Stand Up: 2010 Conference Report
Dale Barton: "If you're waiting for a calling, you are now called! If you're waiting for an assignment, you are now assigned!”
Prepared by Hugo Salinas
With support from the Human Rights Campaign and surrounded by panoramic views of San Francisco and the Bay Area, some 130 lesbian and gay Mormons, along with spouses, partners, and supportive family and friends, gathered in San Francisco October 8-10 for a weekend of friendship, activism, team work, and spirituality.
The conference came at a tragic time for our community, as September had been marked by a string of LGBT youth suicides across the nation. Then in early October, President Boyd K. Packer delivered a general conference speech in which he stated that marriage equality would "legalize immorality" and called same-sex attraction impure and unnatural.
Within that context, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons sponsored on Friday evening a rally and march against suicide, which became the official response of the city of San Francisco to the recent epidemic of LGBT suicides. Organized by Affirmation's Director of Outreach and Advocacy Robert Moore, the rally included a remarkable line-up of speakers, from California State Senator Mark Leno to Soulforce Executive Director Cindi Love, from Trevor Project board member Bonnie Graves to gay-straight alliances leader Danielle Askini. A total of six people of Mormon background spoke at the rally, including David Melson, George Cole, and PFLAG leader Lani Graves.
From San Francisco, we followed via the internet the public responses to President Packer's rhetoric: a massive demonstration held in Temple Square on Thursday night, attended by as many as 4,500 LGBT supporters, and two smaller marches and demonstrations held in Ogden and in St. George. After the conference, David Melson flew to Salt Lake City. Along with HRC President Joe Solmonese, philanthropist Bruce Bastian, and local LGBT leaders, David spoke at a press conference and helped deliver a petition asking Pres. Packer to cease "putting young people in real peril." Signed by 150,000 people, the letter states that Packer's homophobic remarks could incite violence and acts of bullying—which are known to be factors which lead struggling LGBT youth to isolation, despair, and suicide.
The conference weekend started on Friday with a meeting of the Council of Chapter Representatives and a first-timers orientation. Dr. Caitlin Ryan, of the Family Acceptance Project, made a presentation in which she showed the direct correlation between high levels of family rejection and suicide attempts by LGBT young people: Highly rejected young people are eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression, and three times as likely to use illegal drugs and be at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
After Dr. Ryan's presentation, we took public transportation to San Francisco's Civic Center for the Affirmation rally. With the majestic San Francisco City Hall as background, the rally focused on actions that we can take--as citizens, as LGBT people, and as people of faith--to stand up to suicide. Over 350 people lit candles and marched from the Civic Center to the Harvey Milk Plaza, where they displayed pictures and read the names of recent LGBT suicides—a sobering reminder of homophobia's deadly consequences.
"We must all take action and make sure we don't lose another young life," Robert Moore pleaded as he closed the vigil. "I urge you to go out to your communities and take action to make sure that this never happens again."
While some of us chose to return to the hotel for a quite evening, a group of Affirmation members gathered for socializing at the Lookout Bar.
Saturday Morning: You Are Called!
Saturday started in the 33rd floor Moscone Room (the hospitality suite) with juice, bagels, engaging conversation, and a breathtaking view of the San Francisco Bay. It so happened that the conference coincided with San Francisco's "Fleet Week." During the weekend the legendary Blue Angels flew over the hotel several times in a spectacular, roaring formation.
Conference Chair Dale Burton introduced the theme for the conference and shared his personal story. "This conference is our opportunity to do something," Dale concluded. "Each of us has a unique ability to reach people—to say something, do something that might reach just one person and make their lives just a little bit better. We don't need a 'calling.' We don't need an 'assignment.' If you're waiting for that, you are called! If you're waiting for an assignment, you are now assigned! What we're about today is doing something—working together, finding our own voices, and doing something that will make a difference."
We dedicated most of Saturday to work on three action teams: Stand Up to Suicide. Stand Up to Equality, and Stand Up for Understanding. Scott Wilkinson and Billy Hutchinson made us laugh when they presented to the audience two rare findings: a sealed jar of Postum and alcohol-free Jello shots. What is an Affirmation conference, after all, without green Jello?
The discussion turned serious as Scott and Billy introduced their theme: Understanding the causes of suicide among LGBTQ youth and persons of faith, as well as discussing prevention and outreach. 8: The Mormon Proposition stars Spencer Jones and Tyler Barrick invited various LGBT organizations to lead a discussion on how we can tell our stories and get involved in promoting LGBT equality. Brett Bradshaw's action group focused on strategies to build bridges of understanding with our Mormon families and the LDS Church, and included as guest Carol Lynn Pearson and other members of the Oakland, stake who explained to us how they launched Proposition Healing.
