Affirmation turns 45
by Joel McDonald
On Friday and Saturday, June 10th and 11th, 1977, the Salt Lake Coalition of Human Rights hosted a Human Rights Convention in Salt Lake City. Kenneth Kline, a student at Brigham Young University, was one of the principal organizers of the convention. Originally scheduled to be held at the LDS Church-owned Hotel Utah (now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building), the convention had to be moved to the International Dune Hotel (later the Shilo Inn and now a Holiday Inn Express) after Hotel Utah realized that the event would feature prominent homosexual speakers. Speakers included Leonard Matlovich, a former Mormon and decorated Air Force sergeant best known for his tombstone in the Washington D.C. Congressional Cemetery that reads, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Victor L. Brown, the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, signed the cancelation notice.
It was during the Saturday of the convention that, during caucus breakout sessions, Stephan Zakharias (a.k.a. Matthew Price) and about nine other men and women organized Affirmation: Gay Mormons United. In the ten to fifteen years before the organization of Affirmation, many groups met secretly at one time or another in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and BYU to socialize, discuss, and provide mutual support. These groups were primarily gay men. Price was a convert to the church, and one of these young men meeting secretly at BYU. He knew two gay men lost to suicide following their participation in electric-shock therapy at the university. He became enthusiastic about the idea of a national organization for gay Latter-day Saints, and he began promoting the idea. Under his guidance, a constitution for the organization was written and Affirmation was organized during the Human Rights Convention in Salt Lake City on June 11, 1977.
Between 1977 and 1978, Affirmation groups in Salt Lake City, Dallas, and Denver were meeting sporadically. The organization was struggling to achieve a firm foundation. Then, after seeing an article about Affirmation in The Advocate, Paul Mortensen reached out to Matthew Price to organize Affirmation in Los Angeles. With only a handful of people, the Los Angeles chapter became the preeminent chapter within Affirmation, especially after Price had to step away from the organization due to illness. Efforts to organize chapters around the United States and internationally were led by Mortensen and the Los Angeles chapter. The Affirmation newsletter, Times and Seasons (later, Affinity), was generated and mailed out from Los Angeles.
1979 was a banner year for Affirmation. The organization decided to publicly proclaim itself by marching in the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade and the March on Washington for Gay Rights. Affirmation and gay Mormons received national mainstream news coverage. Five chapters of Affirmation organized by the end of the year and Affirmation held its first national meeting, a precursor to the Affirmation International Conference, where leaders from the various chapters came together to coordinate with and support one another.
By 1984, there were eleven Affirmation chapters organized throughout the United States. By 1990, there were fifteen chapters and areas. By 1995, there were twenty-five, and specific groups were organized to serve fathers and women. In 2000, there were twenty-three, and Affirmation began serving families and youth.
Today, Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families & Friends serves over 30,000 community members organized into three geographic areas, fifteen regions, and thirty-two chapters in addition to a number of faith-and-experience-based affinity groups.