<strong>It is so important to open up to others, to feel supported, loved and accepted. I&#39;m hoping that by appearing on the website and talking about my experiences openly it will help others do so in more private settings</strong> – Laurie Campbell

For Laurie Campbell, it is time to come forward.

"I've never really wanted to be this visible," she said during a recent telephone interview. "I have children. I have a life. I have a few of my family members and friends who still don't know much about my history. I don't know how they'll respond now."

Still, she says, she knew she needed to come forward and participate in the new website, www.mormonsandgays.org, launched Thursday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You'll see her in several of the website's video sequences, sharing her thoughts and feelings along with other church leaders and members, urging compassion, acceptance, love, and empathy between Latter-day Saints and those who experience same-sex attraction.

With all her heart, she believes God requires this of her.

"It's time," she says quietly. "My husband and I thought and prayed about this a lot when the church approached me a year ago to be interviewed for the website. We feel it's time for me to come forward and be more vocal."

So here she is, coming forward as a happily-married 52-year-old mother of three who, 30 years ago, was living her life as a lesbian.

"We knew this was going to be a church website, so we figured our family and friends would see it," she said Friday. "The thing is, I hadn't told my kids about my past yet, and we just moved into a new ward. And I'm thinking, 'yeah, we're going to be telling everybody to come look at this website where I talk about the sins I did.' "

But after representatives from the church explained the purpose of the website to her and asked her to participate, she and her husband talked and prayed about it and felt it was the right thing for them to do. The filming process was sensitively handled, she felt, and talking to her children about it was a sweet experience.

"After talking to my oldest daughter, I asked her if she was going to be embarrassed by having me on a church website talking about my experiences with same-gender attraction, and she said, 'I'm not embarrassed. I'm proud of you for doing it,' " Campbell said. "My youngest daughter was like, 'oh sure, no problem.' It was no big deal to her."

As far as members of her new ward are concerned, she said, "Well, when they see it, they'll know. My motto in this has been the lyric of a hymn: 'Do what is right, let the consequence follow.' "

She has already received responses from friends who know her and her personal history.

"The first phone call came from a friend of mine who is a lesbian and not a church member," Campbell said. "She said she had just seen the website and was moved by it. She said, 'I am just so proud of you.' That meant a lot to me, coming from someone who is living the lifestyle."

Another call came from a friend who is LDS and who struggles with reconciling her faith with same-sex attraction. "She said she felt like there were angels behind this website," Campbell said. "She felt the spirit so strongly. I'm like, 'well, yeah — that's what we were going for.' "

Campbell has told her story before, in a book published by Deseret Book in 1994 called "Born That Way?" She has spoken about her experiences at several annual conferences of Evergreen International, an independent organization that focuses on same-sex attraction from within the perspective of the doctrines, teachings and policies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She also has a blog with North Star, a website for Latter-day Saints dealing with issues surrounding homosexual attraction.

But for the most part she has remained behind the scenes, often using her pen name, Erin Eldridge. But now she is coming forward using her own name and being shown on camera in the new website, with hopes that the story of her journey will give hope to others who find themselves feeling trapped between their sexual orientation and their LDS beliefs.

"I'm not trying to win an argument here, or to change anyone's mind who has found happiness and peace with their sexual orientation, whatever it may be," she said. "I'm reaching out to those who are not happy with their orientation, who don't want to be gay, and who want to free themselves from overwhelming desires that create conflict."

To them, she says, her message is simple: "There is hope."

And the best way for her to deliver that message, she believes, is through telling her own story, using her own name.

"I don't want Latter-day Saints with same-sex attraction to feel ashamed to tell other church members about what they're dealing with or have dealt with," she said. "It is so important to open up to others, to feel supported, loved and accepted. I'm hoping that by appearing on the website and talking about my experiences openly it will help others do so in more private settings."

And because of the message of the site, she hopes others can speak about their feelings to family members, church leaders and friends in an environment of increased love, understanding and support.

"This is a significant issue in people's lives, and I'm glad we're talking about it, and I'm honored to be part of the conversation," Campbell said. "We need to be empathetic, especially with young people, and try to understand what they're going through.

