Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons

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Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends
Affirmation Logo.png
Founded June 11, 1977; 40 years ago (1977-06-11)
Location
Area served
Worldwide
Members
10,000+[2]
Volunteers
30[1]
Website affirmation.org
Formerly called
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."[3]

History[edit]

Affirmation booth at the 2013 Washington D.C. Capital Pride street festival.

Under the name Affirmation: Gay Mormons United, the first Affirmation group was organized on 11 June 1977 in Salt Lake City by Stephan Zakharias (formerly Stephen James Matthew Prince) and a group of other Mormon and former-Mormon gays and lesbians at the conference for the Salt Lake Coalition for Human Rights.[4][5][6] Stephan organized the group in response to the suicides of two BYU friends who had undergone shock aversion therapy on the campus.[7] The original organization struggled to survive until 1978, when Paul Mortensen, inspired by an article on the group in The Advocate, formed the Los Angeles chapter.[8] Through the influence of the Los Angeles chapter, Affirmation groups began appearing in many cities around the US. In 1980 the name was changed to Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons.[9][10]

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, it was a common LDS Church practice to excommunicate individuals who identified as gay, without distinguishing between attraction and behavior. An influential book by Spencer W. Kimball (LDS Church President, 1973-1985), entitled The Miracle of Forgiveness, 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 encourage members who confessed feelings of "same-sex attraction" to ignore their feelings and marry a member of the opposite sex based on the belief that this would overcome homosexuality. 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.[11]

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 Affirmation 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."[12]

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 2000s, chapters of Affirmation formed in Mexico and in Chile. With the resurgence in the 2010s, Affirmation began to experience new growth in Latin America, with chapters opening in Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Brazil.[13] 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.[14] Affirmation today stresses the importance of individual agency, and a "big tent" that is inclusive of both current and former Mormons.[15]

Affirmation and the LDS Church[edit]

Affirmation has always been a voluntary association of current and former Mormons that was not officially affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Affirmation remains an independent non-profit organization that is not endorsed or sponsored by the LDS Church, though many of its members are members in good standing of the LDS Church.

Some Affirmation members have described the aversion therapy they were persuaded to undergo in the 1960s and 1970s at Brigham Young University, an LDS Church school.[16] 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.[17][18] This pamphlet led directly to the formation of Affirmation in June 1977.

Early in its history, leaders of Affirmation reached out to LDS Church leaders in an attempt to open up a dialog about LGBT issues. Those initial efforts at outreach were rebuffed, and in the four decades of its existence, Affirmation has had a sometimes rocky relationship with the Church. At times, members and leaders of Affirmation saw themselves as having an adversarial relationship with the Church, and members and leaders of the LDS Church perceived Affirmation as an "anti-Mormon" organization, even though the mission, charter and by-laws of Affirmation were focused on providing a community of support that would enable members to reconcile their Mormon faith or heritage with their identity as LGBT.

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.[19] Members of the LDS Church and members of Affirmation often found themselves on opposite sides of the political debate over same-sex marriage, when the LDS Church backed a number of political initiatives opposed to same-sex marriage, such as Proposition 22 (in 2000) and Proposition 8 (in 2008, both in California), though LDS Church leaders publicly stated that members of the Church could support same-sex marriage without risk to their membership status, and support for same-sex marriage was never an official part of Affirmation's mission.

In 2012, leaders of Affirmation opened a dialog with the LDS Church's Public Affairs department. Since a significant portion of Affirmation's growing membership included members of the Church in good standing, Affirmation members were also participating in grassroots dialog events and discussions about LGBT issues and the Church, and have played a role in a continuing evolution of Church members' and leaders' understanding of what homosexuality and transgender are and aren't.

A majority of Affirmation members (based on Affirmation's 2016 survey of their membership) are not active in the LDS Church, and see the Church's political activism against same-sex marriage, its 2015 policy labeling individuals in same-sex marriages as apostate, and its 2016 opposition to statutes protecting transgender rights as signs of hostility to the LGBT community.

Related organizations[edit]

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.[20]

The decade of the 1990s saw 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.[21]

After the LDS Church’s involvement in Prop 8, Mormons for Marriage Equality was formed by straight and LGBT Mormons supporting political campaigns for same-sex marriage equality. After 2012 they rebranded as “Mormons for Equality.” In 2012, a group of Mormons wanting to show support for the LGBT community organized a contingent to march in Utah Pride under the banner of Mormons Building Bridges. MBB now has thousands of members throughout the world, most concentrated in the Intermountain West. Both of these groups, though separate from and unaffiliated with Affirmation, included large numbers of Affirmation members.

