When a dream team of Latter-day Saint LGBTQ advocates met last year, their idea for a meeting seemed both obvious and bold — bring together everyone who wanted to be associated with Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
No matter where they found themselves on the spectrum of religious participation, belief or orientation, all were welcome.
The result is the Gather Conference, a two-day meeting starting Friday at the Utah Valley Convention Center in downtown Provo. Nearly 1,300 people have registered to attend.
Gather is a coalition of groups and individuals who give their time to ensure LGBTQ people and their families are supported in Utah’s predominant faith.
It is led by Allison Dayton, founder of Lift + Love, and Ben Schilaty, co-host of the “Questions From the Closet” podcast. They are joined by Tom Christofferson; Steve Young; Charlie Bird; Richard Ostler of Listen, Learn and Love; and Erika Munson and John Gustav-Wrathall of Emmaus LGBTQ Ministry.
The conference is “for everyone who loves God and wants to gather,” organizers say. “Come as you are.”
They wanted to create an inclusive and safe community of people — active members, not-so-active members, members who have questions, inactive members, people who have stepped away or are taking a break from the church and Latter-day Saint adjacent friends — to celebrate together.
“If you are lucky enough to be in a ward [congregation] like mine in Arizona, you will be loved for who you are,” Christofferson says in an interview. “But if you’re not, this could be your community and home, where we support each other.”
Being in a room with more than a thousand people “sharing a common experience,” he says, “there’s strength there.”
Many LGBTQ members and former members miss that sense of community, Dayton says, but don’t feel like they belong.
She hopes Gather will be a “warm and welcoming space” for all attendees so they can feel “embraced as a part of God’s work.”
The message, she says, is that “God needs all of you and all your different gifts.”
No judgments. No boundaries.