Affirmation 2008 Conference Report
Prepared by James Kent and Hugo Salinas
"A Pearl of Great Price"
Scott Mills and Mike Green kiss as they are pronounced legally married
In an event marked by two same-sex weddings, some 120 lesbian and gay Mormons, along with spouses, family, and friends, converged October 10-12 in San Pedro, a sea port and beach community within Los Angeles, for the annual conference of Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons.
Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Los Angeles chapter of Affirmation, the theme of the conference was "A Pearl of Great Price." (Pearl is the jewel that corresponds to 30th anniversaries.) "Although Affirmation started thirty-one years ago in Salt Lake City, it would have withered on the vine were it not for the members in Los Angeles who formed a chapter thirty years ago and laid the foundation for the current organization," wrote executive director Olin Thomas in the conference program. "I am very conscious of the rich history of Affirmation in Los Angeles as we approach the 30th anniversary of the writing of our charter by Paul Mortensen and a small group of gay Mormon pioneers."
On Friday afternoon, Affirmation held its annual Council of Chapter Representatives meeting, reporting on the state of Affirmation and inviting representatives from each area of the country to present reports. The main program conference started at 6:30 PM with appetizers and remarks by LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. A dynamic, lively, and humorous gay man, Bill welcomed us to Los Angeles with a written proclamation from City Hall which was presented as a gift to Affirmation's executive director Olin Thomas.
Entertainment was then provided by Sister Connie Lingquist (impersonated by Darrell Holman), who took us down memory lane and led us in singing old Primary songs, including "Good afternoon, Dear Little Friend," "When We're Helping," and "I Have Two Little Hands." Sister Lingquist brought object lessons that Primary and Sunday School sometimes use to teach their students about purity: She hammered a nail into a block of wood, asked a volunteer to squeeze a banana and compare it to a fresh banana, and illustrated the magic of repentance by adding Clorox to a red dye.
On Saturday, during breakfast, Brett Bradshaw and others made a presentation about Proposition 8, a ballot measurer which would ban marriage equality in California. We are sorry to report that this controversial measure, aiming at enshrining discrimination in the California constitution, passed three weeks after the conference. Under a directive from Church headquarters, Mormons donated $20 million, making it the most expensive campaign of this election cycle with the single exception of the national presidential campaign.
The Saturday morning workshops were instructional, entertaining, and often very moving. Family Fellowship co-founder Gary Watts shared his frustrations around the LDS involvement with Proposition 8 and read from correspondence he recently exchanged with two general authorities. John Giardina spoke about prosperity and said that our beliefs about money affect every other aspect of one's life: love, creativity, and friends. George Cole discussed how the rising generation of queer Mormons approaches the challenges of reconciling sexuality and spirituality. Russ Baker-Gorringe and Joe Baker-Gorringe talked about the journey that brought them to accept their sexual orientation, find each other, and decide to get married.
Renowned Mormon historian Michael Quinn made a presentation on gay and lesbian myth, legend, art, and artifacts of the ancient and modern world. Rod Kempton, a coach and success strategist, explored how individual core values can bring joy and fulfillment into our lives. Bill and Joyce Baxter, who were active church members for 44 years, spoke about the amazing new journey they began when their daughter Colleen came out as a lesbian. Bret Bradshaw spoke about the impact of Proposition 8 on the LBGT Mormon community.
At lunchtime, three different groups gathered for lunch, including women, young adults, and Gamofites (gay Mormon fathers). Many others went out for lunch in different restaurants or ate in the hotel. During the Gamofite lunch, attended by some 25 Mormon fathers, it was announced that the Michael Farr Award was given this year to Buckley Jeppson.
Weddings: "I Do! I Do!"
Robert Jacob, center, marrying Joe Baker and Russ Gorringe
The afternoon was marked by a historic event: Two well-known Affirmation couples, Joe Baker and Russ Gorringe, and Mike Green and Scott Mills, were legally married in the presence of many Affirmation friends. What was even more special, Paul Mortensen's husband Robert Jacob officiated for both ceremonies. Paul and Robert have been together for almost 31 years, and they were recently married themselves after the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.
