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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & the Mormon Church – “23 – Affirmation”

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23 – Affirmation – Meeting in the Cave

1269:

“Affirmation/G.M.U. (Gay Mormons United), a new group for active, inactive and excommunicated members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was officially organized during the Salt Lake City Conference on Human Rights.  The organizers have worked slowly and carefully to assure that their group is able to survive the hostility that the L.D.S. church has traditionally shown toward gay people.

National director of the group S. Matthew Price told The Advocate, ‘Before organizing ourselves, we were a small, close-knit group on the campus of Brigham Young University.  But after hearing about all the suicides taking place, we decided it was time for us to come out.  Since our formation, membership has seemed to sky-rocket.’”  (“Gay Mormons Organize,” The Advocate, November 2, 1977, p. 30)

1748:

“Up until just recently, we had no way of getting ourselves together and support one another in a positive and acceptive [sic] atmosphere.  Mormon gays have been the most oppressed and guilt-laden group, as well as the most misunderstood, within the Church.…

To sum it up, AFFIRMATION/GMU is here:

  1. To provide a positive and supportive atmosphere where LDS gays and Lesbians can meet each other, discuss issues of importance;
  2. To help lessen the paranoia and guilt, fear and self-oppression that LDS homosexuals experience via programs, activities, projects, mutual edification socially, emotionally, as well as religiously;
  3. To educate and strengthen each other through conversation, dialogue, and correspondence among ourselves and between AFFIRMATION, other gay organizations, and the Church itself.” (Affirmation/G.M.U. Newsletter, December 11, 1977)

2650:

“Homosexuals who claim affiliation with the Mormon church were the first religious group covered in an article on religious gays in the Advocate, a national gay magazine.  The two paragraphs devoted to Mormons read:

‘We want to change the church rather than leave it,’ says Paul Mortensen, general secretary of Affirmation/Gay and Lesbian Mormons.  ‘We don’t want to throw out everything just because they’re wrong on this one point.’  The Mormon Church, one of the most viciously homophobic denominations, isn’t ready to accept gays, Mortensen concedes.  Gay people are often victims of the church’s powerful tool of excommunication, which, he says, ‘they use with a vengeance.’  And, speaking of his group’s impact on Mormonism, he sighs, ‘We haven’t made even a dent at the top level.’

Despite the bleak situation, Mortensen predicts gradual changes even in his conservative denomination.  He foresees an end to automatic excommunication of gays, and more integration of openly gay people into the church.”

(“LDS Homosexuals Featured in National Gay Magazine,” The Sunstone Review 2(11):8, November 1982)

1818:

“Also that spring, Gay community members Kenneth A. Kline, Rev. Robert Waldrop, Paul Larson, and Dorothy Makin (all former Mormons) helped organize a convention for the “Salt Lake Coalition for Human Rights” to discuss the plight of Gay rights in America.…

The board met on the following day, Wednesday, June 8, and canceled the reservations for the convention’s facilities, just three days before the large convention was to begin. Victor L. Brown, Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church and president of the Hotel Utah Company claimed that “Hotel officials…were unaware of the nature of the convention when it was first booked”.…

During the June 1977 convention members of the “gay Christian community” in Salt Lake City asked Gov. Scott M. Matheson (a “liberal” Mormon Democrat) to appoint a commission to “study the problem of gay rights in Utah”. However Michael Youngren, the governor’s press secretary said it was “doubtful Matheson would form such a commission” and added that the governor had declined even to meet the group of petitioners.

Most importantly of everything that happened at the convention, Gay and Lesbian Mormons formally organized a support group called “Affirmation: Gay Mormons United, on Saturday, June 11. As Rev. Waldrop recently recalled to me, the Mormons at the convention “had a separate meeting, like a caucus meeting, at the hotel” to found Affirmation.…” (Connell O’Donovan, “’The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature’:  A Revised History of Homosexuality & Mormonism, 1840-1980,” 2004)

1818:

“In early 1977, a group of Gays started meeting quietly on the BYU campus. However, “after hearing about all the suicides taking place” among Gay Mormons (especially the suicides of Gay BYU professor Carlyle Marsden, and of two men who had gone through electric shock “therapy” at BYU the year prior with Ford McBride and Dr. Eugene Thorne), the group decided to take more formal action. One of this group, 22-year old Gay convert from Davis, California, Stephen James Matthew Price (going by first by Matthew Price and then a later alias of Stephan J. Zakharias), “became very enthused at the idea of a national organization of gay LDS people and began to promote it with gusto.” As Zakharias told The Advocate in the November 1977 issue, “We have said ‘We’ve had enough.’ Gay people are not second-class citizens. We are children of God. We are important people and we have just as much worth as our heterosexual brothers and sisters in the church.”

