Affirmation 2003 Conference Report
Prepared by James Kent and Hugo Salinas
The Place to Be Me: Thanks to Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Steve Benson for preparing this cartoon especially for the Salt Lake City conference
Arriving by plane, by car, and even by light rail, more than 150 Mormons charted new courses as we gathered at the University of Utah Guest House for our annual family reunion. Affirmation members came from 17 states across the US and from Canada, Mexico, France, and Australia. Despite warnings of rain the week before, we had a warm and sunny weekend. Affirmation conferences have been held yearly, without interruption, since 1979.
Throughout the conference, the Affirmation AIDS quilt was on display
in the Officer's Club. First displayed in 1988, the quilt helps us remember
some of the members of the Affirmation family who we have lost over the
When people started to congregate for a social & refreshments on Friday, they found the room decorated with rainbow-colored doilies. A contribution by the Mexican Chapter, the doilies are a traditional Mexican decoration for the Day of the Dead, which Mexicans remember not as a somber day, but as a joyous celebration of life. After the refreshments, a formal opening focused on 12 different aspects of our organization, reviewing our history, celebrating our legacy, and asking some tough questions about our future. The Mexican Chapter then proceeded to teach the audience a traditional love song: Cielito Lindo.
Actor and writer Steven Fales read to us from his new one-man show Cult! Steven captivated the audience for more than one hour as he described his "addiction" to cults of all shapes and forms. "I love Mormons," Steven confessed. "I consider them my people. I'm a cultural, ethno-Mormon. I haven't given up on them." The rest of the evening was spent at the home of Kevin and Steven, who generously invited us to have snacks, see their new home, and take a dip in their indoors pool.
Saturday Morning we screened Blessing, by Mormon filmmaker Stephen Williams. The 16-minute short offers an honest and insightful look into real family dynamics as a young gay man and his Mormon family are brought together when the father suffers a near-fatal heart attack. We were moved by the story. The film's director, along with producers Carlie and David Hardy, shared some insights on the making of this movie.
For the morning workshops we moved to the University Guest House, where
we discussed a number of important topics, from long-term relationships
and family-planning for same-sex couples to gay Mormon history, sexuality,
and spirituality. Special panels addressed issues faced by the gay Mormon
youth, lesbian Mormon women, transgender people, and gay Mormons over
the age of 50. We also had our first bilingual workshop ever, with Nefi,
from Mexico, recounting the birth and growth of an Affirmation chapter
in Mexico City.
The Gamofites gathered at the Heritage Center for their traditional lunch, and the Michael Farr Award was given this year to Ken Salzman of the Southern California Gamofites. Steven Fales, along with his ex-wife Emily, shared their story of surviving their divorce, reconciling their differences, and becoming friends again.
The afternoon included several hours of free time. While some toured the Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake or visited the graves of some famous Mormons in the Salt Lake Cemetery, others walked around historic Fort Douglas or stayed in the hotel and relaxed.
Banquet & Ball
During the evening banquet, the winners of Affirmation's Writing Awards Contest were announced. First place award went to Sara Jordan for her piece entitled "The Odyssey."
Connell O'Donovan, James Pate, Tom Clark, Terry O'Brien, and Braulio Ventura also received awards. The Paul Mortensen Award, established in 1987 to honor one member of Affirmation for outstanding achievement and service to Affirmation, was given this year to Ben Jarvis of the Los Angeles Chapter.
The entertainment section of the banquet was kicked off by Imelda, who delighted us with a couple of lip-synched songs, including Chicago's less-than-wholesome "When You're Good to Mama." Then Ernestine, named after a telephone operator from the popular late 1960's show Laugh-In, made her debut at our conference, making us laugh hard and long with her jokes.
The keynote speaker was Australian writer and comedian Sue-Ann Post, who after growing up as a Mormon in a small town in Australia came out as a lesbian. In a talk that entertained, delighted, and moved, Sue-Ann shared some of her life experiences. "You don't have to carry around a big backpack of pain your whole life and be a brave little soldier," concluded Sue-Ann. "You can heal. Damage can be repaired. After all, 'people are that they might have joy'" (2 Nephi 2:25).
In the fifties and the sixties, Mormons held annual Gold and Green Balls, but gay and lesbian Mormons, who are more inclusive than two colors, now hold Rainbow Balls. Held at the Student Union, the conference ball was preceded by the hilarious Saliva Sisters. "Bra Hide" and "Stairway to Nordstrom's" were among the many hits they sang.
While some conference attendees stayed in the hotel and slept in, others took light rail to attend Music and the Spoken Word at Temple Square. A devotional was then held. Sara Jordan conducted a tribute to those we have lost, and Scott MacKay told us how his involvement with Affirmation and Gamofites has strengthened him spiritually. The closing speakers were Kathryn and Robert Steffensen, who related to us the story of how their son Eric's coming out has strengthened them personally and spiritually. The Steffensens spoke of the need to educate members of the LDS Church, particularly its leaders, on the subject of homosexuality, and they encouraged us to be visible.
The conference closed with a lunch and with some important announcements. Olin Thomas, from Washington DC announced his candidacy for executive director for 2004 and presented a team that would include James Morris and Alyson Bolles as assistant directors.
Next year's Affirmation Conference, to be held in San Francisco on October 8-10, 2004, was announced. In 2005, the Affirmation Conference will be in Denver, Colorado, and in 2006, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The first Affirmation regional conference outside the U.S. was also announced; it will be held April 8-10, 2004, in Mexico City.
Thank you to all those who helped make this fabulous conference a reality: Conference chair Duane Jennings, conference committee members Karl Bennion, Angelika Bertrand, Rick Bickmore, John-Charles Duffy, Clay Essig, Russ Gorringe, Dixie Green, Mike Green, Gary Hoffmann, Hugo Salinas, and so many others. We shall meet again October 8-10 in San Francisco, California.