1998 Affirmation Conference Comments
Conference Review by James Kent
Conference Review by Duane Jennings
Conference Review by Jay Bell
The conference was extraordinary—very well organized—I enjoyed every single event/activity I attended. Each workshop was well prepared and thoughtful and the speakers were exceptional. I love visiting with old friends—made a nice new one too. I couldn't attend Monday's activity because of a scheduling conflict but I like the idea of an extended longer program. Thanks to all for their hard work and sacrifice. The devotional music, speakers, and location were exceptional. Portland is a lovely city—almost as nice as Honolulu!
I want to thank you again for the outstanding Affirmation conference. It was superb on every level. You far surpassed all the other annual conferences I have attended. I thought the thought, care and preparations were obvious at every activity. The game show was one of the most innovative, clever and entertaining events I've ever seen. You were brilliant! I know it was no easy feat to assemble all the elements for such a massive show, but you are both to be congratulated. Everything was excellent. Thanks again for your countless efforts.
The Saliva Sisters were as fabulous as ever! Definitely invite them back next year. We will be sure to bring our lips! The music at the Rainbow Ball was better this year. And the "You Don't Know Dorothy" game was a high point. (Henry is to be loudly applauded!)
The AIDS memorial was extremely moving! Very well done. Should be handled the same way next year.
Don't know if it is because I am not a Mormon or what, but I didn't think the keynote address was anything more than ordinary. But it seems like I was in the minority. I heard rave reviews from several people after the address. Maybe it was the speaking style that didn't excite me.
The Devotional was very good. We were just sorry we had to leave before it was over. I need to plan our flights a little better next year I guess! Of course, Labor Day made it a little difficult.
Another magical experience. Perhaps the best planned conference that I have attended. My only regret is more didn't attend.
The Gay Mormon Trivia Game was fantastic. I'd love to see something like that again. In fact, I wanted to see all of the questions.
Enjoyed everything else-including the somewhat controversial speakers - Eugene England and Brother Riddle. They both made me think and it was interesting watching them question their beliefs and attitudes and make "some changes" during the course of the conference. I believe that education is where it's at for possitive social change. The protests get attention, but the educating makes the changes-along with maybe a few lawsuits and court rulings!
I've attended 8 Affirmation conferences in the past 7 years and all have had their strong points, but Portland really appealed to me because of the extra day of activity on Monday and being able to stay with so many friends all day Sunday and most of Monday, too. Rick, and particularly Henry, are to be congratulated for all the hundreds of hours of hard work. It was very evident in all of the details from the excellent food menus, to superb workshops on just about every conceivable topic, to outstanding graphics and technical (audio/visual) support! Can say nothing but good about the weather, hotel, speakers, fun and ... as a side note, the dancing and 'locals' at Silverado certainly added to the experience. Again, please accept my thanks for a job very well done.
Sorry I couldn't be in five places at once for the workshops. The selection of hotel and food was excellent. Henry did an awesome job with the computer graphics, the registration, and the ongoing website. The Sunday evening speaker "F**ked with my Mind" but maybe that is good in the long run.
You two are to be thanked. I can only imagine the multitude of hours you
spent to make this conference a success, which I feel it was. While
living in Utah, I for some reason, never invisioned myself involved in
Affirmation. I think the difference now for me is the most wonderful
people I meet being involved in Affirmation. I love to hear everyone's
personal stories and to join in knowing "we are not alone". It is a
pleasure to know you and I do appreciate your friendship, your dedication
to service and both of your kind presence of support as the conference
chairpersons. You both appeared to be calm admist many headaches and
challenges. Your presence was a nice reminder that "everything was going
to be okay".
This is my first Affirmation conference, and it exceeded my expectations.
I enjoyed the Saliva Sisters immensely, the video about the East High School
student was deeply moving, the Chauncey Riddle family discussion was also
moving and touching for me, the AIDS Memorial session is something I hope we
can duplicate at other conferences, the breakfast cruise was a hoot and a holler, the awards ceremony was really quite memorable, and the food was good.