A new national organization was then formed at the Human Rights Conference held in Salt Lake City on June 11, 1977. Zakharias was made National Director of what was then called Affirmation: Gay Mormons United. (The name would later change to Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons.) Zakharias decided to move Affirmation’s national headquarters to Denver that fall “to avoid church oppression.” As he explained to The Advocate, “There is a lot of paranoia in our group right now….Each one of us is still in love with the church and we still adhere very strongly to its teachings. But at the same time we cannot deny what we are….[I]t’s time we started meeting our own needs, because the church hasn’t provided a positive atmosphere in which to do this.” Members were so paranoid about being discovered that the mailing list was kept in a safe deposit box in Denver, and members were encouraged by Price/Zakharias to go by their middle names plus their mother’s or grandmother’s maiden names, and in fact his own grandmother’s maiden name was Zachares.” (Connell O’Donovan, “’The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature’:  A Revised History of Homosexuality & Mormonism, 1840-1980,” 2004)

3408:

“We extend to you an olive branch, a symbol of peace. We appreciate that the next several days and weeks will be extraordinarily busy for you, but when you are able, we would like to open a dialog with you to work together to find better ways to counsel and to support those Church members who are homosexual, as well as their family members and their Priesthood leaders.… Although there are many areas of hurt and disagreement that have separated us, there are many more areas on which we can find agreement and, in so doing, become a blessing in the lives of many of the Saints, both straight and gay.”  (Affirmation Executive Committee to Thomas S. Monson, February 6, 2008)

2530:

“Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons has sent a letter to newly-appointed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Thomas S. Monson seeking a face-to-face conversation about gay and lesbian issues and the church.

Signed by Affirmation directors Olin Thomas, David Melson and James Morris, the Feb. 6 letter extends the group’s sympathy on the death of Gordon B. Hinckley.…” (“Affirmation Seeks Meeting With LDS Leaders,” Q Salt Lake, February 10, 2008)

869:

“A group of gay Mormons is seeking an unprecedented meeting with the new church president and his counselors.…” (“Gay Mormons try to meet new leader,” Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2008)

2756:

“After decades of silence, Mormon church officials have agreed to meet with a gay Mormon support group that has sought to forge understanding between the faith’s leaders and its gay members.

In a letter received last week, leaders of Affirmation were invited to meet with Fred M. Riley, commissioner of Family Services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Harold C. Brown, the agency’s past commissioner.

‘We’re pleased the church is opening up the possibility for dialogue,” said Dave Melson, Affirmation’s assistant executive director. ‘Affirmation has tried 5 or 6 times over the past 31 years to meet with church leaders. This is their second response.’

Affirmation has repeatedly invited church leaders to meet or attend the group’s annual conference, but the only response was a letter last year declining the conference invitation, Melson said.…

Riley’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, says he and Brown were asked by Monson to meet with Affirmation on his behalf.…

Affirmation has repeatedly invited church leaders to meet or attend the group’s annual conference, but the only response was a letter last year declining the conference invitation, Melson said.…

Riley’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, says he and Brown were asked by Monson to meet with Affirmation on his behalf.…

The meeting is scheduled for August…

Among the specifics Affirmation wants to address: the historical treatment of gays by the church, including recommendations for aversion therapies to ‘cure’ homosexuality; recommendations for more effective counseling methods; ways to avoid family break-ups; and a change in the honor code at church-owned Brigham Young University that can result in expulsion for sexually active gay students. The same standard applies to straight students.

‘None of this requires a change in doctrine,’ said Melson.…

Founded in secret by gay students at BYU in 1977, Affirmation has traditionally been ignored by church leaders, Melson said.…” (Jennifer Dobner, “LDS Officials to Meet with Gay Group,” Associated Press, April 7, 2008)

1403:

“Affirmation leaders are scheduled to meet with the head of LDS Family Services, a church social services agency, in August to begin a conversation to bridge the divide between Mormonism and gay members hurt by church teaching that homosexuality is a sin.

It will be the first meeting between any arm of the church and Affirmation, which was formed in secret in the 1970s by students at the church-owned Brigham Young University.…” (Jennifer Dobner, Associated Press, “LDS Church enters fray on gay marriage,” Provo Herald, June 23, 2008)

2524:

“Less than 20 days before a scheduled historic meeting between representatives of the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and leaders of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, the LDS Church has backed out.

In a letter addressed to David Melson, Assistant Executive Director of Affirmation, Fred M Riley, one of two people designated by LDS Church President Thomas Monson to represent the Church, stated that, ‘After much consideration, we have determined that it would be best to postpone our anticipated meeting on August 11.’

