In Seeking to Unify the LGBTQ/SSA Mormon community, Circling the Wagons Conference Opens Wounds That Run Deep
Salt Lake City – October 27th, 2012 — On Thursday, October 18, 2012 Circling the Wagons conferences announced their decision to invite Josh Weed, who is well known for publicly stating that he is gay and happily married to a woman, to speak alongside gay bloggers Joseph Broom and Allen Miller, who were once married to women but now openly advocate against mixed–orientation marriage. The decision to allow gay Mormons having such different perspectives to speak beside one another was made in an effort to allow for open, authentic and respectful sharing of different life experiences. Weed, Broom and Miller had agreed together to restrict their comments to authentic expressions of their own life experiences in order to ensure respectful, safe speech and a conference environment that would be conducive to community healing. The conference will take place this weekend.
Immediately upon the announcement, Circling the Wagons faced viral and virulent internet criticism for their decision to allow Weed to appear as one of their speakers. A number of individuals were disheartened because they had counted on the conference to provide them a safe space to discuss their experiences without fear of being judged for their support of those who don’t conform to the orthodox Mormon requirement that appropriate sexual expression only happen within legal heterosexual marriage. They expressed a sense of betrayal and extreme concern for impressionable youth who might be adversely effected should they attempt to follow Weed’s example and enter a mixed–orientation marriage. Weed and another speaker, Steven Frei, president of North Star who is also gay and married to a woman, were widely accused of supporting reparative therapy and holding views that hurt children.
Circling the Wagons and several of its supporters responded to the extreme criticism with a statement that their organization is supportive of the APA standards of appropriate therapeutic response to sexual orientation and reiterated their assertion that the conference would not be about promoting any particular life–choice or a debate between speakers having different perspectives, but would be a gathering of Mormons from different perspectives telling their own life stories and sharing themselves honestly in a healing environment. Conference co–founder, speaker and blogger Joseph Broom made a reiteration of the Circling the Wagons Statement of Purpose.
Weed was disappointed by the intense and public criticism he received as he felt it went in direct contrast to the Circling the Wagons stated purpose and expressed deep concern for those whose families have used his story to pressure them into mixed–orientation marriages. In response to the notion that he believes in reparative therapy he said, "I have spoken plainly about my rejection of reparative therapy in many places. It is not something I practice as a clinician or believe in as a person – the mere fact that I came out as a gay man illustrates this clearly. I believe that therapeutic models that promote orientation change are, at best, totally ineffective and, at worst, highly damaging to the client." Frei also stated that he does not believe reparative therapy is necessary or effective in changing one’s sexual orientation. He expressed gratitude for the honest feedback about the ways in which North Star is sometimes misperceived. It’s important, as well, for him to make it clear that North Star supports all efforts consistent with the gospel that help individuals live in more harmony with their covenants and attain greater peace, fulfillment, and a sense of individual worth.
Advocates for a civil and reasoned discussion among LGBTQ Mormons of differing perspectives are now dominating the online conversation. Randall Thacker, Vice President of Affirmation who will also be speaking at the conference, has called for a group fast for peace during the Saturday conference session. Anne Peffer, co–founder of Circling the Wagons, has sought to remind all that in addition to Weed, Broom, Miller and Frei, the conference will feature at least 15 other presenters from different backgrounds including licensed psychologist Lee Beckstead, founder of Mormons Building Bridges Erika Munson, transgender Bobbie Angel–Lazenby, gay and married Martin and Ben Kokol, gay and married Craig Magnum, excommunicated yet active John Gustav–Wrathall, former Area Authority Seventy and SLC Mission President Blake Sonne, the USGA (Understanding Same–Gender Attraction) association from BYU, and a group of straight spouses of LGBTQ Mormons among others.
"This is not conference about a couple of people," said Peffer. "This is a conference about many people from many perspectives who have chosen this moment to attempt to come together despite their differences and to speak authentically about themselves without trying to convince or change others in hopes of healing the community wounds that have been so apparent during the viral Internet conflict of the past week." A full conference schedule may be found at circlingthewagons.org.
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