Ryan lives in Wilsonville, Oregon, and is a graphic designer/art director, designing big-screen graphics and animations for conferences and events. He and his wife moved to Oregon twelve years ago from the San Francisco Bay area, where he grew up. He served in the Rochester, New York mission and has since served as a ward mission leader, Elder’s Quorum president, ward executive secretary, and most recently on his stake high council. Ryan is also involved with North Star, a resource for Latter-day Saints addressing sexual orientation and gender identity. In this podcast interview, he speaks about experiencing same-gender attraction and opening up to his wife and stake president.
- What is North Star? (4:58)
- Identifies as a man who experiences same-sex attraction, but never spoke about it until a year ago (7:00)
- How he experienced growing up in the church (7:35)
- Prayed for years to have this changed in him (10:46)
- The single biggest challenge of his life, and tried to manage it entirely alone (12:20)
- The church has made great strides in clarifying doctrine and there are new resources for those experiencing same-sex attraction (16:17)
- Experiences as a young adult and decision to serve a mission (18:00)
- Sank into intense depression (19:30)
- How he met and married his wife (20:15)
- His experiences with marriage, family, and in church service (23:10)
- Found article in LDS Living magazine and began to consider discussing it (24:20)
- Spoke with his Stake President and his wife (28:08)
- His realization that it didn’t change anything with his church membership and calling (33:03)
- Resources available for LDS leaders (38:37)
- Experiences sharing his story with others (40:38)
- Story of same-sex couple who divorced to return to membership in/join the church (41:18)
- Change from environment where he didn’t talk about it, to where he can (44:40)
- These conversations are about individuals and not social/political dialogues (46:24)
- Found the book Voices of Hope, and North Star (48:40)
- Wendy Ulrich essay was especially helpful (49:56)
- What’s coming at the North Star Conference, March 17-18, 2017 (51:30)
- How he has developed a greater sense of love and compassion as a leader (56:47)
Kurt Francom (LS): Today we are headed up north to Oregon, to Wilsonville, Oregon to talk with Ryan. How are you, Ryan?
Ryan: I’m doing well, how are you, Kurt?
LS: Good, now we had met in a different life. I have a friend that runs an audio/visual company and sometimes recruits me to help him in different events, and you were on an event. We were in Vegas doing a show backstage and we found out we shared the same religion and then we met up again later on as we discovered we had a connection through our association with North Star and that is what lead to this conversation. Let’s get to know you a little bit. When people ask you what is it you do how do you describe that?
Ryan: Well I wish I had a quick easy answer for that but basically I’m a graphic designer/ art director and for the past 23 years I’ve been working in the corporate events and broadcast television industries. A lot of what I do is companies hire me to work on their big meetings, and when I say big I talking about 5,000 – 10,000 people in attendance and I create all the visuals that go up on these big screens that are about sometimes 300 feet wide by 20 feet tall. I have to design the graphics and the animations and from a technical stand point I have to figure out how to play back those visuals. So that in a nutshell is what I do.
LS: And so when people go to a corporate conference or an event or a summit and they see these beautiful graphics flash on the screen, they just don’t come from anywhere they come from a brain like yours, right?
Ryan: I guess that’s right, yes.
LS: And you live in Oregon, how long have you been up there?
Ryan: So my wife and I moved up here about 12 years ago. We met and married in the Bay Area and after we were expecting our second child we wanted to find cheaper real estate, or what to use seemed like cheaper real estate. People up here wouldn’t call it affordable but as compared to the Bay Area it was an improvement. And I came to the realization that I really didnt’ need to live in the Bay Area right next to a lot of my clients. Through the wonders of the internet I can work remotely, so we just, on a whim, bought a house up here and moved up here. We don’t have any family up here but have set down roots and we really love it.
LS: Nice! And now I want to learn more about your upbringing and the developement of your testimony but I think we need to touch on our association with North Star and those that aren’t familiar with North Star, you need to be, especially if you are an LDS leader. Maybe, Ryan, as you have become more familiar and have evolved with North Star, if someone was to ask, “What is North Star?” what would you say?
