By Bryan Hendrickson
It has been a few weeks since we gathered together for the Arizona LDS LGBT, ALL Are Alike Unto God Conference. In so many ways it feels like maybe it was a dream. Life has continued forward, seemingly at its usual pace and still with its various challenges, but I haven’t been able to help but feel like something has changed since April 27th. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of hearing about the experiences people had at the conference. So many were affected, like me, by that day of being together. There has been a common theme among all of the comments. There at the conference, there was a feeling – something born of the messages and experiences shared and from so many gathered together – a feeling of love, kindness, and hope.
In the weeks before the event, I found myself reflecting on the many times I have felt so alone in my journey as a gay Latter-day Saint and how that contrasted with the numbers of people we started to see registering for the conference. When we hit a hundred registered, the tears started to come! I thought then that nothing any of us speaking at the event might say could be more powerful than simply that room I imagined filled with all those people. With over 120 in attendance, I began my welcome address at the event by saying “I wish I had known that someday I would be in this room with all of you”.
Standing there in that room giving the welcoming address, I was overwhelmed by painful memories somehow newly wrapped in the warmth of the many families, friends, and fellow LGBT/SSA that were there together that day. I felt this powerful feeling of love all throughout the day. We heard beautiful messages and enjoyed a panel discussion with five brave individuals sharing their experiences, all who have had different journeys and yet were able to come together to share their experiences and answer questions from the audience. Bryce and Sara Cook, who helped me start our Mormon LGBT/SSA Friends and Family group here in Arizona, shared their thoughts and feelings as parents of two gay sons and as adopted parents to the many LGBT/SSA they have invited into their home over the past year. Finally, the conference ended with people from the audience coming forward to share their thoughts and feelings.
I spent most of the time between sessions trying to find quiet moments to watch that room filled with people. I saw so many in that room greeting and getting to know each other. Particularly touching were the many families that were there together, sometimes filling rows of seats like at church on a Sunday, with their LGBT/SSA brothers, sisters, or children. I heard people share the feelings of their heart and watched people patiently listening and seeking to understand. As the conference ended, handshakes and hugs were exchanged with goodbyes. As people left, I watched the newfound friendships and connections they carried with them.
Before the conference, I felt a tremendous amount of anticipation and uncertainty. I had an idea of what we hoped to see happen with the conference and an inkling that some good would come from our efforts, but it was intangible and theoretical. As I walked away from the conference center, however, the feelings I had were very real. I had a newfound feeling of hope, a healing sense of the love that was in the room, and felt I had witnessed the beginnings of a community of Saints here in Arizona that will care for and show love to their LGBT brothers and sisters.