SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Former NFL great Steve Young will be one of the keynote speakers at a three-day conference in Salt Lake City exploring how the Mormon faith is dealing with gays and lesbians.
The 32nd annual Affirmation International Conference begins Friday and runs through Sunday. Affirmation president Randall Hacker says he’s expecting about 300 people at the gathering.
Steve Young and his wife are scheduled to speak Saturday night. Young is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and played football at Brigham Young University.
The Youngs said in a statement they are happy to be a part of the conference and “lend their voices to the healing work of making our families, our society and our church more welcoming places for our LGBT brothers and sisters.”
Having Young, a role model for both Mormons and young athletes, speak at the conference is yet another sign of a growing movement among straight Mormons to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brethren, Hacker said.
“That’s what changed things: the straight people coming out in support,” Hacker said. “For years, LGBT members were alone in fighting for their own. We will have more allies at this conference than ever before.”
He said the Youngs already support a project dedicated to helping LGBT youth in crisis and also spoke out against California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure passed by voter in 2008 that banned gay marriage. The Mormon church was one of the main backers of the law.
“He lends another strong voice, especially with Mormons in the inter-mountain west,” Hacker said.
Benji Schwimmer, an openly gay professional dancer who grew up Mormon, will speak Friday and give a dance performance Saturday night. He is a past winner of the show, “So You Think You Can Dance.”
The LDS church still teaches its members that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that same-sex relationships are sinful. But the church launched a campaign earlier this year encouraging members to be more compassionate toward gay and lesbian members of the church. The church welcomes members who experience “same-sex attraction” as long as they don’t act on those feelings.
The church also threw its support behind a new policy passed this year by the Boy Scouts of America that opens the door for gay youth to join the ranks, while continuing to ban gay adult Scout leaders.
Several groups have formed around the country to support gay Mormons, and hundreds have marched in gay pride parades to show their backing.