Last weekend I went to the Affirmation Conference in Salt Lake City. The purpose of the Conference was to provide a space for those who identified as LGBTQ+ and had some relation to the LDS Church to address questions that surround the intersection of the queer and Mormon worlds.
I was impressed by the people I met at Affirmation. They were from all over the country, and some from outside of it as well. One person said he came from Taiwan just for the Conference. Everybody was so different, yet all of us had so much in common. We’d experienced different challenges, but we could empathize with each other. The feeling of being loved and belonging was so pervasive.
In the end, I am grateful that I was given the chance to go to Affirmation.
The sense of community is powerful. It is patriotism, school pride, and the base of fanaticism. It’s part of the reason I keep going to USGA and being involved with it. I get to explore the different facets of being a gay Mormon in a way that isn’t shaming at all. Being a part of a community, USGA in this case, has let me talk about this part of me that I had always been ashamed and afraid of. Shame is damaging. Inflicting shame upon someone is a sometimes subtle form of bullying.
Having a community is part of why we are counseled to meet together often in the LDS Church. We become a part of a whole.
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body….Much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (KJV 1 Corinthians 12:13-27).
There is a strong culture of shame at BYU (and many other places), like we’re supposed to be ashamed of everything that isn’t 100% conservative and Mormon. We are frequently counseled in Conference talks to not be afraid to stand for what we believe in, even if it means standing alone. The intended application is to be proud of the gospel and membership in the LDS Church, but it’s not the only applicable situation. It extends to standing alone in all good things, whether they be religious or not. Standing for someone being bullied. Standing against shaming mental illness. Standing against shaming victims. And yes, even standing for queer rights. Not just marriage, everybody gets so hung up on the marriage thing and thinks that they can’t support LGBTQ+ rights or people without advocating our right to marry someone we love. We are still discriminated against in the workplace, housing, and a whole host of other issues that are associated with cis-het privilige (examples and a language warning).
I first heard of USGA almost a year ago. Somebody posted the “Just be there” video on Facebook. The video was touching and compelled me to turn my investigative skills to Facebook to discover everything available about the group. Their page, USGA at BYU, informed me that they met on Thursdays at seven in the Provo City Library. I still didn’t have the guts to go to a meeting for another couple of months. I don’t remember what the topic was that night, nor do I remember anything else about that first time, but I kept going back.
In the past couple months I have been involved as a part of the leadership of the group. Doing so has given me a strong sense of belonging. In Spanish the word for loved is “querido.” A more literal translation would render “wanted.” I feel wanted now, and I want others in my life as well.
USGA takes time, but it’s the thing that keeps me going. It feels important. It’s a community that I belong to where I am confident that I won’t be shamed for anything.