Marty first became a member of Affirmation in 1988, while a member of the San Francisco Singles’ Ward of the LDS Church. After being invited by Bishop Stan Roberts of that ward to participate in a gay-men’s discussion group each Saturday at the bishop’s home, Marty eventually began to document that group’s activities in a newsletter called The Flamingo News. Over the next 18 months the monthly publication gained a readership of about 250 people, and grew from a two-page sheet to a 24-page ’zine. Even the Salt Lake Church subscribed.
But it became too much for one person to handle and was eventually discontinued when Marty was asked to become the editor of Affinity, the national newsletter of Affirmation. He held this post for two years before eventually serving two one-year terms as the executive director of Affirmation.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Marty has lived in Oregon with his partner, Chuck Kisselburg, since 1998. He is a writer, editor, and novelist with three published titles. His first novel, By A Thread, A tale of truth, trust, and betrayal, is the story of a missionary in Vienna who discovers his own sexual orientation when he is pressed into service for the CIA at the behest of his mission president. It is a political thriller popular with Mormons of all genders and orientations.
Aimee Heffernan graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a masters degree in Marriage & Family Therapy. She owns her private practice in Redmond, WA where she specializes in couples (gay and straight) counseling, grief and loss, and sexuality.
She recently participated on the clinician/therapist panel at the Compassionate Cause Symposium in Seattle this past August where she tells a moving story of how her best friend called and came out to her as a Lesbian while Aimee was on her mission in Japan. This experience moved Aimee onto the path of the ally which she compassionately continues on this day.
She has two little boys who could possibly be the two cutest humans alive and an avid thrift shopping husband. She has recently been teaching the marriage and family relations course in her ward. And, most importantly, she takes a nap any chance she can get.
Michelle Beaver is not Mormon, but was heavily influenced by a wonderful LDS family who helped raise her in high school. She has many Mormon friends, gay friends, and has a few gay-Mormon friends, all of whom have helped her understand the complexities of homosexuality and the LDS Church.
Michelle has been covering the relationship between Mormonism and homosexuality since 2002 when she won a national first-place award for in-depth reporting from the Scripps Howard News Foundation for her work on the topic. In 2011, she wrote a two-day series for 12 newspapers of the San Francisco Bay Area about what it’s like to be a gay Mormon in the Bay Area. She is author of the book “Romney’s Gay America: Mormon Leaders, Same-Sex Rights ⎯ Bridging the Gap,” which debuted at No. 1 on Amazon’s list of gay-and-lesbian nonfiction and stayed in the top five for three weeks.
In the workshop, "Healing the Relationship Between Mormons and Gay-Rights Supporters", Michelle will explore the tenuous relationship between Mormons and supporters of gay rights and offers solutions for how these groups (as well as gay Mormons) can learn to support each other. Michelle Beaver believes that the nation should be more accepting of Mormons and believes that Mormons should be more accepting of gays.
Michelle is an adjunct professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, freelances extensively, and is editor in chief of a medical magazine. She believes that the relationship between Mormons and supporters of gay rights can improve and will explore solutions in this workshop. She’ll also share a non-partisan look into what a Romney presidency would mean for gay rights, and for what the LDS Church should do to improve its relationship with gays.
Adam White is a student from Washinton D.C. studying Theatre Arts at Brigham Young University. He helped to organize the BYU 'It Gets Better' video that went viral in April earlier this year. Adam serves as Understanding Same-Gender Attraction's vice president, helping president Bridey Jensen with an ever growing community of allies and friends at BYU and in Utah County.
"When I was a little kid, I was that kid that made you smile because he was so darn gay!” Adam says in an “It Gets Better at BYU” video clip which has been viewed almost 15,000 times. “In nursery, I was obsessed with playing with My Little Pony. I would be shamelessly flirting with boys. I was obsessed with all these things that boys should not be obsessed with."
In elementary school, finding himself at the receiving end of harsh remarks and some bullying, Adam learned very quickly that his behavior was not typical of his gender and that he needed to conform.
“During middle school and high school, I tried very hard to distract myself from all the feelings I was having,” Adam says. “Instead of worrying about that, I tried to do band, drama, choir; bishop’s first assistant, mutual, seminary; I tried to do all these things so that I wouldn’t have to think about my sexuality.”
Adam says that when he started college, he began to feel profoundly depressed. It took him a while, but thinking about high school helped him figure out what he was experiencing.
“Looking back, I had several crushes on some really cute boys,” says Adam. He went to the mirror in his bathroom, looked himself right in the eye, and said, “Adam, I think you’re gay.”
“Everything clicked,” says Adam. “Everything made sense.”
The next step for Adam was to pray to Heavenly Father. “It was amazing the kind of peace I felt after I prayed,” Adam says. “There are very few times when I felt so distinctively that someone somewhere loved me for who I was, and it didn’t matter that I like boys instead of girls.”
The BYU group Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA) became Adam’s “home away from home.”
“They are my family,” Adam says. “Being gay to me is no longer a struggle because I have family here who will take care of me, who support me, who love me.
“There are people every day actively trying to make a space where people like you and me can exist and honor our sexuality and honor our faith. It’s an exciting time to be a gay Mormon.”