"Marriage is a promise made in the hearts of two people who love each other," said Robert Jacob as he married Mike and Scott. "Today Scott and Mike are ready to take this commitment. Like Russ and Joe earlier, Scott and Mike are pioneers this day. May you all be supportive of this new adventure." The two ceremonies were marked by applause, cheering, hugs, and many tears.
Banquet Honors Affirmation Members, Supporters
For the evening banquet, the tables featured delicate orchids which had been picked very early that morning by conference organizer Ricky Gilbert. The chairs were adorned with beautiful shinning pearls. James Kent later explained that as the organizing committee was choosing the theme for the conference ("A Pearl of Great Price"), Imelda committed to send 144 yards of pearls that had once hung from her four-poster bed in San Francisco.
During the banquet, Affirmation paid tribute to Laura Compton, a young Mormon mom from Cupertino, California. Along with husband Todd, Laura courageously spoke out in favor of marriage equality at a time when the Church was threatening with disciplinary actions many Mormons who opposed Proposition 8.
"As Church leaders continue to spread fear and misinformation on the issue of same-sex marriage, Affirmation is grateful to be able to count on a network of people who have stepped forward in support of marriage equality," said Hugo Salinas. "We are honored to have with us tonight Laura Compton, who plays a prominent role in an organization called Mormons for Marriage. Laura doesn't have the resources that the LDS Church has, but she has something better: the truth is on her side."
Executive director Olin Thomas presented the Affirmation Writing Awards, which were reinstated for 2008 as a contest with a particular emphasis on letters to the editor and opinion editorials which affect public opinion on matters of concern to gay & lesbian Mormons. An Honorable Mention was awarded to Lavina Fielding Anderson for an editorial published in By Common Consent, the newsletter of the Mormon Alliance. Third Place and an award of $200 went to Paula Goodfellow for a public forum letter in the Salt Lake Tribune. Second Place and an award of $300 were presented to Robert Parker for a commentary in Arizona's East Valley Tribune. First prize and a $500 award were given to Carol Lynn Pearson for a Salt Lake Tribune letter to the editor titled "We Can Change History for Gay LDS." For more information about these awards, visit www.affirmation.org/news/2008_060.shtml.
Jason Giles (right) receives the Mortensen Award from last year's recipients James Morris (left) and Aaron Vinck (background)
The Mortensen Award, Affirmation's highest honor, was presented by last year's recipients James Morris and Aaron Vinck. James announced four nominees: Carlos Mitchell, from Los Angeles;
George Cole, from San Francisco; Dave Melson from Washington DC; and Jason Giles, from Portland. The award was given to Jason Giles, director of the Portland Chapter. Jason was praised for the resounding success of his local chapter and the wonderful Affirmation conference he helped plan in his city for 2006.
"This year I've been blown away by many experiences, and this is probably one of the big ones," said Jason as he accepted the award. "I love Affirmation, it's been a huge blessing in my life. I'm constantly excited to try to keep getting our name out there and help the people who don't know about us, because I know Affirmation really changes lives. I am thrilled to be here among you again, and I'm pretty much speechless. Thank you."
For more information about this award, visit www.affirmation.org/ conference_archives/ 2008_mortensen_award.shtml.
The keynote speaker was Bob McCue, a former LDS bishop who often writes on spirituality-related topics. A lawyer from Canada, McCue entitled his speech, "Chaos and Rebirth: Our Pearl of Great Price." Using stories from mythology and visual art from post-Mormon artists Trevor Southey, Lane Twitchell, and Ryan Kittleson, McCue spoke about how chaos and trauma are associated with rebirth. "To a certain extent, we should invite chaos and trauma into our lives," he said, "because of the way it renews us."
