Before I give my report, I do want to acknowledge that for some the nature of this conference could be considered controversial in nature. Some would strongly disagree with many of the opinions expressed during the conference. In addition, this conference was more specifically about reconciling faith and feelings in the context of living according the current doctrine and standards of the LDS Church (which prohibits sexual behavior between those of the same sex).
Some that are reading this post may disagree with the views expressed in this conference. Different views are welcome, so long as they are expressed in a respectful manner. One of my purposes in writing this blog is to create respectful dialogue. If there is any question as to what respectful dialogue is, please refer to my post of the same name.
The conference was rather short, only lasting a few hours. It had no individual speakers, but instead consisted of two panel discussions. Before the panels started, the moderator made a few disclaimers: 1) the panels would not discuss politics, 2) there would be little to no discussion about the origins of homosexuality, and 3) having individuals on the panels that are in mixed-orientation marriages is in no way meant to suggest or promote the idea that marriage should be used as a solution or cure for homosexual feelings.
The first panel consisted of seven therapists. Four of them either currently or formerly experienced SSA (same-sex attraction) or identified as gay. The panelists were Laurie Campbell (author of "Born that Way" under the pen name Erin Eldridge), Ty Mansfield (co-author of "In Quiet Desperation," compiler and editor of "Voices of Hope" and co-founder and current vice-president of North Star International), David Matheson (co-creator of the Journey into Manhood experiential weekend and founder of the Center for Gender Wholeness), Josh Weed (author of "The Weed" blog), Shirley Cox (professor in the Department of Social Work at BYU), Jeffrey Robinson (contributing author to "Understanding Same-Sex Attraction: LDS Edition), and Justin McPheters (therapist at LDS Family Services).
With the exception of McPheters, I was familiar with or acquainted with all the members of the first panel. Campbell, Mansfield, Matheson and Weed are all either currently or formerly same-sex attracted or identify as gay and are all currently married to the opposite sex, while Cox, Robinson and McPheters have experience in their therapy practices counseling individuals experiencing SSA.
I did not take detailed notes of either of the panels (as I find that rather difficult to do with group discussions), although I did find it interesting that there were a variety of views on everything from labels to ideas on what change meant to whether change was possible. All of them had a variety of techniques and methods they use with their clients.
The second panel consisted of those that had personal experience with same-sex attraction, as well as the spouses of some of those that were married. Campbell, Mansfield, Matheson and Weed, along with their spouses, were all on the panel, along with a number of others, many of whom I am personally acquainted with.
The second panel discussion was much more personal and raw, with some of the members of the panel sharing very personal experiences. Several topics were discussed, including on deciding whether marriage was appropriate for an individual (the consensus being that it was a personal choice), how to come out or open up to loved ones, how to respond to loved ones that have come out, and how to respond to being misunderstood or hurt by others (including family members and church leaders).
Overall, I was impressed with the tone of the conference. Though AMCAP does hold a semi-annual convention for its members (which I have had the opportunity to attend several times as a student), and occasionally there are workshops that include the topic of homosexuality, this is the first time that AMCAP has attempted a conference with the main focus on homosexuality. It was voiced that this was hoped to be the first of many conferences on the subject.
As mentioned earlier, this conference was intended for those who wish to live according to the doctrines and standards of the LDS Church as they currently stand. Some may question why I dedicated a blog post to a conference that could easily be viewed as being one-sided or not allowing for all viewpoints. My answer is because this conference allowed viewpoints that are not necessarily welcome at other conferences or in other groups.
One voice in the spectrum around homosexuality that is often not welcome, and is often either silenced or even ridiculed is the one that supports change from a homosexual orientation. Many do not see this perspective as legitimate, and so they reject it.
Though overall I have been impressed with the broad spectrum included in Mormons Building Bridges and at the Circling the Wagons Conference, neither of them welcomed the view of the possibility that homosexuality was mutable. Instead, both of it have simply dismissed it using statements from the American Psychological Association that "there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation" and end the discussion there.
I believe that by not including the voice of SSA individuals seeking to change is exclusionary. It is a voice in this dialogue that has as much right to be heard as any other. The point of including a variety of voices and perspectives is not to persuade others to change their beliefs, but to create bridges of understanding. That is my purpose in writing this blog.
As I continue writing, the topic of change, as well as other controversial subjects is likely to come up again. It is my desire that those reading will continue to keep open minds, as well as open hearts, as these topics are discussed.