Bridey is the coordinator for Understanding Same-Gender Attraction (USGA) an unofficial BYU organization which since last year has provided a safe haven where BYU students, LGBT and straight, can find information, acceptance, and support. USGA functions like a gay-straight alliance and draws 40 to 80 people each week, including BYU and UVU students, family members, and friends.
Bridey, 23, is from Norman, Oklahoma. Since getting involved with USGA, Bridey and her group have been featured in CNN, The Daily Universe, KSL5, the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and many other media outlets, helping raise awareness about LGBT issues both inside and outside BYU.
Bridey is also featured in Kendall Wilcox’s “It Gets Better at BYU” video, as well as a longer video Kendall is preparing for his Far Between documentary project.
“I tried to convince myself that [my homosexuality] wasn’t actually real,” Bridey says in the Far Between project, “[but] everything I did to try to push it away made me realize more and more that it wasn’t going away.”
After attending BYU, trying to work out her depression through therapy, and being turned down when she applied to go on a mission, Bridey decided to return to BYU.
“I came [back] to BYU and found a group called USGA, and it was almost like night and day to finally find people that understood what I was going through and understood the pain and the feelings that came along with it—not just sexual feelings but feelings of unworthiness, of feeling disconnected and not fitting in.
“I found a place for me and I started opening up and I started finally to come out to people around me and my friends… I found people who accepted me.
“I no longer believe that I have to choose to accept my sexuality or the church. I’ve found peace because I just kept praying and I kept searching. I asked God if He loves me the way I am and I got a confirmation that He does and He knows what I’m going through. For the first time in years I finally found that peace.
“I know that God loves and also know very much that I am a lesbian and a Mormon. I hope it stays that way and I can continue to bring them closer together and make them work, because it’s my life and it’s what I love.”
Bridey’s full video is posted at http://farbetweenmovie.com/bridey
Affirmation member Tina Richerson, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, will be a devotional speaker at “Celebrate the Journey,” the annual Affirmation conference which will be held October 19-21 in Seattle.
Tina grew up off the grid (without electricity or running water) in a part-member LDS home in rural Washington state, where her mother taught her faithfulness, charity, and to follow Jesus Christ. At age 13, while praying, Tina received a spiritual confirmation that, just like her uncle Michael, she too was gay..
Tina is classically trained in saxophone performance. Two years after receiving a Masters degree in Music from the University of Washington, she joined The Tiptons Saxophone Quartet and Drums. The group is named after jazz musician Billy Tipton, who lived and worked as a man. Upon his death in 1988, paramedics discovered, to the shock of his 3 adopted sons, that Tipton was female. When Tina is not touring with the Tiptons, she can be found playing with her own jazz quartet in New York City.
In addition to her LDS upbringing, Tina’s life has been enriched by experiences in other religious traditions. In college she accompanied a girlfriend to a Pentecostal church, where she was received with open arms and felt God’s unconditional grace. Later she found a new spiritual path as she explored Zen Buddhism and began practicing daily sessions of meditation.
Eventually, Tina read the writings of a Buddhist monk who affirms that one cannot simply convert to Buddhism and leave one’s religious roots behind—that there must be a union of Buddhist practice and what one was raised to believe. “When I read this, I knew it to be true.” Tina says, “I knew that eventually I would have to return to the [LDS] church.”
Tina is now active in her local LDS ward, where she’s out as a lesbian woman, and with the New York chapter of Affirmation, which she co-chairs. Last March she spoke at the Relief Society of her Park Slope Brooklyn Ward as part of their “Women in Faith” lecture series, where she shared the story of her life.
“I have learned that God’s will is not what I thought,” Tina told her Relief Society sisters. “I didn’t need to spend years trying to make myself straight. I just needed to ask for the guidance and courage to become who He created me to be, and He has given it to me, and continues to give it to me.”
Tina concluded her lecture by quoting 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.”
To hear Tina play the saxophone, visit her official website or the band’s website at www.tiptonssaxquartet.com.
Robert A. Rees
Robert A. Rees, a former bishop of the L.A. singles ward who is widely known for his calls for compassion and understanding for LGBT people in the church, will be one of the devotional speakers during the Seattle conference.
Bob grew up in an LDS family in Arizona and Long Beach, and later attended BYU and the University of Wisconsin. In 1966 he took his first teaching position at UCLA, working for that institution for 25 years. He currently teaches Mormon Studies at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
Bob’s views on the issue of homosexuality evolved rapidly in 1986, when he was called as bishop of the Los Angeles Singles Ward. “I could no longer reconcile what I had been taught about homosexuality by my church and culture with my experience with those to whom I had been called to be a spiritual guide and pastor,” Bob later confessed. “What I discovered was that most if not all of these gay and lesbian Mormons had accepted the idea that they were terribly flawed in the eyes of their family, their church, their culture and God, and that unless they could find some way out of the labyrinth in which they found themselves, they had little hope of happiness in this world or the next.”