I'm glad I attended because I got to meet a lot of people who I had heard about, and I made some new friends. And I got to order the new Southey book.
I liked the quiz game, and I especially liked the final media presentation with lots of pictures and videos of previous conferences. I know that kind of thing takes untold hours of work. All this told me how much you cared about the quality of the conference, and that we have a lot to live up to when we put on the DC conference. You've got me thinking.
This was my first time to any type of Affirmation event. I didn't know what to expect, but I soon realized that it was a comfortable safe place to be. I enjoyed the workshops the most of all. I could relate to the subject matter of all the workshops I attended. I plan now to start going to Affirmation meetings here locally in Las Vegas, where I live. I'm just beginning this process and it felt great to know I'm not alone. Thanks for a great conference, I look forward to attending again soon.
Absolutely wonderful conference. It was alot more "church positive" than I thought it would be. I actually went away from the conference with a desire to re-activate myself in the LDS church. I hope future conferences will be like this one. I will go every year, if so... I am there next year!
This was my first conference and I was really pleased with all the aspects. Everyone was so welcoming to me. It was great to be able to associate with others in the same "battle" as me. I would suggest however, that you become more visible in the gay community. I wish I had known about Affirmation years ago. I really would have helped me along in my struggles. I look forward to next year's conference. Thanks a lot!
Enjoyed the location for 1998 Portland-beautiful city, weather nice. I liked the location, accomodations, the fact that everything was in one place. I enjoyed hearing from Kimball, Riddle's, I liked the Portland night life—the bars. The rail system was great and the fact that a shuttle existed between the hotel and the airport—saving rental car expenses. The music on Saturday's dance was great. A good variety of music existed that seemed to please the audience. The media game that Henry Miller put together was very innovative and creative. Also, the movie about the history of gays which included the story about Kelly Peterson was outstanding and should be shown again next year for those people who missed it.
James' Conference Account
By James Kent
From Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and the Dominion of Canada. There were 175 participants in this year's conference. There is never enough time to meet everyone, but I was able to visit with about two thirds of our group.
Leadership Meeting: 12 -4 p.m.
The Vendor and Display Room included: Information on the upcoming Lake Tahoe Conference in 1999, voting for one of four hotels for Conference 2000 in Washington D.C. Trevor Southey's newly published art book - showing his sketches, oils, engravings, and sculptures from 1959 to 1996, and Stella's "rainbow" shop. (I know you said it would be your last year doing this Stella, but I say the same thing about Imelda each year).
After a hot shower...shave, moisturizer, foundation, power, and under the skilled hands of Ricky Gilbert, Imelda started to emerge - makeup, red sequined shoes, three pairs of queen size panty hose, red fringe dress, black opera gloves, 30 carat topaz show ring, large crystal earrings and necklace, and a beehive wig that was taller than 18 inches.
Henry Miller asked Imelda to hostess a Gay Mormon Jeopardy called "You Don't Know Dorothy Show" - 20-30 contestants competed over 20 interesting and humorous questions with even funnier multiple choice answers. Dorothy Collie (in male drag) was our the host. For this evening, we called each other Imelda and Ferdinand...
Topics included: Torch Hymn Trilogy, Deacons & Teachers & Priests, Oh My!, Hold to the Rod, Put Your (ahem) to the Wheel, The Rocky Mountain Picture Show, Wasatch Faults, Sex and Sects, Limits to the Multi-Purpose Room, Long Time Mission Companions, As I Have Loved You, Cruise the Right, We Thank Thee O God for a Partner...
