Is North Star Sending a Bad Message?

North Star is a Church-affiliated organization that serves as “a place of community for Latter-day Saints dealing with issues surrounding homosexual attraction who desire to live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the values and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Since it formed in 2006, it has garnered a reputation for being a kind of middle-ground between Evergreen International and Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons.

What do I mean by middle-ground? The way I think about it is to compare how much each organization’s membership is willing to venture outside LDS culture to get an understanding on homosexuality.

For Affirmation, there’s pretty much an agreement that the old guys in charge have been fumbling on the matter ever since they started talking about it in the 1940s (during the McCarthy era when all homosexuals were thought to not only be evil, but also secret communists). Affirmation formed during the 1970s civil rights era and emphatically asserts that same-sex intimacy is morally neutral.

Conversely, you have Evergreen International who pretty much turns to church leaders on the matter (as well as comparing notes with their evangelical friends, Exodus International); the organization exists as a means to put the everyone-is-hetero-in-Heaven-because-homosex-is-sin theory into practice. Evergreen formed in 1989, about the time that “being gay” in Mormon culture began to be seen as something that didn’t require a disciplinary council and therapy, but instead just therapy.

North Star, as I mentioned, formed in 2006, and its website demonstrates that its members are open to looking outside the Church for answers. Following the lead of Ty Mansfield, who asserted in 2004 that “our salvation is not based upon the mortal realization of [heterosexuality]” (In Quiet Desperation, 181), much of their membership is okay with the gay identity (though not okay with “acting on one’s attractions”); many get by without therapy and some are even learning to become therapists themselves =p. North Star members also seem to be more willing to be critical of church leaders in a well-I’m-gay-so-maybe-I-have-some-ideas-on-this-topic-that-church-leaders-don’t kind of way.

Now, there’s a phenomenon that’s occurring within all three organizations that is worth teasing apart. I would describe this phenomenon as “what is happening as there becomes a new generation who are more comfortably gay and Mormon.” For Affirmation, I’ve noticed a feeling among younger people that the organization is thought to be excessively bitter. This bitterness is understandable in the sense that it is born from anger that couldn’t and can’t easily be resolved, since the previous generation of Mormon gays endured things like electroshock therapy, hetero-marriage-resolves-homosexual-feelings therapy, disownment and disfellowship from family and community if one “transgressed,” etc. Nevertheless, bitterness does not make for a healthy community. Moreover, Affirmation serves as a stepping stone as many transition out of Mormonism, making the membership, well, highly transient. Those who want to remain churchgoing Mormons have trouble fitting in, and though Affirmation tries to balance its programming between the “spiritual” and the “political,” the balance feels like a clash to some people (though I personally don’t see it as a clash).

For Evergreen, the “gay & Mormon” phenomenon is creating intellectual bankruptcy. There’s enough gay Mormonism on the ground that the higher-ups have to turn to the grassroots to make sense of what to do next for the community, instead of playing “prophet” all the time. I’ve read accounts where a church leader gets something wrong in his speech, such as the relationship between sexuality and gender identity, and the Evergreen audience is like, “okay, this guy is wacked.”

North Star has capitalized on the grassroots growth, and as a result its directors write strange messages like this one: “Separation = Death,” a reminder that one cannot both serve God without also offending the Devil, so make sure you don’t start thinking too much on your own.

I used to have an affinity for North Star. I never agreed with the theology, but as a researcher,it seemed like the go-to place to understand what exactly is happening at the queer grassroots edge of Mormonism that doesn’t tip into the realm of official “unfaithfulness.” As a researcher, I wanted to put a “neutral” label on whatever particular cultural formations I came across during my studies. In hindsight, though, I recognize that that particular queer edge of “faithfulness” is also represented by heterosexual Mormons who are for marriage equality, who consume (and in some cases, produce) queer media, and who, because they are heterosexual, automatically wouldn’t cross the border into “homo sin”; rather, they just hold a different politics than the Church. If these Mormons were gay, they’d probably be having them some homosex (whereas the actual gay Mormons at North Star are still steadfastly against same-sex intimacy). Thus, I’m reconsidering the value of an organization like North Star, as it seems more like a band-aid for homophobic times, rather than a vision for a different Mormon future.

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13 Responses

  1. Chino Blanco says:

    Isn’t the main purpose of North Star to sell tickets to their Journey Into Manhood retreats?

  2. Alan says:

    Eh, Journey into Manhood isn’t specifically LDS, but I get what you’re saying. After reading someone like Ty Mansfield, I guess I don’t see him falling for that “you crave to be in touch with your inner masculine” crap. But I see that North Star does advertize the retreat.

    I think Mormon gay guys who can pass for straight have a responsibility to speak out against “gender therapy.” The problem is that you’ve got the gender complementarity thing in Mormonism so that no matter how masculine you might seem, if you aren’t into women, then you’ve apparently still got “gender issues.” But something tells me that if you are “straight-acting,” and you show up to one of those retreats, the other guys will swoon and look to you as a behavior model, which is just terrible.

  3. Rob says:

    I have friends who’ve participated in NorthStar. I know the incoming president of NorthStar. We have agreed to disagree.

    The great majority of my gay Mormon and gay former Mormon friends believe NorthStar is a combination of the following things:

    (1) a temporary way station for confused and scared active Mormon guys trying to resolve the unresolvable conflict between being gay and official Mormondom and who will eventually leave NorthStar and the church when they realize the church won’t allow peaceful resolution;

    (2) a place where gay Mormon guys married to women can encourage each other to make the best of their situations and “keep the gay at bay”;

    (3) an increasingly strident minority of apologists which, while claiming to be open and tolerant of various views, also openly supports the fraud of sexual orientation conversion “therapy,” does not tolerate criticism of LDS leaders’ errors and false statements about homosexuality, and at the grass roots level are no different than Evergreen because they insist that toeing the official LDS line is ultimately the only correct “resolution” for gay Mormons. Individual members vary but this is the general approach of the group.

