Before I continue, I think maybe it would be good to introduce the characters and organizations in this post:
1. Josh Weed: You can read his own words about himself here. If you've read my blog(s), he figures prominently in those as Jason Lockhart, which was his blognym before he began his personal blog a couple of years ago. I retained his anonymity in my blog until he came out this year, at which point there was no reason to be concerned with people knowing about his friendship and association with me.
2. Mitch Mayne: His blog is here. I have not met Mr. Mayne, nor do I expect I will do so, as there is no real reason for such a meeting. However, he is a high profile person in the LGBT community, so many members of that community know him or know of him, especially those who are or who have been formerly members of the LDS faith.
3. Circling the Wagons: I admit to not being completely knowledgeable about this, not having attended a conference before, but this is a portion of their mission statement:
The goal of the Mormon Stories “Circling the Wagons” conference is to create a space where LGBTQ or SSA individuals and their families and allies can gather to acknowledge, explore and honor shared experiences. No issues strike more deeply than who we love and how we understand and honor God. These issues carry an especially profound weight in Mormon communities and have been the source of a great deal of misunderstanding, judgment and hurt. Consequently, gay Mormons are deeply divided over how to address same-sex attraction and negotiate the choices they face.The rest of the mission statement (which is a little longer than I wish to publish in my blog, but is worth the read) found here (scroll to the bottom of the page).
4. North Star: This is an organization with which I've been associated since its inception. I know, personally, most of the board members, and have friendships with them. This is their mission statement:
The mission of North Star is to provide a place of community for Latter-day Saints who experience homosexual attraction, as well as their family, friends, and ecclesiastical leaders. North Star serves those who desire the spiritual and social support that strengthens faith, builds character, and empowers men and women to live in joy and harmony within their covenants, values, and beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
North Star appreciates the importance of supportive fellowship and friendship with others who share their life experiences, values, and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. North Star seeks to facilitate these relationships and to create a community where individuals will find joy in the gospel, help one another more fully understand and apply the atonement in their lives, share their experiences and challenges without shame or fear, and discover ways to contribute their unique gifts and talents to the work of the Lord.
Recognizing the uniqueness of individual circumstance, North Star takes no official position on the origin or mutability of homosexual feelings and attractions but supports all efforts consistent with the gospel that help individuals live in more full harmony with their covenants and attain greater peace, fulfillment, and sense of individual worth, while affirming that the most essential and eternal growth and progress come through the power of the Savior and adherence to the teachings of His prophets.
North Star holds that the power and grace of Christ enables each individual to renounce behavior and manage thoughts that will prevent him or her from returning into His presence. North Star testifies Jesus Christ has the power to reach and transform every life and every individual can find genuine peace and hope in the promises of His gospel.In a recent blog post, Mr. Mayne makes the following assumptions about North Star:
1. "...North Star, an organization that positions LGBT Mormons as 'struggling with same-sex attraction' and encourages them to change or suppress their orientation."
2. "North Star encourages LGBT Mormons to view themselves as broken and afflicted..."
In the first assumption I am uncertain as to the source of Mr. Mayne's quote. Members of North Star's board have been careful to gauge homosexuality as a condition some members of the church experience which is unique and is frequently accompanied by feelings of loneliness, depression, and shame. The point of North Star's existence is to be a place of support for homosexual members of the church who feel a need to remain faithful to covenants and live the gospel. The organization is not for everyone, nor was it intended to be. However, there is no encouragement to change orientation. As for suppression of orientation, I suppose if one believes that not entering into a same-sex relationship is suppression, then North Star must remain guilty as charged. North Star has made no secret that the organization exists to support those who desire to remain faithful and active in the church, and at this time that does require abstinence from same-gender sexual relationships. Other than that, however, I am unsure of Mitch Mayne's meaning when he accuses NS of encouraging suppression, and as I choose not to make unfair assumptions, I will limit my comments to that which I have said.
