Affirmation 2004 Conference Report
Prepared by James Kent and Hugo Salinas
We Left Our Hearts in San Francisco!
San Francisco Conference a Resounding Success
As representatives of 15 states plus Mexico, and accompanied by supportive family and friends, we met in San Francisco October 8-10 for our annual family reunion. With the theme "Affirmation as Zion: Gathering Our Family by the Bay," the conference included outstanding artists and superb speakers, from Pulitzer-winning illustrator Steve Benson to renowned artist Trevor Southey, and from Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights Kate Kendell to Alice Hoglan, the mother of 9-11 gay hero Mark Bingham. Friendships were renewed, tears and laughter were shared, and spirits were uplifted.
Thursday through Saturday, Trevor Southey presented a new and retrospective exhibition of paintings, etchings, and sculptures at the Gay and Lesbian Center, thus sharing with us his amazing artistic talent. During the conference, the hospitality suite in room 745 served as gathering and socializing place; it included a movie room where people watched Latter Days, Voices in Exile: Stories of Lesbian Mormons, and one of the presidential debates.
For many, the conference started on Thursday rather than Friday, as a group of GLBT Mormons attended
a Thursday evening performance of Beach Blanket Babylon at Club Fugasi. On Friday morning a group took a Walking Castro Tour with local tour guide Trevor Hailey. Historic sites included Harvey Milk's camera store, the Castro's first gay bar, Josie's Cabaret, and the Castro Theatre.
The opening social was held at San Francisco's Gay and Lesbian Center, where James Kent displayed a retrospective of Affirmation conferences going all the way back to 1979. James Morris conducted a wonderful mixer in which the attendees formed a series of circles and did square dance moves called "grand right and left." He would say, "Stop," and then pose a question for each couple that paired up. It was a great way for us to meet a lot of people in a short period of time.
After the mixer, Heidi Wohlwend used puppets, projected images, music, and song to tell us true and fictional stories of six generations of Mormon women in her genealogical tree. Heidi's play touched on issues of oppression, liberation, and interconnectedness.
On Saturday morning we enjoyed a remarkable lineup of presenters. Mary Ann Benson shared her thoughts on finding your own spiritual path. She explored spirituality and how it can fit GLBTI LDS outside the Mormon Church, including other church alternatives and how we can develop our own self-spirituality.
Listen to Mary Ann Benson's presentation
Ken Salzman explored "The Art of Romance," working around questions such as: Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend that you might like to advance to the next step? Is sex getting too routine? Is that possible? Has the spark gone to barely lit? Is the phrase "taking me for granted" been coming up lately when nothing else has?
Guy Berryessa and Trey Lathe spoke about adoption through private agencies (which is how they adopted their own daughter). Panelists Juan Carlos Wallace and Brian Carr spoke about foster-adopt programs (having adopted twin sons that way). Panelists Brett Bradshaw and Jeff Jackanicz spoke about their experience adopting a daughter through surrogacy. There was also a discussion on donor insemination.
Ernie Horstmanshoff explored gay male attitudes and perceptions that often lead to ambivalent or debilitating feelings towards sexuality. This workshop included a short survey enabling participants to anonymously compare self-views on sexuality.
Marty Kokol presented a 10-stage theoretical model for those who seek to understand the steps involved in the process of coming out as a Latter-day Saint. He also spoke about the choices that await the "newborn" with regards to spiritual growth, religious commitment, and moral calling.
Connell "Rocky" O'Donovan talked about our own Queer Mormon history. He brought lots of documents and ephemera for "show and tell" to highlight various parts of his presentations.
Roxy Carmichael-Hart, president of TransGender San Francisco, led a panel of presenters that helped educate attendees on transgender issues. Affirmation is committed to be a safe and welcoming place for transgender Mormons, and this panel was a continuation of our work in raising awareness about transgender issues.
With Rod Kempton we learned massage techniques that can be used to soothe the muscles, calm the emotions, and blend the hearts. Rod taught basic techniques which, along with pressure point identification, are the foundation of most massage methods.
Trey Lathe and Guy Berryessa, the proud parents of little Emma, moderated a discussion on how to pass our faith stories on to our children. Panelists included Guy and Trey, Eric Ethington and Doug Okun, and Trevor Southey. Eric and Doug came into the spotlight last February when their picture appeared in Newsweek magazine and Deseret Book President Sheri Dew denounced them at an anti-gay rally.
Issues of family dynamics were probed in a session conducted by Mitzi Henderson, former national PFLAG president (1992-1996). Sibling rivalry, money matters, unvoiced dreams and expectation, fear of other's reactions, isolation, and forced personal reassessment may all be challenges that emerge when a family member comes out.
Listen to Mitzi Henderson's presentation
Larry Mann explored the possible purposes for God's queer children. Larry's presentation was humorous, challenging, and provided a chance both to learn and to make friends.
Trevor Southey talked about "the Unbidden Erotic In Art" and explored
the area where the unconscious parts of our human experience--the spiritual,
the intellectual, and the erotic--tend to blend.
With the basic premise that the coming out process for Mormon women is profoundly different than Mormon men's experience, Alyson Bolles conducted a session on Affirmation and the lesbian experience.
After the workshops, Gamofites (Gay Mormon Fathers) held their traditional
luncheon, which included remarks by Doug Farr, a son of the late Michael
Farr. Doug, who knew very little about his deceased father, attended
the conference to rediscover his dad through his dad's Gamofite friends.
