Over the last weekend, I attended the third annual All Arizona conference in Mesa, a conference for promoting greater love and understanding of LGBT/SSA Mormons. While I’ve been aware of the conference since its inception, this was the first year I was able to attend.

Here’s the thing about these kind of Mormon conferences: they’re really just big family reunions. I may not have met many of these people face-to-face, but through Facebook groups, blogs, emails, personal messages, and even text and phone calls, many have become like sisters and brothers to me, so walking into a room full of people with whom I’ve laughed and cried and raged is like coming home.

Practically sisters.

The conference is planned for people who are working to remain active in the church, but with the understanding that activity isn’t always the healthiest choice for everyone. There is no judgement about where one is in their faith or activity.

I can’t communicate every moment that touched me, because there were so many, but here are the main points I took away from the participants:

We have to be and create safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ adults and especially children.

John Gustav-Wrathall, a member of the Board of Directors of Affirmation, spoke about being a young boy, knowing he was gay and keeping it a secret from everyone. He said, “I wonder how things would have changed if there had been an adult or leader I had trusted with my secret.”

It’s not enough to claim to be an ally. It’s not enough to march in parades and change our Facebook profile photos. Our support cannot be hidden. Being vocal and brave about our love and support for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters saves lives.

Allyship is earned through hard conversations with people who use phrases like “love the sinner, hate the sin” and “living the gay lifestyle” and “chooses to be that way” and “counterfeit marriages.” Allyship is earned through reading and listening and reflecting. Allyship is earned by speaking the truth with love.

The work to become Christlike takes a lifetime to complete.

Everyone is beautiful and precious in the sight of God. We are God’s children! Why do we constantly claim to know who God loves and doesn’t love? Why do we treat others as if they are not worthy of love, simply for being who they are?

One of Brother Gustav-Wrathall’s greatest points was that the saving ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ take just minutes to perform, the covenants take just moments to repeat, but it takes a lifetime to become Christlike and to become worthy of Celestial glory. The ordinances and covenants are pieces that can be done in the afterlife. We must learn to be like Jesus Christ in this life.

Christ didn’t just tell people to love one another, he sought out the downtrodden, the marginalized, and he healed them and lifted them. Just because something is out of the realm of your experience does not make it sinful or terrible. If you feel uncomfortable or judgmental of the choices of another human being, lean into those feelings until you find empathy.

Matthew 25:40 says:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Unto the least of these. Who are the least? Who is the opposite of me? If I am a fat, middle class, cisgender, straight, married, white woman, who is least like me? It’s easy to serve and to love people who look, act, and think like me, but God requires that I serve and love those who are least like me. I can do that. After all, that’s what I covenanted to do and it’s an act that I must spend my life trying to perfect.

All are alike unto God.

The overall message of ALL Arizona is taken from 2 Nephi: 26: 33:

…He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female…and all are alike unto God.

The most touching moment for me was the closing testimony meeting. How inspiring to hear LGBT Mormons claim both their spirituality and their sexual identity and give credit to God for creating both in them! How refreshing to hear parents talk with love for their LGBT children and accept them and their choices with Godly love and patience.

Listening to the raw pain and anguish of Mormons who have been shunned and rejected by the home and church families made it the most real and moving testimony meeting of my life.

While I was in Phoenix, I stayed with a gay couple. The night I arrived, they were headed out for a wild night of debauchery and put on a fashion show for me that would singe the nose hairs of Dana Carvey’s Church Lady. It was wild and raucous and very fun. While I did not participate in their night out, I saw them the way God sees them: precious and beautiful and full of joy. I celebrate their choice to live their life with joy and integrity.

The next day I saw LGBTQ men and women and the parents of LGBTQ children talk about how they are clinging to faith, despite hurtful words and actions from fellow members and church leaders. I saw their joy in finding community and their happiness at being able to speak freely in a safe space. Again, I was only an observer and still I saw them the way God sees them: precious and beautiful and full of joy. I celebrate their choice to live their life with joy and integrity.

Because all are alike unto God.

Bio: Jerilyn Hassell Pool was born and raised in Southern Oregon, the eldest of 8 children. She is the mother of five children, ages 7 to 23. She has been married for nearly 25 years. She has a calling as the pianist in the local Spanish-speaking branch (although she speaks no Spanish) and is active in feminist and LGBTQ communities as a Mormon advocate for inclusion and acceptance. She works from home as a freelance web and print designer.

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