Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons
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|Founded||June 11, 1977|
|Affirmation: Gay Mormons United|
Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends is an international organization for individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer, intersex, or same-sex attracted, and their family members, friends, and church leaders who are members or former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church). According to its charter, Affirmation "offers its members strength and support in solving personal problems through mutual acceptance and fellowship" and "work[s] for the understanding and acceptance of gays and lesbians as full, equal and worthy persons within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and society, and to help them realize and affirm self-worth."
Under the name Affirmation: Gay Mormons United, the first Affirmation group was organized in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 11, 1977 by Stephan Zakharias and a group of other Mormon and ex-Mormon Gays and Lesbians. The original group struggled to survive until 1978, when Paul Mortensen formed the Los Angeles chapter and in 1980 the name was changed to Affirmation:Gay & Lesbian Mormons. Through the influence of the Los Angeles chapter, Affirmation groups appeared in many cities around the country.
Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, it was common LDS Church practice to excommunicate individuals who identified as gay, without distinguishing between same-sex orientation and behavior. An influential book by Spencer W. Kimball (LDS Church President, 1973-1985), entitled The Miracle of Forgiveness (Bookcraft, 1969), counseled individuals with "same-sex attraction" that they could overcome same-sex oriented sexuality through faithful living. Because of the strong emphasis in Mormon theology on marriage of a man and a woman as a requirement for "exaltation" in Heaven, it was common for LDS leaders to counsel members who confessed feelings of "same-sex attraction" to simply ignore their feelings and marry a member of the opposite sex in the belief that same-sex orientation was ephemeral or unreal. In 1979 and 1980 Affirmation leaders sought to engage LDS Church leadership in dialog about these beliefs, but these early attempts at dialog were rebuffed by LDS Church leadership.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Affirmation increasingly became an organization for ex-Mormons. In 1985, a very small number of members of Affirmation formed a Latter Day Saint church for gays and lesbians known as the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ. Members and leaders of the organization tended to assume that activity in the LDS Church was psychologically damaging, and believed that the focus of the organization should be on helping people to transition out of Mormonism and to protest policies and doctrines of the LDS Church that were seen as harmful to gay people.
In the late 1990s, Gordon B. Hinckley (LDS Church President, 1995-2008), began to speak publicly about gay and lesbian issues in a different way than his predecessors, most famously in an interview on Larry King Live in 1998. He actually used the terms "gay and lesbian." He refrained from using harsh rhetoric (like that used in Kimball's Miracle of Forgiveness), that spoke about homosexuality in terms of "perversion" or "abomination." He also, significantly, distinguished between gay or lesbian orientation and behavior, and suggested that gay and lesbian individuals could be members of the LDS Church in good standing, so long as they refrained from same-sex sexual activity. In another interview in 2004, he acknowledged the possibility that sexual orientation could be innate and determined at birth. In 2006, LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks and member of the Quorum of the Seventy Lance Wickman, in an LDS Church Public Affairs interview, acknowledged that sexual orientation might not be amenable to change through therapy or personal righteousness, distanced the LDS Church from reparative therapy, and counseled against heterosexual marriage as a "therapeutic step."
With a softening of the LDS Church's positions on homosexuality, increasing numbers of Affirmation members were choosing to stay active in and engaged with the LDS Church. In 2011, Affirmation held its annual international conference in Kirtland, Ohio, an important Mormon historic site, and many Affirmation members experienced the Kirtland conference as a kind of Mormon spiritual "revival." In 2012, Randall Thacker was elected president of Affirmation, and he and a new leadership corps emphasized the idea that individuals did not have to choose between being LGBT and Mormon.
In the years since, Affirmation has experienced dramatic growth, with more than a quadrupling in active membership. Large numbers of parents and other family members and allies of LGBT individuals began to get involved in the organization. With the participation of entire families, a major, growing demographic in Affirmation became LGBT Mormon teens and youth. Affirmation increasingly took advantage of social media to create community for LGBT Mormons. In the early 2000's, chapters of Affirmation formed in Mexico and in Chile. With the resurgence in the 2010's, Affirmation began to experience new growth in Latin America, with chapters opening in Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Brazil. In 2013, in order to better reflect the diversity of the Affirmation community, Affirmation changed its name from "Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons" to "Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends."
