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An LDS general authority on Saturday comforted Mormons who are attracted to people of the same sex but want to live by the church's chastity rules, which bar sexual acts outside of marriage between a man and a woman.
"Each of us has problems," said Bishop Keith B. McMullin, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Together, we shall overcome them."
McMullin spoke at the 20th annual conference of Evergreen International, a nonprofit support group for Mormons who want to "overcome homosexual behavior." Evergreen is not officially affiliated with the church, but a leader of the Utah-based faith addresses the group each year.
On Saturday, McMullin said people with same-sex attraction should not call themselves "gay" or "lesbian." He offered advice to LDS ecclesiastical leaders in the audience of about 200 people.
"If someone seeking your help says to you, 'I am a homosexual,' or, 'I am lesbian,' or, 'I am gay,' correct this miscasting," McMullin said. "Heavenly Father does not speak of his children this way and neither should we. It is simply not true. To speak this way seeds a doubt and deceit about who we really are."
He said every individual is a "son or daughter" of God. Jesus Christ, McMullin said, has the power to lift the "burden" of every "man and woman, boy and girl."
McMullin also spoke at the conference 17 years ago, when it was held at a hotel. He said it was "appropriate" that the group now meets in the LDS chapel inside the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City.
"We've improved. We've come from the hotel to the meetinghouse," McMullin said. "This has to be an inspiration to us all in whatever circumstance we may find ourselves."
David Pruden, Evergreen's executive director, said hearing an LDS leader such as McMullin speak openly about same-sex attraction "means the world" to individuals and families grappling with the issue.
"Let's be honest. Not that many years ago, you couldn't even have a conversation about [this]," Pruden said. "Those people get very isolated, and it's kind of a frightening thing for them."
Evergreen hopes to boost awareness of the support services it offers by splitting the conference into two parts next year. One would be more publicized, with seminars for LDS clergy and others. The second would be a private "growth and accountability" conference for individuals seeking to diminish their same-sex attractions.
The American Psychological Association has advised mental health professionals against telling their clients they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments, saying doing so has the potential for harm.
The "long-standing consensus" of the behavioral and social sciences, the APA noted in a report last year, is that homosexuality is a "normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation."
April-Dawn, a California woman, spoke Saturday of her own "fierce" struggle to overcome her attractions to women. She asked that her last name not be used because she has not shared this part of her life with family members.
"I am very thankful for the [LDS] gospel in my life," she said. "I am beginning to recognize the blessings that this struggle or any trial can bring. How could we ever grow or stretch if we did not have struggles?"
Another LDS support group to meet
P Affirmation, a support group for gay and lesbian Mormons that believes everyone's sexual orientation is a "special gift from God," will hold its annual conference Oct. 8-10 in San Francisco. For details, go to http://www.affirmation.org.