Wednesday, March 16

North Star and the 2016 North Star Conference - "Upon the Rock of Christ"

It's been a while since I did anything with North Star.

North Star is a multi-faceted organization. As a base, the organization provides resources for members of the LDS Church and community to help them understand and navigate issues surrounding sexuality. Under that umbrella, North Star organizes inspirational firesides, encourages positive blog posts, holds annual conferences, and publishes information on same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria, and a bunch of other issues. North Star is somewhat unique (and, from my perspective, this is an absolute necessity) in its role of explicitly and exclusively affirming the LDS faith. (There are dozens of organizations that encourage exploration of sexuality within Mormonism and, whether to avoid hurt feelings or send subliminal messages, do not officially support LDS doctrine. This inevitably leads to the propagation of anti-Mormon messages.)

I was actually on the Executive Committee of North Star for a little while. I didn't accomplish much while in office. I left after only a few months because I was stressed with issues in life, because I didn't like meetings, and because I had strong feelings about direction that didn't seem to match with what was going to happen.

So I took a break.

Some back story is probably required here.

For many people helped by North Star, the defining characteristic of North Star is the camaraderie gained through association. North Star hosts a number of private email and Facebook groups, and, to many people, "North Star" is a Facebook group or discussion group itself, or a group of people who show up to a fireside or event. To join groups, individuals pledge to follow a strict code of conduct, and the groups and posts have assigned moderators, but like any other discussion board where moderation happens after the fact, a lot gets through, and moderation is hard to enforce or determine where to draw the line (hence why (G)MG is not moderated after the fact. Every comment that goes up gets approved before it does, and there are plenty that don't just because). And, since the Facebook group uses people's real identity, things can happen that are less than ideal. For many people, events and communications sponsored by North Star are inspiring and uplifting, but for a few, an anti-Mormon post on their Facebook feed or the person who breaks the code of conduct and acts inappropriately in a personal message or in person can lead to much more negative experiences.

The issue is that North Star serves a huge, diverse population with incredibly diverse needs. While those who are first coming to terms with their sexuality may crave and need security, anonymity, and positive reinforcement in a completely safe environment, those who have progressed and developed their own testimonies and personal strength find value in openness, friendship, and the ability to be themselves around others. Ideally, perhaps North Star would offer different resources to different people along the way, but most people learn of the organization through the resources that would be offered last - the in-person or open groups.

From my spot here at (G)MG I've seen a lot of people in pain. I've met countless people who have made bad decisions and are trying to clean up the mess... and ultimately that's where my heart lies. There are plenty of people who have come to terms with their sexuality, perhaps found a spouse (if they're lucky enough / blessed to have that in this life), and risen from their addictions into healthy living... but there are plenty who have not. I'm an idealist. And I wanted North Star to be an ideal resource for them. Or, perhaps more accurately, for what I assumed their needs to be based on my own personal experience.

You see, when I looked for help while struggling through addiction, I couldn't find anything. The world seemed totally blank and dismal, and the lack of information on the topic made me honestly think that I was the only guy in the Church who was attracted to other men. All the blogs I found were of people who had left, or were obviously in the process of leaving the faith. I had nothing.

I just wanted someone to answer my questions. Someone to talk to. I didn't need to know their name, or go bowling with them, or do anything else. I had a social life of my own, with my own ward and people who cared about me for me. I just needed someone who could help me understand part of me that no one else could, in a way that made me feel understood.

The difficulty is that what I wanted (and what I as an Executive Committee member wanted North Star to exclusively become) - a personal source of honest, safe, and reliable information from someone who could help me understand - would be incredibly resource-intensive to create and maintain.

And the fact that I also wanted to eliminate any potential source of danger until people had proven they were completely safe (which would have meant shutting down the Facebook groups, turning the email groups into completely pre-moderated groups or boards, and only inviting limited members to in-person events)...


Part of me feels that I'm like the dad in Finding Nemo. I've seen and felt so much pain in the past that I have trouble letting people go into situations where they could get hurt.

But another part of me still feels the pain watching people in the past, and still sees the danger. If I'm in a deeply compromised emotional state, feeling alone, and stuck in addiction (the exact state when I began searching for help), and my first introduction to the gay Mormon community is an event where I meet someone really attractive who shares my feelings, wants to be my friend, and is also deeply unhealthy, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize how easily and likely it is that we would make really bad decisions. Yes, I could go find someone like that on my own, but that's far less likely for an aspiring saint than befriending someone with good intentions and having things go out of control.

Along with the stress of life and work, that's why I took a break. I stopped mentioning North Star to people who turned to me for help, buried myself in my own little world of (G)MG, and pulled myself away.

But I'm going to the annual conference this year. It's being held at the Provo Marriott - a block from my shop - and I feel like I should give North Star another chance. Every organization has problems - groups are made of imperfect people - but at its core, North Star was founded to help people... and it does. As I said at the beginning, it's one of the few that officially supports the Church, and the volunteer forces behind the group are small. By withdrawing, I only give more space to the people on the other side. It would be like shutting down (G)MG because of haters or hate mail.

And that's the other part. North Star can't be everything to everyone, and it can't meet the needs of all the people who come for help. But, then again, it doesn't need to, because today there are other places where those needs are better met. Places that were far less common just a couple years ago. Inspired bishops trained on the topic who can give personal counsel. Specific doctrine and General Conference talks given by Church leaders. And here at (G)MG, I've created an imperfect, deeply flawed, but hopefully completely safe version of what I wanted when I was looking for help.

I think that's the reality here. There are places to go to find answers, places for spiritual guidance, places of safety, and places for friendship. Each one comes with caveats and warnings. I'm great for blogging and clarity in thought, but I'm a terrible friend (ask my best friend for confirmation - he may deny it, but it's totally true). A North Star event or group may be incredibly unsafe or negative in some circumstances and for some people, but in/for others it can open the door to lasting positive friendships. The key is knowing, communicating, and working with those limitations to achieve the final goal - living the gospel and finding personal happiness and peace.

The North Star Conference is this weekend. It's called "Upon the Rock of Christ," and the Conference is focused on helping people gain personal resources to come unto Christ, develop better relationships, and overcome their own personal roadblocks. The conference schedule and registration is available at - registration is also available at the door.

I'm not sure what my role will be going forward in this community of being gay and Mormon. As I said before, I hate meetings, and I'm an awful friend. Therapy doesn't seem to work for me because I have trouble connecting with therapists. I have a huge aversion to danger, except that I'm sometimes oblivious to dangerous situations. I don't connect with people well, and I honestly feel like people don't want me around (that's a holdover from bipolar if nothing is... or it's a sign of some unsettled deeply rooted emotional problem that I should process here on (G)MG). I've always been a loner, and I'll probably continue to be a loner until God somehow fixes me (or helps me work through it). But, as peripheral as I may be, as difficult as it may be for me to participate, I'm still here. (G)MG still gets views, sometimes my posts go viral... and every so often, someone tells me that I've helped them in their life. The first are spurious, but the last reminds me that I, too, have something valuable to share. I'm part of something bigger - one of many who is trying to help people come unto Christ and find salvation in Him - and God gave me specific talents, blessings, trials, and circumstances so that I could do my part.

1 comment:

  1. GMG,

    I also have trouble connecting with people. But I know it is something that is necessary for happiness even if it makes me uncomfortable. It's like eating vegetables. You've got to do it to be healthy.


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