SALT LAKE CITY — They're calling it a message of hope and inclusion to all, something organizers of a three-day conference attracting both gay and heterosexual participants hope to spread.
Affirmation, a group describing itself as apolitical and a place to provide support and education for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and as Mormon, both practicing and non-practicing, will host its 33rd annual international meeting Sept. 12-14 at the University of Utah.
Darius Gray, a Mormon historian who will be speaking at this year's conference, said he plans to focus his message around the importance of church members accepting all who feel marginalized or not part of the mainstream.
“We are indeed all God’s children," Gray said. “We are indeed brothers and sisters and we are indeed the children of heavenly parents, and it would be well if we considered that more often.”
Workshops include helping people find ways to reconcile their attraction with their LDS roots, and helping people learn how to best support family members or friends who are gay. Workshops will also feature couples in various types of relationships, including same-sex and mixed-orientation relationships, and individuals who identify as gay but choose a celibate lifestyle.
The conference, themed This Is the Place, is designed to help people feel God's love, feel supported in their choices and have a sense of community, according to Randall Thacker, president of Affirmation.
Thacker estimates that more than 400 people will attend this year's conference. While the group has been around for decades, he said organizers made a shift to become less political and to allow participants to feel welcome regardless of their sexual orientation, lifestyle choices and desire to practice (or not practice) their religion.
“God really does love us and he wants families to be united no matter what choices have been made by parents or children. God wants our families to be knit together in love and to have a strong bond and Affirmation can be an example of showing how that can be done," Thacker said.
Above all, "In Affirmation, we want to provide a home for agency to prevail, and there to be loving support around the decisions that individuals make, whatever those decisions may be," Thacker said.
In addition to Gray; LDS singer, songwriter and therapist Julie de Azevedo Hanks; and Clark Johnsen, part of the original Broadway cast of "The Book of Mormon" musical, will be among the speakers at this year's event.
"A misconception is that Affirmation is an activist group that is in opposition to the LDS church's teaching," Hanks, who is not officially affiliated with the group, said. "Affirmation is about creating and maintaining a respectful and healthy dialogue between LGBT Mormons and the broader LDS community that encourages inclusive attitudes and practices. "
Those interested in attending the conference can visit the conference's website at thisistheplace.affirmation.org/about/.
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