It wasn't until Erin Eldridge decided to leave the lesbian lifestyle and return to her religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that she realized her attraction to women was more than just "experimenting."
"I never thought about it as my identity," she said. "I always had a testimony in the church, it was strong enough that I assumed I'd go back. . . . When I couldn't, that's really when I doubted my testimony, when I tried to get back to living it right."
That was about 20 years ago. Eldridge, who goes by her pen name, is now married and raising three children.
Eldridge is speaking this weekend at the Evergreen International annual conference. She wrote the book "Born that Way?" about her spiritual experience as she left behind the lesbian lifestyle and came to peace with herself.
Therapists who help those struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction will also speak.
The conference, which costs $155, will be this Friday and Saturday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Evergreen attests that people can overcome homosexual behavior and diminish same-sex attraction.
David Pruden, executive director of Evergreen, said the organization provides education, guidance and support for those who wish to change, and for those involved in helping people change.
"There is something wonderfully helpful about coming to a place where there are hundreds of people who struggle with the same thing," Pruden said. "Part of the silence of society keeps people who are struggling with same-sex attraction marginalized in a conservative religious community. . . . It's too bad, to be frank."
Salt Lake City psychologist Lee Beckstead said some of his patients are going to the conference, but he suggests caution in approaching conversion, or change, therapy.
He said the therapy offers short-term benefits such as providing hope, and a connection with others who share the same values and goals. But it can also be harmful, by reinforcing negative stereotypes and offering false hope, he said.
"What I've learned, it doesn't change sexual orientation or sexual arousal," he said. People in his own studies "didn't develop heterosexual sexual orientation, they may have learned how to live heterosexually."
In May 2000, the American Psychiatric Association released a statement cautioning therapists against reparative therapy, saying in part: "There are no scientifically rigorous outcome studies to determine either the actual efficacy or harm of 'reparative' treatments."Eldridge said her message isn't meant to suggest that people should change their sexual orientation. The most important thing, she said, is self-acceptance.
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