In November 2015, in response to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, the LDS Church modified its Handbook of Instructions to define same-sex marriage as "apostasy," and to deny the children of same-sex couples the right to be baptized into the Church unless they moved out of their parents' home and disavowed same-sex marriage. The new policy had a major emotional, spiritual and social impact on members of the Affirmation community, causing many to distance themselves from the LDS Church. Significant numbers of Affirmation members also remained loyal to the LDS Church, and continued to stress the founding principles of Affirmation which included working for greater understanding of LGBT issues in the LDS Church. Affirmation today stresses the importance of individual agency, and a "big tent" that is inclusive of both current and former Mormons.
Affirmation and the LDS Church
Affirmation has sometimes spoken up to anti-homosexual statements by the LDS Church. Affirmation members have come forward to describe the aversion therapy they were persuaded to undergo in the 1960s and 1970s at Brigham Young University, an LDS Church school. Gay students at Brigham Young University in 1977 widely distributed an anonymously published pamphlet called Prologue: An Examination of the Mormon Attitude Towards Homosexuality which described the aversion therapy, persecution of gays, and irregular behavior by the administration and faculty of Brigham Young University such as entrapment by the BYU security forces, recruiting student spies, and recruiting young Mormon women to attempt to sexually convert gays to heterosexuality by encouraging gay men to get married to these women in order to "cure" their homosexuality. The pamphlet said a significant percentage of the students at BYU were in fact gay and that psychologists had noted that it seemed that there was a larger percentage of Mormon gays than in any other religion. This pamphlet led directly to the formation of Affirmation in June 1977.
In October 1999, some Affirmation members in Salt Lake City protested the LDS Church’s lobbying and funding of initiatives in California and other states to keep the traditional definition of marriage.
The last decade has seen the formation of other gay Mormon organizations, some of which are close allies. Gamofites, an organization for gay Mormon fathers, began in 1991. Family Fellowship, an organization for parents of gay and lesbian Mormons, was formed in 1993. LDS Reconciliation, a group of Gay and Lesbian Mormons that was originally started in conjunction with Family Fellowship, serves a similar purpose but is focused on gay and lesbian Mormons in the Utah and Idaho areas, rather than worldwide as is Affirmation. The first group for gay Mormon youth, Gay LDS Young Adults, was launched in Salt Lake City in 2001.
With the advent of the Internet, many gay and lesbian Mormons began to participate in Affirmation from overseas, especially in Latin America. In 2001 the first non-English chapter was formed in Mexico City, and later chapters appeared in Santiago (Chile), Valparaíso (Chile), and Puebla (Mexico).
In addition, GALA (Gay and Lesbian Acceptance), the support group for GLBT members of the Independence, Missouri -based Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), was a break off from the Affirmation Chapter in Kansas City, Missouri in the mid-1980s.
Membership and presence
Affirmation functions through local chapters established mostly in the Inter-mountain West, Chile, and Australia. At the head of the organization is an executive committee composed of three members. Annual conferences, held in a different city each year, attract hundreds of members and friends from around the United States and abroad. Affirmation publishes a monthly newsletter, Affinity.
Prominent LGBT Mormons
Prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mormons who have been associated with Affirmation include gay activist Leonard Matlovich, artist Trevor Southey, and writer Patrick Califia.
- "Affirmation Purpose (Mission) Statement" at Affirmation.org, accessed November 18, 2016.
- In The Beginning: A Brief History of Affirmation
- Connell O'Donovan, "The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature": A Revised History of Homosexuality & Mormonism, 1840-1980, 1994
- Interview With Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman: “Same-Gender Attraction”
- With All Thy Getting, Get Understanding
- "Prologue—An Examination of the Mormon Attitude Towards Homosexuality" by Cloy Jenkins et al—1977 Reproduction on the Internet of the content of the pamphlet which led to the founding of "Affirmation—Gay & Lesbian Mormons": Archived April 8, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- Image of the cover of the pamphlet "Prologue: An Examination of the Mormon Attitude Towards Homosexuality" widely distributed at Brigham Young University in the spring of 1977:
- Steve Fidel, "Protesters Target Church Activism in California," Deseret News, 4 October 1999, A6.
- “Group Helps Meet Social Needs For Gay LDS Youth,” Sunstone 120:72 (November 2001).
- Carlos Peralta, “Affirmation Mexico Holds Its First Meeting,” August 2001.
- GALA: Gay And Lesbian Acceptance!
- Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons General Charter Archived October 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- Leonard P. Matlovich (1943 - 1988)
- Affirmation Celebrates 30th Anniversary
- Affirmation 2002 Conference Report