Support group for LGBT Mormons gains strength even as Mexico’s Latter-day Saints fight gay marriage

The Salt Lake Tribune/September 23, 2016

By Peggy Fletcher Stack

At a time when many gay Mormons feel unwelcome at church or confused about how their sexuality fits with their faith, Affirmation has become a safe haven.

The decades-old group supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mormons and their families and friends, as well as LDS Church leaders, its website says, "in seeking to live healthy and productive lives consistent with their faith or heritage."

Since the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a policy last November declaring married same-sex Mormon couples to be "apostates" and denying baptism to their children until age 18, Affirmation has attracted an increasingly wide following.

 It has staged a number of conferences in the U.S. (Los Angeles and Kansas City) and across the world (Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico, England). Its dues-paying membership, conference attendees and Facebook followers have climbed to more than 10,000.

This year, the group's leaders have met several times with LDS Church public-affairs officials, including Thursday in advance of Affirmation's 2016 International Conference, running through this weekend in Provo.

"We mostly shared our stories," Affirmation President John Gustav-Wrathall reports.

That storytelling approach is on display at the conference in many sessions and workshops, he says. There also is a presentation aimed specifically at lay LDS leaders. Another will focus on "best practices," the program says, "for ministering to and with LGBTQ+ Mormons and their families."

At the same time, LDS officials in Mexico continue to urge Mormons there to fight proposed legislation making gay marriage legal throughout that nation.

Earlier this month, church officials "prepared a letter that was read throughout the country," says LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins. "The Area Seventy [Marion B. De Antuñano] read the letter in stake conferences held that Sunday. The letter encouraged members to become involved as citizens."

Much of the activism was directed by The National Christian Union for Families, a coalition of various congregations that includes the LDS Church.

Paul B. Pieper, a counselor in the Mormons' Area Presidency, has participated in the union, Hawkins says, as a "church representative."

Mexico is home to about 1.4 million Mormons, according to LDS statistics, but the vast majority of the populace belongs to the Catholic Church, which also is fighting the same-sex-marriage proposal.

Protests began after President Enrique Peña Nieto's initiative to legalize gay marriage and a ruling by Mexico's Supreme Court that outlawed it is unconstitutional.

Thousands, including many Mormons, joined other faiths in marching against the initiative.

Luis Gallego, an LDS Church public affairs representative in Mexico, "posted some pictures of his participation in the marches on his personal Facebook page," Hawkins says, but "later removed them."

These actions pain gay members in Mexico, says an Affirmation leader in that country.

"I felt a tense atmosphere in the church, because of several intolerant comments of members who would say they are not against gays but against homosexual adoption and education on these issues in the schools," says Francisco Villalobos, president of Affirmation Mexico. "I particularly felt very sad on the Sunday after the march because of the comments from my friends who are members talking about their experience. It made me feel attacked at church."

In his Mormon worship service that day, the congregation sang the hymn "In Humility, Our Savior."

"I felt like mourning," Villalobos writes in an email, but then he heard the lyrics: "Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving; teach us tolerance and love."

That gave the Affirmation leader a sense of peace, he writes in an email (that was translated), "and made me think of how the savior forgave those who did not know what they were doing to him."

The Christian Union plans to hold a pro-family march Saturday in Mexico.

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