Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the first annual North Star Conference. North Star is a growing support organization that ministers to those who experience same-sex attraction and who sincerely desire to live within the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is also an increasing amount of resources for those who experience gender dysphoria (transgender). Just like same-sex attraction, transgender feelings are real, and those who experience them deserve the same amount of sensitivity and respect. For more information on North Star (and possibly a more accurate description), click here.
The theme of this conference was "At Home in the Gospel of Christ." Overall, the purpose was to help individuals accept and become comfortable with themselves, as well as feel welcomed and needed in the Church. It consisted of guest speakers, two large luncheons, a concert with the a capella group, Eclipse, access to other resources and breakout sessions for SSA men, SSA women, transgendered individuals, family members and church leaders. My favorite part of the weekend was seeing all the people. It was inspiring to see so many come out of the woodwork (pun somewhat intended), some for the very first time, in search of brotherhood, sisterhood and a sense of belonging within their faith. I saw some friends that I usually pal around with at these functions, but I also met some new friends. Some were from across the country, and others were from as far away as Australia (yeah...gay Mormons are taking over the world)! I even ran into someone I knew from outside of the group, who is transgender.
Something that stuck out to me was from a talk given by Sister Camille Fronk Olson, professor of ancient scripture at BYU. She was discussing the value of diversity among Latter-day Saints. She made reference to 3 Nephi 18:18:
"Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat."
She described the process of sifting wheat, separating it and making it all the same. Think about it...Satan would want to SEPARATE us and make us all the SAME! To me, that was profound on so many levels. I'll leave it to you to let that marinate and apply it to stuff currently going on in the world.
In contrast, she talked about how the Salt Lake Temple was built with varying sizes of granite blocks, making it a stronger structure. There are many, both in and out of the Church, who believe that Mormons have to all be the same, that we should all fit into a mold, that we all have to be married, returned missionaries, have children, look pretty, be thin, have a good singing voice, and/or be heterosexual. The truth is...the gospel can bless all individuals and families. We strive for and make the same covenants and keep the same commandments. With the appropriate eternal perspective, we do strive to be worthy of living in an eternal family consisting of a husband, wife and children. But these things do not take away from anyone's uniqueness and individuality. Some may be required to adjust opinions and lifestyles, but everyone would still have unique talents and perspectives to help build the kingdom of God. Diversity strengthens the Church.
My other favorite part of the conference was mingling. I felt like I could be my complete self...exchanging genuine, warm hugs, discussing eternal principles and gospel truths, flirting (well...I call it flirting) and making random gay jokes all in good fun.
As with most Church functions, we had opposition (North Star isn't affiliated with the Church, but still...). I can't address all the statements that were made against us, but I can vent. One common belief is that we detest the word "gay," or that we have to view same-sex attraction as a constant struggle. Some believe that we are trying to convince our SSA members that they can't be themselves or that they have to deny their sexuality. On the contrary, this conference was full of people who actually wanted to be there, and who were sincerely trying to find out how to reconcile these mortal experiences with their faith. We do not believe it is healthy to pretend to be straight or struggle/experience these issues in silence.
Personally, I believe that there are many aspects of being gay that are divine gifts from God, such as brotherhood, sisterhood, intimate non-sexual physical affection, and a general sense of love for all. I know that God loves all of His children, and desires that we return to Him. I have a testimony of eternity, that this life is but a short test and that all blessings can be ours as we are faithful to the commandments of God.