Thursday, December 1, 2011

Circle in the Square

I must be living in a hole.

Apparently I missed a three-day conference for LGBTQ and same-sex attraction Mormons, on sexuality and religion in Salt Lake City, Utah, several weekends ago. 

Quick non-side-bar side-bar -- I have tried to focus my learning of spiritual things to what is available in the church.  I have felt that there is safety in sticking to the side I feel is right.  Obviously, I haven't scratched the surface of current knowledge available.  I also have experienced the spirit bearing witness to me on a few subjects, and I know of the veracity of learning through the spirit. 

In my reading, I was blown away the other day by a "civilian book" on a civilian subject.  I didn't agree with what was being represented, but it opened my mind to a new idea, which in turn affected (read strengthened, clarified, what have you,) what I thought I already knewIt sufficeth to say, for now, that when I hear of a gathering of people claiming to seek and share knowledge, I pay more attention now than I used to even a week before.

The event, which attracted more than 300 participants of varying faiths, was sponsored by Mormon Stories and the Open Stories Foundation, organizations with no official affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.  

I looked them up.  So far "them" is a "he" who states that he is a member of the LDS church in good standing, and yes, this is important to me. 

The conference sported the name “Circling the Wagons” which I think is appropriate for the issue and for the roots -  at least in name - of the organization sponsoring it.  Featured speakers were various clergy, therapists, artists and writers who tried to create a place to "gather to acknowledge, explore and honor shared experiences."  

The conference was created for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and same-sex attracted persons and their families who had a background in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Deseret News was clear to report that “Homosexuality isn't supported by the LDS Church, but the church reportedly strives to "understand and respect" those with same-sex attractions.” 

Featured was a speech from Kevin Kloosterman, an LDS bishop from Illinois.

"I began to see the emotional wounds and scars that many of you have today, and I began to ask, 'Where did you get these wounds?' And the answer, unfortunately, was in the house of my friends. And when I felt that answer, I grieved and wept as any parent would for their own child," he said.

Again, I know little about the Mormon Stories Organization.  On its website, Mormon Stories states that it is “an internet blog and podcast (i.e. radio/TV show) created in 2005 by John Dehlin. Inspired by Terry Gross - Fresh Air, and Charlie Rose, Mormon Stories seeks to "interview interesting people about Mormon-related current events, issues, media and culture.”

In the podcasts FAQ’s, there is a short essay by Dehlin who records his background with the LDS church.

From what I read, volunteers participated in recorded segments for the "It Gets Better Project," a popular video campaign aimed at young adults who are harassed because of their sexuality – a project I have long admired.

As far as “by their fruits ye shall know them” goes, (unfortunate, unavoidable pun that always makes me giggle) this organization seems to be, by definition, “good” -- promoting understanding, respect, and the gaining of knowledge.

If anyone has experience with the conference or the Mormon Stories organization, feel free to comment.


  1. I guess it depends on where you want to stand in relationship to the LDS church or your relationship with God as to whether someone might consider Mormon Stories to be a good organization. Most of the podcasts I've listened to have been on the edge of apostasy and many of those affiliated with it consider themselves "post-Mormon," whatever that means. Some might like to be in that position but as for me, I don't want to support that position.

  2. I've only listened to a few of the Mormon Stories podcasts--mostly the ones dealing with homosexuality, go figure--but I've really enjoyed them and would like to listen to more (it would help if they were edited down and condensed a bit). I've been impressed with the openness of the guests and the spirit they've generally had (again, I've not listened to many).

    As for the conference, I can say more about that because I was there. It was wonderful! What a shame you didn't even know about it! Keynote speakers were famous Church playwright/poet/author Carol Lynn Pearson; Bill Bradshaw, a recently retired BYU biology professor who has a gay son and who consequently through himself into a study of the biology of homosexuality and frequently presented on it during his final years at BYU; and the Reverend Jimmy Creech, who only started becoming aware of homosexual issues when a gay congregational member came to him for counsel in frustration with a recent newspaper article on gays and who eventually was defrocked for solemnizing a gay wedding. Other notables included Jim Dabakis (openly gay democratic chairman of Utah) and Kendall Wilcox, the recently out BYU Broadcasting employee who recently founded the Empathy First initiative.

    The general sessions and keynote speeches were something of the "cheerleading" type for LGBTQ Church members, quite inspiring. Breakout sessions included a number of more specific topics.

    I think more conservative people who tend to talk in terms of "struggling" with "SSA" may have found much of the content perhaps a little uncomfortable, but I feel like all was presented in a spirit of love and empathy and could find little fault in that respect. Obviously, some of the attendees were a bit bitter toward the Church, but I tend to cut some slack there because... well, come on, gay and Mormon...

    One thing particularly moving to me was the "testimony meeting" at the end (a tradition of Mormon Stories conferences where people can get up and "tell there stories," or just say whatever they want). What was cool was that so many of the people there were very spiritual LGBTQ folks, many of whom had deep emotional and--yes--spiritual ties to the Church but who, for whatever reason, decided that their path to happiness diverged from being able to be active members of the Church. Regardless, they could all "bear their testimonies," sing the hymns, and share in the spirit of the occasion. Of course there was a range of perspectives shared: one girl talked about her "progress" in leaving the Church at a young age while others expressed gratitude at being able to bear their testimonies of the Restoration in a public, churchlike setting. It was all very real, very moving.

    I'll definitely try to make it to the next one (though hopefully I'll be away in China), but if you can make it, you should definitely check it out! And of course report on it in your blog.