A group of Mormons last year launched an annual Utah conference during which gay Latter-day Saints, as well as friends and family, could tell personal stories about their lives and faith journeys, including elements of joy and pain within a church that expects them to be celibate outside of heterosexual marriage.
By all accounts, the conference, known as "Circling the Wagons," was a huge success at giving voice to gay Mormons who felt they had nowhere to turn.
A year later, organizers of the group’s second Utah conference – to be held this weekend – are facing challenges from within the gay Mormon community about who should participate and what message to send.
"Circling the Wagons" enlisted as speakers Steven Frei, president of North Star, an organization for gay Mormons who want to stay in the church, and Josh Weed, a gay Latter-day Saint who has gone public with his happy marriage to a woman.
Those two will be featured, Circling the Wagons official Anne Peffer said in a news release, "alongside gay bloggers Joseph Broom and Allen Miller, who were once married to women but now openly advocate against mixed-orientation marriage."
For Mitch Mayne, an openly gay Mormon serving as an executive secretary to the bishop of his San Francisco LDS congregation, the inclusion of the first two sent the wrong message. On Oct. 18, he withdrew his support and participation in the conference.
Mayne’s action had nothing to do with Weed or Frei individually, he said Tuesday in a phone interview, but with the "message of change" that their participation sends to potential attendees.
Circling the Wagons "has established itself as a haven for people who have been harmed by this message," he said. "This is where they go when that path doesn’t work, or when they don’t feel [the love of] their Savior when they hear what North Star and others have to say."
That "change" message for gays is all around Mormonism — in LDS General Conference, in almost any bishop’s office and in the church’s social services department, he said. "We don’t need another platform for that message — especially a platform that has been established as a safety zone for those who have had pain, confusion and tragic consequences as a result of internalizing that message originally."
Weed responded to the criticism by disavowing the notion of "reparative therapy" and reiterating his view that the step he and his wife took is for them alone, not to be seen as a recommendation for all gay men.
Frei also stated, in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, that he "does not believe reparative therapy is necessary or effective in changing one’s sexual orientation. He expressed gratitude for the honest feedback about the ways in which North Star is sometimes misperceived."
Meanwhile, as progressive Mormons debate how best to serve their gay brothers and sisters, the LDS Church has quietly stepped back from public involvement in the continued political push to oppose same-sex marriage.
"Mormon leaders in Maryland have been silent on the ballot measure to affirm or toss the state’s new same-sex marriage law," writes Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post. "Activists in other states voting next month on the issue (Maine, Minnesota and Washington) say they see the same thing.
Some see it as a direct result of how involved the LDS Church was in passing California’s hotly debated Proposition 8, which defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Those headlines generated a lot of controversy and opposition to the church.
Others argue, Boorstein reports, that it is the Utah-based church’s attempt to remain neutral at a time when Mormon Mitt Romney is running for president.
"It’s the political climate we’re in," LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson told The Post. "There was just too much over-interpreting."
That could be an understatement.
Peggy Fletcher Stack
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