Ryan: So North Star is a non-profit organization and it’s a resource that supports Latter-day Saint individuals and families who are trying to live their lives in accordance with their covenants and values as members of the Church. North Star creates a forum where we can have a more open and candid dialogue about same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria in a way that, you know, you can’t just talk about same-sex attraction in a sacrament meeting so we are often struggling to find a forum to have conversations about difficult subject matters. The conversations need to happen so that is what North Star does, facilitates that dialogue.
LS: Yeah, for sure, and they have a yearly conference which is coming up in March which we definitely want to promote and encourage people to consider attending and especially if you are in a day’s drive from Salt Lake, or actually it’s in Provo where they hold it, it’s definitely worth that. I’ve done a series of interviews, and this will be attached to that series, where I have interviewed some of the members of the board at North Star the president of North Star, which is currently Joseph Stith. REally intriguing interviews, probably some of the most listened to on the Leading Saints podcast and so I encourage people to check those out **** I’ll link to those in the show notes. So with the conference coming up we always try to promote it and find a new angle or an updated perspective of what is happening in the… around the topic of same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria in the Church and this is something that leaders face all the time with individuals coming in and sharing what they experience, whether they’re gay or lesbian or whatever it is, however they classify it. Maybe this is a good opportunity for you, how do you identify with same-sex attraction and with what North Star is doing and how they are helping individuals?
Ryan: Well, that’s a loaded question! I’m a man who experiences same-sex attraction and up until a year ago I had never spoken those works to anyone.
LS: And roughly how old are you right now?
Ryan: I’m roughly 41… or precisely 41 (Laughter)
LS: And so growing up, what was that like? How did you reconcile that? How did you continue to be a vibrant youth and jump through all the hoops and go on a mission and those things?
Ryan: Well it was a struggle. As a youth growing up in the Church I developed a love of the gospel early on; a strong testimony. I loved the doctrines. I loved the doctrines about the family. You know, I grew up in a single parent household, my parents divorced when I was a toddler and so I have no recollection of having a father in the home. So it was just my mom and my older brother and I. And, you know, when I listened to the doctrines of the family, I wanted that. I wanted to grow up and have the wife and the children and the white picket fence and all of that, but as I got into my early teens or even as early as nine, ten, eleven, there were these little alarm bells going off in my mind, kind of like when Jim Lovell was saying, “Houston, we have a problem!” (haha) Something is not computing here because as all the other boys are starting to show attractions to females and talking about girls and I’m feeling, uh oh, that software is not install in my brain, I don’t know what’s going on here, but something not computing.
LS: And so, being in the Church, was this during your teen years, your years when you are developing those hormones and things when you are definitely experiencing those… having those signals, or was it earlier on that you thought you were kind of different from other boys that you see?
Ryan: Oh, I think I’ve been different since I was four or five or six years old. I’ve never really fit in perfectly with boys, with the guys. I was never one of the guys, in fact, when I was young all my friends were girls. Girls were easier to relate to. I understood girls better. So that started early, and I started realizing that, you know, I’m recognizing boys, not girls. As I got into my young teens, I was a successful kids, a strait-A student, things were going well, and then it started to feel heavy. In the middle of middle school I went from being a straight-A, honor roll student and all of a sudden my grades started tanking and I started withdrawing socially and I just kind of felt like I was exploding. It was just becoming heavy, and I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know how to reconcile what I’m feeling and what I want from the gospel, etc. So, it just started to become really heavy.
LS: I hear the common… as individuals describe that experience, typically in their teenage years, they are striving to pray this away or be more righteous and hopefully this will be taken from you. Did you experience something similar?
Ryan: Oh, absolutely! You know I would hear people in church talk about their various problems and how the Lord had helped them solve those problems and so I, probably for 35 years was praying that this would go away, you know, I thought one day I am going to wake up and I am going to magically think that girls are where it’s at, I’m going to like girls. It took a long time to finally realize that that is just not going to happen. You know I had gotten frustrated thinking that the Lord isn’t answering my prayers when in reality, I finally came to the realization, no, he is in fact answer my prayers and the answer is, “No, I’m not going to solve this for you. I gave this challenge to you for specific reasons” and it would be counterproductive for the Lord to just take the challenge away because there are certainly things that he wanted me to learn and grow by going through this.
