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Steve Young says he wants to build bridges with LGBT community

Published: Saturday, Sept. 14 2013 11:50 p.m. MDT

Steve and Barbara Young high-five and applaud heart transplant recipient Matthew Sperry at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City Friday, June 28, 2013. The Youngs spoke at the Affirmation Conference, for LGBT members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 in Salt Lake City.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In a room filled to capacity Saturday, Steve Young reminisced about the night after a winning Super Bowl.

He rode on the 49ers float in the Disneyland parade the day after his team won the Super Bowl.

"For those six minutes I found myself kind of lost in the moment and I found myself yelling, 'I am the man! I am the greatest,'" he recalled.

A few minutes later, he said, he was humbled when a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old did not know who he was. Humility, for him, is sometimes forced. But it is necessary, he said. "I need humility to find God's purpose."

"I consider you my friends," Young told the group of about 400 attending the New Frontiers conference of the group Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons. The 32nd annual event got underway Friday and runs through Sunday at the Officers Club and Douglas Ballroom at Fort Douglas.

Young, a former NFL and BYU quarterback, described himself as a Mormon who wants to "build bridges" with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

At a little taller than 6 feet, Young said there were times when he could not see downfield, but he would throw the ball to Jerry Rice anyway.

"Throwing without knowing," he called it.

Faith, he said, is "fundamental fuel for the human experience. If the experience is to return to our Heavenly Father, faith is the fuel from beginning to end."

He quoted Elder Jeffrey Holland of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve, who in the April 2013 General Conference encouraged those listening to ask questions, but to rely on faith.

"I'm grateful for the gospel for the salve that it has been to me," Young said.

He introduced his wife, Barb, as an advocate of the LGBT community.

"There is not a day that goes by that you are not on her mind. She has spent countless hours advocating for you," Young told the audience.

Barb Young wiped tears as expressed joy at being invited to Affirmation months after Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8.

"You have risen up and you represent love with a capital 'L,'" she said. "Our response to those around us is a reflection of where Jesus lives in our hearts."

The conference revolved around a theme of spiritual healing and reconciliation for those who identify as being LGBT or same-sex attracted.

The Youngs founded and run the non-profit Forever Young Foundation. The group serves children with financial, physical and emotional challenges. They also support the Trevor Project, a non-profit group that provides intervention and suicide prevention resources to LGBT youth, and the Family Acceptance Project, a research group that looks into the effects of familial reactions with LGBT children.

Judy Finch, one of the interviewees featured on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Mormon and Gays website, was the first speaker during Saturday's event.

Finch has one son and two grandchildren who identify as being gay. She is a psychotherapist and has a private practice, where she sees mostly clients who are members of the LDS Church.

"In my role (as a therapist) I provide hope and reassurance and encouragement," Finch said. "Heavenly Father loves our gays exactly the way they are — exactly the way he created them."

Maybe people have been praying for the wrong thing when they ask for gay people to become straight, she said. Instead, ask to know God's will in "respect to gays" and for the ability to fulfill it, she said.

She encouraged attendees to "trust in the pace and timing of (their) journey," and "practice the pure love of Christ."

Afterward, Benji Schwimmer, winner of the second season of "So You Think You Can Dance," invited attendees to gather around the front so they could see his dance performance to a remake of the song "True Colors."

Efforts by the church to reach out to the LGBT community, including the website mormonsandgays.org, have gone a long way for many in the community, said John Gustav-Wrathall, senior vice president of Affirmation.

"The church has been sending some signals and saying, 'We want you in the church. We value you. We want to hear your stories. We want to know who you are," he said.

Gustav-Wrathall said the messages and the number of attendees exceeded his expectations.

In the past two to three years, Affirmation saw what Gustav-Wrathall called a "resurgence" of those who "really feel connected to their faith as Latter-day Saints and who really want to make that work."

The LDS Church teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on it is.

"Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters," the LDS Church website states.

Some affiliated with Affirmation have gone through "a period of struggle" while trying to reconcile their sexual orientation with being LDS, Gustav-Wrathall said.

"But usually, and this is my observation, is that the default response is people want to make it work with the church. They naturally turn to the scriptures. They turn to church leaders. If they have a testimony their testimony is really kind of a resource to them in figuring it out."

Some also have experienced "intense misunderstanding and rejection," he said. In his experience, some of this misunderstanding is melting away and people are staying in the church longer.

"We're seeing more and more people who are now finding it possible to actually stay and to make it work and so this is why I think we're seeing this resurgence in Affirmation," Gustav-Wrathall said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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