PROVO — Jenn Curtis was a self-described wreck when she walked into her first North Star meeting for Latter-day Saints experiencing same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria.
Curtis had been unable to reconcile her Mormon faith, her same-sex attraction and her 20-year marriage to a man. Today, she is happy, thriving in her faith and her marriage and servings as a vice president of North Star, which supports the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that chastity means no sex outside marriage between a man and a woman.
"I never thought this life was possible," she said this weekend at the 2016 North Star Conference. "And it is. I've lived it now. I've demonstrated it. Now I'm trying to give back to a community that told me I could have a happy life."
Curtis was one of nearly 600 who gathered at the Provo Marriott to share their stories and listen to speakers like Virginia Hinckley Pearce, a former member of the LDS Church's Young Women General Presidency, and celibate Catholic blogger Eve Tushnet, who described ways celibate believers with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria can find pathways to joy and happiness in their faith.
"I want to tell you how positive I feel about what's happening here," said Pearce, a full-time missionary with the LDS Church's Public Affairs Department. "You can feel people reaching toward the Savior."
Pearce encouraged group members to seek unity and holiness so they can care for each other.
"The Savior invited all to the feast, but we are co-hosts. We're not just there to be taken care of, but to take care of the other guests, too."
She said Paul taught in the New Testament that all believers have a ministry of reconciliation, to bring brokenness and separation back together in love, "to work our way back and help everyone around us on their journey, through unity and holiness."
Pearce titled her talk "The Big Ask" because the author and daughter of late church President Gordon B. Hinckley said church members "owe it to each other to listen to each other's stories. Sit down next to somebody and say: 'Tell me your story. Tell me how you got where you are. Tell me where you are now. Tell me where you're going.'"
Tushnet converted from Reformed Judaism to Catholicism as a 19-year-old college student and lives a celibate life to be faithful to her faith's teachings about same-sex attraction.
She said married life is a calling; celibate life is a calling, too.
"None of us are called to be alone and miserable," she said. "We are all given some way to pour out our love in ways that are fruitful and lifegiving."
Most of Tushnet's work is focused on outlining pathways to love for people who are never going to marry. She described those pathways as real, even though "they are marginalized in my church and contemporary American culture."
"What would happen," she asked, "if we took monastic love as seriously as we take marital love?"
She encouraged group members "to think hard about where God is calling you to pour out love, to make your life a gift."
One of the 36 breakout sessions during the conference was a free seminar provided for LDS Church leaders like bishops, stake presidents, Primary presidents and seminary teachers. More than 150 attended the presentation by two active, former Mormon bishops who experience same-sex attraction.
Chris Staggs and Joseph Stith separately found North Star's Voices of Hope video series, binge-watched it, then told their wives, families and LDS wards about their same-sex attraction.
They said those with same-sex attraction who make the choice to stay in the church need community, so they need local church leaders who will be advocates and set a tone of love and compassion in their congregations.
"We are afraid of rejection," Stith said. "We need and crave acceptance. Those aren't opposites."
New North Star president Greg Harris announced that North Star soon will begin to launch local chapters around the world.