Membership and presence[edit]

For most of its history, Affirmation functioned through local chapters established mostly in the Inter-mountain West, and in other major American cities such as Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, DC where there were critical masses of Mormons and LGBT people. 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).[22] Affirmation chapters also organized in England and Australia in the early 2000s. In 2013, a reinvigorated leadership in the U.S. began to support new growth and organizing in Latin America and Europe. Currently, in addition to the aforementioned countries, Affirmation has a presence in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia and in the Caribbean.

An important form of outreach for Affirmation was launched in 1980 with the beginning of the monthly newsletter Affinity. In 1985, Affirmation entered the world of the Internet through on-line bulletin boards that evolved into a variety of chat groups and eventually a website, Affirmation.org. Affirmation currently has a web presence in the Spanish-speaking (Afirmacion.org) and Portuguese-speaking (Afirmacao.org) worlds as well. After 2012, Affirmation began to engage with LGBT Mormons and their families and friends through what has evolved into dozens of social media groups and outlets in Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in multiple languages. Affirmation began to take advantage of virtual meeting technology to allow its members to converse face-to-face, allowing individual LGBT Mormons in remote locations, far from organized chapters, to find new forms of support previously unthinkable. For instance, in 2016, Affirmation began to organize an "Affirmation Spiritual Gathering Online."

At the head of the organization is an executive committee composed of three members.[23] Affirmation is also governed by a board of directors, and a leadership team consisting of hundreds of volunteers worldwide. Annual conferences attract hundreds of members and friends from around the world. Affirmation holds annual national and regional conferences as well in the dozen or so countries where there is an organized presence. In 2017, Affirmation hired its first full-time employees: Spanish- and Portuguese- language web masters, and an Executive Director, to support the work of its Executive Committee, Board and leadership team throughout the world.

Prominent LGBT Mormons[edit]

Prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mormons who have been associated with Affirmation include gay activist Leonard Matlovich,[24] artist Trevor Southey,[25] and writer Patrick Califia.[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Walch, Tad (20 September 2015). "God loves every single person, speakers tell LGBT Mormons at Affirmation conference". LDS Church. Deseret News. Retrieved 25 May 2017. 
  2. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (29 September 2016). "Support group for LGBT Mormons gains strength even as Mexico’s Latter-day Saints fight gay marriage". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 25 May 2017. 
  3. ^ "Affirmation Purpose (Mission) Statement" at Affirmation.org, accessed November 18, 2016.
  4. ^ "Affirmation". Archived from the original on April 30, 2006. .
  5. ^ "Our History". affirmation.org. Affirmation. 
  6. ^ Matthew, Prince. "Affirmation/G.M.U. December Newsletter" (PDF). uscs.edu. University of California Santa Cruz. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-04. 
  7. ^ Bell, Jay. "Robert I. McQueen: Missionary, Editor, and Activist". affirmation.org. Affirmation. Archived from the original on 2010-03-31. 
  8. ^ Bourn, Drew (2016). LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History (PDF). National Park Foundation. p. 21:19. Retrieved 9 July 2017. 
  9. ^ Mortensen, Paul. "In The Beginning: A Brief History of Affirmation". affirmation.org. Affirmation. Archived from the original on 2013-10-21. 
  10. ^ "Gay Mormons Organize". The Advocate. 2 November 1977. 
  11. ^ Connell O'Donovan, "The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature": A Revised History of Homosexuality & Mormonism, 1840-1980, 1994
  12. ^ Interview With Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman: “Same-Gender Attraction”
  13. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (29 September 2016). "Support group for LGBT Mormons gains strength even as Mexico’s Latter-day Saints fight gay marriage". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 25 May 2017. 
  14. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (18 August 2016). "Retired LDS Church lobbyist joins board of LGBT Mormon support group". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 25 May 2017. 
  15. ^ Gustav-Wrathall, John (8 April 2017). "Op-ed: Bridging the chasm between LGBT and Mormon". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 25 May 2017. 
  16. ^ With All Thy Getting, Get Understanding Archived 2013-10-21 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ 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:
  19. ^ Steve Fidel, "Protesters Target Church Activism in California," Deseret News, 4 October 1999, A6.
  20. ^ GALA: Gay And Lesbian Acceptance!
  21. ^ Group Helps Meet Social Needs For Gay LDS Youth,” Sunstone 120:72 (November 2001).
  22. ^ Carlos Peralta, “Affirmation Mexico Holds Its First Meeting,” August 2001.
  23. ^ Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons General Charter Archived October 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ Leonard P. Matlovich (1943 - 1988)
  25. ^ Affirmation Celebrates 30th Anniversary
  26. ^ Affirmation 2002 Conference Report

External links[edit]