Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How a gay Mormon "support" group really screwed me up

Happy New Year! Everybody surviving the polar vortex?!

I'm not too thrilled starting off the new year with this post, but feel the time is right. With all the media coverage of North Star here, here, here, here, and here, it's time for me to throw in my two cents.

I'm actually quite nervous to publish this.  I fear offending someone or hurting someone's feelings. But this is my true story and experience of North Star.  And in all honesty, it was this offensive article that pushed me over the edge and gave me the desire to publish my story. (EDIT: The article has since been deleted, but thanks to the Internet Archive, here you go.) To help me with my nervous feelings, I'll provide some suggestions later on if you're contemplating in joining the group.  Here goes.    

Going through life as a gay Mormon, I've had many stages.  There's the denial stage, the maybe-I'm-gay-but-too-busy-to-do-anything-about-it stage, the gay-but-confused stage, and the gay-and-happy stage. Right at this very moment, I'm happy, content, and loving life.  But it took awhile to 'get happy.'

Years ago, at the moment I got rid of the denial and accepted my sexuality, I felt the need to find support. I can't be the only gay Mormon out there. And North Star was the go-to spot. (They were the ones who popped up in a simple Google search - gotta give credit to their SEO person.)

For those that don't know, North Star is "a place of community for Latter-day Saints dealing with issues surrounding homosexual attraction and gender identity who desire to live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."  There are discussion groups on Facebook and Google. They also hold scheduled firesides and they're planning their first conference later this year. North Star's brother is Voices of Hope, a "growing repository of video and written essays by [LDS] who experience same-sex attraction..."

Now, I'm the type of guy who reads the comments in Amazon before reading the product description provided by the manufacturer. So, I headed straight for some sort of discussion group before dissecting all the informational pages within North Star. After agreeing to about 10 questions, and writing a short paragraph, I was in. Awesome. I was about to meet other gay Mormons out there and go through life together, confusion and all.

The excitement quickly disappeared after getting a taste of the discussion topics. If you were to record my initial reactions, they would consist of:

"Why is everyone here so depressed?"
"Why are people here so homophobic?"
"I can't believe how many of these guys' girlfriends and wives don't know they're gay."
"Why are so many people contemplating suicide?"
"Why are so many people encouraging me to marry a woman?"
"Why are so many people touting this Journey Into Manhood program?"
"I'm really getting tired of people saying they "struggle with same-sex attraction."
"Why is there so much hate towards guys who 'live the gay lifestyle?'"
"Why is there so much discrimination?"
"Your definition of 'healthy physical touch' sounds a lot like spooning."

It was awful. And made me even more confused. I just came in contact with a bunch of self-loathing, judgmental people (who I thought I could relate to.)  I'm gay, these guys are gay, why do we disagree on so much? I'm OK with dating a guy, these North Star guys are not.

This is when the real depression set in. Am I bad person? These guys are so set in the gospel, and I disagree with their viewpoints.  Am I the one in the wrong? Am I broken?!  I was always taught to love everyone and not judge (thank you, parents.) So why do I sense so much hate, resentment, and bullying from these guys trying to live the gospel? Up to this point, I finally got to the point of accepting my sexuality, but was pushed backwards. It was definitely the most depressing time in my life - all thanks to a "support" group. For the first time, I felt like I didn't belong in my own church anymore.

I've compared North Star to a bad accident on the side of the road. You want to ignore it and keep going, but I always went back and looked - I always read and observed the discussion topics, becoming way too involved in the guys' lives. I couldn't let go. I wanted to disagree with the points being made among members, but you would immediately be pounced on by a moderator and risk being kicked out of the group if you veered away from anything non-gospel related.

It got worse. I HATE how much pressure there is for the single guys to date women and eventually get married. Celibacy is accepted, but basically frowned upon. Outside of North Star, I've never met a married gay man who recommends a Moho marrying someone of the opposite sex. I fear many of these guys are developing a false hope that some day soon they'll be married to a beautiful woman.

