I have many gay friends both in and out of the LDS church and I love them all. This is a topic I have strong feelings about that I rarely share in public forum such as this. However, I thought I would share some of my experience and my feelings as I attended the North Star Conference.
As silly as it sounds I entered the North Star Conference feeling a bit like Quasimodo. You know, the disfigured character from Disney's, "Hunchback of Notre Dame" (taken from the original book by Victor Hugo). Deformed from birth and locked away in a tower. All of his life he spent his days watching the people of Paris, feeling like an outcast.
Not that I am like Quasi but I have been around or been a part of both North Star & Voice(s) of Hope since their inception. I am continually amazed at how many strangers have come out that they are gay, for the first time, to me. I am humbled at how many LDS members of the church I have sent to speak to other LDS members of the church (or outside the church) who struggle with SSA or being gay. I have loved every single one of those opportunities but I, myself, don't struggle with these feelings. So, sometimes I can't help but feel like an outsider or a fraud. These were some of my feelings as I walked into the conference to hear the first Keynote Speaker: Ty Mansfield.
As I listened to him and others speak I kept thinking...what do I have to offer?
The first Break-Out Session I attended was part of the Women's Track at the Conference. I walked into the room I right away I noticed a friend of mine. She started crying. This was her first time to anything like this. Her first time letting people know she struggled with SSA. She told me later that she had worried the entire time driving to UT that, "What will happen if I run into someone I know??" and then she did. I smiled and sat down next to her. She softly asked me if I was there for me or presenting. I told her I was presenting and we turned to the speaker. Half way through that workshop she leaned over to me and said, "I guess if I had to bump into someone I knew here--I am glad it was you." My heart filled with love. For my friend this conference was, in her words, "Life changing"
I didn't agree with or love everything all the presenters had to say BUT I sincerely felt their love and authenticity. I went to each Break-Out Session with the intent to learn, grow, and to challenge anything I didn't believe was true (and I did ask a few challenging questions). The thing is each time I left a workshop/class I had this incredible feeling of safety and love. A belonging place--even for an outcast like me.
When it came time for me to do my workshop/presentation on being single all I could think about was how I hoped that some people would show up. It wasn't lost on me that the majority of the conference were men struggling with SSA and here I was a female, who doesn't struggle with SSA, presenting some ideas about how to be happy and single. HA! People came, we had some great discussions, I felt that I could be vulnerable (I don't do this well) and others felt the same. Our hearts connected and I didn't feel like an outsider at all. I felt deeply loved and in turn felt an abundance of love for those in my class.
I tried to attend a Break-Out Session from most of the different Tracks available. I think one of my favorites classes was the class I was the most worried about. I attend a class for Ecclesiastical Leaders about how to help those with SSA in your propinquity. I feared there would be talk or conformity, or tough love, or maybe some ideas around this complete idiocy phrase "hate the sin--not the sinner". To my utmost surprise (I shouldn't have been surprised) the entire class was filled with honest questions about helping those who are struggling with SSA or feeling they are Gay in the church. I thought the two therapists leading the discussion did a great job of moving the class along and facilitating difficult but true situations. I found myself so badly wishing there were more leaders in attendance listening.
Being that often the male leaders of the church are where many youth end up going to talk to when they have questions about their SSA feelings or sexuality--it is so important that they understand that sacred ground of helping teens to navigate in or out of the church (whatever is in their best interest). I left that class feeling that maybe some things will change for the better in the church for those with SSA--at least for those who talk with the leaders in attendance.
While I know there are many who will disagree with me, In my experience, this conference was a haven for those who came desiring to stay in the LDS church and reconcile their feelings in some kind of healthy manner for themselves. I left the North Star Conference feeling better, lighter, loved, strengthened. I made many new friends and found myself renewed to love better, be kinder, and listen more.
North Star and conferences like this aren't for everyone and I'm grateful for other resources, friends, opportunities, and places for people to go when they no longer feel safe or loved in the LDS church or in their homes. Please know you are loved, you are awesome, and you matter!
I welcome your feelings/thoughts about the North Star Conference and any rebuttals also.