The Michael Farr Award was established in 1997 to honor one member of
Gamofites for outstanding achievement and service. Doug Farr presented
this year's Michael Farr Award to Mike Green of Salt Lake City.
Listen to Doug Farr's remarks & Gamofites Award presentation
Anther group of Affirmation members had lunch with Steve Benson, Pulitzer
Prize -winning political cartoonist with the Arizona Republic and grandson
of former Mormon prophet, Ezra Taft Benson. Steve shared his journey
of discovery and liberation through charm, wit, and the magic of his
Evening Banquet & Entertainment
The talented Robin Taylor, a musician, singer, and MC, helped with the
Saturday evening entertainment. Michael and Sarah Lambert had spent
many hours preparing 12 fabulous hats that were featured in a drag show
we called "Beach Blanket Zion." Each hat represented an Affirmation
chapter. Later that evening, Robyn shared a very moving and touching
autobiography through music, including a song from Saturday's Warrior,
After the banquet, the winners of the Affirmation Writing Awards Contest were announced. The judges were impressed by the quality of the winning entries, which are already posted on the Affirmation website. The first award went to Laurie Wood for her essay, "Beyond Disappointment and Duplicity: Finding My Identity as a Post-Modern Mormon Lesbian."
A special service and achievement award went to Ron Schow and Mike Green for their remarkable contributions to our community. Ron and Mike have produced a series of three videos and two brochures to help educate the LDS community about homosexuality.
The Paul Mortensen Award, for outstanding achievement and service to
Affirmation, went this year to Mike Miner, from the Los Angeles chapter.
"[Mike] has been involved in the National Affirmation organization for
years," said presenter Ben Jarvis. "His service predates my days in
Affirmation-and probably predates most of yours. He has served in every
local capacity there is, and despite his personal health issues, he
has always been willing to volunteer his time to make sure that things
not only get done, but get done right."
Other nominees were Jay Bell,
James Morris, Aaron Vinck, and Hugo Salinas. James and Aaron were specially
recognized as stalwarts of the San Francisco chapter,
and a driving force behind the San Francisco conference. Our dear friend
Jay Bell was remembered and acknowledged for his tremendous contribution
in helping preserve gay Mormon history.
This evening's keynote speaker, Kate Kendell, is the Executive Director
of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Kate, who grew up as Mormon
in Utah, told us of her involvement with the historic events surrounding
the decision by San Francisco City Mayor Gavin Newsom to issue marriage
licenses to same-sex couples.
Said Kate, "If you are an adult with a
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer identity, and you grew up in the midst
of a repressive culture…, it means that you passed the most important
test that we are on this earth to pass: Will we choose to live our lives
with authenticity, and integrity, and without shame, and will we be
fully who we are. And you did that." Kate encouraged us to step forward
and tell our stories, to help put a face on discrimination, and to show
the negative effects of hate and anti-gay legislation.
Listen to Kate Kendell's remarks
The Sunday morning devotional will be remembered as one of the best
Affirmation ever held. Ember
Cook, who grew up in Idaho and Utah, was the first speaker. Ember
is the daughter of Dwight, who, when she was ten, came out as a gay
man. A few years later, her whole family got involved in a PBS documentary
House. Ember is currently in San Francisco and trying her hand
as an intern for COLAGE
(Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere).
Listen to Ember Cook's remarks
the daughter of Gerald and Carol Lynn Pearson and the ex-wife of Steven
Fales, also spoke. Emily's father Gerald
died of AIDS complications in 1984. Emily expressed how hard it was
for her when her parents decided to get divorced. "I felt that I had
to choice between my Heavenly Father and my Dad, and that choice made
me crazy," she said. Emily received an ovation when she said, "My mother
and I want to start an organization for the true
protection of marriage, for the passage of a constitutional amendment
banning marriage between gays and straights."
Listen to Emily Pearson's remarks
Alice Hoglan, who spent several
years as an active LDS, shared touching memories of her gay son Mark
Bingham. Mark was one of the passengers on 9-11 United Flight 93. Mark's
plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field shortly after Mark and other
passengers attempted to retake it from the terrorists.
Listen to Alice Hoglan's remarks
John Minagro, with piano accompaniment by Micah Bisson, sang "Love Changes
Everything," from the musical Aspects of Love and "All I Did
For Love," from the musical A Chorus Line. The congregation sang
the Affirmation version
of "Come, Come Ye Saints," and we closed the devotional by singing the
Mormon favorite "God Be with You till We Meet Again."
Listen to John Minagro's rendition of "Love Changes Everything"
During the Sunday brunch buffet, next year's conference was announced. It will be held September 30 to October 2 in Denver. Olin Thomas announced his candidacy to serve another year as Affirmation's executive director.
Thanks to the conference chairs, who spent so many days burning the candle at both ends: Chris Allen, Michael Lambert, Scott MacKay, James Morris, Aaron Vinck, and Pat Warnick. And thanks to an army of supporters and volunteers: Ivann Albanes, Dale Barton, Steve Benson, Guy Berryessa, Scott Braithwaite, Joyce Davis, Jason Firth, Don Harryman, Gary Hoffmann, Ian Hunter, James Kent, Sarah Lambert, Trey Lathe, Nephtali Stackhouse, and Doug Roth. God be with all of you till we meet again.