I now needed support to recover from the support group.  :) Back to Google, I had to feel some kind of normalcy and find others who had disastrous results with North Star. (Were there any?!)  And I found what I was searching for. The article by Dad's Primal Scream summed up all my feelings. In my continued search for other gay Mormons against North Star, I found them. Turns out, there's an underground group of guys whose lives were also screwed up by North Star. Through chats and emails, I returned to that normalcy. I came to the conclusion that I'm NOT a bad person. And it's OK to be set in my ways of refusing to be alone all my life and refusing to marry a woman. I felt like a typical Mormon again.  (But still gay!)

There may be some folks out there that could really use North Star. I've read testimonials that the group 'prevented' them from suicide. (I would really like to hear stories of HOW North Star prevents suicide.)  So in keeping with my habit of short, random thoughts, and with my anti-suicide attitude, I have some tips if you're thinking about turning to North Star for support.


  • If you are prone to change your mind on everyday topics, North Star is probably not the best place for you.
  • If you feel all homosexual relationships are a sin, North Star may be a good starting point. 
  • You must absolutely, positively, 110% believe the church is true and can either look past the horrible things leaders have said about homosexuals, or be a darn good apologist.
  • You can be 'for' gay marriage, but don't tell anyone.
  • If you decide to pursue a relationship with someone of the same sex, be prepared to be dropped like a rock.  You will be judged.  
  • There 'ARE' cuddle parties.
  • The moderators are ALWAYS right.
  • If you ask a question relating to sexuality, your answer will likely be random scriptures or quotes from church leaders. It can be VERY annoying.
  • Remember, the big guns in North Star are PAID to tell you homosexual relationships are a sin.  (Many are therapists and their job is to help folks get rid of "unwanted homosexual attraction.") 
  • The North Star folks like to get together and do stuff. I asked a guy heavily involved in North Star if getting a bunch of sexually repressed guys together was a recipe for disaster. His response was, "Yes, but...." I don't remember what he said after the 'but' because it's irrelevant.
  • One of the creepier points I still don't get -- many of the older married guys will try to befriend the younger dudes. There's absoultely no reason for a married man to chat about sexuality with a younger guy. Again - it's a recipe for disaster.  Please only communicate with guys similar in age and experiences.  
  • Read over the descriptions of North Star, Affirmation, and Mormons Building Bridges to guide you in your search for support.  

For those who want to film or write an essay for Voices of Hope, I hope you will seriously think and contemplate this action. Will you have the exact same thoughts a year from now? 5 years? 10 years? As your thought process changes, do you really want your testimonial online for everyone to see? And as we've learned with Josh Weed, once it's on the Internet, it never goes away. Within the last week, one 'Voice' has disappeared from the website. Did his outlook change only months after the video was published? ... Will your video affect future employment opportunities, etc? Not because you're gay, but because you're directly associated with some controversial folks. (Mansfield, Bennion, Matheson, etc.)  Will you be seen as fanatically conservative because of the association and a possible risk?

I honestly feel North Star and Voices of Hope will fizzle away as the world becomes more accepting of gay folks and marriage equality. In my opinion, North Star does more harm than good. Once others start realizing this and tell "their story," the ruined reputation will lead more to this fizzling.

I personally know folks active in North Star, and I personally know folks who left the group. Those who left are so much happier and have an amazing outlook on life. They have this special glow to them.  At the same time, I see some really good guys still in North Star. I wish I could help them, give them a big hug, and offer the obligatory cliche, "It gets better." (It really does!)

In conclusion, (this is turning into a term paper!) are support groups really necessary?  My biggest support comes from gay Mormon penpals! Some I've been in contact with for 2 years.  Weekly emails, texts, phone calls, check-ins.  We keep an eye out for each other, and it's the best support I can get. And we don't ONLY talk about gay stuff, so much more make up our lives besides sexuality. It's these penpals that make me happy.  And since I've started this blog, I've added a few other wonderful penpals and blogging friends. (I'm afraid to list the blogs, for fear I'll forget someone!!)  

I'm breaking one of my rules of keeping things simple. But I wanted to get all my thoughts out there at once. I would love to hear your North Star stories - good and bad - in the comment section. You can even submit them anonymously using the contact form, and with your permission, I'll publish them.

I'll try to be less serious and more funny in my next post.  :)

Stay warm.


34 comments:

  1. Thank you for your wonderful post. I, too, think that the "support" groups can do more harm than good. I was involved in a support group for gay women in the church. And, it just went from bad to worse.

