Opening Remarks at the Inaugural Meeting of the Circling the Wagons Coalition

By Anne McMullin Peffer

About the Coalition

It’s exciting to be standing here today. The development of Circling the Wagons and the progression of the relationship between gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and same-sex attracted Mormons and the overall Mormon community has been a pleasure (and, admittedly a bit of a trial) to be part of over the last few years. When I decided to run the first Circling the Wagons Conference in 2011, I instinctually knew that I needed to begin by getting on the phone and talking to same-sex attracted and gay Mormons about what kind of conference would be most beneficial to them. I made a point, from the very beginning, of working to talk to as many people from as many different perspectives as possible in order to ensure that I might be able to do my best to put on a conference that would work for them rather than a conference that would reflect my own biases. What I heard from everyone was a sense that there was no one space where they were safely welcomed to discuss their experiences without fear of the criticism of others. Circling the Wagons was born.

In coming together for a Coalition meeting of people having such divergent perspectives to discuss topics such as belief, religion and sexual attractions and behaviors, that are so inherently sensitive, emotional and personal and are so closely related to our identities, there is zero expectation, in my mind at least, that we will find complete agreement on much of anything. I don’t think, though, that it is also true that we must engage with each other in harsh, critical debates that leave us feeling isolated, frustrated and hurt. I’ve learned that there is much to be gained by listening to those who do not share my perspectives for the simple purpose of trying to understand where they are coming from, how they got there and why their beliefs and decisions are as important to them as my beliefs and decisions are to me. I’ve found through this process, too, that I have more in common with those with whom I disagree than I would have known if I had never made an opportunity for myself to begin listening and learning.

Last year, with these thoughts in mind, and in response to the many conversations I had had with different lesbian, gay, bisexual and same-sex attracted Mormons, I made the decision to forward the Circling the Wagons Statement of Purpose that Joseph Broom, who is here in the room, I and other conference planners had originally agreed upon as our objective for the first Circling the Wagons conference and to invite Josh Weed to keynote alongside Allen Miller and Joseph to demonstrate Circling the Wagon’s commitment to creating a safe space for everyone. Most of you probably remember what happened. What is exciting to me, is that after the community experienced together that moment of sharing safe spaces with those with whom one disagrees, there was a surge of desire from many on all sides to continue on in the bridge building efforts. As a result, Lee Beckstead and Jim Struve organized a building bridges workshop in early 2013 and began the process of getting therapists on different sides of the issue together to start discussions.

I also received, around that time, many requests from many Mormons from different perspectives to hold a round table meeting among the more influential members of the community for the purpose of getting everyone together to work towards the good goals they have in common: namely, to help protect and alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable Mormons among us. Although there is great disagreement in this community, I’ve found, in speaking to many of you, that you all share the desire to ease the burdens of those who need the most help.

Honest truth? When people came to me with these requests for a round table, I was very resistant. I couldn’t imagine getting together so many strong-willed, intelligent and opinionated leaders who disagreed with each other, even though I saw (and see) great maturity in everyone, because I couldn’t think, at the time, of what our objectives would be. Before calling a meeting that takes precious time, I wanted to have a vision of what we’d be trying to accomplish in that meeting, why we’d want to accomplish it and how we’d make it happen.

Fortunately, the work Lee, Jim, David and the other therapists have done over the past year has made it possible to work towards concrete objectives. Today, what we’ll be doing is the preparatory work for the collective creation of documents that will lie out standards of ethical communication conflict resolution. We’ve got two note-takers from, what I call for the sake of simplification, the “right” and two note-takers from, again simplified, the “left.” They’re each taking individual notes that they will together compile into a report that they all feel accurately represents today’s meeting and then we’ll post that report to the password-protected website and will email you each a copy of it. From there, we’ll use the notes to begin the process of drafting standards of ethical communication and conflict resolution. Those of you who would like to volunteer to be members of a drafting team are welcome to be part of the writing process. The document drafts will be emailed to all of you who are here today for your feedback and will be continually revised based on what we hear back from you. Our objective is to create some standards we all agree on for the purpose of using them to better communicate in the future so that we’re more able to work together to alleviate some of the suffering of the most vulnerable members of our community.

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