"We are all embedded in a vast system of things that change," McCue explained, "and we change ourselves. We are all subject to evolutionary forces. And when we feel more authentic, generally it's because something has changed to create more resonance in our relationship between ourselves and our intimate partners, our families, and our culture."
McCue's presentation focused particularly on a picture of Trevor Southey's recent work "Dark Light," which McCue said illustrates death and rebirth. "What most inspires me about this work is the cross." he said. "That still is a central symbol for me. The symbol of the cross is not about the death of a human being, but about rebirth. Death is part of life."
After the keynote speech, we enjoyed a show by the improvisational comedy group "The Gay Mafia," which used ideas taken from Mormonism, together with concepts and questions thrown in by the audience, to create an unforgettable, side-splitting show.
The Sunday devotional opened with "The Spirit of God," a piano duet played by new husbands Mike Green and Scott Mills. In a program prepared and conducted by Ben Jarvis, the main speaker was Joan Atkinson, who along with her husband Bill recently returned from a mission to New Zealand. Joan spoke about her gay son and lesbian daughter.
Joan shared the heartache when her son Dale called her to tell her he wanted to come home--he was dying of AIDS-related complications--at the age of 25. Joan's daughter is legally married to her partner, and they have adopted a daughter. Joan talked about the experience of becoming more opened about talking about her gay children with other Mormons, and how that had a positive influence in the lives of others.
The devotional featured traditional Mormon songs, including "I Am a Child of God," "If You Could Hie to Kolob," "They, the Builders of the Nation," "As I Have Loved You," "Because I Have Been Given Much," and "Come, Come Ye Saints."
James Kent conducted the memorial section of the devotional. The east wall of the devotional room was the memorial wall, honoring the memory of some of those whom we have lost. During the weekend, conference attendees were invited to use color markers and easel-sized sheets to write tributes and memories of Affirmation members and friends who have passed on. Names were spoken aloud and memories were shared.
Brunch and Queen Mary Tour
During the Sunday brunch, Hugo Salinas presented a framed picture to Olin Thomas, who after serving for five consecutive years as Affirmation's executive director has decided to take a well-deserved break. The picture showed the Affirmation members who attended the leadership meeting held in Denver in 2006. We honor Olin for his tireless work at the helm of Affirmation, his wisdom, his patience, and his perseverance in the face of difficulties.
Senior Assistant Director David Melson, from the Washington DC chapter, presented his candidacy for executive director during 2009. David's full statement of candidacy appears in the November/December issue of Affinity and is also posted on the Affirmation website.
One of the highlights of the brunch was to have David Nelson, Mark Packer, and Morgan Smith introduce the 2009 Affirmation conference by presenting a humorous re-dubbed version of the classic Mormon filmstrip Man's Search for Happiness. With the theme "The View from Here," the 2009 Affirmation conference will be held September 18-20 in Salt Lake City. Information about this event is posted at the conference site, www.affirmation2009.com.
Even though the conference ended with the brunch, a sizable group of Affirmation members carpooled to Long Beach for a private tour of the luxury liner, the Queen Mary. Our tour guide Dustin made our excursion a lot of fun, and we had chance to see rooms usually closed to public, including the luxurious first class dining room and the exclusive Verandah Grill restaurant and club.
"How great it was to wake up and have a view of the Pacific Ocean from our hotel room!" reflected Kraig Stephens after the conference. "What a well planned and executed conference San Pedro was! The conference, being in Southern CA, brought back memories of fun times with many associates. Chris and I have been rewarded to maintain association with our Affirmation Family. It has been a long time since we have been to the LA area; and suddenly, we are older. Thanks everyone for another chapter of memories!"
Many thanks to the committee that made this conference a reality: Ricky Gilbert, Carlos Mitchell, Ben Jarvis, Paul Mortensen, Robert Jacob, Chey Martineau, Ken Salzmann, Jimmy Dinh, Dan Nelson, Mark Nielsen, Scott Osmond, Ken Taylor, Rod D., and Mike Miner. God be with you til we meet September 18-21 in Salt Lake City.