    Your comment that the "moderators are always right" made me laugh, sarcastically. yes, they think they are always right but often they are oh, so very wrong.

    Happy day to you!

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    1. Thank you, Duck, for your comment and insight! We all gotta watch out for those moderators!

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  2. Northstar is great for a specific group of people. For everyone else, we love northstar because they have a hard time loving themselves.

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    1. True. Less judging, more love. That's what every group needs.

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  3. North Star has been good for me. IT's true that when people post it's usually about them having a hard time. IT's kind of the nature of a support group.

    It's not perfect, but if it didn't exist i might not be here. I was in a dark place when i found it.

    I take what works for me from various different groups. None of them have all the answers, adn there isn't an approach that works for everyone.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you've found comfort within the group.

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  4. a) "...I'm the type of guy who reads the comments in Amazon before reading the product description provided by the manufacturer." A man after my own heart. Haha!

    b) cuddle parties?? seriously?? I thought that was just gay-urban legend.

    But this was an awesome post, as always. Thank you for posting something that made you a little nervous. And I am so very glad that we're homo-penpals. :D

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    1. Sometimes... If I'm in the library and I see a book that 'looks' good, I'll do an Amazon search on my phone and judge it wholly by the comments. :)

      And yes, cuddle parties. I'll email you the deets my dear homo-penpal. You'll be shocked.

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  5. Way to go, dude. I know it's hard to share your true feelings when you know they could hurt people. When I started looking for support, I took one look at North Star, and I knew it wasn't for me. (To be honest, I felt the same about Affirmation.) I have subsequently gone to one of North Star's events, and I was really really disturbed. I, admittedly, was heavily biased against the whole thing, but being told a message of "a baby changes everything," (in the sense of you all should marry someone of the opposite gender) really made me want to start grabbing all the sane people around me and stampede out of there. I can appreciate the group as at least an early place for gay Mormons to land, but the judgment, the disturbing almost worship of the leadership within the group, and yes, the creepy mingling session that followed all really made me doubt the group's ability to stave off depression, suicide, and unhappy marriages. I know there are sure to be some people out there that can participate in that kind of setting and find happiness, but I also know I am NOT one of those people.

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    1. I should say when you know they could hurt people's feelings. If I had tried to fit my way into North Star, your advice here would have certainly done the opposite of hurt me. Again, I'm sure it's a group that can do good for some, but I ain't one.

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    2. "A baby changes everything." Sheesh. You should have said, "My boyfriend and I can't wait to adopt one!" :)

      I'm sorry you had to go through all that. But I can tell by your blog, that you're much happier now!! Keep it up!

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  6. I'm also shocked by "Cuddle Parties" and the "a baby changes everything" comment....unbelievable.

    Thanks for referencing my blog post. Who knew it helped someone!

    It's true that it helps initially to realize that there are others in the same boat, so in that sense North Star may have some value. Beyond that, I believe it is an unhealthy process to put yourself through. And an arrogant one to put an opposite sex spouse through.

    Great post this one.

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    1. Thanks, Dad! I should have given you more credit. YOU were the start of my saving grace. SO THANK YOU!

      And there's so much more than cuddle parties and baby reminders that will shock you. It's sad.

      Many of the comments have mentioned that North Star is a good niche when discovering others are in the same boat. And yes, the group may have some value. But I've found this is temporary. That's why the numbers in the Google and FB groups haven't changed very much over the years - so much turnover.

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  7. Unsolicited Advice:
    Don't end your term paper with "In conclusion..." You're conclusion should be clearly enough a conclusion that you don't need to tell people what it is... Maybe... I don't know. I'm no authority on that topic.
    Thanks for sharing this post. There's a time to be funny and a time to be serious. Thanks for being both.

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    1. And Yeti comes in with the SLAM!! :) You are so right. If I took out the words "In conclusion," it would still make sense. I don't need to tell you I'm almost done!

      Thank you for your comment.

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  8. Wow, this makes me glad I never looked at North Star (or any other support group) and read blogs instead. Maybe it's because, as much as I still believe in Mormonism, I'm not super dedicated to the idea of "living in harmony...with the values of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints."