The second of Mr. Mayne's assumptions is blatantly false. As one who has been a member of discussion groups and who knows well the purpose of North Star's inception, I can say without reservation that the opposite is true. Those who participate in the organization are encouraged to see the beauty of who they are, to seek for purpose in their lives as they live with same-gender attraction, to find self-worth, and to use their unique situation to help others. One of the attestations in Ty Mansfield's first book, In Quiet Desperation, which served to infuriate one or two leading reparative therapists of the time was his sincere belief that the Lord loves him as he is, and that his task in life is not to change his orientation, but to seek the Lord's will in his life, and follow it. Ty met with similarly believing people and in time, North Star was formed to help individuals who wished simply to follow Christ--not to agonize over homosexuality or feelings of shame.
The purpose of North Star has been skewed drastically by Mr. Mayne in his blog post. I am unhappy about this because I believe that the organization serves a genuinely positive purpose for many SSA men and women who find support and love there as they continue to serve faithfully in the LDS church. It has also been of great benefit as parents and friends within the organization learn of ways to remain close to their SSA loved ones, regardless of whether or not those loved ones remain in the church, leave it, or choose to seek a same-sex partnership. Those family members and friends are given a place to talk of their fears and hopes and learn from each other. As they feel supported, they are better able to love without judgment and continue valuable relationships with homosexual children, siblings, spouses, and friends.
In reference to Josh Weed, Mr. Mayne says this:
"Mr. Weed’s message is routinely co-opted by many within our faith as the preferred path for LGBT Mormon youth, despite his insistence that it may not be the path for everyone. "
Unfortunately, this is not incorrect. Many within the church, for countless years, have decided that the best way to "cure the gay" is to get married. This has had disastrous results for many who have heeded such counsel--but not all. Most of us who live happily within our mixed-orientation marriages say nothing. One reason is that we understand that this is not something that will work for everyone, and we don't want to fuel the currently existing misunderstanding within the church. Another reason is that we don't wish to have our marriages placed beneath the public microscope. We simply want to continue living with our spouses, enjoying them, fighting with them, sleeping with them, and basically just being married to them, without comment or judgment from people who know nothing about us.
And finally, we say nothing because we're aware of the derision that comes to us from the gay community. We've heard all that "stuff" about not being true to ourselves, and living lies, and how our kids will turn out screwed up because of us. We're not immune to the hate-filled statements aimed at us, and while we understand that many of those come from spouses and children who have been deeply hurt by mixed-orientation marriages that have not continued, we would still like the opportunity to make our own choices without being called "evil" by those who do not know us.
So--while Mr. Mayne's assertion is not necessarily wrong, it is unfair to place a gag order on Josh because he chooses to speak about his experience with mixed-orientation marriage. My hope is that as he does so, he continues to caution church members not to assume his story belongs to anyone but him, and remind people of all faiths that marriage is always difficult (there is a reason for our rather high divorce rate).
But my problem with the blog post is that Mr. Mayne cites information about families rejecting SSA children and suicide rates and depression, as if he somehow believes that information is linked to North Star's representation at the Circling the Wagons conference, and Josh's speech, which Mr. Mayne has yet to hear. From my previous statements about North Star, it's clear that the purpose of NS is to prevent such familial rejection and help alleviate depression and combat current rates of suicide, and anyone who has been a reader of Josh's blog understands that he desires those same things--and in fact, once devoted more than one post to helping a suicidal young man who left a plea for help.
Mr. Mayne's assumption that including North Star and Josh Weed in the Circling the Wagons Conference will be detrimental to the inclusive and open-minded stance touted by previous conferences is premature and smacks of small-minded ignorance. Indeed, he is making assumptions of a nature similar to those in the church who lump all SSA individuals into one large group of "evil", or who assume they will molest their children, or who believe being gay is a choice...
Which brings me to my point, I suppose, which is that anyone, regardless of how free-thinking or progressive he might believe himself to be, can be just as judgmental and bigotted toward any individual or organization who/which does not fit into his cookie-cutter mold of how life should be.
"Should" is a word which Tolkien Boy suggested to me, a long time ago, be omitted from our ideas about life. Instead, he believed we might simply look at what is. That takes a great deal of courage. I believe that's what those who are producing the Circling the Wagons conference are doing--looking at what is happening now, allowing those currently existing people and organizations a voice, and trusting those who hear to choose for themselves what best fits their lives right now. Some will reject North Star and some will reject Josh Weed, but they'll do so after hearing their voices and knowing more about them, and that's much better than doing so out of blind ignorance and fear.