SALT LAKE CITY When as a teenager Connell O’Donovan told his Mormon seminary teacher he was gay, he was greeted with kindness and a prescription to chart the frequency of his sexual thoughts; fasting and praying when the urges came as a means of willing them away.
`”He didn’t know what to do,” O’Donovon said of his teacher, who is now a church elder. “He was a super nice guy, but just misinformed and all he had was the church handbook to go by.”
Raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, O’Donovan, a writer and historian, served a church mission and married in the church’s Salt Lake City Temple. He came out in 1985 and eventually left the faith, unable to reconcile his intrinsic gay identity with the teachings of the church.
“I had to throw the baby out with the bath water. I started from scratch and rebuilt myself,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. “I decided that I can use the word grace, but in a different way.”
On Sunday, O’Donovan, 43, gave the keynote address at the 30th anniversary of Affirmation, a support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Mormons in Salt Lake City.
Founded in Provo by a handful of students from the church-owned Brigham Young University, Affirmation grew out of concern over the increasing number of suicides among gay Mormons and from the frustration of living a closeted life. Today, 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.
For many, Affirmation is the first place they connect with other gay Mormons.
“They helped me through in the beginning,” said Buckley Jeppson, 48, a gay Mormon who lives in Washington, D.C. “That was useful. It was the first time I actually knew I wasn’t the only person out there. It’s comforting.”
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 feelings or inclinations same-gender attraction as they call it and homosexual activity.
The church teaches that yielding to the temptation is the sin, according to church leaders.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 1, 2007.