In America right now — different from so many previous centuries of human history — minority groups receive unique levels of attention and support from seemingly all sides. Yet amid the celebration of a dizzying spectrum of sexual minorities this particular month, one group has received strikingly little attention: devoted Christians who also identify as LGBTQ+ or SSA (same-sex attracted).

Individuals from three faith communities — Catholics, Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints — are holding conferences this month to provide support, encouragement and testimony to the growing numbers of people interested in reconciling faith and sexuality. Rather than being appreciated for their own distinctive journeys, however, those who are deeply committed to following a Christian ethic while navigating same-sex attraction often face misunderstanding and resistance from broader American society, many attending the conferences report.

Reconciling with scripture, or with society?

In many faith-oriented groups created to support sexual minorities, they more often than not vocally advocate for their religious traditions to align themselves with popular ideas around sexuality and gender. By comparison, these groups convening in conferences this month work primarily to help individuals and families reconcile hearts and minds with the core teachings of their faith.

The evangelical organization Revoice, for instance, exists to “support and encourage Christians who are sexual minorities so they can flourish in historic Christian traditions.” Another organization called Courage likewise supports Catholic men and women who experience same-sex attractions “and who have made a commitment to strive for chastity.”

And for Latter-day Saints, North Star has sought for a decade now to be a “faith-affirming resource” for men and women “navigating sexual orientation and gender identity who desire to live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrine and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

“For so many years,” 32-year-old Kyla Hiser said, “I thought I was the only person in the world that experienced same-sex attraction and wanted to stay in the church.” Hailey Kynaston, a 21-year-old returned missionary, spoke about how “amazing” it was to find a “wonderful community of other covenant-keeping LGBT+ Saints.”

As an organization, North Star seeks to help those seeking to “become integrated more fully and lovingly into the Church community” by supplemental education that balances “heartfelt compassion, unfeigned love, emotional sensitivity, and open-mindedness with a devotion to eternal principles and to our eternal identities and potential as His sons and daughters.”

Dean Christensen, facing, hugs Quinton Taylor at the 2024 North Star Annual Conference at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 22, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Sessions at the North Star conference this weekend centered around several main themes. First, how to draw hearts and minds closer to God (“Climbing Life’s Mountains with the Power of Christ” ... ”Walking the Covenant Path with the Savior at Your Side When You Experience Gender Dysphoria” … “Faith to Move — or Climb — Our Mountains”) — including when grappling with unresolved concerns (“Learning to Live with Unanswered Questions”), secular skepticism (”Owning Who We Are While Navigating a World That Says We’re Wrong”) and while trying to heal from painful past experiences (“Impacts of Abuse and Moving Through It”). Amidst these complexities, presenters were careful to remind attendees about the importance of taking responsibility for their own individual pursuit of more healing, growth and and joy (“What Role Do I Play in the Pain I Feel?” ... ”Learning to Love the Law of Agency”).

In addition, presenters explored ways to draw the hearts of parents to children (“Developing a Relationship of Love and Trust with Your Child”), and husbands and wives together (“Finding and Creating Joy in Your Marriage as an LGBTQ Latter-day Saint” ... ”Navigating Marriage Relationships When Parents/Couples Are Not On the Same Page”). There was also an emphasis on how to draw the hearts of fellow believers to a greater unity in the gospel (“No More ‘-ites’ Among Us”), while providing more effective support to those struggling the most (”Ministering to the One”). These themes are consistent with emphases in past North Star conferences spanning a decade, available online.

Deeply understood and never alone

None of this is easy, acknowledged North Star conference presenters, which included film director Adam Thomas Anderegg and Leading Saints podcaster Kurt Francom. “How can I have an authentic, trusting relationship with a God who seems to expect things from me I’m not sure I want to do or can do?” asked psychologist Wendy Ulrich in her opening remarks, a visiting BYU professor and the author of “Weakness Is Not Sin,” and “Let God Love You.”

“There’s nothing God asks you to do here that our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son do not fully understand in the marrow of their bones,” she said.

