Angry protests are expected this weekend at a Christian conference in Ballynahinch which claims to offer a cure for homosexuality.
The conference is organised by CORE Issues, a Northern Ireland-based group which, according to its website, seeks to “support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression”.
Event organiser Michael Davidson said: “The conference is an opportunity for people to move away from homosexuality in a Christian context.”
In regards to planned protests, he said: “It’s very important that people be free to express their point of view and we welcome engagement with those people. But by the same token we hope to be able to express our own experiences.”
Speaking at the conference is Rev Mario Bergner, who says his faith not only cured his sexuality, but also his infection by HIV.
The programme for the conference, called Setting Love in Order, also the title of Rev Bergner’s book, includes various seminars and prayer sessions, and advertises itself as “an important opportunity to confront the personal confusion associated with sexual and relational brokenness in all its forms”.
The three-day event is being held in Ballynahinch Baptist Church, where the Stop Conversion Therapy Taskforce (SCOTT) plan to hold a peaceful protest outside.
The protest group SCOTT was created by journalist Patrick Strudwick.
When Ballynahinch Baptist Church was contacted, church administrator Audrey Harte confirmed the church was hosting the event.
However, she directed all further inquiries to the CORE Issues website.
Former-MP Iris Robinson caused controversy last year with remarks about a psychiatrist she knew who could help people turn away from homosexuality.
However, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has stated homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder.
It added: “There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”
This was echoed by John O’Doherty, acting-director of the Rainbow Project, Belfast’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support group.
He said: “You can’t change your sexuality. In fact, attempts to do so have been proven to be very dangerous to mental health.”