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    1. Welcome Praenomen Cognomen! (Can I call you PC for short?) Thanks for visiting and for your comment. Blogs are the way to go. You pick what you like/can relate to, and ignore the rest.

      And speaking of, I look forward to reading your blog. Don't forget to add yourself to the Moho Directory!

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  9. I want a cuddle party!

    I have never been interested in North Star, Evergreen or on the other side Affirmation. It is always interesting to me to read others opinions and experiences with them though. Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. Is there a Utah MOHO group (by MOHO I mean like MOHO bloggers)? I know there use to be, but not sure if it's going still.

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    1. Looks like a lot of us want a cuddle party! :)

      I'm not sure of a Utah Moho group. The only other gay Mormon blog list I know of is --> http://mormonsandgaysblogs.com/

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  10. Thanks for the post. I have know a couple of the people who started NorthStar for a few years. I've avoided it for the longest time. Just recently, I joined the fb site to see what it was about. Ha! Ha! You are absolutely correct. It is a complete "debbie downer" with sad, depressing stories. The ones that aren't depressing are self-righteous. Someone is telling the others they are bad for having "bad" thoughts or for not being married or for supporting same-sex marriage. Really? What a "supportive" group!

    I know it is helpful for some people. I am sure it will act as an intermediary for people who are just accepting their situation and realizing there are others out there in the same boat. But, most of the people are very young or very old. Most of the people seem to either leave after 25-30 (or get married).

    Thanks again for the post. I look forward to reading more.

    P.S. If you think NorthStar is bad, have you done any research on Evergreen? I've only know 1 person who came out of there feeling "helped". It continually hurt and alienated people. Ugh!

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    1. You got it! Depressing and self-righteous pretty much covers it all!

      Thank you for the comment - I'm glad we see things the same way when it comes to the group.

      And yes I'm familiar with the old Evergreen. Sadly, the stories I've read were about those who committed suicide because of the alienation.

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  11. Oh, and on the ... cuddle parties? I say ... YES! :-)

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  12. When I was on "the search" for finding people similar to me, I, too, came across North Star. And I have to tell you, it did do something very good for me: it showed me how I DON'T want to live! I was active in the FB group for a month or so before really realizing how ridiculously depressing it was. Yep, I made some good friends. Yup, I went to a cuddle party or two (PS - I love the fact that they say that touch will eventually be "non-sexual" :D). But, ultimately, I realized that a loving God wouldn't want me to live in SUCH a depressing way.

    I'm appalled by the people in North Star who are so openly bigoted against people who are SO similar to themselves! I know one person who, if a friend decides to "live the gay lifestyle," will completely unfriend you in every way because they're not doing what they're "supposed" to do. What they forget is that we all have agency, even in the eyes of the LDS Church. If someone realizes that their actual path to happiness includes dating (and marrying *gasp*) someone of the same gender, they should be loved and treated just the same as they were before, because nothing has changed about them intrinsically.

    Confession: I was the one that took Graham Lawrence to the North Star event...and I'm right there with him - it was ridiculous. They teach so many spiritually and psychologically harmful things (i.e. "a baby changes everything") that I just feel sad for the minions in their reach.

    Okay...rant over...sorry to take up so much space on your blog :)

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    1. Oh...and that post from the North Star Blog was ridiculous...here was my reply (we'll see if it makes it past the moderators or not...):

      Jeff here are some statistics for you:

      The LDS Church has 15,000,000 members. MAYBE 60% of these members are active. That means that out of the 7.1 billion people on earth, 9,000,000 (at most) are practicing Mormons. That means that .126% of people on this planet share your beliefs. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what you believe God’s law is, because billions of other living people on this planet don’t believe God’s law is the same as what you believe.

      Also, LDS Scripture states: “We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” (D&C 134:4)

      Ergo, you have no right to impose your version of God’s laws upon the world’s laws. You do NOT have the “responsibility” of making your belief’s dictate the laws of the land for the other 99.89% of people on the earth. Gay marriage (NOT in quotes like your insulting article) is one of those things that you don’t believe in (which is fine), but by YOUR OWN scripture, civil magistrates should “never control conscience…(and) never suppress the freedom of the soul.”