LS: Did you ever feel as a teenager to maybe mention it to a bishop or a parent or a loved one, or a mentor?
Ryan: You could not have gotten these words out of my mouth if you tried, it was just not going to happen. No. The answer is no.
LS: And to me that sounds like… I mean, on the surface that’s unhealthy, but I don’t blame you at the same time. I can’t image those feelings. Maybe its shame, you just want to hide it. Nobody could pay you to mention those words, or what it something around you that made you feel that way that you couldn’t be open about it?
Ryan: Well it was absolutely unhealthy. This has been the single biggest challenge of my life and for the first 40 years of my life I was trying to deal with this and cope with this entirely alone and it created lots of feelings of isolation and aloneness. It was really complicated and difficult. What was the second part of your questions?
LS: As far as, like… sometimes I worry… you know the typical Sunday afternoon where maybe me and my siblings are at my parents house having dinner and there are nieces and nephews there, and we don’t disparage individuals in the LGBT community or say inappropriate jokes or anything like that, nonetheless, we put an emphasis on the doctrines of the Church; being married in the temple and we make that assumption. So, I’m curious if just the culture of the Church, again, not that its evil culture or a bad one… was that what led to you keeping it in and saying, “of course, I would never mention that to anybody.”
Ryan: Well, absolutely, because I saw what I wanted out of the gospel and the plan of salvation and this just seemed completely incompatible. I don’t know how to make this work together so I am just going to have to pretend that it’s not there. And so, I’d just sink into this feeling of shame and denial; intense shame. And when I would hear this topic discussed in the Church context, which was very rare. You know, my perception was there was just no resources for me. If you have a problem with anything: drugs, alcohol, whatever; it seems like the Church has a lot of information and resources, but when I was young my perception was there just wasn’t any information. And what little information I could find didn’t really help the situation. For instance, some Church leaders such as Elder Packer had spoken on this a couple of times and he would teach the doctrines. He was well intended in trying to help individuals stay on the path and avoid making big mistakes, but when I would read his words it came off as maybe sometimes lacking empathy or compassion. Part of that was maybe in what he was saying and part of that was because I felt deeply ashamed of myself and so maybe it wouldn’t have mattered what anybody was saying, it just caused further hurt, you know. But, yeah, the LDS culture, especially when I was young, which would be 30 years ago, it was different. We didn’t talk about this, it was taboo. We did not mention this subject matter. I just felt alone and isolated. There was nothing; no resources for me to help me.
LS: Well I hope today that experience for a youth would be different because hopefully there are resources out there and one we will mention here is the mormonandgay.lds.org website. The Church has clearly made some resources available, not only to the leaders, but to individuals in the Church that experience same-sex attraction and so those resources are there. So I am sort of trying to find the application here. Obviously 30 years ago resources weren’t there and it is not that your youth leadership or your bishop did something wrong, or you did something wrong because you didn’t reach out, but it was just a different time and those resources weren’t there. Where today, hopefully, and maybe those resources are there and hopefully those discussions are being talked about, right? Whether it’s a lesson or an interaction with a youth leader, or a parent, or a bishop that talks about the mormonandgay.lds.org where they think, “maybe I’m not alone here and I can talk about this.” Would you agree, is that the sort of role that the resources play?
Ryan: I agree, I think in the last five years, and even in the last year the Church and the Brethren have really made some great strides in clarifying the doctrines, clarifying what we actually think and belive about same-sex attraction and yes there’s new resources. The mormonandgay.lds.org has some excellent video testimonials by people who experience SSA or family members of who are also working through this and there are a number of essays and a number of writings about Church believes. So, it is really helpful and really positive information. I think they are making great strides in changing the tone of the conversation about this and trying to create more resources that are helpful.
LS: So, if there is a leader out there that is not familiar with mormonandgay.lds.org, I’ll link to it in the show notes, but you can google that and find it. Fantastic videos and information there that at least gives you a starting point in those difficult conversation if someone does approach you or if there is a youth lesson in order or a 5th Sunday lesson in order. Those are great way to start and discuss that and have dialogue around that subject.
