Mike Hansen, Affirmation
Xian Mackintosh, left, and his parents, Becky and Scott, conduct a panel discussion with John Gustav-Wrathall at Affirmation's 40th anniversary conference at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 23, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families & Friends is doing something it's never done before.

The international support group focused on helping members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have same-gender attraction — though it's not affiliated with the church — recently announced a new chapter-development initiative designed to strengthen the organization for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints living in the United States and Canada, said John Gustav-Wrathall, Affirmation executive director.

"We're finally in a position to proactively organize chapters," Gustav-Wrathall said. "As I speak to volunteer after volunteer, as I describe the initiative and how it will work, the response is invariably, ‘We desperately need this.’ And as I explain to people what we need them to do, and how we will support them in doing it, the response is, 'I can do that.'"

For its first four decades, local chapters of Affirmation either thrived or struggled depending on the efforts of local leadership.

In recent years, Affirmation has expanded into 15 countries worldwide, cultivated more resources, developed strategic plans and recruited more help to combat growing suicide rates and other challenges facing the LGBTQ Latter-day Saint community. This level of organization has never been possible until now, Gustav-Wrathall said.

"This is historic, and we anticipate it will make a lasting and positive impact for LGBTQ Mormons and their families," said Nathan Kitchen, Affirmation's president. "It will enrich and save lives.”

As part of its new structure, Affirmation has divided the United States and Canada into five regions with 33 chapters. The leadership teams of these chapters will plan activities designed to bring individuals together. Members will also be asked to serve as mentors or friends to offer additional support to others, Gustav-Wrathall said.

Chapter leaders will receive formal training on emotional intelligence; team building; trauma-informed leadership; race, gender and gender-identity awareness; and suicide-prevention training.

Utah's four chapters will be located in Ogden, Salt Lake, Provo/central Utah and St. George. These chapters are part of the Intermountain West Region, which covers Idaho, western Wyoming, western Montana, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona.

Affirmation’s goal is "to build communities that are warm, inclusive and connective, where no one leaves a meeting without having made new friends." The key going forward will be recruiting and sharing the vision of what they want to accomplish, Gustav-Wrathall said.

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"We want to be able to help end the isolation that individuals often experience when they're coming out as LGBTQ and are not sure how to navigate all of that. That can be very isolating and lonely," he said.

"We are very aware that there's an increased need for community support. We know from the research and experience that community is an important preventive factor against suicide. We recognize that if we want to make any sort of a difference, the online community is not enough. The best way to provide support in the community is face-to-face."

For more information, visit affirmation.org.