Questions included: What U.S. organization banned umbrellas from being carried by its members on the grounds it would present an effeminate image? (The Army). What is the record for the biggest biceps in the world? (25.5 inches) Who said this memorable "camp" line: "Oh, I'm so tired of just being pretty."? (Kim Novak, Picnic 1955) Who said: "It's a good thing I was born a woman, or I'd have been a drag queen" (Bette Midler) Name one of the three founders of Affirmation whose name is also a city in Utah (Matthew Price).
This evening Aaron Arnell took Ricky Gilbert, Todd Smee and I over to the downtown area where we went to a go-go boy dance bar called Silverado - which was tame compared to the DC bars in the southeast. There were quite a few Affirmation members there enjoying the night life.
Sep. 5 - Breakfast. Frank Mensell, key note speaker. Frank is a member of Family Fellowship, an organization for supportive Mormon parents of gays and lesbians, will give our opening address entitled "Higher Morality-Greater Love," in which he calls on church members to show greater acceptance of their gay and lesbian family members.
Workshops: Jeff Jensen's presentation (with the help of his partner Warren Conner) was on Fabricating, then Treating a Mental Illness: A Critique of the So-Called "Reparative Therapies."
From the program:
Jeffrey Jensen, M.D. was born and raised in Brigham City, Utah. He has an undergraduate degree in theatre arts with emphasis on directing. He went to medical school at the University of Utah School of Medicine, did a residency in psychiatry at The Sheppard Enoch Pratt Hospital in Baltimore, MD, and is a Diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Jeff is Medical Director of Dundalk Counseling, a private mental health group practice. He also has a general adult private practice. Jeff supervises psychiatric residents and occasionally gives lectures to local mental health professionals on Gay and Lesbian issues in psychotherapy.
An introduction to Massage and Relaxation Techniques, by Esther Bell, which concentrated on ways you can massage yourself.
Other morning workshops included: Relationship workshop by & for Women, Family Fellowship, Gay & Gray, Supporting Youth: What Can You Do?, Gay Political Activism, Facing Our Fears, Supporting Youth: What Can Affirmation Do? Nazis & Jews, Mormons & Gays: Simmering Hate Crime in the Croc Proc.
It was a beautiful day to enjoy lunch in the park.
Afternoon workshops included: Trees of Portland Walk, Milestones on My Journey to Myself (Tia Owen), RLDS Perspectives, Youth Coming Out, Video: Out of the Past, Faux Painting for the Home, Male Relationships, Internalized Homophobia, My Dad Is Gay, and Dealing with Differences.
This afternoon I played Julie Cruise Director, taking several friends to The Japanese Gardens and the rose gardens.
Saturday evening Imelda had her hands full introducing the conference attendees east of the Mississippi River, inviting the Conference 2000 attendees to visit the museums in Washington DC, introducing The Paul Mortensen Award for 1998, which went to David Johnson of Seattle.
The nominees for this award included, Alan Blodgett, Frank Susa, Scott Lambert MacKay, Ben Jarvis, and Henry Miller.
Clap your hands if... was another multi-media computer generated sequence of questions that kept us laughing prior to the Saliva Sisters performing. The Saliva Sisters reprised their concert with us from last year's conference, with another variation from the Hallelujah Chorus.
Rainbow Dance in the ballroom. Thank you for saving a dance for me, John Barraclough and Ron Shiley.
Sep. 6 - We enjoyed a continental breakfast.
We displayed our Affirmation Aids Quilt (first organized by Ricky Gilbert at the West Hollywood Conference in 1988) and were complimented by panels from the Names Project: National AIDS Quilt.
I spoke for a few minutes, remembering back ten years when I first joined Affirmation, and when some of the names on this quilt were once close friends of mine: I remember Ron Kershaw - who encouraged me to take leadership positions in Affirmation, I remember Doug Kolling - my best friend and who is responsible for Imelda emerging, I remember Lon McIntosh in the San Francisco Singles Ward, I remember Chuck Copeland and his great love for teaching his students, I remember Tom Peterson, James Sandmire, and so many others.
I keep them all alive within my heart as I continue to meet new friends...