So let’s pivot back to your story. So you go through your youth years, you bury this as deep as possible. Vowing to yourself you will never utter those words, and that you will continue on and go on a mission, and someday find that girl to marry. So tell us about that transition of going on a mission. Was that difficult? You talk about this time when you sort of retracted from social settings and things. Did you get over that so you could go on a mission?
Ryan: So here’s the thing: I graduated from high school a bit early. Probably because socially, I just wanted out of there. So I took extra classes, graduated early, and then when I was 18 I sort of fell into a career – the same career I’m in currently. so that took off. I worked at that for about 3-4 years. At that point all my friends were going on missions and coming home and getting married. I was just lost in the church – stuck in between: I hadn’t served a mission, I’m feeling same sex attracted, I don’t know what life is going to hold for me. Then when I was about 21 I just really had some testimony-building experiences. I really dove into the Book of Mormon again anew, and really rekindled my testimony. I decided I wanted to serve a mission, and I did that. Now, while I was on my mission – and my mission was an excellent experience, I served in Rochester, New York. Its interesting because the Church historical sights are there.
LS: Yeah, Sounds like a fun mission.
Ryan: Yeah. The day after arriving there in the mission field, I found myself standing in the Sacred Grove and on the Hill Cumorah and just lots of neat history there. The mission itself was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot about myself,a lot about people, a lot about the Gospel. But I was also sinking into an intense depression at that time in my life. I don’t think it was necessarily because of the mission experience, it was just that life was complicated. You know here I am, I’m out teaching people how wonderful the Gospel is and how wonderful eternal families are, and in the back of my mind I was thinking, I don’t know how this whole eternal family thing is going to work out for me. This whole eternal family part. So the depression increased. When I got home from my mission, I lived in the east Bay area – Pleasant Hill. When I got home from my mission, I started attending the Berkley Singles Ward, which was a fun ward with lots of people there and lots of activities. So I was 24 and I started to realize I was 24 , I’m home from a mission, I’m gainfully employed, I guess this is the point where I should start thinking about marriage. And I remembered back in a special blessing I had received – in my Patriarchal blessing – the Lord had instructed me that if I should choose to get married, that I should seek His direction, and he would lead me to a special individual that he has prepared for me. I should note that up until that time, age 24, I had not ever dated because of lack of interest in girls, and wanting to keep the commandments. So I was stuck in this zone. So I knelt down and said a prayer one Sunday morning before Church and asked the Lord to lead me to this person and just 2-3 hours later, after Sacrament meeting, I was standing in the hallway talking to this beautiful woman. I had already met her several weeks prior. We were just standing there having a conversation and this “lightning bolt” came down to me, and the Spirit said, “there she is.” So, I thought, “Okay, there she is.”
LS: Hopefully she got the same lightning strike, right?
Ryan: She did. Hers came maybe a few weeks later. It did occur for her as well.
LS: And so that led to marriage?
Ryan: It did! It all happened pretty quickly. We started dating, and we really hit it off. We felt like we had been friends forever. She had a dream that she should invite me home. Her parents had moved to Des Moines, Iowa. And she had a dream that she should invite me home for Thanksgiving. We had only just been on a couple dates, so she thought that was ridiculous, so she didn’t invite me. But then, 2 or 3 weeks later, she had the same dream that she should invite me back to Iowa for Christmas. So this time she acted on that and she asked me if I would like to come to Iowa for Christmas. Before she could finish the sentence, I was on the computer booking a flight. So I went home and met her parents and it just kind of happened quickly. We fell in love and we were married in the Oakland temple in the year 2000.
LS: Nice. Now, so during this you’ve seen this promised blessing come to reality. You were considering marriage, now you’re getting married. Did that push these feelings even deeper, “Now I’m for sure never going to mention this.”?
Ryan: Yeah, I wasn’t really having this conversation with myself even. I was just living in denial and pushing this down, and trying to just pretend it wasn’t there. So the dialogue wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. I just didn’t want to address it. In hindsight, I feel badly about not confiding in my wife sooner. So, here’s what happened: marriage went on, we had four children – actually we have had 5 children. 5 girls – our third daughter was stillborn. She had a severe heart defect. We consider her a full part of the family, so we have 5 daughters. Life was moving on and things were moving forward professionally, and in our relationship things were great. I served in the church in various callings as a ward mission leader, and Elders quorum president, as a ward executive secretary, and then I was called to serve on the High Council.