    When I first came out and was trying to think through all this myself, I visited the NorthStar Web site. It took me about 5 minutes to realize that, in my opinion, most of those guys had their heads in the sand just as much as any Evergreen groupie. So much of NorthStar online content strikes me as having an undertone of desperate effort to convince each other that they’re right but not totally believing it themselves. I picked up on that almost immediately.

    I understand the fear that must inevitably run underneath such an approach. These guys understand the implication of serious questioning even if they can’t or won’t articulate it. It can be scary beyond description to think that the world view you’ve been taught your whole life, the “inspiration” and the expectations for eternity that have been relentlessly drummed into you as essential for your survival, may actually be wrong. While there are good faith exceptions, it seems to me that most NorthStar guys contort like acrobats in order to avoid facing that prospect.

    Guys like me are, of course, anathema at NorthStar and are routinely driven away and not allowed to post because our views are considered toxic to faith there. I’ve had this discussion with numerous gay Mormon and gay former Mormon friends. We tend to be angry with any organization, NorthStar or otherwise, that stifles true freedom of discussion and inquiry and exploration of facts, and sad for those in NorthStar specifically whose day of peaceful resolution and a happier life is, in our opinion, delayed by participating in such a group.

  4. Diane Sower says:

    The overtly serious problem the mormon church has with it’s methods in dealing with gays is that many young men grow up believing that if they marry in the temple, and have children, God will eventually heal them. This misnomer causes hundreds if not thousands of broken marriages, and children affected by the broken-ness of the situation. No one should encourage a gay person to marry someone of the opposite sex just because they think God wants them to, and because they think somehow they will get “well” by doing so. It’s just so sad and tragic.

  5. David F says:

    Ty Mansfield the founder of Northstar is fortunate that he was born into a nice family, is semi-attractive and landed a juicy high wage career. Unfortunately not all gay Mormon’s are so lucky. My experience is that Ty is basically tooting his own horn and expects that we all become mini Ty’s. I frown on Northstar for this reason. I think some day we are going to have an organization that supports Mormons that struggle, but Northstar is not that organization.

  6. Cody says:

    I was told that Northstar isn’t affiliated with the LDS church, it’s just a collection of mostly LDS people

  7. Cody says:

    @Diane Sower there’s a new video on north star that examines fact and fiction about gays in mormonism and they definitely don’t support making gays marry.

    Side note: They always say “same gender attracted”
    I’m thinking there’s a difference between “SGA” and “gay” somehow

  8. Alan says:

    Cody @ 6&7:

    The funny thing about the word “affiliated” is that it can refer to both formal and informal relationships. Here what I meant is that Northstar is highly connected to the Church, but not officially part of it.

    In terms of marriage, yes, insistence on it as a cure stopped in the 1990s, but as Ty Mansfield has put it, being “SGA” does not excuse one from preparing for marriage, given how marriage is still pretty much one the most essential parts of LDS theology. In other words, there’s not really any other option unless one intends to be celibate his or her whole life; the end goal is to marry. With this end goal overhead, gay LDS folks feel the pressure regardless of whether those around them say, “Take your time.”

  9. Randy says:

    Let it be known that these men have side fun. I know that Ty has in the very recent past divulged into the seedy world of other men. Guys like Josh Weed I don’t know, know. However I assume the same and use their positions as counselors over the scared men they have sex with to fear them into silence.

  10. Alan says:

    Haha, well, I’m not one for feeding gossip about particular individuals, but I wouldn’t doubt if “side fun” is part of what makes this new paradigm (by which I mean “Northstar”-ish orgs instead “conversion therapy” orgs) work.

  11. David Fillmore says:

    It seems Ty Mansfield and North Star have a thumbs up and tacit approval from the Church. Today the Deseret News ran a front page article on the organization. Frankly, even with all the window dressing and positive tone of the article, I still find it offensive that the DN/Church continues to advocate these types of organizations to gay church members. Let’s be real . . . . very few gay people, that are encouraged to [a] live a celibate lifestyle, [b] give-up gay friends, gay support groups and associations, and [c] deny their natural sexual orientation, in order to follow Church doctrine, are going to be happy in life. When I hear Church leaders say, “Wickedness never was happiness” I think it is very sad.

  12. visitor says:

    When I hear Church leaders say, “Wickedness never was happiness” I think it is very sad.

    …unless you examine the corollary and discover that if living someone’s natural sexuality makes them happy that it must not be wickedness.

  13. Alan says:

    FYI, the article David @11 is referencing is this one.

    I’m not sure what Mansfield’s ultimate point is by emphasizing “same-sex attraction.” What does essentially restating the Kinsey scale do for anyone? It’s already common knowledge that the world isn’t divided into “gay” and “straight,” but that there is a kind of spectrum. Some people are on the poles for their lifespan, some people move around. Okay, and?

    I get the sense that his narrative is basically about trying to demonize the “gay agenda” and focus on what he’s calling a “social construct.” By extension, he’s implying that the reality (the not constructed, but the “real”) is that the Heavens are full of never-ending white picket fences of man+woman households. Except Earth families ain’t like that, so the Church should probably take a hard look at what the real “social construct” is.

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