A couple of weeks ago, Circling the Wagons held their annual conference. Though initially I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to attend this year, as I've been less involved in discussions around Mormon and SSA/LGBTQ topics lately. Though after attending, I am glad I went.
The theme of the conference this year was “Courageous Conversations.” And just as in years past, the goal of the conference was to “open and expand a more understanding atmosphere for ourselves, for our loved ones with conflicting viewpoints.”
The conference was divided into opening and closing keynote sessions, along with two sessions in between dedicated to dialogue workshops. There was also a session the evening before the day of the main conference, which I was not able to attend, as well as a closing social.
The first speaker at the opening session was Tom Christofferson, who is a brother to Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He spoke of his experiences growing up in the LDS Church, as well as his decision to leave his membership in the church, as well as his decision to become active in the church again.
He spoke of his loving parents, and how they made a decision early on that the most important thing was having him continue to be the part of the family, and that they showed just as much love and concern for his partner, as they did for him.
Laurie Campbell was the next scheduled speaker. But before she spoke, her daughter, who had attended with her, briefly spoke. Her daughter describes herself as a liberal bisexual agnostic. She described how grateful she is for her mother, and the environment which she grew up in that allowed her to be herself while still knowing that her family loved her.
Laurie then spoke about some of her life experiences, and how she feels the same way about her daughter. She spoke about making family relationships the most important thing, and taking the time to listen to and hear and understand what the other person is saying.
The final speaker for the opening session was Justin Lee. Justin is a leader within the Gay Christian Network. He shared of his experience growing up in a conservative Christian church, and how the way he viewed things changed as he became more aware of his sexuality.
He spoke of how the Gay Christian Network serves a similar purpose as Circling the Wagons for the broader Christian community, and how that within the network they have individuals with a variety of beliefs regarding the expression of sexuality.
I next went to the dialogue workshop on “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Same-Sex Attraction,” which was facilitated by Lee Beckstead and David Pruden. This was a smaller group, with only about fifteen or so people in attendance, and I found myself contributing to the discussion.
We discussed the spectrum of types of therapies available related to sexuality from sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) to gay-affirmative therapy, as well as the pros and cons to different approaches, as well as some of the benefits therapies at either end of the spectrum might have. As many of the things discussed were things I had studied on my own beginning at the time I was an undergrad psychology major, I found the discussion very interesting, in part because I have had the opportunity to speak to both of the moderators (who come from different places in their personal approaches) about these types of therapy.
For the following session, I went to the dialogue workshop on “Responsibly Addressing Suicide.” In contrast to the earlier workshop, this one was heavily attended, with about forty or so people seated inside a small classroom. Kendall Wilcox was the main facilitator, with Ty Mansfield, John Bonner, and Marian Edmonds Allen serving as co-facilitators.
There was some good information provided concerning suicide, and a number of experiences shared by those who have either been suicidal or actually attempted suicide in the past. However, I found the structure of the discussion rather limiting, as talk about solutions was largely curtailed.
The closing session began with a discussion about the future of Circling the Wagons, as well as what could be done to improve the lives of SSA and LGBTQ Mormons. Kendall Wilcox facilitated the discussion, and it was interesting to hear so many views and ideas.
The final keynote speaker was Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen, who is a marriage and family therapist. She spoke on the importance of empathy.
Just as much as attending the conference was beneficial for what I got out of it, I also enjoyed attending it for the opportunity to see people I don't often see. These types of conferences tend to be reunions for me, and it was great to see people that for whatever reasons I don't see very often anymore.
I am grateful for Circling the Wagons and other groups and organizations like it. Though it's not always a fast process, I am excited to see the growth in understanding and empathy that comes from the courageous discussions that happen in places like this, and I am eager to see it continue to grow and reach more people.