      I respect your opinion that gay marriage is wrong. However it is just that. An opinion. And your hateful marginalization of people who are so much like you in their inherent feelings is hurtful and is viewed by most of the world as you being “holier than thou.”

      So, believe what you want (you have every right to do so), but don’t expect everyone else to believe what you do (we have every right to do so, too).

      Delete
    2. Oliver! Take as much space as you want! Thank you for the comment. I like your attitude of "it showed me how I DON'T want to live!"

      And you were able to expound on my "Why is there so much discrimination?" comment and basically relay my thoughts. I've never been able to understand how gay people can be so openly bigoted towards others who are similar, as you put it.

      I enjoyed your rebuttal to Jeff's column (or trash as I prefer to call it.) Nice to see it was published on the blog and you even got a snarky reply! We'll never win with Bennion. Just keep telling yourself his paycheck depends on his discriminatory and bigoted attitude.

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  13. This is so beautiful and hopeful. With your permission, can I add your story to voicesoflove.org? The goal is to give kids who grew up Mormon that there's a happy ending waiting for them too, like yours, and to not give up on their dreams. It's in response to Voices of Hope.

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    1. Hi Kristy! Yes, of course. I just discovered the site recently. Love it!

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  14. This is just what I'm thinking. I lived in 2 straight marriages and had 2 kids before coming to terms with the fact that project straight me was never going to work.
    I spent about 10 years trying to find some way of coming out in love for my Mormon family and friends without actually having to be Mormon. It's like when you leave the church knowing everything about it all the Mormons around me feel super personally rejected. I don't hate the Mormons I just can't live my life under the basic premise that we are here to be tested as to whether or not I am worthy of being a heterosexual God(Godess) in the hereafter.
    Anyway, there's so little that comes up on a Google search that supports the LGBT community of Mormons and ex Mormons that are still stuck and don't know how to get out of the hamster wheel of shame and obligation. I have been away from the church for 5 years now and I only just got the courage to come out last month. Dude. I think that a simple google search is so biased towards the support groups meant to get rid of these unwanted homosexual tenancies that it's really hard to find any support forums or groups to say it's ok to be gay/lesbian/bi/trans whatever.
    There is a serious lack of representation or at least a bias in what pops up.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I totally agree there is a bias when you go searching for support. I've added your blog to my Moho list. Keep it up!

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  15. This was hilarious, both mentally and physically [maybe even spiritually]. Though I'd have to agree with you on the challenges of some support groups and their purpose. If it's to change your attraction then it's not necessarily for people like us. I too am one to read the comments before dissecting the article and have to agree with about everything [if I even disagreed at all] and believe that this article should definitely help those still finding their ways cautioning them about certain "support" groups.

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  16. This was hilarious, both mentally and physically [maybe even spiritually]. Though I'd have to agree with you on the challenges of some support groups and their purpose. If it's to change your attraction then it's not necessarily for people like us. I too am one to read the comments before dissecting the article and have to agree with about everything [if I even disagreed at all] and believe that this article should definitely help those still finding their ways cautioning them about certain "support" groups.

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  17. I was once part of the Northstar group and then I moved to Affirmation and then right out of the entire "LDS scene". I discovered that anything that was trying to hitch itself as some form of support associated with the LDS church was going to be toxic for me so I left.

    I have finally been set free in so many ways. I am pursuing an amazing career with a wonderful and supportive boyfriend. If someone told be a few years ago I would be here I wouldn't have believed them and told them they were insane. But here I am and I hope others can find the same clarity and purpose that I so readily seem to take for granted. Life is so much more beautiful and exciting when you no longer live for others' expectation of who you are to become.

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  18. I felt pushed away from the LDS more than 30 years before I could admit to myself that I am gay. Served a mission and never got another temple recommend after the one I was when returning home. Married the mother of my first born son, and he attended the wedding, in the Catholic Church. The repression of my sexuality combined with the huge shame I felt growing up in the church eventually turned me into an out of control sex addict. With the help of a 12 step sex addiction program, I was finally able to face who I am, a gay man. I fortunately missed finding these groups you mentioned. While my life and my marriage are confusing right now, I'm grateful to know who am. Thank you so much for sharing.

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