LS: And that’s your current calling, right?
Ryan: That’s my current calling, yeah. And so what happened is, shortly after I was called to the High Council which was a little over 5 years ago, I went to Deseret Book one day to buy something, and they put a copy of LDS Living magazine in my bag. I took it home and I just looked at the name of the magazine – I’d never seen it before. I thought, oh great I’ll get around to reading this and I set it on my desk. It sat there for a couple of weeks. I was cleaning off my desk and thought, “I’m not going to have time to read this.” I was about to throw it in the garbage, then I looked down at the cover and there was this nice looking couple with their baby on the cover. And I happened to read the headline and it said, “Our Story: Our struggle with same sex attraction.” This was an article written by Ty and Danielle Mansfield. That, of course, piqued my interest. I quickly dove into the article and read through it. I thought, wow! I’m not naive enough to think I’m the only person in the church who is same sex attracted but who is married to a person of the opposite gender. But until that point, I’d never actually heard of someone or met someone like me. So I just thought, Wow! Ty’s like me. Except there was one significant difference in their story: his wife knew and they had this open dialogue about it. Up until this point it had never even occurred to me that that was an option. I thought, what woman is going to want to be married to a man who is same-sex attracted, knowingly? It hadn’t occurred to me it was an option, and I thought to myself – is that something I would want in my marriage? What would that look like? I determined right then and there that there’s a conversation I really do need to have with my wife because I am withholding something from her and that’s starting to feel not good. But then, all this internal conflict starts bubbling up even more. Trying to figure out what would be the ramifications of having that conversation? Do I want her to know this? Is she going to leave me? Not really knowing what was going to happen. But I decided I needed to have that conversation and then I couldn’t figure out how or when – never a perfect moment. Never a good time for that. How do you even have the conversation? “Oh honey, by the way, there’s something I forgot to mention to you”?
Ryan: So the days ticked by and the months ticked by and then those months turned into years, and so 4 years passed from the time I decided I needed to have the conversation until the time when I did have the conversation.
LS: I know in that conversation – obviously you are serving on the High Council so your Stake President was a little bit involved there. But there’s not a perfect opportunity there, but the opportunity was there and you shared that. Maybe go into whatever you feel comfortable with as far as how did your marriage withstand that shock? And how did your church relationship handle that shock with your calling, obviously you are in a leadership calling on the high council. How did that unfold?
***Transcription from 28:00 to 40:00 not yet available***
LS: So, I want to ask you – we’ve talked a little bit about that internal confidence that’s been restored and, you know, you just feel generally better about the situation knowing you have the trust of your leaders and the confidence of your leaders. So, what about externally? I mean, I’m sure you don’t wear this on your sleeve, you’re not known as the “gay high councilor” or anything like that, but nonetheless, does it come up? I mean, are you more open about it amongst people in your ward? Or how do you go day-to-day as far as, you know, not flaunting this or wearing it as a badge of honor, but nonetheless recognizing that it’s still there?
Ryan: Well, good question. So, yeah, I’m certainly not shouting this from the rooftops. This is a deeply personal thing, although I guess one could argue that’s what I’m doing right at this very moment.
Ryan: So I have talked with all three members of my stake presidency about this, one of my fellow high councilors, and three or four of the bishops in my stake because I’m good friends with them because they used to serve on the high council with me. Each time I’ve had the conversation, it’s because the Spirit has prompted me to. There’s some bigger purpose. There’s a lot of learning that’s going to happen for both myself and the other person to have the conversation. So, here’s an interesting thing that happened: shortly after I’d had this conversation, my high council assignment was changed where I was assigned to have stewardship over a different ward. And I feel comfortable talking about this because the people I’m going to talk about here are very open about this, and even blog about it and are going to be speaking about this at the North Star conference. The ward that I was given stewardship over, there are two women in the ward who used to be married and they…one of them was a member…
LS: Married to each other, right? Just to be clear about…right.
