Monday, June 30, 2014

Building Bridges at Pride

A year ago, I shared a blog post titled "The Pros and Cons of Pride", which discussed both the good that results from Pride events, as well as the ways in which Pride does a disservice to the queer community. In my post, I shared that the two areas that I felt did the most harm included the anti-religious tone that I felt when attending, and the overt display of sexuality and sexual content.

There is little I can do regarding the latter, though I have decided that I can take steps to address the first.

Three weeks ago, the annual Pride Celebration was held in Salt Lake City. Though I had no real interest in attending the festival or exposing myself to the overt displays of sexuality that I have seen in the past, there were a few events at Pride that resonated with me that I did want to attend.

Two years ago at Pride, I attended the Interfaith Service and March. Much of what was shared in the Interfaith Service resonated with me. In contrast to the anti-religious tone I felt the first year I attended Pride, here was a place where people were coming together to celebrate their spirituality, and combat the message that coming out means one can no longer be a person of faith. For me, it was great to see so many people from so many different spiritual backgrounds come together and offer a contrast to the tone I felt at many of the other events at Pride.

I was interested in attending the Interfaith Service at Pride this year, though unfortunately my schedule did not permit it. But I was free at the time of the Interfaith Rally and March. And I also had the time available to march with Mormons Building Bridges in the parade.

As I considered attending events at Pride this year, I had to make a decision. Would the positive that I experienced and was able to share with others outweigh the negative that might come of it?

On the positive side, I would be giving myself the opportunity to spend time with and connect with others in the queer community for whom spirituality and faith was important and I would be able to take action to show others that there are people of faith (including people of the LDS faith) that show love, compassion and acceptance to those in the queer community.

On the negative side, I would potentially be exposing myself to the displays of sexuality that I mentioned (which I would prefer to avoid), and my attendance at both the Interfaith Rally and March and with Mormons Building Bridges in the parade could be potentially misinterpreted as messages that either I am open to or intend to pursue romantic and/or sexual relationships with men, or that I am lobbying my church to change its doctrines, policies or positions on same-sex relationships and marriage.

In the end, I decided that the positive outweighed the negative. I decided that by attending only these events, I could limit my exposure to sexual displays and content, and that I would be very clear that the only message I was sending was that of the sign I carried in the parade: "Love One Another."

I attended the Interfaith Rally and March with a couple of friends. There were things that were said or shared that resonated with me, and there were other things that did not. Likewise, when I marched with Mormons Building Bridges, there were others around me carrying signs that had messages that resonated me, while there were others that did not. And that was okay. With any group or organization that I associate with, I have learned to take what fits and leave the rest, and allow others to do the same. Someone else having a different opinion or belief than my own does nothing to diminish or threaten my own opinions and beliefs.

One of things that resonated the most with me was an exercise on compassion shared at the Interfaith Rally. The invitation is to look on someone who is different than me and that I may be tempted to judge, and take these five steps:
1. With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: "Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in his/her life."
2. With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: "Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life."
3. With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: "Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair."
4. With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: "Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill his/her needs."
5. With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: "Just like me, this person is learning about life."

I was glad to take a part in building bridges of compassion, love and understanding. Though I have long expressed so what I've said and written, it has been far more powerful to express it through my actions. I look forward to further opportunities to participate in building bridges.

As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Experience with the Inaugural North Star Conference

Two weeks ago, for the first time since the organization was created eight years ago, North Star hosted a conference. The theme was: "At Home in the Gospel of Christ."

For those new to my blog, and who may be unfamiliar with North Star, the following is North Star's mission statement:

"The mission of North Star is to provide a place of community for Latter-day Saints who experience homosexual attraction or gender identity incongruence, as well as their family, friends, and ecclesiastical leaders. North Star serves those who desire the spiritual and social support that strengthens faith, builds character, and empowers men and women to live in joy and harmony within their covenants, values, and beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

North Star stated the following to be the purpose of the conference:

  • Create a safe and respectful place for all people to discuss experiences and perspectives on same-sex attraction and gender-identity issues within the framework of the established doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Promote Christ-like love and unity within our communities by listening and sharing one with another.
  • Learn spiritual and practical tools that enable individuals to cultivate inner peace and gain an increased ability to live an authentic, gospel-centered life.
  • Empower individuals to participate in furthering the Lord's work. We affirm that Jesus Christ alone has the power to heal, strengthen, and enable one's self to find eternal peace through living His gospel.
More information on North Star can be found on the organization's website.

