The Mormon church said on Tuesday that members of the faith can be gay and acknowledged the existence of transgender people, but LGBT advocates said the statement showed that there was still a long way to go to end discrimination.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) published a new website called Mormon and Gay, featuring video commentary from LDS leader L Whitney Clayton, saying, “I now speak directly to church members who experience same-sex attraction or identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. We want you to know we love you. You are welcome. We want you to be part of our congregations.”

The site, which features testimonials and summaries of church teachings, marks a departure from the previous page called Mormons and Gays, with the subtle switch from plural to singular serving as an apparent recognition that there are people who identify as both gay and Mormon.

But despite the shift in messaging, there have been no changes in policy, with the site reiterating that marriage is “between a man and a woman”, meaning members of the church should not be in same-sex relationships.

The site was unveiled a year after LDS leaders passed an explicitly anti-gay policy barring children of married LGBT couples from being baptized, prompting widespread outrage and reports of a mass exodus from the Mormon church. The rule was adopted after the US legalized same-sex marriage and said that Mormon children of gay parents would have to denounce same-sex cohabitation and leave their family’s house when they turned 18 if they wanted to be baptized.

The web page offers stories from Mormons who identify as gay and acknowledge that having same-sex attractions is not a choice. But the videos also discuss the ways in which gay relationships contradict church teachings, such as the story of Josh, a “gay Mormon” who served a full-time mission and said he has chosen to be celibate.

In a frequently asked questions section titled Why Does the Website Not Discuss Gender Dysphoria or Transgender Issues?, the church acknowledged that “same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria are very different”. The short paragraph offers no explanation of transgender identity but notes that trans people, like gay people, should experience “inclusion and kindness”.

Mormons who are transgender, meaning their gender identities do not match the ones assigned to them at birth, have increasingly spoken out over the past year. But church leaders have largely failed to even acknowledge their existence, and the anti-gay policies have not mentioned trans people in any form.

“I’m glad at least they acknowledge we exist and it’s not the same as sexual orientation,” said Grayson Moore, a 22-year-old Mormon and transgender man. He said he was pleased to hear of the website changes but added, “I hope the church acknowledges and gives respect to relationships other than the one man and one woman structure.”

Jena Peterson, a 39-year-old Mormon woman who identifies as gay, said she was initially going to be featured on the website but ultimately backed out because she feared the video might misrepresent her and send a damaging message to LGBT people.

LGBT Mormons can have faith and believe in themselves and … embrace their sexual orientation as a gift from God

Jena Peterson

Peterson, who lives in Utah, has been married to a straight man for 12 years in what she described as a “mixed orientation marriage”. She said the relationship works for her and her husband who are “best friends” but is not the solution for all LGBT people.

“My concern is that the website gives off the perception that mixed-orientation marriages are doable for anybody when in reality they are not.”

While she said she was pleased to see a Mormon website take on the subject and recognize gay people, she worried that the narratives could be harmful by discouraging people from celebrating their identities.

“I would like LGBT Mormons to know that they can have faith and believe in themselves and … embrace their sexual orientation as a gift from God, not something to be ashamed of.”

Ann Pack, a transgender woman who has tried to stay active in the church, said the website “is a step forward, albeit a very small step forward”. She said that although she supports the message that “we need to love everyone”, the church should not exclude people in same-sex relationships.

“They should be included and welcomed, not just the people who choose to be celibate,” she said.

Moore said he expected more substantial reforms in the future but recognized that it could be many years before meaningful policy changes. “It is my hope that on some timeline, the church will be a safe place for LGBT people.”

A church spokesman declined to comment.

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