Living, Growing, Fun, Supportive Chapters
by Jason L. Giles
Portland Chapter Leader
In the January issue of Affinity, Olin Thomas announced that 2006 is the
"Year of the Chapter." I am pleased to be the first Affirmation Chapter
Leader (Portland, Oregon) to be asked to write a few words on this important
(at least to me) subject. In the spring of 1997, I first learned about
Affirmation from a man who was the Portland Chapter Leader at that time. I
jokingly asked him whether he had been called to the position by a gay
General Authority-type person. He wasn't. I was then invited to join him
the following week at a potluck dinner for gay/lesbian Mormons, and I asked
if there would be jell-O salad. I went, and there was. But more important
than the jell-O (which I found strangely comforting) was the fact that I met
many wonderful people that evening. At times we talked about our
commonality of being LDS and being gay, and as I heard some of the group
members share their stories, I was elated. I was still in the coming out
phase (not yet out to my family back in Utah), and to be in a room with 15+
other individuals who fully understood my struggle was powerful and
exciting. And they were all such great people, easy to talk to and fun.
(Ok, so a couple of them were kind of weird, but you get that in any group.)
I began to attend Affirmation activities regularly, and I began to build
friendships with many great people who greatly helped me with my journey, my
reconciliation of becoming a proud, gay Mormon.
After a few years, I became the Portland Chapter Leader, and I have seen the
group help person after person with their journeys. Just like I received
great support from my Affirmation friends before and after I came out to my
family, I have tried to support others as they have gone through coming out
difficulties with family, the excommunication process, divorce and custody
battles, deaths or illnesses, and the other challenges life throws our way.
I have also been thrilled to share in the good times of Affirmation friends,
including marriages and commitment ceremonies of devoted couples, birthdays,
etc. And whether we are bowling, picnicking, raising money through the
annual AIDS Walk, marching in Gay Pride, or having yet another potluck
dinner, we always laugh and talk and enjoy one another's company. We have
developed our own annual traditions, like going through Portland's best
haunted house attraction (Scream at the Beach) and our
Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday feast. In 2005, our numbers in Portland have
grown to the point that we had approximately 50 people attending two of our
last four activities. I have personally made some of my closest friends
ever through my association with Affirmation's Portland Chapter, and I am
profoundly grateful how it has enriched my life. And I want to thank
everyone associated with the chapter, past and present, who have played a
part in this. By no means does Portland have a monopoly on amazing GLBTI
LDS folk, so my hope is that every major city in the country and the world
can develop a living, growing, fun and supportive chapter like the one we
have in Portland.
Being There and Keeping It Simple
By Dave Melson
Washington, D.C., Chapter Leader
In commemoration of 2006 being designated as "The Year of the Chapter," we have heard from Jason Giles of the Portland, Oregon, chapter and Jim Westwood, the Chicago Area Contact. This month, I have been asked (apparently in the interest of geographic balance) to share a few words as the Chapter Leader of the Washington, D.C., chapter. It was suggested that I might want to talk about what it is like to be a part of an active, happy, and friendly chapter. It's great.
Washington was one of the four original chapters of Affirmation, and since that time in 1979 there has been some kind of meeting or activity almost every month. Much like LDS church units outside of the Rocky Mountains, Washington has often been seen as being in the Affirmation "mission field," and there have been several periods when we have been the only chapter east of Denver. That makes it especially exciting to see great new chapters becoming established in Philadelphia, New York, Orlando, and Chicago, as well as South America and throughout the world.
Two of the things that have made Affirmation DC an "active, happy, and friendly" chapter have been that everyone has a great respect for everyone else, and that we try to never take ourselves too seriously. Our activities range from informal social get-togethers and entertainment to very serious speakers and political LGBT civil rights activities (after all, this is Washington), with an amazing number of events that either center around or feature food. Nonetheless, at the end of the day we know that the reason that we are together is simply to be around other people who share the unique (or strange) perspective of being both gay and Mormon (be it spiritually or culturally or socially) or being closely linked to someone who is.
My first Affirmation meeting was on a Super Bowl Sunday and in the middle of a snow storm. Four people showed up, including the host, the Chapter Leader, and me, but I felt as though I had come home. My favorite event each year is the Affirmation DC Thanksgiving Dinner. When I walk in the front door of a beautiful home to the smells of turkey and of the holidays, and to the embraces of forty or fifty great men and women, some of whom have traveled a few hundred miles from the far edges of the chapter, I know that these folks are my family. After dinner, we will sit together and share with each other the things from the past year for which we are thankful; the list is always long and the day is always special.
Our meetings and activities vary greatly in format and venue. A lot of people attend most events, some come now and then, but beneath the surface, there is almost always a bond. Over time, we have helped each other to come out of the closet, to survive divorce, excommunication, or the hurt of family members who don't understand, to grieve the death of loved ones, and to celebrate partnerships, marriages, and milestones. Our Thanksgiving hosts for the past two years, Robert and Lani Graves, have become our Mission Presidents and surrogate parents. And yes, we have a Relief Society President and a Stake President and others whom have earned titles of affection.
