Last night was my first USGA meeting.

USGA, which stands for Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, is unaffiliated with BYU but often meets in campus classrooms.

I had heard about USGA twice before I went last night - there was the student panel where the room applauded someone who planned to find a partner after graduating from BYU, and the It Gets Better videos.

Both times the group sounded more controversial than I really wanted to see.

So when I went, I wasn't really sure what to expect. It was promoted as a "Testimony of Christ" meeting. I walked in around 7:05 and the room - a lecture hall in the law building - had about 70 people already inside. Mostly men, with a smattering of women here and there. I knew a few people from the recent conference on Same-Gender Attraction, but no one else.

After fifteen minutes of business (this is the last meeting of the year, future meetings might be held off of BYU campus for space and other needs), the testimony part started. And there wasn't really much that was questionable. The meeting itself was a lot like a testimony meeting. Lots of different people who got up and shared their personal testimony of Christ, and the only evidence that we weren't at a Thursday EFY session were the comments like, "I don't know if Christ is a metaphysical presence or a great teacher..."

It was interesting, though. I felt like many of the people there were just watching, listening. Only a few of us got up to share. I shared part of it on Twitter and was probably the only person doing so. But that's normal with any testimony meeting. :)

The interesting part was the post-meeting discussions.

I'm awkward when it comes to unstructured social environments. And the end of a meeting where I know no one is definitely unstructured. A couple people asked me who I was, and I just shared my name. I don't know if people there read my blog... but I got the feeling that most of them didn't.

At one point someone picked up a conversation with the guy who had run the meeting and expressed some of his concerns about meetings in the past. The response was telling. At least from what I gathered, USGA is designed to make people feel comfortable who are not currently finding the answers to their questions in the Church. By focusing on the secular side of the equation, and avoiding the spiritual discussions that predominate places like here at (Gay) Mormon Guy, USGA appeals to people whose lives match the same frame. At the same time, it sounded like people who are deeply religious have been turned off by the admittedly non-religious (which is by definition anti-Mormon or gay-affirmative) bent of the group on nights that aren't testimony meetings.

At one point the leader shared that he understood the concern. The wording he used was "we try to involve everyone, but we see more of the LGBTQ than the SSA." That struck me... because it was the first time that I had ever heard of people within the community making a linguistic distinction between people and how they deal with homosexuality instead of the types of feelings they face.

I have mixed feelings about the approach. Some people think that in order to appeal to everyone, you have to go the non-religious or non-denominational route. But, in doing so, you're often doing the exact same thing as choosing one religion and endorsing it. You're just endorsing humanism, or another belief system that views religions as personal endeavors instead of core principles of human existence. The thought came to me that Christ met and ate with sinners, but always taught exactly the truth - and only the truth. And I found myself wondering how it would be possible to create a group that was honestly just as inclusive as USGA was trying to be, but that could meet the spiritual needs of group members through helping everyone come closer to Christ on their own paths.

On the current pathway, it doesn't look like USGA will be meeting any of my personal spiritual needs. But at the same time, it was obvious that this was a place where people who wanted to find acceptance and belonging could find it. And where I can help people find and feel the peace I've found in the gospel. Multiple people who bore their testimonies didn't have same-gender attraction and weren't there with friends... they had just heard that USGA was a place where they could find people who would love and accept them no matter what.

I guess I have mixed feelings about my participation and what is going to happen going forward. Part of me just wants to watch. Part of me feels like I should jump in and do what I can. Part of me wants to create something else that can really meet the spiritual needs that people have - something like the Matis firesides that disappeared and could be more open to the public at large. And part says to just do everything and see what sticks.

Either way, I think I'll be going back.
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