This Friday, God willing and barring any major winter storms that shut airports down, I'll be setting out at 4 a.m. to catch an early flight to Salt Lake City so I can attend the Circling the Wagons conference.
Last night I had a phone conversation with Ty Mansfield to discuss a panel/workshop that he and I will be participating in at the conference, entitled, "Navigating Church Activity as an LGBTQ or SSA Mormon."
Ty and I had earlier that afternoon exchanged a few words on a post on the Mormons Building Bridges forum about Michael C. Hannon's article, "Against Heterosexuality," an article which Ty likes a lot, and I not so much. Ty's first words to me on the phone were an expression of concern -- worry that something he had said in our exchange might have hurt my feelings. And my first feeling upon hearing those words was relief, because I had been worried that it had been my words which might have been hurtful to him. I was relieved that Ty and I have a friendship in which we can disagree about things, and still be genuinely concerned about the other's well-being.
We discussed the LGBTQ/SSA Mormon landscape which -- despite some efforts at bridge-building -- remains a sharply divided and divisive landscape. Ty is in a "mixed-orientation marriage," and I am in a same-sex marriage. Ty is the president of Northstar, and I am the senior vice president of Affirmation, organizations that take very different approaches to the challenges that folks like Ty and I face. There are forums where Ty does not feel welcome and I do. There are forums where I don't feel welcome and Ty does. And there are places where both of us are personae non gratae. Going somewhere where you need to put on armor and be prepared for self-defense is not fun. It's draining. And as a general rule our lives are too busy, there are too many good things we need to be about without having to be emotionally drained by the need for self-defense.
The aspiration of the organizers of Circling the Wagons has always been to create a space and a forum where all are welcome, across the spectrum of LGBTQ/SSA Mormon experience. A place for LDS faithful, and a place for folks who have left the Church and need healing from painful experience in the Church; a place for folks with varying self-understandings and varying realities in relation to being gay, lesbian, bi, same-sex-attracted, trans, not sure, "just human," mixed-orientation married, same-sex married, single, celibate, or however you choose to identify yourself or however you've chosen to seek and build (or rebuild) family.
In spite of the best of aspirations, however, it's one thing to say "We are going to create an all-inclusive space" and to actually create such a space. The name of the conference itself, "Circling the Wagons," implies a need for self-defense. Organizers can have the best of intentions, but conferences are still attended by folks who may or may not have developed the skills to create and preserve welcoming and inclusive space.
I have to admit that as I read through the list of names of Circling the Wagons participants, I started to get a little bit nervous. I wondered how this was going to work. Was everybody on that list really going to commit to respect everybody else on that list?
Ty and I concluded, yes, there may be some stress and tension. It's probably unavoidable right now. But it won't always be unavoidable. Maybe, just maybe, each time we do this, we will get better at it. And Ty and I agreed that it is worth it to experience a bit of stress and tension if we can practice living the Gospel of Love more fully with one another.
That's why I'm going, and why I hope to see you there!