Conference seeks to help Mormons with same-sex attraction who want to keep the faith

Published: Sunday, June 1 2014 5:42 p.m. MDT

Updated: Sunday, June 1 2014 5:42 p.m. MDT

The Angel Moroni statue on top of the Salt Lake Temple during the Sunday afternoon session of the 184th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Sunday, April 6, 2014 at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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PROVO — Ty Mansfield arrived Friday at the first large-scale conference held by North Star, an LDS-based gay support group, with several goals in mind.

For one, North Star's president hoped more than 40 sessions at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, spread across Friday and Saturday, would provide support and resources for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who experience same-sex attraction and desire to live in harmony with the church's teachings, doctrines and values.

Another goal for the conference titled "A Home in the Gospel of Christ" was to spread a message to Mormons and others that many Latter-day Saints who experience same-sex attraction maintain their faith and membership, though North Star has no official tie to the church.

"We only seem to hear about the other side," Mansfield said. "People say, 'I've never actually met someone who stayed in the church.'

"We want them to know there are other options, options consistent with the church's teachings, and there are lots of happy, healthy people choosing them. People don't see them (in the church) because they blend in. If that's an option you want, we want to provide resources to help you do that in a happy, healthy way."

There also was an underlying need to attract enough people to the event to make a second conference possible.

By the lunch break Friday, he felt confident those goals would be achieved.

"The goal was to (break even)," he said. "I think we barely did that this year. Early on we thought we might face a big debt, but we've been blessed. We've built it, and they've come."

Nearly 350 people registered for the event by last week's deadline, and another 75 joined via walk-up registration Friday or Saturday. Those numbers allowed Mansfield to start planning an annual spring conference.

Part of the draw this weekend was a slate of five keynote speakers with BYU ties: Robert L. Millet is an emeritus professor of ancient scripture; Camille Fronk Olson, a professor of ancient scripture; Jonathan Sandberg, a marriage and family therapist and professor in the school of family life; Wendy Ulrich, who has taught at BYU and is a past president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists; and Mansfield, who is teaching adjunct classes at BYU while working on his dissertation.

Millet, Olson and Ulrich wrote chapters for Mansfield's 2011 book, "Voices of Hope: Latter-day Saint Perspectives on Same-Gender Attraction."

That book has grown into a major online project that along with its first conference have become North Star's chief efforts at outreach.

The Voices of Hope website, ldsvoicesofhope.org, gathers video and written essays by Latter-day Saints who share their experiences with same-sex attraction. There are now about 55 video essays on the site. Each is expensive, Mansfield said, and the group is seeking financing for them.

Mansfield said the biggest demographic at the conference was men, followed by family — about 150 parents or other loved ones — of those experiencing same-sex attraction. The next largest group was spouses, followed by "a healthy group of ecclesiastical leaders," local-level LDS leaders seeking resources to help those in their congregations. Mansfield estimated about 40-50 ecclesiastical leaders attended the conference.

The LDS Church's doctrine on chastity is that sexual relations are to be restricted to a marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Mansfield, who has described himself as inescapably gay, first remained celibate, then later married a woman.

"As an organization we very explicitly and unapologetically sustain the church and church leaders, gospel principles and the Proclamation on the Family," he said Friday.

"A Home in the Gospel of Christ" had added meaning as a conference because it was North Star's first major gathering since Evergreen International, a similar group that held conferences annually for many years, closed its doors and was incorporated into North Star.

Evergreen began as group seeking to help gay Mormons through reparative therapy. North Star does not take a position on changing or diminishing same-sex attraction or what it has called gender-identity incongruence.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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