Near the end of his term as bishop, Bob gave a major address in sacrament meeting titled “No More Strangers and Foreigners: A Mormon Christian Response to Homosexuality.” Later published in booklet format, this was the first in a number of important publications in which Bob challenged the LDS community to treat LGBT people with love and respect, to seek for greater understanding and compassion, and to “turn our hearts with greater love and acceptance toward all those whom we consider strangers.”
Recently Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project invited Bob to co-author “Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children” — hailed by many as the best resource for LDS parents and leaders who are dealing with LGBT children in their families and congregations.
In addition to his writings on LGBT people and the Church, Bob is well known in the LDS community for his explorations of other LDS-related issues, from the Book of Mormon to Mormons in politics. The former editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Bob continues to make significant contributions to Mormon scholarship through Dialogue, Sunstone magazine, Brigham Young University Press, Signature Books, and other venues.
For the past twenty years Bob has been active in humanitarian and interfaith work. Currently he serves on the Advisory Board of S.A.F.E. (Save African Families Enterprise), a non-profit organization providing antiviral drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women in Zimbabwe. He is a founding member of the Liahona Children’s Foundation, an organization that provides nutrition and education to children in the developing world. He is also a director of the New Spectrum Foundation.
“The Mormon pioneers who set out on the treacherous journey to their promised land did so because they were misunderstood, persecuted, and at times even murdered for their beliefs, including their very unorthodox beliefs about marriage,” Bob wrote in the foreword to Carol Lynn Pearson’s No More Goodbyes. “I dream of such a place for our homosexual brothers and sisters. But rather than traveling to it over plains and mountains, rather than carving it out of a desert wilderness, I believe we have to make it where we are, here and now, in our homes, in our communities, and in our congregations.”
We are delighted to announce that John Dehlin will be one of the conference keynote speakers. A Ph.D. student in clinical psychology, John is the creator of Mormon Stories — a podcast project which eventually resulted in the creation of some 80 support communities, as well as conferences which are being held across the country.
A champion of diversity and authenticity, John has helped thousands of Mormons who were ready to leave the church to embrace their Mormon identity and live more authentic lives. John is also the co-author of a groundbreaking survey of over 1600 LGBT Mormons.
“When I started Mormon Stories,” John wrote in 2009, “I felt this sincere, deep-seeded, almost overwhelming concern for those I considered to be marginalized within Mormonism. I spent a few years, at an almost frenetic pace, trying to create web sites and podcasts to reach out to those struggling: gays, feminists, intellectuals, doubters, the mentally ill, even the disaffected.
“After a few years of reaching out to anyone and everyone I could, it began to feel like I was holding an umbrella during a tsunami. So much pain out there, it seemed. So little support. I was also struggling through my own crisis of faith at the time — and this clearly distorted my perception.
“My heart has not stopped feeling for the struggling within Mormonism. I continually puzzle at how hard it is for some folks to constructively work through their pain (myself included). I don’t minimize the complexity of the issues. I just wish that healing was somehow easier within this particular body of Christ…which I happen to love immensely.”
We are delighted to announce that Emmy-winning filmmaker Kendall Wilcox will be one of the keynote speakers at the annual Affirmation conference to be held October 19-21 in Seattle.
After spending 17 years at BYU as a producer for BYUTV and an adjunct instructor in the Department of Theatre and Media Arts, Kendall came out as a gay man and created an impressive collection of videos in which LGBT Mormons, as well as supportive family and friends, talk about their experiences which can be found at FarBetweenMovie.com.
Kendall’s “It Gets Better at Brigham Young University” video, made at the request of BYU’s Understanding Same-Gender Attraction (USGA) group, has been watched almost 450,000 times since it was posted on YouTube last April.
“Tears are dripping on my keyboard,” wrote Mormon commentator Joanna Brooks after watching the video.
“I proudly posted [your video] on my own page and will do all that I can to ensure my coworkers see it,” wrote one of the counselors at The Trevor Project. “Thank you for doing this daring work, for raw honest truth, for promoting the [Trevor] Lifeline, and for all that you do.”
Stories about Kendall’s BYU video and the coming out of BYU students who embrace their gay identity have appeared at the CNN Belief Blog, NPR, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, Advocate.com, the Associated Press, and media outlets in the U.K., France, and Taiwan.
Kendall grew up in Chico, California, and served an LDS mission in Barcelona, Spain. After earning a degree at BYU and teaching at the MTC for five years, he joined the staff of BYUTV, where he produced documentaries, talk shows, and reality-based series.
One of Kendall’s current projects is the making of a film entitled “Far Between,” in which he documents his journey to find a place between a faith that demands a life of celibacy and a culture that urges him to reject his religion.
Kendall has put together a development team that is pursuing grants, foundations, private donors and investors to help fund the making of “Far Between.” He has also created a nonprofit organization, Empathy First Initiative, to help create a habit and culture of empathy and invite all to be a part of the larger empathy dialogue happening around the world.
"We are at a positive tipping point that so many members of the LDS community have been hoping for," Kendall says. "There are so many closeted, loving and kind [straight] Mormons who are dying for their culture to shift just enough that they can come out and say they love and support their homosexual brothers and sisters.”
Stories about Kendall’s work have appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune and other media outlets. Podcast interviews have been recorded by Mormon Stories and The Cultural Hall.