Editor's Note: Guest bloggers Michael Adam Ferguson and J. Seth Anderson are graduate students at the University of Utah and co-founders of The Queens' Tea company. They were the first same-sex couple legally married in Utah.
This weekend, North Star International is hosting a conference at the Utah County Convention Center in Provo. It's advertised as an educational event, with "integrity" as one of the core values of the proceedings.
North Star bills itself as an organization providing "community for Latter-Day Saints who experience homosexual attraction or gender incongruence," which is their Victorian way of avoiding the words "gay" or "transgender." Within conversations about Mormon orthodoxy and sex, North Star occupies a lynchpin cultural position. The organization reinforces the belief that LGBTQ people must be treated with conditional love and tightly restricted "acceptance."
Take the story of a 17-year-old woman, posted on North Star's own website. This young, devout Latter-Day Saint read an article in LDS Living magazine about a "mixed-orientation marriage," meaning a marriage in which one spouse is gay and the other spouse is straight. In it, the couple claims their marriage is not based on emotions or hormones, but on their religious belief that one man and one woman are to be partnered in this life in order to fulfill their cosmic obligation.
At the time the young woman read that article, she was struggling to reconcile the fact that she was a lesbian with the religious beliefs and culture she embraced. The article left her in such a state of distress that two days after she read it, she put a gun to her head and ended her life.
The turmoil, self-loathing, and hopelessness required for a person to end their life are too much to bear, but the perverseness of North Star's response to this tragedy is astonishing: they publicly take credit for giving the deceased young woman "hope."
"Thank you for all you are doing and for being such a shining example," writes the woman's mother to North Star. "I look forward to more articles and books on SSA [same-sex attraction] and the gospel." North Star's website then claims that this young woman's suicide illustrates the reason for their "Voices of Hope" project: namely, to save lives.
If your head isn't swimming yet, keep reading.
The ironically-named "Voices of Hope" project is an effort by North Star to document stories of mixed-orientation couples who are forcing a square peg into a round hole, so to speak, and behaviorally conforming to heterosexual relationships. Why is this bad? For one, it reinforces the damning cultural myth that gay people can -- and should -- fit into a straight box, if they're just righteous enough and willing enough to make ever-deepening levels of self-sacrifice.
Peer-reviewed research by John Dehlin at Utah State University has demonstrated that sexual orientation change efforts are profoundly damaging and contribute to depression and suicidality. This is largely because the individual gets trapped in a vicious cycle, believing that if they try more stridently to be righteous, they will be more inclined toward a relationship with a member of the opposite sex. However, when this change is not realized, it sets the person up to feel that their continued aversion toward opposite-sex relations must be an indicator of their own failing or unrighteousness, as opposed to their intrinsic orientation toward members of the same sex.
Another peer-reviewed survey of over 1,600 LGBT individuals who identify as Mormon or formerly Mormon linked participating in a mixed-orientation marriage to a reduction in quality of life that's so grave, it's comparable to living with lupus -- a chronic and debilitating disease.
It is flat-out irresponsible for organizations like North Star to peddle false hope -- in the interest of driving up web traffic and book sales -- without giving full, complete information on the pitfalls and dangers of the prescribed course.
North Star demonstrates a deliberate tendency toward concealing truth and withholding information crucial to responsible conversation about sexual and faith incongruence. Bizarrely, none of the five keynote speakers at this weekend's conference are scientists with research credentials in gay populations. In fact, two are professors of ancient scripture from the Brigham Young University Religion Department.
The disconnect between the speaker lineup and the event's stated community-building aims is astonishing, especially since Salt Lake City boasts a lead researcher -- Lee Beckstead, who is on the American Psychological Association's taskforce for conflicts between sexual orientation and religious faith -- who could have easily been consulted for this event.
Further, North Star President Ty Mansfield has disparaged the best practices of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Caitlin Ryan, a psychology researcher at San Francisco State University, has studied LDS families with gay children and uncovered links between family rejection of their gay children and increased risks for mental illness, HIV transmission, illicit drug use, and suicide. In the Deseret News, Mansfield publicly dismissed Ryan's research, groundlessly asserting that adolescent self-identification as gay or transgender creates damage to that individual.
Another workshop at the upcoming conference boasts, among other things, to help participants cultivate "healthy shame" about their sexual orientation. Healthy shame? Is there such a thing as a "healthy" way to hate yourself?
Unsurprisingly, North Star leaders are actively partnered with another "conversion therapy" organization, People Can Change, that's been the subject of under investigation for alleged consumer fraud. The group offers "Journey Into Manhood" retreats, which are billed as "experiential weekends" where gay men are allegedly converted into straight men. This, they claim, is accomplished through completely unscientific exercises such as squeezing oranges to represent gaining a better connection to one's own testicles.
So, for the bargain price of $120, you, too, can spend a weekend in Utah County watching Mormon scripture professors pretending to be sexologists.
God bless our mountain home.