From John Lennon:
There are places I remember, All my life, though some have changed, Some forever, not for better, Some have gone and some remain,
Each of these places had their moments With lovers and friends I still can recall. Some are dead and some are living, In my life, I've loved them all.
Chris Kimball gave a keynote address, speaking as an individual member of the Church. His talk was titled: Sexual Ethics Outside of Marriage. His focus was on keeping open dialog with the leadership of the church. He personally felt that same sex marriages are acceptable before God. These words, coming from a straight Mormon, who was recently a bishop, were very heartening.
We had a Gamofite Luncheon: sandwiches and cheesecake. Bob Olsen was honored for being the second recipient of the Michael Farr Award for 1998.
It was a bit of a walk over to Portland's MCC for a devotional service: Walking A Spiritual Path. (Mike and Pat Krause looked like a couple of cute missionaries with their white shirts and ties).We opened with Come, Come Ye Saints, with Sikoki Layton's fifth verse (Come, Come Ye Gays and Lesbians rejoice). Dorothy, Cela and Del gave great talks, with a couple of solo songs: Here I Am Lord, and a couple of choir songs including Here In This Room, which always reminds me of Doug Kolling.
The Portland Gay Men's Chorus performed Prayers For Bobby.
Eugene England gave a controversial keynote address stating that although he would support someone in a same sex union, it would still be preferable to remain celibate until the church receives a revelation to accept gay marriages. He made constant references to Blacks and the priesthood, and how we should also be as patient. What he did not account for was the spiritual abuse by church leaders. I refused to applaud his remarks.
Henry Miller did a fabulous job, particularly in a slide and video presentation of Affirmation going back to the mid-1980's. So many memories came rushing back to me.
There were about 100 of us who enjoyed a breakfast cruise down the Willamette River Monday morning - looking at all the multi-million dollar mansions along its shores. It was a beautiful clear day, and I was happy to be among the few to enjoy outdoor seating. Breakfast included: croissants, muffins, french toast, a fruit tray, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, and sausage.
Aaron Arnell was festively dressed in space age drag, complete with metallic silver lipstick. He gave quite a few pedicures over the weekend.
Joke by Olin Thomas: How is Imelda like a ski slope? Both have three layers of hard pack and four layers of powder...(Don't forget the nylon "runs.")
William Badgett kept us in stitches with his comic routine, Waiting for My Stripling Warrior, with songs in falsetto from Jekyll & Hyde, Phantom, Guys & Dolls, with a tribute to the woman who created "Barney: The Purple Dinosaur."
There was a sadness saying goodbye to my East Coast friends: Allison Bingham, CathyLee Crandall, John Adrian, Jeff Jensen & Warren Conner, Larry Mann, Scott Braithwaite, Ron Mahaffy, Todd Christiansen - knowing that I won't be seeing them until next year, instead of later this month.
Daniel and I drove down to the town of Boring (which is close to Mt. Hood) where Marty Beaudet and Chuck Kissleburg moved to a few months ago (from San Francisco). James Morris and Aaron Vinck were already there...But soon the house was full of people: Alan Blodgett, Bob Christensen, Guy Berryessa & Trey Lathe, Aaron Arnell, Lynn and his sister, Duane Jennings, Jason Firth, Del Thornton, Dan Marcum, Rob Foster, Scott MacKay,...
Marty Beaudet and Chuck Kissleburg had a big open house party at their new home in Boring, Oregon, near the base of Mt. Hood. They had a delicious spread of salsa & chips, mixed nuts, jalapeno poppers, cheese and crackers, vegetable tray, vegetarian and meat hamburger and sausage, and an assortment of spirited and virgin beverages.
And that's that for James' account.