“There is nothing in this world they will allow to happen to you — including the body you were born into, the brain that you inherited and that has been shaped by the experiences of your life — nothing that they cannot redeem for good if you will allow them to make that happen.”

Throughout the conference, speakers referenced seminal 2021 remarks from President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who taught, “Through your faith, Jesus Christ will increase your ability to move the mountains in your life, even though your personal challenges may loom as large as Mount Everest.”

Although the Lord “didn’t move the mountain of the Roman army, his apostles’ fears, or the mountain of Gethsemane or the cross,” Ulrich noted, Jesus worked around the Romans, relieved disciples’ fears and ultimately submitted to the most heart wrenching events at the end of his life — giving Him special ability to help everyone else now with their own pain.

“He knows your heart. He knows your pain. He knows the strength it took just to simply breathe today. He sees the tears that you cry,” sang Cynthia Miller in an opening song.

In the closing conference session, singer and actor Dallyn Bayles also sang about one who “lives to silence all my fears; he lives, to wipe away my tears” — before citing earlier teaching from Elder Joseph Wirthlin, who served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1917-2008), who testified that when Jesus walked on the earth “thousands looked into His eyes — yearning for answers, yearning for release from suffering and grief, yearning that the burdens they carried would be lightened.”

“Everyone who looked into His eyes with faith found healing, peace, and happiness.” At a future day, the apostle continued, everyone will have this same opportunity to look into “the Savior’s loving eyes.” At that time, “we will know that no grief is so great, no pain so profound, no burden so unbearable that it is beyond His healing touch.”

Seeing your identity through God’s eyes

“It’s so important to remember who we are and whose we are,” shared Lana Garfield, a member of the North Star board.

After referencing Joseph Smith’s teaching that a person can’t really trust God if he or she don’t correctly understand the true character of this glorious being, Ulrich said, “if the voice in your head” is “mean, and sarcastic and critical,” then don’t misunderstand that to be coming from God — “it’s not Him.”

Compared with settings where people were “sympathetic” to his sexual identity but “hostile” toward his faith, Justin Vance, a 32-year old accountant from Salt Lake City, spoke of appreciating being reminded at the conference that he could be “fully authentic” to his sexual identity, while being “unequivocally affirming” in his “dedication to God within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

“My faith in Christ is the most important thing in life,” said Nate Collins, founder and president of Revoice, in a conversation with Deseret News. When people hear “gay Christian” he said, they automatically assume sexuality is being prioritized first. While acknowledging openly his experience of sexual orientation, he said, “my identity as a child of God is what’s most true about me … it’s the truest, deepest thing you can say about me.”

While it’s fine that not everyone prefers the word gay, he said, the important priority needs to be finding ways to “integrate” faith and sexuality, rather than “blocking off, sectionalizing and compartmentalizing” what is uncomfortable.

Nikki Andreasky pets their dog during the closing keynote at the 2024 North Star Annual Conference at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 22, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Close, even if you can’t feel Him

“The human weakness God gifts to each of us can be our path to increased character and spiritual power, the very things we came here to learn,” Ulrich said — inviting participants to “learn who God really is, and that he has your best interests at heart.”

“I know God and I get to communicate with him every day in a deep, intimate way,” shared Tyran Shouten in a presentation about “two-way prayer.”

For those unsure of their own worth, he encouraged them to ask, “God, what do you think of me?”

“There is no loss — past or future — that they cannot fully restore, if we will trust them, and humbly work with them, and give them time,” Ulrich added, before acknowledging, “I will be the first to admit it’s not easy to trust someone you cannot see or touch.”

It takes time for little children to gain “object permanence” this psychologist noted. Yet by watching parents leave and come back over and over, children eventually learn that “objects are still real even if I can’t see them.”

Primary children, their parents and leaders gather for a devotional with Sister Amy A. Wright in Mexico City.
Primary children, their parents and leaders gather all over Mexico to participate in a devotional with Sister Amy A. Wright of the Primary general presidency on Saturday, March 23, 2024. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

For most adults, Ulrich said, it’s “only much much later that we acquire object permanence with God” — namely, “the deep belief that he really still is still there even though I can’t feel him, see him, or hear him right this minute.”