Riley cited his recent acceptance of ‘a new assignment with the LDS Church’ as the reason for the postponement. A staff person at LDS Family Services told Affirmation that the meeting would be rescheduled after a new family services Commissioner is named in 3 to 6 months.” (“LDS Church Backs Out of ‘Historic’ Meeting with Gays,” Q Salt Lake, July 25, 2008)

3458:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement today in response to a press conference organized by Affirmation:

… ‘When the Church was originally approached by Affirmation, Church officials offered a much earlier meeting date.  The meeting was put on hold until August at Affirmation’s request. The Church asked for the same courtesy as it hires a new director of Family Services, a position crucial to this conversation.

The issues surrounding same gender attraction deserve careful attention not public posturing. It appears from Affirmation’s actions today that it has opted for a public rather than a private exchange.’” (“LDS Church responds to gay Mormons group,” MormonTimes.com, produced by Deseret News, August 12, 2008)

3853:

“Representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met Monday morning with leaders of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a national bus tour aimed at ‘promoting acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and allied people.’…

‘We are disappointed that leaders of the church didn’t sit at the table with us, but the people we met with were great,’ Conner said of the meeting, which was hosted by members of LDS Church’s Public Affairs Department.…” (Joseph Walker, “LDS officials meet with Soulforce group,” Deseret News, April 23, 2012)

3853:

“Equality Ride had sought a meeting with Mormon higher-ups, including apostles or members of the church’s governing First Presidency. Instead, the advocates huddled with LDS legislative lobbyist Bill Evans, public-affairs representative John Taylor, former TV reporter Ruth Todd and LDS attorney Alexander Dushku, who helped write briefs defending the church’s position on California’s Proposition 8.

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed the meeting, noting that ‘the church meets with many people representing a variety of organizations and issues.’

Jason Conner, Equality Ride’s co-director, described the meeting as ‘overall positive,’ noting that Evans in particular was ‘very gracious and hospitable.’…

Conner said Mormon officials also agreed to work on using ‘more inclusive language’ and to reiterate to members that no gay person should ‘question their worth or value or be kicked out of their home because of their orientation or gender expression identity.’

The church, for example, should stop describing members who were ‘struggling with their sexuality,’ Conner said. ‘I’m not struggling. I am completely comfortable with my sexuality.’…” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Gay-rights advocates meet with LDS officials,” Salt Lake Tribune, April 23, 2012)

3899:

“Straight, gay and lesbian Mormons came together on Sunday, June 24 to participate in the NYC Pride March to show their support for LGBT rights and marriage equality.…

They marched as part of the New York City chapter of Affirmation…” (Traci G. Lee, “LGBT, straight Mormons come out for New York pride march,” leanforward.msnbc.msn.com, June 25, 2012)

3900:

“With some 200 contingents walking in San Francisco’s gay pride parade, one expects to see unusual things…

Mormons for Marriage Equality walked with Affirmation down the parade route.…

Robert Moore, vice-president of Affirmation, noted that the last time the group had marched, in 2010, there were less than a dozen, all men. This year’s contingent was estimated at a hundred. ‘This time with women and children was so inspiriting,’ Moore said.…” (Monya Baker, “Choosing the Right: Mormons in the San Francisco Pride Parade,” affirmation.org, June 25, 2012)

3903:

“In Seattle, the Mormons for Marriage Equality contingent counted 55 marchers at the beginning of the Pride parade. As the group made its way down the parade path, an additional 20 Mormons left the sidelines to join, repeating scenes witnessed in Washington, DC, when the parade route became a site for reunions between active Mormons and gay Mormons long estranged from the faith community.

In New York City, 50 gay Mormons and allies marched behind the banner of Affirmation, the nation’s oldest Mormon LGBT group. Some held signs quoting a verse from the Book of Mormon: ‘All are alike unto God.’ Nineteen LDS marchers held the Affirmation banner in Houston, as did an estimated 100 LDS LGBT and allied marchers in Santiago de Chile.

The largest contingent of the weekend gathered in San Francisco, where more than 100 LDS people gathered to march behind the Mormons for Marriage Equality banner, winning the parade’s award for ‘Absolutely Outrageous’ contingent.…

In Chicago, a contingent of 15 LDS marchers, organized just days before the event by former LDS bishop Kevin Kloosterman, marched as ‘Mormon Allies’ with signs reading ‘God is Love,’ ‘Love thy Neighbor,’ and ‘All are Alike Unto God.’…

At the Twin Cities Pride parade, 30 LDS people—5 gay Mormons and 25 straight LDS supporters—also marched as Mormon Allies, behind a banner reading, ‘Where love is, there God is also.’…” (Joanna Brooks, “Gay Pride Weekend Draws Mormon Allies and Equality Supporters,” Religion Dispatches, June 25, 2012)

