Salt Lake City- When he was a teenager, Connell O'Donovan opened up to his Mormon seminary teacher and said that he was gay.
O'Donovan was greeted with kindness - and a prescription to chart the frequency of his sexual thoughts; fasting and praying when the urges came were suggested as a means of willing them away.
"He didn't know what to do," O'Donovan said of his teacher.
Raised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, O'Donovan, a writer and historian, married in the church's Salt Lake City Temple. He came out in 1985 and eventually left the faith, unable to reconcile his gay identity with the teachings of the church.
O'Donovan, 43, spoke at the 30th anniversary of Affirmation, a support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Mormons in Salt Lake City, last month.
Founded in Provo, Utah, by students from the church- owned Brigham Young University, Affirmation grew out of concern about the increasing number of suicides among gay Mormons and from the frustration of living a closeted life. The group, which is not recognized by or connected to the church, has chapters across the United States, in Australia, Canada, England, Italy and South Korea.
Officially, the Mormon church has taught that homosexuality is a sin and that traditional marriage is an institution ordained by God. In the 1990s, church elders modified that position to differentiate between homosexual orientation - same-gender attraction as they call it - and having an active gay sex life.
"The sin is in yielding to temptation," Elder Dallin Oaks said in an interview conducted by a public relations officer and posted on the church Web site this year. "What we know is that feelings can be controlled and behavior can be controlled."
Church officials declined to be interviewed, referring a reporter to the interview with Oaks and Elder Lance Wickman.
Church President Gordon Hinckley has said gays who remain celibate can enjoy full membership, a standard seen in other faith traditions.
Affirmation's Salt Lake chapter President Duane Jennings sees both positions as baby steps of progress. "They used to teach that the thoughts were evil," he said.
There is other movement, Jennings said, beginning with the acknowledgment by leadership that they don't fully understand "these problems."
Marriage was once offered as a "cure" for homosexuality, but leaders now discourage that so women will not be married under false pretenses, Jennings said, adding that change has not been widely publicized since it was announced in 1986.