops. Borrowing from our recent regional conferences in South and Central America, these workshops focused on five topics:
- You & You: Coming to Self-Acceptance & Finding a Positive Path Forward
- You & God: Nuturing Your Personal Relationship with the Divine
- You & the Church: Navigating a Way Forward, Post-policy Change
- You & Your Family: Navigating Challenges with Family Members
- You as an Ally: Learning How to be an Effective Ally for LGBT Mormons
- You as Leader: A session for LDS Church Leaders
- Each of the workshops lasted an hour and were repeated three times — giving everyone a chance to catch as much of the material as possible.
After the workshops, many of us made our way to Santa Monica to walk the 3rd Street Promenade, catch the sunset on the pier, and take in the carnival atmosphere (and maybe a ride or two).
After an evening banquet, we all settled in for an evening of inspiration:
- Jorge Valencia: “Supporting & Empowering Our LGBT Young People”
- Carol Lynn Pearson: “Creating Your Own Personal Policy”
We all lingered after the speakers, hovering in knots between the rows in the auditorium. But eventually we each headed to bed.
Early Sunday, we gathered again. New faces joined us — some allies, some families — for what promised to be a very special morning.
- Laura Dulin: “Responding to Trauma as a LGBT Mormon”
- Tom Christofferson “The Character of Christ”
- Berta Marquez: “Developing a Relationship with God, Independent of the Church’s Actions”
Our last hour together was spent in the bearing of testimony and the sharing of stories. It’s a beloved Affirmation tradition — a chance for all to partake of the spirit of fellowship. For some, it was the first chance they’d had to bear testimony in an LDS setting in years — decades, even. For others, it was a chance to recognize their own path away from the Church. It was a powerful way to wrap a beautiful weekend.
A first-time attendee texted me: “I feel full in a way that I have heard described but never echoed until now. Thank you, Affirmation, for helping to facilitate such a genuine space in which to explore some of the dustiest, darkest, most unwanted pieces of my soul. I have experienced healing in areas that I’ve waited a lifetime to feel”.
All sessions of the conference were live-streamed, and are available on Affirmation’s YouTube channel:
- The Friday night fireside
- The Saturday morning plenary
- Session 1, session 2 and session 3 of the workshop on the Church and the new policy
- The Saturday night plenary
- The Sunday morning devotional and spiritual story sharing/testimony meeting
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