By Adam Allred
Welcome to the second annual meeting of the Circling the Wagons Coalition. It is exciting for me to be part of a group of individuals who see the value in coming together and are committed to identifying ways to improve the lives of those we all care about: our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and same-sex attracted brothers and sisters.
Circling the Wagons and the Coalition were born out of the idea that we can accomplish more when we are working together. That we are stronger when we can fully appreciate and make a safe space for the diversity that exists among us. That listening is an art, and a means by which we can try to understand one another despite our differences. That committing one’s self to bridge-building necessarily requires surveying those chasms that divide us. It can be scary to approach those chasms and difficult to do so without feeling overcome by the sheer expanse of them. I know at times I have felt discouraged by the width of the divides and overwhelmed with the energy it takes to commence building across them. Not to mention my embarrassingly stereotypical lack of education regarding the proper handling of power tools.
I’ve decided that the ability to disagree and to do so respectfully is one of the most important skills I want to learn. Heaven knows, as a gay Mormon who simultaneously feels an inextricable part of two cultures, and yet, sometimes, not completely at home in either, I have plenty of opportunities to practice. While I sometimes become frustrated with the conflicts, the defensiveness that sometimes appears without warning when my viewpoints are being challenged or when I am feeling misunderstood, I am also grateful for my experiences in this space, because of the opportunities that dual citizenship affords me to practice respectful disagreement. And I am grateful for the same-sex attracted, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mormons and their friends and loved ones who occupy this space with me and what I have learned from them.
As a result of last year’s inaugural meeting of the Coalition and the subsequent dedication and hard work of our drafting committee, we created a document outlining Standards of Ethical Communication and Conflict Resolution. These Standards will serve as a basis for helping resolve conflicts in a manner that will benefit the most vulnerable members of our community. The document includes the injunction to acknowledge and accept differences, to listen and speak effectively and respectfully, to respect confidentiality, and to use social and other media responsibly, acknowledging the limitations inherent in those venues and seeking to resolve conflicts using the most productive means possible. As members of the Coalition, and as leaders and participants in various organizations, we have the opportunity to model these standards for the larger community, many of whom will be looking for an example to follow.
Issues of belief and sexuality strike at the heart of what it means to be human, what we experience as self and how we develop meaningful relationships with others. We all know someone who is hurting, who is feeling alone and misunderstood. For every person we know of, there are likely many more who are unknown to us, who are feeling just as desperate.
As a body representing a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and viewpoints, we cannot expect to agree on everything. By agreeing to come together, we do not mean to trivialize differences that exist. I imagine some of you have reservations about this organization and what, if anything, we can hope to accomplish. I want to thank you for being here. If we are to accomplish anything that has merit for as diverse a community as the one we collectively represent, it will only be through efforts that are informed by our differences, even as we seek common ground for moving forward.
The next focus of the Coalition will be to produce a set of Standards to Ensure the Social, Emotional, Physical and Sexual Safety of LGBTQ/SSA Mormon Youth and Adults. We look forward to receiving your input for these standards during our meeting today. Whereas the previous document provides a basis for meaningful and ethical interactions, this new set of Standards will build on common goals collectively shared by the Coalition with a more actionable focus on how we can move forward as a body to accomplish these goals.
Every once in a while I get brave and invite some of my Mormon friends and some of my gay friends (and some of my gay Mormon friends) over to my place for some kind of get-together, without making it known that I might be intentionally mixing demographics. Usually paninis are involved. It probably sounds like some twisted social experiment, but it does my heart good to see people from groups that historically may have been at odds with each other coming together over a shared love of melty sandwiches. When I observe the gays and the Mormons enjoying a harmonious co-existence in my living room, not because they necessarily agree, but merely because they are willing to be co-present with one another, I am encouraged that the gay and the Mormon might find a similar sort of harmonious co-existence within me.
The theme of the conference tomorrow is Courageous Conversations. Being co-present and granting each other shared space is necessarily antecedent to that, but it is not all there is to do. Sandwich consumption inevitably gives way to the tricky business of digestion, the breaking down of a foreign material into something the body can actually recognize and repurpose. Although we are committed to a certain standard for respectful and empathetic dialogue, this is not a time just for choruses of Kumbaya. We are all engaged in diverse causes and what makes these conversations courageous is not temporary abandonment of those causes for the sake of getting along, but the purposeful and principled engagement of our authentic selves. I look forward to that engagement during this meeting and the ensuing conference.