Duanes' Conference Account
By Duane E. Jennings
The conference was held at the lovely DoubleTree Hotel. The Leadership Meeting was to start at noon, but was a bit late due to plane schedules and transportation. The afternoon went well, with getting most everything done and having a publicity/media workshop by Ron Rasmussen, non-Mormon who had helped Rick and Henry do the publicity for the conference. Ron did a wonderful presentation that gave people a lot of information that can come in handy in the future. The leadership part got over shortly after 4:00 and so I had 2 1/2 hours to relax.
The first half of Fridays entertainment was an ice breaker with a couple of activities to get people out talking and meeting conference attendees. Toward the end Scott Mackay and myself were called up to "be embarrassed," as it was put. We had to tell two truths and one lie. Then everyone in the audience would guess which one was the false statement. Since I'm slow at thinking on my feet, I went second. (Sorry Scott, don't remember what you said - I was thinking) I said that I had taken first place at wrestling a cow, I had hugged a cheetah, and that I had graduated from BYU. The MC said "we can rule out BYU"-I almost laughed-and did quietly inside. Everyone guessed one of the other two statements, so I won—yeahhhhhhh! No BYU boy here-I'm red & white/University of Utah, through and through-always was, even when I was an active, Temple recommend holding member.
The second half was a computerized Gay Mormon Trivia game that Henry Miller had programmed. This was projected on a large screen with a wonderful sound system. James Kent was possessed by his mischievous twin sister Imelda and Dorothy Collie from the Northern Nevada Chapter was in male drag. They were the two MC's. They pulled two names out of a container and then one of the people would chose a topic from four or five choices. Then with music and fun graphics a question would appear on the screen for all to see. Much like Jeopardy, the two contestants had a bell to ring, if they thought they knew the answer. If the answer was wrong, they lost and another person's name would be called and the process would start again. Dorothy and James had lots of fun jokes to make, and innuendos... There were 20 rounds.
Everything was over around 9:00 and people went off to dance, eat, or chat.
The next day started with breakfast at 8:30, followed by the opening address speaker, Frank Mensel of Family Fellowship and the director of the P-Flag Four Corners Region giving an address entitled, Higher Morality-Greater Love.
I participated in the first two Youth Workshops. I welcomed everyone in attendance, did a short history of the work that has been done in Salt Lake by Sara Jordan and myself, in trying to reach out and provide support to g/l/b/t Mormon youth. Then I introduced Allison Bingham who has helped get the Youth Support Network up and running. She did the first hour workshop. The second one Sara did. Sara had a group activity and then lead a discussion. We also had some information that we passed around, regarding the work we did with the group of religious leaders.
There were five workshops each hour for people to chose from. These were the first Workshops Session I
Second Workshops Session II
- Relationship Workshop by and for Women
- Family Fellowship
- Gay & Gray
- Supporting Youth: What Can You Do?
- Reparative Therapy Response
Lunch was held across the street in the park and was about 1 1/2 hours - I visited the Lloyd Center. The next two hours were:
- Introduction to Massage Techniques
- Gay Political Activism
- Facing Our Fears
- Supporting Youth: What Can Affirmation Do?
- Nazis & Jews, Mormons & Gays: Simmering Hate Crimes in the Croc Proc
Workshops Session III
Workshops Session IV
- Trees of Portland Walk
- Transgender Issues
- RLDS Perspectives
- Youth Coming Out
- Screening of Video: Out of the Past
I attended the video screening that was about Kelly Peterson here in Salt Lake. Her story and the East High events were framed around Gay & Lesbian American history. It was an excellent documentary that I know is starting a national screening. (Check your local theatre section for dates)
- Faux Painting for the Home
- Male Relationships
- Internalized Homophobia
- My Dad is Gay
- Dealing With Differences
My last workshop I attended was Dealing with Difference, that had two parents, Chelsee and Bertha Riddle, and their gay son Joe who lives in Washington D.C. The parents live in Happy Valley - oops, I mean Utah Valley. It was a little hard to sit through, since Chelsee is a love the sinner, hate the sin person. He considers homosexuality a cross to be borne in celibacy. He got lots of anger going, but people controlled it well. He also seemed to be trying to be open and expressed a number of times where he had changes or moderated his thinking. If he joins Family Fellowship in the near future, then maybe progress is being made - educate, educate, educate, as Millie Watts says...