In the afternoon, women and Gamofites (gay Mormon fathers) held their own gatherings. Gamofites later announced David Murdock as the recipient of the 2010 Michael Farr Award.
During the banquet, Hugo Salinas acknowledged the presence of Linda and Steve Stay and Marjorie and William Bradshaw. Linda and Steve Stay have participated in demonstrations, marches, presentations, and have supported their son Tyler and their son-in-law Spencer. They have also been featured in the documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition. Marjorie and Bill were acknowledged for their support of LGBT Mormons and for helping educate the Mormon community about the biological component of homosexuality.
The executive committee then announced the Affirmation Allies Award. With introductions by two of their children (Bonnie and Robert K.), Lanette and Robert Graves, staunch supporters of LGBT equality, were announced as the recipients this year's Affirmation Allies Award. Lani said that when her oldest son Robert came out to her as a gay young man, that put "the most glorious, wide-angle lens on life." "I no longer had myopia of seeing the world only one way," she added.
"I appreciate how I grew up," Lani said in reference to her conservative Mormon upbringing. "But what I see know is such a lovely vision of life in its wondrous diversity, and I'm humbled by it." For years, Robert and Lani's home in Virginia has been the venue for Thanksgiving parties of the Affirmation Washington DC Chapter. At such events, many LGBT Mormons have found the love and acceptance they cannot always experience in their own families.
James Kent then gave a moving tribute to Ina Mae Murri and Stella Lopez-Armijo, Affirmation pioneers and life partners who died together in a car accident last July. Over the conference weekend, Ina Mae and Stella's lives were celebrated with a giant display of pictures prepared by James Kent, and stories of their lives were preserved for posterity through an interview recorded by family members as part of the StoryCorps Project. James Kent recounted meeting Stella and Ina Mae 22 years ago as he attended his first Affirmation meeting in San Francisco. "There is no way to measure the kindness and support that these two ladies gave to scores of men and women trying to find their place in the world," James said. "Their courage, passion, honesty, integrity and intelligence in making this a better place and time to live as gay Americans and especially gay Mormons is legendary."
David Melson announced Affirmation's highest honor: the Mortensen Award. The 2010 nominees were Fred Bowers, Bruce Maughan, George Cole, David Baker, Carlos Mitchell, and partners Kraig Stephens and Chris Doss. The award went to Bruce Maughan of Palm Springs.
"Though he lived for many years far away from any organized chapter, Bruce attended every Affirmation conference since 1997—missing only the one held the week of 9/11," one of the nomination letters read. "In June 2003 he attended a leadership meeting in Washington D.C. and joined the Affirmation chapter there for the Pride celebrations—where he caught the eye of the national leadership. Since then, Bruce's contributions to Affirmation have been remarkable. From the quiet of his home office, he has spent endless hours keeping our books, depositing and writing checks, answering emails and phone calls, preparing reports for the Affirmation leadership, filing reports with the IRS, and helping run the organization. Moreover, Bruce has opened his home to Affirmation members in the Palm Springs area and to national leadership meetings. He and his partner are gracious hosts and have made gay Mormons in their community feel welcome. Above all, Bruce is gifted with wisdom and common sense—something all those who have sat with him in meetings have experienced. During our executive meetings, he doesn't say much; but when he speaks, his words are always wise. Although his specific assignment is finances, he cares deeply about the overall organization and travels to conferences and executive meetings no matter where they are held."
In his acceptance speech, Bruce said that his first contact with Affirmation occurred in the 1990s, when a friend signed him up as an Affirmation member. After living for many years in Michigan, Bruce said that it was a great experience to begin attending Affirmation conferences. Bruce thanked Olin Thomas for his friendship and former treasurer Alan Blodgett for helping him figure out the intricacies of Affirmation's finances. He also thanked his partner Bob, who "has been very patient and ever supportive."
The banquet keynote speakers where two heavyweights in the LGBT movement: Matt Foreman and Cindy Love. Matt is the director of Gay and Immigrant Rights programs at the Evelyn and Walter Hass, Jr. Fund—one of the largest national supporters of LGBT equality. Cindy Love is executive director of Soulforce, a national faith-based organization seeking freedom from religious and political oppression, and the author of Who Would Jesus Discriminate?
Matt said that "homophobia, wrapped up as 'deeply-held religious beliefs,' and the people who promote that notion" are to blame for the passing of California's Proposition 8 as well as many other anti-gay initiatives around the country. "The ability to persevere though challenges is an essential and unique part of the gay Mormon experience," Matt concluded. "So I know if there is any group in our movement who can do it, and do it well, it is you."