Ryan: To each other. And I don’t think that’s the reason that I was assigned to that ward, but it may have factored into it that I could be a support to them. So there’s these two women who were married to each other, one was a member and one was not. And they started meeting with the missionaries, and the one who was a member wanted to come back into the Church. And the other one wanted to be baptized. And so they made the really difficult decision to divorce so that they could work through that. And the ward just loves them and has embraced them. So they were …They’re both active and full members of the church. And it’s been really interesting to watch this unfold, and also, you know, as I’m seeing my own personal story unfold at the same time. It’s been interesting and healing to… and you know, I feel I have a friend in the ward I serve, our friends, who are going through or who are facing similar challenges. So…and those two women will be speaking at the North Star Conference when we get to that.
LS: Awesome. And then …I’ll definitely give them my card and see if I can line up an interview. It sounds like an intriguing story, for sure.
Ryan: Oh, and so, sorry, the reason I mentioned that is because I felt that, okay, in order to be a support to them, I guess I needed to tell them. I don’t know any other way to go about it. So I chatted with them. And my wife and I took them out to dinner and had just excellent conversation. And I also confided in the Bishop of that ward. And so that was a little odd for me, after having confided in him, the next Sunday when I showed up at their ward and I’m sitting on the stand as the high council representative, knowing that the Bishop who is sitting next to me knows I’m same-sex attracted, and there’s a couple of people in the congregation who know that I’m same-sex attracted, and I was just sitting there thinking, “This is really odd, but I guess it’s okay. I don’t understand how this is okay, but I think it is okay.” And I, you know, it’s interesting. So it’s been an adjustment for me.
LS: Yeah, because there’s sort of this weird cultural adjustment that’s happening, you know, that everybody in the room’s okay with it, but do we have to talk about it. Nobody really wants to talk about it, but they know they probably should, or we want to be open to it, but it’s hard to separate ourselves…
Ryan: You bring up a good point about talking about it, and I think, I want to say this because it’s the reason I’m having this conversation with you today. I grew up in a different environment where we don’t talk about this, and I just sank into…I built up this wall around me. I was trying to keep everyone out. I didn’t want anybody to see what was going on inside my head, but that wall also became a prison for myself, and I just lived in this prison of silence. I couldn’t find my way out of it, and so, you know, there are a lot of young people growing up in the Church today who are coming to the realization that their sexual orientation is incongruous with what they might want from the gospel, and that’s a challenging spot to be in. And there’s a lot of adults who are like me and have also experienced this and don’t know what to do or how to talk about it. So, I’m really personally committed to furthering opening up the dialogue more and… Because I think it’s a conversation that needs to happen. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. But it’s valuable.
LS: Yeah. Is it kind of …there’s sort of this weird dynamic between everyday life and the media where you’ll see stories in the news of like this…you’re not looking to be touted as the like I said, “gay Mormon high councilor” so sometimes the media wants to portray it like that, but normal society just wants to have a conversation with it, not necessarily push it in anybody’s face or come to a strong conclusion. But nonetheless, talking about it is still has an important role. I don’t know if I’m articulating this very well, but it makes sense in my head.
Ryan: You know what I think gets confusing on this subject for a lot of people is, you hear a lot on television about these social and political dialogues, and those get kind of heated. And those are often in direct conflict with the doctrines of the Church and what we believe to be right and moral, right? But that’s not what this conversation’s about. This conversation is about me, an individual, who’s experiencing feelings and thoughts that I don’t know what to do with, and I don’t know how to handle, and I just …we need to have the conversation on that level. This isn’t about politics…right.
LS: Yeah, an individual level. And so I think, I worry that some leaders shy away from it because they think they need to have the conversation on a very public level. But in reality, just have the conversation on an individual level or a small group level, recognizing the experience they’re having, and recognizing that it’s difficult, you know, in this culture we live in, so, anyways…probably there’s Ph.D.s out there who handle that conversation, but nonetheless…
Ryan: It’s kind of interesting that “the world,” and when I say “the world,” I mean everyone who’s not a member of the Church, the world has evolved on this subject matter significantly, and one could easily argue they’ve evolved too far in talking about this subject matter in terms of acceptance and you know, if you feel these feelings, well, then, you should just live your life that way, etc. But what’s interesting is that there are a lot of people in the Church who have not evolved enough to the point where we can at least recognize that these are valid feelings that you’re feeling, and it’s a big issue for you, and to show compassion and empathy for these individuals and to understand that I’m just a regular person. I’m a son of God, and I’m trying to do my best to follow the plan of salvation, and I have this challenge that is really challenging. And, you know, it would be nice to have some support and help in this challenge.