We had a couple of hours to relax, shop, etc. during the late afternoon. I worked on getting ready to present the Paul Mortenen Award at the banquet and changing clothes for the evening. The banquet started at 7:00. The business, announcements and awards started around 7:45, and went until about 8:45. The youth support network initiative was approved.
The winner of the Mortensen Award was David Johnson of the Seattle Chapter.
The Saliva Sisters performed from 9:00 until 10:00. As everyone entered the stage area, blowup pink lips were handed to everyone. It was hilarious, as usual. They sang about 80% of their show from last year, with a few new jokes and more personal exchanges-it was a reunion. Following the show, there was a dance-the dining area had been cleared. They had two DJ's and they played mostly disco, which seemed to be very popular. This went until midnight. I left around 11:45, changed into shorts, and a group of us hit two dance clubs, running into may of the conference attendees. It was quite fun, though I didn't get in enough dancing. 3:00 a.m. makes a short night.
Breakfast started at 8:30 the next day. At 9:15 the Affirmation AIDS Quilt was on display and a memorial service followed. The keynote address started around 11:00 - if I remember right. This was by Chris Kimball, President Kimball's grandson. Chris is a lawyer by trade and participates in Sunstone. He spoke on sexual ethics outside of marriage, and presented legal reasons for why same-sex marriage should be allowed. He was interesting and brought forth several ideas in hopes that that information might be used to cause LDS members to question and church policy to change. (I'm not holding my breath-but change it eventually will.) I do believe all avenues should be supported for pushing society into a better understanding of the issues and for political, social and theological change.
Lunch was on our own. I participated in the Gamofite luncheon at the hotel. Bob Olsen, of Baltimore, Maryland received the second annual Michael Farr award honoring service to that organization.
The Sunday Devotional was at the MCC - a quick 3/4 mile walk from the hotel. Chela Whittaker of Salt Lake, Dorothy Collie of the Reno Area and Del from the Portland area spoke, each from a different perspective on personal spirituality and a different response to the church. Chela, her own religion, Dorothy active in the church, and Del now attends MCC. Dorothy has been in a lesbian relationship for 35 years - her partner attended the conference as well and it was a treat to get-to-know them better.
There were discussion groups - about 15 of them, that went from 4:00 to 5:30. However, I was interviewed during this time by a reporter from the New Republic who attended the conference and is writing a large story on being Gay & Mormon.
There was the closing dinner at 6:30 and then the Portland Gay Men's Chorus did "Prayers for Bobby" at 7:45. That was a tear jerker. One of the lead singers was Bob Olsen's daughter-in-law who lives in Portland. The choir is directed by Bob Mensel, Frank's son - another Mormon, and a couple of the men in the choir were also part of the conference - being from Mormon backgrounds.
Monday started out a bit later, with the boat cruise starting at 9:45 - the boarding, and it pushed off at 10:00. The breakfast was really nice and the two hour cruise was very relaxing. The weather was beautiful and sunny - like it was for the whole conference, so I wanted to be out on top of the boat. Then for those who where staying in Portland for the day, Marty Beaudet and Chip had a housewarming party for their house that they moved into 2 months ago - relocating from the San Francisco Bay area. We had fun out there - with probably 30 of us Affirmites showing up, and then about 10 of their neighbors and friends. One of their friends came up from the bay area for the housewarming. Congrats Marty and Chip.
Well, that's about it for the conference. It was lots of fun, spiritual, entertaining and educational. I also made several new friends. And most of all, it was fun to be with my extended family. Thank you all, and hopefully all of you can make it next year when it's held in Lake Tahoe, California over the Columbus Day Weekend in October in 1999.
