Feeling lonely? Don't fit in? Alienated from male peers? Lacking a close relationship with your father? You may not simply be depressed. According to Focus on the Family, you may be gay.

The conservative Christian group came to Portland last weekend for a daylong conference titled "Love Won Out," which introduced more than 900 attendees to the idea that homosexuality is a result of childhood relationships gone awry (see "Pride & Prejudice," WW, June 11, 2003).

The group's basic thesis is that queerness is both preventable and curable. There are even checklists to identify "at-risk" children and adolescents. They claim that when the emotional void is filled in a homosexual's life, he or she will no longer struggle with the "condition."

In 1997, the American Psychological Association condemned the idea that homosexuality could be fixed through "reparative therapy," declaring the idea both false and potentially harmful.

But keynote speaker and clinical psychologist Joseph Nicolosi disagreed, saying that a distanced or torturous relationship with the father can lead to identification with the mother, which in turn leads to a gender-identity crisis. "If you don't hug your son," Nicolosi told the audience, "another man will."

Hosted by Portland's New Hope Community Church, the conference drew its share of faintly ridiculous bigots fuming about Melissa Etheridge and Sex and the City. But most of the attendees were there for more personal reasons.

Twenty-four-year-old Helen (not her real name) drove from Albany to join the conference. Her younger sister called the family from Idaho over Easter and announced that she is a lesbian. Helen hopes to discover how to "love" her out of that decision.

Sporting a silver cross around her neck inscribed "Love and God," Helen inspected several books for sale on tables before settling on You Don't Have to Be Gay and Not Afraid to Change.

As the conference progressed, Helen confided her own story. At age 6, the self-described "Daddy's girl" lost her father to colon cancer. Her uncle moved in and sexually molested Helen and her older brother.

Helen 's family knows about her uncle's pedophilia; what they don't know is that she was subsequently in a two-year monogamous relationship...with a woman. Since then, she says, she has found Jesus and become a regular attendee at the First Church of the Nazarene in Albany.

The conference, she said, "re-opened thoughts I've had in the past and helps me realize there are others out there similar to me."

But Helen 's story, while undoubtedly sincere, raises questions about Focus on the Family's "emotional void" theory of queerdom. Her brother, who was molested by the uncle, is not gay. Her younger sister, who escaped unscathed, is.

Helen has considered telling her family about her lesbian liaison, "like they do on talk shows," but fear of rejection has kept her from doing so.

When she heard the news that her younger sister was "facing the same lifestyle," her heart sank and she resolved to tell her family of her past--when her sister returns from Idaho.

"I still love her the same," Helen said. "But homosexuals will not inherit the Earth, and the only way to Heaven is through Jesus."