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.