Cindi, who grew up in a Southern conservative evangelical household, said that of all the places she'd been, "this is the place I feel most familiar." Cindi said that despite our passionate rhetoric in the rally and over the weekend, nothing magical is going to stop struggling LGBT youth from continuing to commit suicide. "The only way it's going to happen is… everyone of us in this room one by one by one has to make it clear, wherever we are, that it's not OK with us that another human being live out their entire lifetimes believing they are not free to say who they are, and it is not OK with us for anyone else to die."
After the banquet, we were treated to a special viewing of 8: The Mormon Proposition. One of the biggest hits from this year's Sundance Film Festival, the film looks at the Mormon Church's involvement in helping pass California's Proposition 8 and the church's secretive, decades-long campaign against gay rights. After the screening, we had a brief Q&A Session. Amazingly, seven of the people featured in the movie, including newlyweds Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, were present at this special screening.
After the screening some people went to their rooms to relax after such a long and eventful day; others went to the hospitality suite to share stories and make friends, while a third group gathered at Club 8.
Sunday morning found us once again at the hospitality suite, enjoying juice and bagels.
The Handcart Society gathered Sunday morning for their annual meeting. "The Handcart Society honors those who have given special service and leadership to Affirmation on a national or international level and who continue to serve and be active, including ongoing attendance at the annual conferences," explained David Melson. "They meet outside of the normal spotlight, and their often unsung service and wisdom provide Affirmation with its strength and its endurance."
Three new members were inducted into the Affirmation Handcart Society during the San Francisco conference:
Larry Mann has served as President of Gamofites (Gay Mormon Fathers) for many years, and has been a significant part of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Affirmation, often hosting meetings in his home. Larry has severed on conference committees and is a recipient of the David Farr Award for service.
Dale Barton served as Director of the 2010 Affirmation in San Francisco. In challenging economic times and with no local chapter organization in place, Dale led an excellent conference with unique programming, and did so with fiscal responsibility.
Bruce Bowers has been a fixture in Affirmation for many years. An "Affirmation widow" who has supported Alan Blodgett's years of dedicated service to Affirmation, Bruce himself has been an example and a leader, and he is a great member of the Affirmation family. A non-Mormon, he has been a part of countless conferences, Executive Committee meetings, and chapter meetings.
Devotional: Circle of Inspiration
John Minagro was the genius behind a unique conference experience. The Circle of Inspiration was not just a devotional, but a carefully thought out program with a unifying image and a unifying theme. The circle, both literal and symbolic, that John drew was inspiring and beautiful. Every element in that circle (props, people, stories, songs, reflections, and prayers) pointed toward the core that makes us a community and makes us whole.
After the devotional, we had the closing session. Two changes to the bylaws were proposed, and both passed. The first of the two proposed amendments changed the title of the Executive Director and Assistant Directors to "President" and "Vice President" in order to be more consistent with other organizations. "The title 'Executive Director' in most non-profit organizations refers to a salaried staff person and, as a result, Affirmation's present titles are often confusing to others," David Melson wrote.
The second amendment allows the establishment of a board to oversee certain business matters and to assist with fund-raising and with administration. "It is felt that this would aid in compliance with both governmental and foundation requirements," David explained, "as well as enable Affirmation to expand its outreach."
Three Affirmation members presented themselves as candidates for president (the position that used to be called executive director) for 2011: George Cole, James Kent, and David Melson. With Jason Giles conducting the event, the three of them took a few minutes at the closing session to state their vision for Affirmation's future. Written statements are included in this issue of Affinity and can also be found on the Affirmation website.
"God Be with You Till We Meet Again," we sang as we closed the conference. Then George Cole stood up to announce "Visions and Blessings," the theme of the Affirmation conference, which next year will be held for the first time ever in Cleveland and Kirtland. Mark your calendars for September 16-18, 2011! The conference experience will be capped by a devotional in the historic Kirtland Temple, which today is owned by the Community of Christ. Updates about this remarkable conference will be soon posted at www.kirtland.affirmation.org.
We're grateful to the amazing team of people who put together this conference: Dale Barton, conference chair, strongly supported by James Morris and assisted by Aaron Vinck (registration), Eric Johnson (sound and lighting for rally and meetings, graphics, flyers, and banner), Robert Moore (rally and march), Rod Kempton (MC), Garth Gordon Hokanson and Mark Cochran (hospitality suite), John Minagro (devotional), Scott Wilkinson, Billy Hutchinson, Tyler Barrick, Spencer Jones, and Brett Bradshaw (Saturday action groups), and an army of volunteers. Thanks to Dale's supportive partner Erik Berglund. Last but not least: thanks to the Human Rights Campaign, which stood up next to us when we needed them the most.