Play the video above for audio from the meeting.
by Joel McDonald
Over 70 members of the Affirmation community signed on Sunday, February 17th, to participate in a web conference detailing Affirmation’s efforts to organize and strengthen chapters throughout the United States and Canada to provide vital face-to-face communities to support LGBTQ Mormons, their family members, and friends.
Both Nathan Kitchen, President of Affirmation, and John Gustav-Wrathall, Executive Director, talked about the historic nature of these effort to organize chapters. Kitchen shared the concern of Affirmation’s Board of Directors that while Affirmation’s online communities are growing and an important part of the organization’s efforts, there is a need to create opportunities for face-to-face communities to meet together, support each other, and benefit from the different experiences of its members. “Affirmation has a niche that no one else can fill,” Kitchen expressed. He then shared how the Affirmation Executive Committee, made up of himself, Laurie Lee Hall as Senior Vice President, and Jairo Fernando González Díaz as Vice President, have organized themselves to focus on three areas around the world, the United States and Canada, Europe/Africa/Asia/Pacific, and Latin America, to work with Area Directors, Regional Presidencies, and Chapter Presidencies of Affirmation.
Nathan Kitchen shared how the needs of the Affirmation community outpace the bandwidth of Affirmation’s volunteer leadership, which is why Affirmation hired an Executive Director in 2017, John Gustav-Wrathall. Gustav-Wrathall shared how the Executive Committee was working hard to build a strong supportive community to everyone who needs it saying, “We all know why LGBTQ Mormons turn to an organization like Affirmation. They reach a point of crisis and urgency with big questions. Our mission is to provide a place where people can bring those questions that they’re seeking answers to. We don’t necessarily answer those questions, but we provide a community where their questions can be brought and answered through self-discovery within a supportive and loving community.”
Working together, the Affirmation Executive Committee and Executive Director have identified 31 chapters to strengthen and organize throughout the United States and Canada with the goal of there being a chapter within a 3 to 4-hour drive of anyone who may need the supportive face-to-face community Affirmation can provide. These chapters will be divided into five regions, with Regional Presidencies organized to support these chapters. These chapters and regions can be viewed on this map. Each chapter would have a leadership team of at least four Affirmation members. Of the 31 identified chapters, 9 of those chapters have full leadership teams in place and 10 chapters are close to having full leadership teams. If anyone is interested in serving on a leadership team for their chapter, they are encouraged to reach out via the contact page on the Affirmation website. During initial meetings, leadership teams are expected to organize into specific leadership roles, including a president, senior vice president, vice president, and secretary. Additional leadership roles were also discussed and shared in this document.
The minimum requirements for each Affirmation chapter are to have a leadership team of four Affirmation members and to organize four activities per year. These events aren’t expected to be large or expensive, but provide an opportunity for people to find, connect, and grow friendships within the Affirmation community. With events planned well in advance, and by chapters throughout the United States, visitors to the Affirmation website should be able to find events in their area to attend. John Gustav-Wrathall stressed the importance of chapter leaders being consistent in their organizing and hosting events and taking every opportunity to help those who attend make connections, sharing that “the most important thing in our vision is the building of warm, inclusive, and connected communities. We need to build communities where there are no strangers.”
Affirmation is committed to supporting local chapters by having Regional Presidencies provide support and by providing training modules for chapter leaders. These modules include how to support people in trauma, diversity, and suicide prevention. In addition, Affirmation will help connect people with their local chapters when they subscribe to emails or send a message via the Affirmation website.
Many of the questions asked by participants in this web conference centered around the meaning of leadership and Affirmation’s relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We’re not here to promote church activity, we’re here to provide support and love,” answered John Gustav-Wrathall. “Our mission is to reach, support, and connect LGBTQ Mormons to save lives.” Both he and Nathan Kitchen shared that leadership in Affirmation isn’t about people having authority over others, but about providing service and support to those who need it.
Closing the meeting, Laurie Lee Hall, Senior Vice President of Affirmation who now oversees the Europe/Africa/Asia/Pacific Area, shared efforts to organize worldwide to build communities and save lives saying, “We’re all watching the efforts in the United States and Canada and praying for your success.”