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Seeing marchers decked out in conservative Sunday school dress while carrying a “Mormons Building Bridges” banner was a rockets-red-glare moment in the raucous 2012 pride parade.
Though there were other, more long-standing groups that offered support for the growing population of LGBTQ members within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, few were as public or as visible as Bridges.
Its participants were not out to debate politics or policies, organizers said at the time, but to promote love and listening. Still, their simple yet potent gesture echoed around the globe, setting an example for fellow believers who then took up the style, if not the name, in other pride parades, attracting national and international media attention.
In the decade since, participation in Mormons Building Bridges and its pride presence has ebbed and flowed, sometimes attracting hundreds of marchers and sometimes only dozens as the church continues to wrestle with how to serve LGBTQ believers in its midst.
The doctrine remains the same as it has been for decades — that same-sex attraction is not a sin but acting on it is.
Today, Bridges is primarily a Facebook group, says Christina Dee, a Farmington mother and one of the page’s moderators. “We don’t have a committee, organization or leadership. We do have a presence at some festivals and the pride parade and a hugging booth as long as there is a volunteer to set it up.”
But Bridges was a pioneer in the public link between the Utah-based faith and the LGBTQ community, a sometimes uncomfortable relationship.
It became a catalyst, Dee says, for other groups to create space for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints — and their allies — who wanted to balance their faith and their sexual orientation or to energize already existing support organizations. They offer a spectrum of attachment to the church.
As pride celebrations approach, here are some of the groups, listed loosely in chronological order.
Launched in the 1970s at Brigham Young University in Provo, Affirmation is the oldest support group for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints. Its mission, according to Affirmation’s website, is to create “worldwide communities of safety, love and hope” and to promote “understanding, acceptance and self-determination of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions” as members define “their individual spirituality and intersection with [the church.]”
Just as the church has evolved in its understanding of and approach to its LGBTQ members, Affirmation has expanded as well — across the country and around the world. It hosts annual meetings in several nations as well as a global gathering in Provo in July.
LDS Family Fellowship
Launched in 1993 by several sets of parents with gay children, LDS Family Fellowship staged conferences and quarterly forums and sent a monthly newsletter, which included “personal stories of LDS families trying to understand homosexuality as they confronted the disconnect between church teachings and the reality of their lives.”
It has been “inactive” since 2019, says Gary Watts, one of the founders.
In 2013, a group of eight fairly traditional Latter-day Saint moms created a private Facebook page to discuss how best to love and accept their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids. They became Mama Dragons.
The grassroots organization provides support groups, parenting classes, suicide prevention workshops, and a community of 9,500 mothers learning to better support, affirm and celebrate their LGBTQ children, according to board member Neca Allgood.
“Our programs are focused on supporting and educating mothers during the essential first year of their child coming out and those from nonaffirming families, religions and cultures.”
Mama Dragons is no longer “an LDS-specific group,” Allgood says. “Indeed, although much of our early growth was in Utah, at this point less than half of our membership is from an LDS background.”
North Star emerged as successor to Evergreen International, an established Latter-day Saint support group.
North Star remains the most closely aligned with the church. Its stated mission is “to support individuals and families as they live in harmony with the church’s teachings of Jesus Christ and [its] doctrines and values.”
It hosts an annual conference that attracts thousands of attendees and prominent speakers. It is, organizers say, “an invaluable resource for individuals who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria and wish to stay on the covenant path and live a Christ-centered life filled with peace and joy.”
As some LGBTQ organizations began to distance themselves from the church, Erika Munson, co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges, and former Affirmation leader John Gustav-Wrathall, created Emmaus, linking to the biblical story of Jesus Christ’s post-resurrection appearance.
“We took on the name Emmaus to emphasize the journey,” Munson says. “We are all on this road together, and even though we might not always realize it, the Savior is there, too.…Zion is not complete without LGBTQ individuals. We believe there is room — so much room — in an LDS ward [congregation] for Christ-centered relationships, regardless of membership status.”
Gustav-Wrathall adds: “Emmaus fosters conversations about ministering. We meet with church leaders — both formal leaders in positions of authority as well as informal thought leaders in the church — to talk about what good ministering to and with LGBTQ individuals and their families looks like. Emmaus members will initiate conversations with their church leaders. This summer we’re organizing a series of ‘Emmaus dinners’ in different locations, to break bread and talk about ministering.
“The other piece is providing support to LGBTQ folks who choose to be active in the church.”
Lift + Love
Founder Allison Dayton grew up with parents who bravely navigated loving and supporting their openly gay son. Dayton’s brother, who was deeply wounded by the messages that something was terribly wrong with him, ended his own life six years ago.
In 2019, after her own son came out, Dayton started Lift + Love to help mothers support their LGBTQ children. In the past few years, the foundation has seen a dramatic shift as parents support and protect their children but struggle to stay connected to the church.
Dayton spoke at the BYU Women’s Conference about “Loving and lifting our LGBTQ children with Christ as our guide.”
The Lift and Love Foundation provides 10 free monthly support meetings for LGBTQ youths, adults, parents and allies, suicide prevention training, resources for leaders and allies, weekly stories of Latter-day Saint families with LGBTQ children, and educational resources.
“Lift and Love supports LGBTQ individuals and their families in their connection to each other and to Christ,” Dayton says. “We are church positive and trust people to navigate their choices with God as their guide.”
Several of the recent groups, including Emmaus and Lift + Love, are uniting for Gather, a Christ-centered conference for Latter-day Saint LGBTQ individuals and those who love them. Besides Dayton, the Sept. 15-16 meeting at Provo’s Utah Valley Convention Center will feature prominent Latter-day Saint speakers, including Steve Young, Darius Gray, Tom Christofferson, Ben Schilaty, Charlie Bird and Richard Ostler.