Affirmation 1991 Conference Report
From the November 1991 issue of Affinity.
by Marty Beaudet
Palms, pools, people, perfect [hot] weather and plenty of fun. It was all there at the 13th Annual Affirmation General Conference in Palm Springs, at the Erawan Resort in Palm Springs, CA, October 11-13, 1991. Over 140 Affirmation members, their partners, friends and family gathered in the resort town of Indian Wells (just south of Palm Springs) to enjoy the desert heat and the companionship of other gay and lesbian Mormons. The Conference theme was, "Now Let Us Rejoice."
As always, the conference served as a once-a-year reunion of old friends, as well as a perfect opportunity to make new ones. From workshops and standup comedy to pool parties and a devotional, there were numerous ways to mingle.
The weekend began Friday evening with a available performance by funnyman
Danny Williams. Renowned for his stand-hp performances on the RSVP cruise
ships, Danny had done his homework, learning enough about Mormons to
have us laughing at ourselves all evening.
Later that evening, the local C.C. Construction Company found itself in a swarm of Mormons, discoing & two-stepping the night away on its two dance floors.
Saturday began with breakfast by the pool (one of two) and a general session where the group was addressed by Rob Mahaffey (Phoenix), Debbie Johnson (Great Lakes) and Marty Beaudet and Craig Johnson (San Francisco). Kevin Neeley and Larry Gates provided musical selections throughout the conference.
Following the general session were workshops on various topics including "What is Morality?" presented by Walt Richey of Affirmation Great Lakes, "AIDS Awareness" by Dr. Kelly Butler of the Los Angeles Chapter and "The Scriptures and Homosexuality" by Rick Fernández of the San Diego Chapter.
After a break for lunch, gay author Chris Glaser presented his keynote address. Active in his Presbyterian faith, Chris had some keen insights into the struggles, as well as the successes of gay en and lesbians rejected by their church, seeking and finding spirituality among their own.
Later, the Women's Chapter-at-Large held a "summit" to organize for the coming year.
The highlight of the day was the banquet, with its attendant Mortensen Award presentation and musical entertainment. This year's award was posthumously bestowed upon Ron Kershaw, who succumbed to AIDS earlier this year. There were few dry eyes as Ron's partner of 7 years, Craig Johnson, accepted the award. Both Ron and Craig received standing ovations from their many years of dedication.
The musical extravaganza was performed by the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus, a collection of nearly 150 resonant male voices. Among the "special" numbers of the evening were a "tribute" to California Governor Pete Wilson (who had vetoed a gay rights bill a week earlier), sung with back to the audience, ["There comes a time"], as well as a rousing rendition of "Come, Come Ye Saints," complete with a fifth verse composed by a chorus member especially for the occasion. It began, "Come, come ye gays, and all ye lesbians too..."
Sunday featured an address by Bishop Robert Rees, who was recently released from a five and a half year term in the Los Angeles First (Singles) Ward. Often outspoken on controversial issues such as women and the priesthood and homosexuality, Bishop Rees is a former editor of the Mormon publication Dialogue.
The bishop's address was followed by a question and answer session that grew heated at times. There was no shortage of differing opinions and Rees often found himself seemingly under attack. Despite such moments, his comments stimulated a healthy discussion and he handled himself admirably throughout.
The Sunday devotional became less than typical when Geoff McGrath (Seattle) came to the podium with some sobering statistics on gay teen suicides, substance abuse and homelessness. Noting that many LDS and other youth end up in those situations because their parents throw them out and their churches reject them, Geoff declared, "I'm sick of God-damned homophobia." This powerful and passionate message disturbed many who were in attendance. Some complained that "swearing" was inappropriate behavior for a conference. One listener, however, responded after mulling the situation over, "Well, I can't think of a more appropriate use of the phrase; God would certainly damn the hatred and persecution that is homophobia."
The evening was capped with the traditional brunch, which had to be moved indoors because of the 100-plus-degree heat. Many happy and tearful hugs followed, as people bid farewell to their friends, new and old.
A multitude of thanks go to co-chairs Paul Mortensen and Shari Glenn, and to their assistants in the Los Angeles and Orange County Chapters.