Today In History, 1977: Gay Mormon Group Affirmation Founded

Jim Burroway

June 11th, 2016

Gay and lesbian Mormons had been meeting, very unofficially and very secretly, off and on the Brigham Young University campus for a mix of discussions, social activities and mutual support through much of the 1960s and ’70s. In 1977, Matthew Price began promoting the idea of a national organization of gay Mormons, and on June 11, 1977, the first official meeting of Affirmations: Gay Mormons United was held in Salt Lake City during the city’s Conference on Human Rights. Rev. James E Sandmire, a prominent pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in San Francesco and a former Mormon himself, was there to give the closing prayer.

Affirmation/GMU quickly grew establish chapters in Denver, Dallas and Philadelphia, but by autumn the organization’s flame was just about to flicker out. Denver and Philadelphia disappeared off of Affirmation’s map, and meetings in Dallas and Salt Lake were sporadic. Then Paul Mortensen read an article about Affirmation in The Advocate and contacted Price about establishing a chapter in Los Angeles. That chapter quickly grew and became organizations lead chapter. Other chapters across the country soon followed.

Until Affirmation came along, there were really only two options were available to LGBT Mormons: remain closeted and stay with one’s local ward, or come out and leave one’s identity as a Mormon behind. Those who came out publicly, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, risked excommunication and its loss of social networks and cultural ties. As L.A. chapter leader Jacki Riedeman explained, “When you’re Mormon, it’s not so much just a religion. It really is a cultural identity. …We have our own vocabulary, basically. We have our own way of looking at things. And so you can’t just give up all that along with the religion.” Affirmation gave LGBT Mormons a third way, creating a sense of authentic LDS community among gay mormons who would otherwise experience their coming-out in isolation.

In the summer of 1979, Affirmation decided it was time to make itself over in a more public way by participating in the Gay Pride parade in Los Angeles, and a contingent participated in the March on Washington that autumn (Oct 14). Then in Decemberrepresentatives from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Washington D.C. met to formally for the first time to give the new organization shape, a new governing charter, a new publication (Affinity) and an updated name — Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons. (Today, it is Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families and Friends)

Because the LDS Church has a history of counseling gay men to marry and start families as a way of dealing with their sexuality, Affirmation spun off a group in 1992 called Gamofites (an approximate portmanteau of Gay Mormon Fathers, in a style that echoes the names of tribes in the Book of Mormon.) Since then Affirmation has created a whole host of affinity groups for women, friends and families, mixed orientation families, teens, Millennial, people of color, and transgender people. Today there are Affirmation chapters across the U.S., and Canada, as well as in nine other countries around the world.

[Additional sources: “News Briefs” Arizona Gay News (Oct 7, 1977): 3.

Melissa M. Wilcox. Queer Women and Religious Individualism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press: 2009): 53.

John-Charles Duffy. “Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons.” from JEffrey S. Siker (ed.), Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007): 47-48.]

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