I invite you to visit us, either in person, or on our web site at www.AffirmationDC.org. The web site includes our monthly newsletter and a calendar of upcoming activities. And all of us here in Washington look forward to seeing you this fall at the Affirmation Conference in Portland and next year when we have the honor of hosting the 2007 conference here in Washington.
Supportive Friends in Seattle
Seattle Chapter Leader
When I moved to Seattle from Los Angeles in October of 2004, I didn't know many people in my new hometown. When in Los Angeles, I had attended some Affirmation events and enjoyed meeting new friends, especially gay and lesbian ones who shared my background in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I learned the Seattle Chapter had stopped meeting, I decided to re-organize it. I contacted the executive committee and also a local former Affirmation leader, who served as my guide in restarting the Seattle Chapter.
I believe it is important to have sources of support for LDS gay and lesbian people, especially when they are struggling to come out and be the person they were created to be. One Sunday about four years ago the spirit moved me to bear my testimony at the local singles ward, including my testimony that I was a gay man. I wanted people to understand the strength I had gained from my Church membership, and how that very strength and emphasis on truth led me to be honest about who I was. Other people seemed to be inspired by my example, which is why I recently suggested making May 7 "coming out to your ward day". I organize events for Affirmation because I believe sharing good times with people of like backgrounds can help ease this process. Through these social activities they can see it is possible to be out and also happy and living well.
While it seems that the emotional and spiritual turmoil of those coming out today is less intense than what I observed in years past, there are still those in the Mormon community who struggle with their sexual orientation and faith. I also wonder about the many people who have contacted Affirmation, yet not found the confidence to come in person to an event. Are they in need of supportive friends? It is good that Affirmation be there for these people as well as those who are comfortable with who they are. We all need friends, and Seattle Affirmation welcomes everyone and their friends and families too!
In the next year we hope to have many more social events in Seattle. We are also looking forward to participating in the Affirmation conference taking place this October in nearby Portland, Oregon. Perhaps we can also include a service oriented project in the year's schedule. I am participating in a charitable project called "The Giving Tree" and will invite all my friends to help by painting miniature wooden toys which will be used as tree ornaments on a tree which will be auctioned for charity. The toy ornaments will also be made by a charity. I hope many Affirmation members will join me in helping others as we grow in our own friendships. This is the essence of what I learned during my time in the Church and want to take forward with me.
Making Chapter Members Feel Welcome
by James Morris, Assistant Director
During my 21 years of involvement with Affirmation I have seen chapters go through cycles of growth or dormancy and many lives impacted by their involvement. I owe much to the San Francisco Chapter for enriching my life and would like to pay tribute to Ron Kershaw for his vision and drive in shaping our chapter's past successes.
Ron realized how important place factors into the equation of a vigorous chapter. He and his partner Craig opened their lovely home near the Castro for numerous parties, meetings and spontaneous activities. It became our headquarters and you knew you would always be welcome there. Many times we would gather as a chapter at their home for a quick breakfast before Pride parade or in lively preparation of costumes for Halloween. Quite often those Halloween costumes were designed with a group in mind - whether it was a complete pageant of beauty queen hopefuls or a Baptist choir. This was no accident.
Ron wanted to involve everyone. He felt that everyone had something to contribute. All you had to do was attended your first chapter meeting and it didn't matter what a closet case wreck you might be Ron was already looking for ways to involve you and finding ways to orchestrate your transformation. In everything and everyone he saw potential.
This spirit definitely rubbed off on the rest of the group, and each new person who nervously attended their first meeting was soon adopted by a regular who helped them through the often difficult and bumpy process of coming out.
Often, long after our regular Affirmation meeting was over, Ron would be sit and listen to someone who was going through some challenging ordeal. He was patient. He was thoughtful. And he was generous with his time, wisdom, support and advice. He had a fatherly pride in seeing chapter members conquer their fears. Nothing delighted him more than to see chapter members overcome their personal challenges. To him this was the crux of Affirmation.
Ron also knew how to have fun and engage everyone in the merriment. Every chapter task whether it was stuffing envelops for a massive mailing or constructing a booth for the Folsom Street Fair became a party.
While others who were gently nudged into positions of leadership took active roles in many successful Pride Parade marches, information booths, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas socials, garages sales and other fundraising events, Ron was the strong guiding force in the background and the loudest and proudest cheerleader. We lost Ron in 1991 to AIDS but those life lessons he taught us live on.
On the Importance of Face-to-face Meetings
By Leandro Valdés, director of the Gran Valparaíso, Chile Chapter
I began to attend Affirmation meetings about two years ago, in a chapter that covers the central section of Chile. Some 8-10 people attend our chapter meetings, including two women. We currently do not have a permanent place to meet, so we rotate among the houses of members of the chapter.