LS: So talk to us about how you discovered North Star and have you been to their conferences or looked at their resources? How did that help you even further as you were you know, more open about this experience in your life?
Ryan: Okay, so right after I had read that “LDS Living” article, I had discovered that there was the book, Voices of Hope that was also associated with Ty Mansfield. So I read that, loved it. Discovered the Voices of Hope website which has testimonials of people talking about their experience with same-sex attraction, and that was very helpful for me. So right after I had first disclosed this to my wife, I reached out to Ty and so Carrie and I went and had dinner with Ty and Danielle in Salt Lake, which was great conversation. I also was put in touch with Joseph Stith, who is currently president of North Star, so I went and had dinner with him, and chatted about getting involved, helping with the conference. With my background in graphic design and in marketing and public relations from the events that I work on, they thought it would be a good fit for me to work on the conference. So I’m currently serving as the marketing chairperson for the conference and you know handling marketing and handling various graphics needs in the planning phase for the conference. So I have actually not attended a conference yet, but I have listened to a lot of the keynote sessions on YouTube, and they’ve been… I love them. They’ve been very helpful. One of my favorites was Wendy Olrich spoke several years a…
LS: She’s been on our podcast before.
Ryan: Yeah, and she also wrote one of the chapters in the Voices of Hope book, which actually for me is really was really really meaningful. She talked … she just talked…and I don’t think.. she doesn’t personally experience same-sex attraction, but she, as a therapist, as a counselor, has worked with a number of individuals. She just talked a lot about working through it by.. with simple means. You know, having faith and recognizing your weaknesses and not confusing weakness with sin. It’s a great essay. I recommend it…I highly recommend it for Church leaders to read, as well as individuals who experience this. Anyway, so I became familiar with a lot of the content that North Star was producing, and it was really helpful, so I wanted to be involved in the conference.
LS: Awesome, and like you said earlier, obviously North Star is not owned or operated by the LDS Church. I think it’s very similar to what we’re doing at Leading Saints. We’re a third-party non-profit organization that’s trying to assist the Church in accomplishing their mission, right? And so North Star is a third-party non-profit organization, right? And just in a different context. I’m in the leadership world, and they’re in the same-gender attraction world and gender dysphoria and all those things. And so where can individuals learn about the conference, consider going, and is it available remotely if people want to tune in you know if they’re across the United States or in a different country?
Ryan: Okay, so if you go to northstarlds.org, which is one word, northstarlds.org, then you can see a lot of the resources that they have. You can also link right to the conference page, which is conference.northstarlds.org. And from there you can see the whole agenda for this year’s conference. It’s going to be March 17th and 18th. It’s a Friday and Saturday. That’s when the bulk of the content occurs. There’s some special sessions on the morning of March 18th, Saturday morning, which are tailored specifically for leaders in the Church. And I say “leaders” broadly, so that …not only priesthood leaders, but Relief Society and Young Women’s. Anyone who wants to learn more who is a leader in the Church. There’s going to be some panel discussions where you’ll, you can hear just excellent discussion about best practices and pitfalls to avoid if you’re a Church leader dealing with this subject matter. Those sessions are free for Church leaders to attend. If Church leaders want to extend and attend all of Saturday or attend all of Friday and Saturday, they can expand their registration for discounted rates, and these, the registration fees are to cover the cost of putting on a conference.
LS: And it’s very well done. I mean, it’s not, uh, I mean they spend the money well.
