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Kate’s daughter Emily with her wife Heather, Barb Young, Kate, and Steve Young at the International Affirmation Conference

The past 10 days have been filled with a lot of religion. Ten days ago, I spoke at the International Affirmation Conference, the LGBTQ Mormon gathering in Provo, Utah. And last week it was 24/7 Pope Francis.

Both of these events left me a bit unmoored.

The church of my childhood, the Mormon church, and the Catholic church I thought I knew, have transformed in ways more fully embracing of dignity justice and belonging. Yes, as a politically progressive, vaguely agnostic, lesbian feminist, there is still a lot to not like, such as the canonization of Junipero Serra, who brutalized Native Americans, and his support of a claimed religious “liberty” to discriminate.

But in the past week, “wow” replaced my usual “it figures.”

I’ve never heard a Pope condemn the death penalty and plea for better care for the earth, and I’ve never had a devout Mormon leader apologize to me for the church’s involvement in supporting Proposition 8.

But in the span of six days, I lived both.

I last attended an Affirmation Conference 12 years ago. At that time, I met many LGBTQ individuals who still deeply yearned to be part of a church that rejected them, with many of them also having been rejected by their families and parents. The pain was palpable. At the Affirmation Conference 10 days ago the mood could not have been more different.

Many parents were there with their LGBTQ kids or sisters with gay brothers or daughters with lesbian moms. It was a family conference.

My first encounter was with a key Mormon leader who I had met during Prop 8. It was a shock to see him there. More shocking was his warm embrace of me and his clear regret for the church’s full throated support of Prop 8. He got emotional. I got emotional.

These two experiences have made it clear to me that despite my previous bias, perhaps formerly conservative religions and dogmatic religious leaders could be a force for true justice.

I know there are many progressive religious leaders who have long spoken about and been champions for a broad vision of justice, inclusion, and celebration of human dignity.

I also know that the church of my childhood and the Catholic church have not been in this fold before. Part of the resonance of Pope Francis’s visit was a belief that he spoke for more than just faithful Catholics. And part of the power I felt at the Affirmation Conference was that many Mormon leaders and Mormon faithful were embracing of their LGBTQ family members in a way that was unprecedented.

I will not pretend to know “what would Jesus do?”. But what I can say with some confidence is that those committed to true human dignity and equality and justice cannot truly claim those values without embracing the poor, the vulnerable, people of color, immigrants, the disabled, or those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

I would not have imagined 10 days ago that my commitment to full justice and human rights would be buoyed by conservative religions or religious leaders. But here I am.


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