I believe it's very important to have face-to-face meetings; otherwise, our enthusiasm would cool off. When we meet we have a chance to get to know each other, to strengthen each other, and to share our spirituality. We typically meet once a month, but now we're holding Institute classes and meeting weekly.
I believe the success of our chapter is due in part to the fact that our chapter has a spiritual facet. As we meet, we feel spiritual closeness. Some of our activities have a spiritual focus, such as family home evenings; and other are purely social, like birthday celebrations. But even when the activities are purely social, we find ourselves sharing something spiritual or talking about some recent personal experience.
As Mormons, we have a missionary spirit that will never die. Our chapter has helped promote Affirmation during Gay Pride in Santiago, but I wish we could do more promotion here in Valparaíso. I believe we could help a lot more people, especially young people who feel a burden because of their sexual orientation.
Of all the activities that we have had, one of my favorite was when we celebrated Brus's birthday. Some nonmembers came, and I think they were positively impressed by the group. Last Christmas we also had a remarkable activity: we exchanged gifts that came with spiritual thoughts, and we shared a very special moment.
One of our best activities took place last February, when we toured the open house for the Santiago Temple, which had recently been remodeled and was awaiting re-dedication. We had a beautiful spiritual experience as we entered the House of the Lord after many years. We felt that the Spirit is with us, that God has not abandoned us, and that we are as worthy of God's love as any other member of the Church.
How We Re-launched the Philadelphia Chapter
Display at Temple University
By Mark Coberly, Philadelphia Chapter Director
The Philadelphia chapter of Affirmation has always been around, or to say, there have been members of Affirmation in the Philadelphia area, but not anything officially organized. Several of its members participated with either the New York City or Washington DC chapters.
However, in the Fall of 2005, I decided to make an attempt to organize the members that were in the Delaware Valley and attempt to reach out and contact other gay and lesbian Mormons that might not be aware of Affirmation and our presence in Philadelphia and surrounding areas.
The first attempt was to determine who in the Delaware Valley had ever registered or showed interest in Affirmation. By working with Olin Thomas, we reviewed the national records and I did get a few names, with whom I made contact. Then it became an issue of updating the information on the Affirmation website with a current Email address and phone number to contact the Philadelphia chapter director.
With all this in place we started with a core group of 7 members, plus a couple of their partners. We have had several activities, which have included potluck dinners, going to the movies, rollerblading, and bike riding near the Philadelphia Art Museum. One of our members is an artist, and we had pizza and sodas at his studio and saw much of his art work.
We were invited by Temple University to display a table with brochures and pamphlets promoting Affirmation at their annual Gay & Lesbian Coming Out Evening. We also had a booth at the 2006 Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Pride Festival. Unfortunately we learned that there were not many gay and lesbian Mormons in the area, but we are satisfied to have shared our information with people that were curious about Gay Mormons.
We have received emails from people around the world looking to meet other gay and lesbian Mormons, as well as phone messages from individuals in the Philadelphia area and other parts of the country wanting to know more about Affirmation.
Although we have not had many activities with the New York City and Washington DC chapters, we hope to change that in the coming months building some bridges and uniting with these other members here on the East Coast.
Renewing the Chapter-At-Large
By Fred Bowers, Chapter-At-Large Director
Creating and maintaining an atmosphere that causes everyone to feel welcome is an Affirmation priority and tradition regardless of the location. Chapter-At-Large contacts and directors over the years have done our best to bring a sense of warmth and welcoming to people all over the globe. Those Affirmation members who are located more than 30 miles from an active chapter are members of the Chapter-At-Large.
This will be my second opportunity to be the Chapter-At-Large Director. I previously held the position starting in 1996 for about two years while I was living in Little Rock Arkansas. My closest Affirmation contacts were hundreds of miles away in Austin and Houston Texas. I had a great time hearing from people all over the world from most every continent. Having participated in the Washington DC Chapter for many years, I missed the contact with a chapter and I wanted to remain involved in Affirmation. I volunteered to be the Chapter-At-Large Director at that time.
Almost a decade later, the desire to be actively involved with Affirmation led me to ask the Affirmation Executive Director how I could help Affirmation beyond the local level. That led to us discussing the possibility of me becoming the Chapter-At-Large Director.
Affirmation has relied on electronic communication and media in the past to keep its "virtual" chapter, the Chapter-At-Large, informed and connected. I believe that this idea should be revived and updated to meet the technology available today. Some of the options are interactive podcasting, a Chapter-At-Large website, resuming an electronic Family Home Evening (as we did in 2000), or a special Chapter-At-Large blog. The target date for starting these activities is January 2007.
I would like for the Chapter-At-Large to meet as a group at the Affirmation Annual Conference. I will ask the Washington DC conference committee to set aside time for Chapter-At-Large members to meet and socialize at the Affirmation 2007 conference.
Renewing the Chapter-At-Large will be a challenge but I look forward to serving as Director and to make the Chapter-At-Large a thriving and welcoming chapter in the same spirit as the other chapters in Affirmation. "Welcome" to the Affirmation Chapter-At-Large wherever in the world you are!