"Everyone's journey is different," she continued. "I'm trying to help those who are attracted to the same sex, who choose not to self-identify as gay, and want to work toward marriage as best they can. They feel it is important to hope for a future family, where they can be married as husband and wife, serving as father and mother in the home. And if not in this life, certainly in the eternities."

Campbell acknowledges that not every Mormon who experiences same-sex attraction feels that way. But many do, and they become discouraged by the growing worldview that if you have attractions to the same sex that means you're gay and the only way to happiness and fulfillment is through gay relationships.

"The message they get from the world is that the only option you have is to accept these feelings, that to do otherwise is to deny who you are," she said. "There is no room in that mindset to consider other possibilities. You're just supposed to accept it, embrace it and realize that this is as good as it gets for you.

"But there are some who can't bring themselves to do that," said Campbell, who holds a master's degree in counseling, specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy. "It's like one woman told me: 'I don't want to hear that it gets better. I want to hear that I get better.' "

These are the people to whom Campbell reaches out with her message of hope.

"I'm not talking to the person who has these feelings and chooses to identify as gay," she said. "I'm talking to Latter-day Saints who have unwanted attractions."

Campbell knows all too well about those attractions. She felt them in high school and began acting on them in college. Later, she says, she "kept feeling like it wasn't the life God wanted me to live." That desire to live the life God wanted her to live eventually led to Campbell overcoming her desire to remain in a relationship with a woman. Slowly, she was able to leave that relationship and return to full activity in the LDS Church, which teaches complete sexual abstinence outside of marriage and does not accept gay marriage.

"I was prepared to be celibate for the rest of my life," she said. "I made up my mind that I was going to be a Mormon nun, and I was OK with that. To be honest, at that point in my life celibacy seemed better than being married to a man for the rest of my life, much less eternity."

In her 30s, however, she met the man she would later marry. "Honestly, I'm sure he's the only man in the world I could be married to," she says.

"From the very beginning, my husband was very open emotionally," she said. "That was so important to me. I felt like I could tell him anything — and I told him everything — and he was so open and loving and understanding. He loved me, and I found myself falling in love with him."

That was 19 years ago. Today they have three children, and Campbell says she no longer desires lesbian relationships.

Campbell said she knows others who have had similar experiences with same-sex attraction, including Ty Mansfield, an LDS marriage and family therapist in Lubbock, Texas, and co-author of the book, "Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-Gender Attraction." His story can also be found on the church's new website.

"I'm not saying things will turn out this way for everyone," Campbell says. "And when it comes right down to it, that's not even the most important thing. Elder (Neal A.) Maxwell said that the Lord wants us to sacrifice our will to his. He wants us to turn our hearts and lives over to him and say, 'Do with me what you will.'

"For those with same sex attraction, that means telling the Lord, 'If I am never to get married in this life, I'm willing to remain single. And if I am to be married, I trust you will help me be attracted to someone I can marry.' That's what happened for me."

Which is not the same thing as saying she is now completely heterosexual.

"I don't identify as gay or ex-gay, heterosexual or bisexual. I identify as a daughter of God," Campbell said. "Some people don't realize that we choose our identity. It isn't heaped upon us, uncontrollably. I'm not sure you can completely change your orientation.

"But what I am sure of, because I have experienced it and know others who have, is that it's possible to change from a person who is only attracted to the same gender to a person who, at some point in their lives, is able to fall in love with someone of the opposite gender," she continued. "And you can be happy and at peace in your marriage, with your children and with your faith."

Campbell understands that her position is not a popular one.

"Some people in the gay community don't want you to say it's possible for someone with same-sex attractions to find happiness in an opposite-sex relationship," she said. "And quite frankly, there are people in the LDS Church who don't know how to act, or may react negatively, if they find out you've had same-sex attractions, whether you're still feeling those attractions or not.

"Neither group is particularly welcoming of the message. That's why I've kept my pen name over the years — and why I think it's great that we're all talking about it more now."

But as long as we're talking about it, she says, let's make sure we're acknowledging the feelings and perspectives of those who identify themselves as gay, as well as those who choose not to.

"There's nothing homophobic or hateful about wanting to change," Campbell said. "Just as we need to reach out with sincere Christ-like love and respect to those who are gay, we also need to reach out to those who don't want to be gay and offer love, encouragement and support."

And hope. Lots of hope.

email: jwalker@desnews.com