Jays' Conference Account
By Jay Bell
When I entered a banquet hall at the Double Tree Hotel in Portland, OR, the site amazed me. About 175 Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered or Duel-gendered Mormons were attending the 20th annual Affirmation Conference. We came from all over the US and Canada to celebrate our LDS heritage despite our attitudes about the religious institution. Parents, non-LDS partners, and straight friends added to our rejoicing. The next two days were full of workshops, seeing old friends, making new ones, and having fun. Seeing two roommates from my BYU days was especially fun for me. (Gee, none of us realized we were gay when we roomed together.)
I loved the debut of the computer-generated "You Don't Know Dorothy Show," a kind-of Mormon Jeopardy game. Dorothy, in male drag, and James, in female drag, were the host and hostess. Topics were outlandish: "Torch Hymn Trilogy," "The Rocky Mountain Picture Show," "Sex and Sects," "Cruise the Right," and "We Thank Thee O God for a Partner" to name a few. Outrageous trivia questions included:
After much laughter we adjourned to Portland's gay night life. It happened to be my birthday, so I was ready to party. The Silverado, a gogoboy dance bar, quickly became a favorite hangout for many male conference-goers including me. The waiters are topless and in underwear or shorts. Most of us suffered sleep deprivation by Sunday night.
- "What is the record for the biggest biceps in the world?" (25.5") Oooh!!
- "What US organization banned umbrellas from being carried by its members on the grounds it would present an effeminate image?" (US Army in 1983.)
- "Who was the famous Utah female impersonator Madam Pattirini?" (Brigham Morris Young, Brigham Young's 35th child.)
- "What popular gay meeting spot would you find west of the BYU Library?" (The near-naked Native American statue.)
Following an early breakfast the next morning, Frank Mensell, director of P-Flag Four-Corners Region and a Family Fellowship member, gave the opening address. He called on LDS Church members to show greater acceptance of their gay and lesbian family members.
A plethora of workshops followed Frank (five each hour). I attended a critique of the so-called 'Reparative Therapies.' Feeling thankful I'd missed exposure to that treatment, I next attended "Nazis & Jews, Mormons & Gays" showing how easily it is to slip into a justification of hate crimes. Next I heard
Joseph Riddle and his parents discuss gay family issues. I witnessed this family's extremes when it came to views of homosexuality and the LDS Church. By the end of the conference, the father admitted to me he needed to rethink and learn to love. For the afternoon I learned about the trees of Portland, faux painting, and male relationships. After all that, I needed to relax and felt relieved that there were audio tapes available of most of the sessions. They ranged from massage and relaxation techniques, to Gay political activism. (The tapes are also available from www.Affirmation.org.)
Before dinner, some visited Portland's magnificent rose and Japanese gardens or went shopping. Others, including myself, sat in the hotel bar exchanging interesting stories — some becoming instant hotel staff favorites. One of the hotel bar staff liked us so much she requested duty for the rest of the weekend. She and her partner joined us in our activities. We enjoyed having them.
The evening's entertainment followed the traditional Affirmation awards banquet. It featured a festive performance by Salt Lake City's Saliva Sisters. I'll never hear the Hallelujah Chorus quite the same way again. After the "Sisters" the evening ended with a retro-disco Rainbow Dance.
Finishing breakfast Sunday morning, I entered the adjacent room and saw the Affirmation Aids Quilt complimented by panels from the Names Project: National AIDS Quilt. The skeptical and spirit overcame me with emotion. I and others reverently searched for familiar names and admired the creative handicraft of loving family, friends, and partners. We witnessed reverent open mike tributes and tears for those who have passed away, and were left with a tribute to those still living with HIV/AIDS. As I observed, some John Lennon's lyrics came to mind:
There are places I remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone and some remain,
Each of these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living,
In my life, I've loved them all.