Ryan: Right, so there’s content that’s just going to be amazing for people like myself. Women who experience SSA, people who experience gender dysphoria, and of course all of the family members who are also affected by this and want to learn more. There’s 36 topical breakout sessions which are talks and panel discussions on a whole range of topics, and you can read about that on the website. There’s going to be four keynote sessions, which will be really interesting. The first one is Becky and Bennett Borden. They are a couple. They were both previously in same-sex relationships, and then they both came back to the Church and found each other again – I guess they knew each other previously – and are married in the temple. And we’re going to hear from Tom Christofferson and hear about his journey back to his faith, and we’ll hear from Terryl and Fiona Givens. They’re the authors who wrote The God Who Weeps and The Crucible of Doubt. The God Who Weeps is, by the way, one of my favorite books, so check it out. And then Ally Isom. She has had involvement with the new mormonandgay.lds.org website, and she’s going to share some of her insights from working on that and producing a lot of those testimonials that you see on the website.
LS: And this is probably a good time for me to plug my session. I’m going to be moderating a panel in a session entitled “How can Local Church Leaders Create a Welcoming Environment?” We’re going to have leaders, Relief Society leaders, Bishops, on that panel, and just having a discussion around, now that we recognize that it’s there, it’s a thing, it’s not something people are making up, you know, how can we make them feel more welcome in worshipping with us, and the story you tell about the two sisters in your stake who have since divorced and been reactivated or baptized in the Church. You know, these are the type of scenarios that don’t happen overnight, and so that groundwork of creating a welcoming environment for individuals who attend church at least to be impacted by the Spirit or you know have home teachers, visiting teachers, you know, start that journey, you know, that’s a difficult thing to do, so we’re going to talk about that. Fantastic conference. I went last year and was just blown away. I went to some sessions about gender dysphoria. And just to sit there and hear from individual experiences. Again, not that this …we’re not talking on a political or social level that we’re making changes, but just on an individual level. I walked out with a heart a little bit bigger towards these individuals and just trying to understand what they’re going through, and which, I’ll never understand, but…
Ryan: Yeah, it’s interesting that you mention that because I personally don’t have a big understanding of gender dysphoria. It’s a different issue than mine, but I guess very loosely related, but I do understand is the internal conflict that these individuals feel. I understand what that feels like, just to have this conflict boiling inside of you and not know how to resolve it. I actually look forward to learning more from them as well.
LS: Yeah, It will be awesome. Well, again we encourage people to check that out at northstarlds.org and all the information’s there. Again, I can’t stress enough to encourage you to come to the conference, and of course I’ll be there and would love to meet you in person. So, Ryan just in closing, you know, speak to that, as you’ve gone through this and reconciled to some degree… obviously this isn’t something.. it’s not like you’ve won the journey, you’re there, you’ve arrived. I’m sure it’s something you’ll constantly find new battlegrounds as you experience this. But how have you become a better leader now that you’ve found a more healthy place with reconciling what you’ve experienced?
Ryan: That’s an interesting question. I think I have developed a greater sense of love and compassion for other people now that I finally feel more at peace with myself and I have seen how my priesthood leaders and friends and particularly my spouse have responded to this with love and compassion. And I want to extend that same compassion towards other people. You know, everybody has challenges in life. Everybody has something that they’re dealing with – or multiple somethings that they’re dealing with. I thought I had the market cornered on problems, but I guess I don’t. That’s what I’ve come to learn.
And I think in the Church, if we could just break down some of these walls, some of these barriers. We have these subjects that we think are too taboo to talk about. And if we could just break down those barriers and start having these conversations, I think it would be really helpful for people. You know, everybody has something they are dealing with and need a friend and need help with. I felt so alone for all my life because I just…and that was my fault that I wasn’t confiding in anyone or allowing anyone to be of help to me, but I didn’t think I had anybody who could help me.
So I guess that’s what I think, that we as Church members, we are family, and we all belong here, and we need everyone’s different perspectives. It’s what I love about serving on the high council. We’ll sit around the high council table and we’ll discuss a particular topic or problem we’re trying to solve, and everyone’s approaching it from a different perspective based on their life experience, and that’s a really valuable thing to have all these different voices in the Church and all these different backgrounds and all these different perspectives. And we need that.
And what I have learned recently is that my perspective is valuable and is needed in the Church, and I have a place here, and I feel completely at home and completely comfortable and completely loved. And I feel really grateful for that.
End of Transcript