Last September, North Star sent out an announcement inviting those within the North Star community to apply to be members of the organization committee for North Star's inaugural conference. Though I have been involved in several of North Star's discussion groups since they came about, I have never really taken the opportunity to serve or be more involved (as I had been in the past with other organizations). I saw this as a wonderful opportunity for me to get more involved as I had been wanting to do.

I was selected to help organize the conference and was placed on the logistics and hospitality committee. The committee I was on searched for and selected the venue for the conference, made arrangements with group rates for conference attendees at nearby hotels, and organized the volunteer efforts at the conference.

My biggest role was assisting with organizing the volunteer efforts. As I had previous experience in the past, I volunteered to create the volunteer schedule for the conference. Though it worked out in the end, and my previous experience was an asset, it was a much bigger task than anything I had done in the past. Rather than two different volunteer roles and about fifteen volunteers to schedule as I had in the past, there were six different volunteer roles and 40 volunteers to schedule. It was a daunting task, especially since I was busy preparing for a professional licensing exam and being a best man at a close friend's wedding in the weeks before the conference. And in spite of it all, everything worked out well in the end.

As I spent much of my time at the conference coordinating the volunteers, I was not able to attend all of the sessions. In spite of this, my experience of the conference was very positive.

The conference went from Thurs. May 29th through Sat. May 31st.

It started Thursday evening with a picnic. This was an informal gathering to give those that would be attending the conference the opportunity to socialize before the conference formally began. In particular, it was designed to give those who were new to events like the conference a chance to get to know other people that would be there. For those like me who have been attending similar events for years, it was a chance to socialize with old friends, and an opportunity to meet new people. I was able to do both.

The conference formally began Friday morning. I did not have the opportunity to attend very much of the opening session, though I did attend one of the breakout sessions later that morning (in fact, I had been asked to serve as the session chair, meaning I basically conducted the session), as well as part of one of the sessions later that afternoon. I was also able to take part in the catered lunch and the networking mixer later in the evening. Both provided great food, as well as the opportunity to socialize.

The evening ended with a concert by the local band Eclipse. I was not very familiar with Eclipse beforehand, and was considering leaving early, as it had been a long day. Though in the end, I am glad I went to the concert. I enjoyed the music, and it was a positive note to end the day with.

Saturday was a lot easier for me. Most of the volunteers knew what they were doing at this point, and so I had an opportunity to attend more of the sessions. In addition, my parents and my bishop also attended the conference on Saturday. For lunch that day, I sat at a table with my parents, their stake president (who I knew from my time growing up in the same ward), two of the conference chairs that I had worked closely with, and several others.

The lunch also consisted of an awards presentation. There were three awards: the Light Keeper Award (three recipients were awarded this year to make up for the lack of conferences in the first seven or eight years of North Star's existence), the Beacon of Light Award (an award that had been awarded annually at the Evergreen Conference, and a tradition which North Star chose to continue after Evergreen was consolidated under the North Star umbrella), and the Fred and Marilyn Matis Award (which appropriately was awarded to Fred and Marilyn Matis).

The conference ended with a closing session, after which I helped clean up and said goodbye to many friends, old and new.

For me personally, the conference served a number of purposes. First, it gave me an opportunity to serve and give back to an organization that has done a lot to provide me and countless others community, support in living a life of integrity, and hope along the journey. It also gave me an opportunity to re-connect with old friends, meet new friends, and gain more support in living my values. Attending the sessions also gave me the opportunity to hear others' perspectives, and to learn or review tools that can be of value for me.

From what I have been told, it is estimated that about 500 people attended the conference over the three days it was held. It was the success the organizers hoped it would be, and many of us are looking forward to next year's conference.