Held in a different city each year (with cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake being favorite spots), the Affirmation conference features three days of events and is usually attended by a few hundred people. According to David Nielson, this year’s conference director, roughly 200 full and partial registrations (those for only one conference day) were purchased this year.
As in years past, the 2009 conference contained dozens of programming items to suit a variety of tastes and interests. Oh Friday, Sept. 18 Christian folk/rock sensations Jason & deMarco opened the conference with a concert featuring songs from their album Till the End of Time, and Salt Lake singer and songwriter Kevin Jacobson served as the opening act. Sept. 19’s schedule consisted of several sessions focusing on such topics as gays in the Christian Gospel, the history of same-sex marriage, and a session by University of Utah Psychology Professor Lisa Diamond about recent research into the biology and psychology of gay and transgender individuals.
One highlight of the day was “My Dad is Gay, Now What?” a panel discussion about the experiences of children with gay Mormon fathers (known colloquially as “gamofites”). In the hour long panel Marisa Packer, Emily Fuchs, Alissa Larsen and Jacob Gorringe (son of activist Russ Gorringe) tackled such issues as the LDS Church’s teaching that gay sex is sinful, how they felt when their fathers came out to them and how family and friends reacted when they said they supported and loved their fathers.
“From the very beginning I was told my dad was dealing with SSA [same-sex attraction], that it was a terrible sin and that there was something wrong with him,” said Fuchs, who also recounted how, at 14 years old, she stopped her father from jumping off a bridge.
“He couldn’t live a lie anymore and we both knew he was trapped,” she said. “No woman or man, gay or straight should be trapped in a marriage like this. My mother was sexually denied, romantically deprived … and believed it was her fault somehow. Growing up, I never saw love. I never saw affection [between them].”
Gorringe recounted how LDS Church leaders told his father to pray, study scripture, serve a mission and marry to get rid of his same-sex attraction.
“Find a woman that you can learn how to fall in love with,” he said, quoting their advice. “That was very unfair to my mother. Until you can be yourself and no longer fight your creator and experience love with your partner, not until then can you follow Gospel principles or be godly. God would never want you to be something you’re not.”
Another highlight was the afternoon’s luncheon, featuring a keynote speaker by Salt Lake Tribune humor columnist Robert Kirby, a self-described “oxyMormon” whose often irreverent musings on church culture and political maneuvering has garnered criticism from both Mormons and non-Mormons in the last 15 years.
In his 45 minute speech, Kirby told his audience several anecdotes about his writing career and his earlier career as a police officer in Tooele, a county he described as the place “where God practiced making people before he got used to it.” These included the two-day suspension he got for writing “VOID” on the LDS Temple recommend of a speeder, a column about the “five types of Mormons” (including “Nazi Mormons”) that provoked the publisher of a small newspaper’s ire, and the 500 letters he received when he wrote a column stating that God’s pet was a dog, and Satan kept a cat.
While Kirby has spoken in support of same-sex marriage in his columns, his speech did not touch on gay and transgender Mormons specifically. Rather, he urged his audience to use humor to bridge the gap between themselves and those who disagree with them on ideological issues.
“Humor can reach people when other things can’t,” he said. “You can’t reach everyone that way, but you can reach a lot of them.”
Kirby’s speech was followed by a screening of Voicings, a short film (and a piece of a longer film) by Stephen Williams about a gay man in a marriage with a woman struggling to find his identity.
Williams said he based the film (named after a term for a jazz musician finding his or her own style and voice) on the story of a devout LDS friend who lead a “double life” after getting into a relationship with a man he met at Evergreen, an LDS-run group that attempts to change gay people’s sexual orientation.
“It broke his heart and a few years alter he suffered a heart attack and was dead in three days,” he said. The title of the full movie, he added, will be You Don’t Know What Love Is.
The day concluded with a fashion show by Men on a Mission calendar founder Chad Hardy and his bevy of sexy and sharp dressed male models, a question and answer period with Williams about his short film, and a meeting for individuals involved with LDSApology.org, an organization formed in California to oppose the church’s position on same-sex marriage. LDSApology.org will be holding a memorial service for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Latter-day Saints who committed suicide on Oct. 4 at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. On Nov. 4, they will deliver a petition against the church’s treatment of its gay and transgender members to the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City. They will walk to the building from the “This is the Place” monument pushing a handcart, to draw comparisons between gay and transgender church members and their pioneer forebears. The day closed with a banquet and the presentation of Affirmation’s Tenth Annual Writing Awards, Michael Farr Award, given to a member of Gamofites for his service to the organization, and the Paul Mortensen Award, given to an individual who has provided Affirmation with outstanding service and leadership. The banquet included a performance by Mary and Peter Danzig, two Mormons excommunicated in 2008 for their outspoken support for gay marriage, and a keynote speaker by author Carol Lynn Pearson, the author of Facing East, a critically acclaimed play about an LDS couple coming to terms with their gay son’s suicide.
Sunday was a slower day, consisting of an optional trip to Music and the Spoken Word at Temple Square and a devotional.