After the open mike, Chris Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball's grandson, a former
LDS Bishop, and a lawyer from the east cost, gave the keynote address. Chris as an LDS Bishop argued with his Stake President for equal treatment of both homosexual and heterosexual men and women. He has helped gay friends through suicidal times caused by LDS Disciplinary Councils. Although not representing the LDS Church, he wanted to express his personal views. His central theme was when LDS Church leaders, parents and friends talk with members about sex there should be an exchange of understanding. Answers about sex questions should be more than a quick "NO" and "good bye." He believes there should be a tolerance for those who are unmarried but are sexually active, despite sexual orientation. This would mean permitting participation without a constant push toward a Disciplinary Council. He believes sexual orientation is a mix of mostly biology coupled with nurture, conscious opportunity and choice, perhaps different for every individual. "Sexual orientation seems to be fixed for most people before the age of eight" and (with very few exceptions) does not change.
He supports same-sex marriage and believes that it will be a "positive good." Further, generally a relationship even without marriage that includes a "fully realized intimate sexual relationship between two men or two women can be a good, positive, fulfilling, holy thing." Chris feels that lifetime celibacy is not a credible or reasonable choice for most people. "I hope for a day when same-sex unions will be celebrated in the Church," though it may not be in his lifetime. He also pointed out that, "There are some unreconcilable tensions" between the Church and the issue of homosexuality. Ending his remarks, Chris pleaded to both Church leaders and members to talk and "reason together."
Following lunch, we traveled the short distance to the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) for a Sunday afternoon devotional. A high spiritual point occurred singing the last final Affirmationized verse of "Come Come Ye Saints" — "We're God's gay children and we're loved too." Each speaker, two lesbians and a gay man, told about their individual spiritual journey. A unity of acceptance overshadowed the great variation of spiritual destinations. Chela, from Salt Lake, has found peace with her own articles of faith and personal spirituality. Dorothy is still active in the Mormon Church and living with her partner for 35 years, while Del who identifies himself as a Mormon is involved with MCC.
After the service I spent an hour with a reporter from the New Republic magazine. Others went to the hotel for a choice of about 15 small rap groups with workshop presenters. Local and national media coverage during the conference was marvelous causing some Portlandites to seek us out.
At the closing dinner, one server mentioned to me that she didn't know an organization like Affirmation existed. She told me she has a son on a mission who will not answer her letters because he didn't accept her. I encouraged her to keep writing him, and introduced her to some local chapter leaders.
Following dinner, the Portland Gay Men's Chorus performed "Prayers for Bobby." The composition is based on a true story of an overzealous religious mother who recognized that God accepts gays only after her gay son's suicide. It was a real tear-jerker. Frank Mensell was proud to see his son Bob conducting the
The concluding speaker was Eugene England, a recently retired BYU professor. He took us on his personal journey of acceptance of gays and lesbians. Because of the conference, he had further modified his thoughts. Eugene personally feels that gay Mormons need to follow the example of Martins Helvecio, a Black Brazilian LDS general authority emeritus. He joined the Church prior to the 1978 revelation ending LDS Black discrimination. As Helvecio did, Gay Mormons need to show faith and patience for Church's revelation and acceptance of homosexuality. He personally supports same-sex marriage, and feels that some day the Church will too. Eugene said celibacy was best, but if we choose a committed relationship he'd personally support that decision. Some applauded and some didn't. Afterward, England processed with everyone who came up expressing antithetical views. I and others pointed out that he did not account for the spiritual abuse by church leaders that many of us have experienced. He was visibly moved at a couple of examples people shared with him of rejection by their religion.
About half the conference stayed over for a Monday morning breakfast cruse
down the Willamette River. The day was glorious, entertainment fun, food excellent and good-bye's difficult. Nevertheless, things would never be the same, because many of us had made new friends. We can become better acquainted while enjoying, supporting each other while waiting for the 1999 Affirmation celebration at Lake Tahoe. See you there.