Gay campaigners began a weekend of protests last night against an international conference in Belfast which promotes the controversial claim that homosexuality can be "cured" using psychotherapy and prayer.
The conference is organised by Core Issues, an evangelical Christian group in Northern Ireland which promotes so-called "conversion therapy" and claims to have "saved" numerous homosexual Christians. The star speaker is the Rev Mario Bergner, a Chicago-based Anglican preacher and leading proponent of conversion therapy, who claims to have been cured of Aids and homosexuality through prayer.
In response, a coalition of protesters has begun picketing Ballynahinch Baptist Church, where the conference began last night. The protests are being organised by the Queer Youth Network and the Stop Conversion Therapy Taskforce (Scott), a new lobby group set up by gay journalist Patrick Strudwick.
This month, The Independent published the results of a year-long investigation by Strudwick, which exposed how evangelical therapists – some operating within the NHS – try to "convert" homosexual men and women to heterosexuality. Strudwick explained the protests were to reassure any gay man or woman tempted to try conversion therapy that homosexuality is not an illness which needs to be cured. "The message of our protest is simple," he said. "Love needs no cure. We want to remind the young people in the conference in the midst of so-called treatment that they are healthy, normal, valuable people; they are perfect how they are; they don't need to try to change something unchangeable and they can be happy being who they really are."
Mike Davidson, the founder of Core Issues, said the conference was an opportunity for Christians who are struggling with their sexuality. "The focus of the conference is on those who struggle with sexual brokenness and who want examine those issues within a Biblical context," he said. "It's not primarily a conference for therapists, neither does it deal with issues around therapy."
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