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Affirmation Utah County serves unique purpose

Utah County’s chapter of Affirmation, a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mormons and former Mormons, is gathering attention after its first meeting. Despite its infancy, the group’s first fireside, to be held March 13, 6:30 p.m., is being given by Justin Utley, a Utah Pride 2011 performer who has spoken out about the ineffectiveness of so-called reparative therapy.

The group is there to serve as an alternative to the difficult, and occasionally destructive, path that many gay Mormons face, said group organizer Bryan Horn. Although it is not an official chapter of the national Affirmation organization, the first informational gathering brought a dozen attendees and they are looking to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming weeks.

“We know that the Salt Lake Affirmation chapter already offers meetings and gatherings, but Utah County has different needs and we’re going to meet them,” Horn said.

The group is a confidential outlet for queers with a Mormon past, provided everyone is respectful of individual beliefs, he said.  There will be Mormons who are still very active and some who are not practicing, but through mutual respect, everyone can come together for social and spiritual outlets, Horn said.

“I started posting on Craigslist, under the ‘Men for Men’ section and advertised our meetings. The response was overwhelming. So many people want to join a group like this, they just don’t know where to find it,” Horn said. “There was even an email from a married bishop who said he just doesn’t know what to do or where to turn. We want to come together and have everyone help each other.”

Horn is relatively new to Affirmation, but assures guests that meetings are not held for Mormon-bashing, and everyone must be respectful.

“I know it can be so difficult when you’re first coming out as gay or starting to try and decide how you feel and what you’re going to do with your life,” Horn said. “I think a lot of guys engage in very unhealthy habits and activities, and we want to help stop that. We want to offer that alternative so many of us are looking for.”

Horn’s first experience with a group for gay Mormons while he was a student at the University of Utah left him unlikely to join another similar gathering. In place of an open dialogue, many of the participants were attending just to voice frustration over their religion and Horn said he wasn’t prepared for that kind of meeting. Avoiding similar gatherings until he began chatting on Facebook with a member of Affirmation, Horn said he saw a need for the group in Utah County.

“We’re going to try and really target the younger men and women. There are a lot of returned missionaries in Utah County and a lot of them are gay. People of all ages are welcome to attend, but we’ll be targeting the younger people specifically,” Horn said. “We are particularly excited about meeting with Justin Utley. His music is so powerful and what he has to share about his experiences in the ex-gay therapy is really moving.”

Meetings will be held twice a month with one gathering focusing on more social aspects and the other being a spiritual discussion. Politics and vitriol are left at the door and all participants can feel comfortable, Horn said.

“I really wanted to help people avoid the same loneliness and frustration that I had when I first started to explore,” Horn said.

Affirmation was organized in Salt Lake City on June 11, 1977 by Stephan Zakharias and a group of other ex-Mormon gay and lesbians. There are now chapters around the country and a national conference is held annually.

Meetings are held in Horn’s home and for more information about the Utah County group, go to utcoaffirmation.org or find Affirmation Utah County Chapter on Facebook. Group events and details will be posted on both the website and the Facebook page.

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