Unique challenges confronting gay Mormons addressed at Salt Lake City conference

Associated Press/November 6, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — Experts weighed in on the unique challenges confronting gay Mormons during a three-day conference in Salt Lake City that ended Sunday.

About 300 people heard various speakers at the First Baptist Church during the gathering, the Deseret News reported.

The conference was sponsored by the group Mormon Stories, which has no affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the organization's goals is to "build bridges between all who identify as Mormon."

Organizer Joseph Broom said conference was convened so that gay Mormons and their families and allies can "step beyond historic divisions to establish a shared space where all who have ever self-identified as Mormon and have experienced same-sex attraction can speak truthfully and respectfully."

The Mormon church's Handbook of Instructions notes that while opposing homosexual behavior, the church "reaches out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender."

Speakers included author and playwright Carol Lynn Pearson, Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis, researcher John Dehlin, filmmaker Kendall Wilcox and psychologist Lee Beckstead.

Beckstead says that while he personally has had a hard time being both gay and Mormon, the same may not be true for others.

Beckstead told participants that gay Mormons often feel torn by those urging them to "get off the fence — to be gay or be Mormon." He said that suggests a person can't be both, and either choice is painful.

"You can't cut off a part of yourself and not do harm even if you're doing it to please God, or parents or family or friends," he said.

Beckstead, a Salt Lake City researcher who has focused on resolving sexual and religious conflicts, said that while he personally has experienced a difficult time being both gay and Mormon, the same may not be true for others.

"My resolution may not be your resolution," he said. "Keep exploring for yourself what your truth is, what is right for you. That is where you will find your happiness."

Citing the "hero's journey" from Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," Pearson said. "In a way, we're all on a hero's journey."

She detailed what might be considered the gay Mormon's "hero's journey," saying it also can be shared by that person's parents, spouse and friends. She said a number of her friends have taken different approaches to life as gay Mormons, and urged those in attendance to find the path that works best for them."

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