That important lesson finally comes, she said, likewise through moments when God seems to be near or far — experiencing for ourselves how the Father “goes away and comes back” over and over.

This can be challenging to remember in moments when God seems “a million miles away,” she admitted — especially when other less inspiring voices are “very eager to step into” that seeming absence and start telling us “all kinds of things.”

“Sometimes you’ll wonder where he is,” presenter Myrna Moll recounted in a video message. “But I testify that he’s there.”

Fighting for your faith

At the concluding presentation, Bayles recounted a spiritually perilous time in his own life when he was on the road away from his wife and children performing in a production of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Despite extremely limited time, he was able to prioritize the regular renewal of his covenants on the Sabbath. “The sacrament saved my spiritual life,” he said, before reflecting, “sometimes we think we need some massive revelation. Yet it often comes down to the little things we do each day.”

“Everything good in life — every potential blessing of eternal significance — begins with faith,” Bayles quoted President Nelson as teaching.

North Star President Brent Ebmeyer remembered a time when his marriage looked like it would end after telling his wife about his attraction towards men. He assumed at the time it was his wife’s heart that needed to change, not his own.

The couple held on to their marriage and fought to increase their faith — moving forward even without knowing what the future would hold, and “just believing in Christ.”

“Sometimes all we can do is hold onto faith in Christ,” he said. Reflecting on his happy marriage and growing children now, he suggested the covenant path could be defined as the path from “wherever we are that leads us to Christ.”

“This has changed my life,” said Kevin Wells, a 25-year old returned missionary and first-time conference attendee — describing being struck by the wide range of people he met with that not only experiences like his own, but who were also “strong in the gospel.”

“Currently I am comfortable saying I can be single and happy” he said, before speaking of the joy at seeing half of the participants with spouses and children — “that made me hope for the future.”

“I see now I could be in a much better place than I am right now, I can be so much stronger in my faith and devotion in Christ.” He added that he had felt “healing in ways I didn’t know I needed.”

Erick Hacking greets Dallyn Bayles, a professional actor, singer, recording artist and teacher, after his closing keynote at the 2024 North Star Annual Conference at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 22, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Rediscovering a hunger for faith

Revoice cites statistics on their website from Andrew Marin that suggest 86% of LGBTQ+ adults have some past touchpoint to a Christian upbringing — while also claiming that these same people are open to returning to their former faith at a rate 67% higher than the average American.

Coming back to church while reconciling faith and sexuality

“Lot of gay people are eager to re-engage faith,” Collins told the Deseret News.

But “what would it look like if they never left?” the organization asks — before stating their commitment to sharing the “life-giving message that Biblical teaching about sexual ethics is not only livable, but it can be a source of meaning and life-giving significance.”

Johnny Bowers spoke in a video message about choosing “to put our love for God above our sexual feelings.”


“Nothing short of living with God is worth living for,” he concluded. At the conference, Bowers again emphasized the value of “listening to convictions over emotion” — encouraging attendees to “hold to covenants when things get confusing.”

Ulrich similarly taught that men and women can have “unshaken confidence believing that the judge of all the earth will do right” and “lay hold on the promises which are set forth upon us,” citing the “Lectures on Faith.” These same early theological lectures highlight a “certainty” that “all the Lord has said shall be fulfilled in due time … for he is a God of truth and cannot lie.”

Bayles highlighted Elder Patrick Kearon’s teaching from 2024 about the Father’s “beautiful plan” that is “designed to bring you home, not to keep you out” — going on to testify of a God who is “in relentless pursuit of you.”

“The Father’s plan is all about bringing you home,” said Bayles. As a reflection on the Savior’s plea in Gethsemane for all of God’s children, he sang one final number from “Les Miserables,” “Bring Him Home.”

Dallyn Bayles, a professional actor, singer, recording artist and teacher, sings while giving the closing keynote at the 2024 North Star Annual Conference at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 22, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News
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