3037:

“Two weeks ago I marched with almost 70 people in the DC Pride parade with an overwhelming majority of the marchers being straight Mormon allies. This past weekend LGBT Mormons and Mormon Allies marched in 8 Pride parades, including one in Santiago, Chile! Numbers in each ranged from almost 20 to over 100.  In each parade at least half or more of the marchers were straight allies.…” (Randall Thacker, “The Coming Out of Our Straight Mormon Allies Is Creating a Movement,” affirmation.org, June 26, 2012)

1332:

“‘LGBT Mormons need to have faith and be patient as their church evolves to a more accepting stance, pro football great Steve Young and his wife, Barbara, told a conference of gay Mormons Saturday.…

She told conference attendees, ‘One of the most beautiful things about this church is that it can evolve. It may not go as fast as everyone wants, but it is evolving.’ She urged them to be ‘patient like Jesus,’ adding, ‘If we consciously embrace Jesus’ teaching of empathy, compassionate, and love, the future world will be different.’” (Trudy Ring, “Message to LGBT Mormons: Church is Evolving,” Advocate, September 15, 2013)

INTERVIEWS

Randall Thacker, President of Affirmation.  I have been astounded, and pleased at the change that has taken place in the Affirmation organization since Thacker took over.  Before him, Affirmation leaders thought of the organization as an activist group in opposition to the church and its leaders.   Affirmation was in decline and consideration was given to disbanding the group.  With Thacker and his associates, the appeal has been to those who wish to hold on to their faith, and they work toward reconcilement with the church.   If you haven’t already make contact with Thacker, I suggest you do so.   He comes across as being intelligent, articulate and has been very successful thus far. 

(Alan Blodgett to GAP, December 2, 2014)

Greg: Prior to Randall [Thacker], had there ever been a meeting with Affirmation?  I know that in 2008 they tried, but it got spiked.

Tom: There was the meeting with Elder Mark E. Petersen that changed Affirmation from a bunch of gay guys trying to stay connected to the Church, to a bunch of people who hated the Church.

Greg: I don’t know about that one.  If you have any information about it, send it to me so I can track it down.

Tom: The person to talk to about all of that is Paul Mortensen.

(Tom Christofferson, October 10, 2015)

Gustav: I told Bill [Evans] that I was meeting with Church Public Affairs on Friday.  He said to me, “As long as you are meeting with them, why don’t you tell them that you are interested in having me on your board, and see what they say to you.”  They might be more likely to say yes to you than to me.

Prince: Let me float a suggestion for your meeting with them.  You could go in and say, “You guys sure screwed it up this time.  You’re blowing up the franchise.”  That’s what I would be inclined to say because that’s what they’ve done, except it wasn’t those guys who did it.  They were not even in the information loop on this thing.  

Gustav: No, they were blindsided as much as the rest of us, as far as I can tell.

Prince: The other way is to go in and say, “Look, ever since Randall Thacker came on board on president, Affirmation is on the same side of the table that you guys are, and we continue to be on that side.  How can we work together to try to get a better outcome on what has already been a P.R. disaster?”  That way, from the outset you are signaling them that you are trying to work with them to find a solution.  You don’t need to reaffirm to them how deep the doo-doo is that they jumped in.  They get that.

(John Gustav-Wrathall, December 2, 2015)

Jeppson: Randall [Thacker] is a good guy.  I had worked with Affirmation through several presidents.  I was the membership secretary for years.  I went through those years of horrific antagonism.  The activism and the yelling and the screeching were just unbearable.  When that conference came to Seattle and I was close enough and was able to go up there, that was the one where we basically drafted Randall and talked him into running and challenging the leadership that was happening.  That was a real shift in the attitudes of Affirmation.  A lot of the old-timers are not happy with the direction it is going.  They are impatient, and I certainly understand that.  Not challenging and not pushing a little bit is very hard for some of the old people who have been in it for a long time.

(Buckley Jeppson, October 5, 2015)

Ryan: I think the Church needs to do—and I told Public Affairs this—a media campaign inside the Church to help the bishops and stake presidents read and understand what’s on mormonsandgays.org.  So many of them haven’t even looked at it, and they won’t use it.

Prince: And not just read it.  There has to be explicit instruction.  Some of these bishops, even though they are well meaning, are not real smart.  There has to be an edict that says, “You will not discipline a gay couple if they respectfully come to worship.”  That’s what we need to do.

Ryan: I think Affirmation can help with that by not only providing aggressive education, but a really positive perception of who LGBT people are.  I think the Church didn’t really understand that.  They saw them as hedonists and secular and disrespectful.

(Caitlin Ryan, March 15, 2015)