People who struggle with same-sex attraction do not have to fight the often lonely, fearful battle alone.

Participants in the 14th annual Evergreen International Conference were urged Friday to embrace God and let his ways be the ways of a healthy, peaceful lifestyle.

Evergreen International, not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is for members who are involved in the transition from homosexuality and same-sex attraction.

About 300 people turned out for the event, which offered a variety of workshops presented by former "sufferers" or clinical professionals schooled in techniques designed to evoke change.

A highlight of Friday's presentations was a heartfelt and often tear-filled talk by Erin Eldridge, author of "Born That Way?"

Published in 1994, the book was the first published by Deseret Book dealing with the subject of same-sex attraction.

A writer by profession, Eldridge said she never intended to disclose her personal struggle with same-sex attraction.

Rather, it was something she felt she "had" to do, guided by something stronger than herself: faith in God.

"I had no real desire to write it," she said, pointing out the societal condemnation of lesbian and gay behavior was much uglier back then.

Eldridge stressed that most sufferers simply don't "overcome" same-sex attraction and vanquish it from their lives forever. Rather, like a craving for chocolate, it sneaks up on people, striking at odd moments and leaving one to feel "bad" or "guilty" because the feeling creeps back.

She admitted to still having the occasional dream about other women but said she has reached the point in her life where she found faith in the gospel.

"I only know the spiritual approach to this issue; he knows you cannot do this by yourself; it cannot be done in a vacuum."

While sufferers often feel abandoned and fear their pleas for help from God have gone unheeded, Eldridge said it isn't so.

"You think if you talk loud enough or cry loud enough he will hear you," she said. "I tell you, you don't even have to pray and he hears you."

Another presenter at the conference, Sharon Smith, told the same crowd she was 55 before she ever discovered change was possible.

Smith had struggled with her same-sex attraction for years, trying to reconcile her feelings with the doctrine of the church.

"I was never at peace, never really happy in the church. . . . In the Relief Society, I felt if they really knew what I was struggling with, they wouldn't want me around. "

Smith said she found salvation in prayer, in handing her life over to God.

"I know I am not some low life who is not worth anything. I am a daughter of God, and that is the only label I need to take on for myself."

E-mail: [email protected]