Gay picket to be staged at religious conference that labels them lepers
Gay rights campaigners have reacted with fury over plans to host a religious conference encouraging people to turn away from homosexuality.
The two-day 'reparative therapy' event organised by the Core Issues Trust is being hosted at Orangefield Presbyterian Church in east Belfast next weekend.
However, The Rainbow Project, which represents the lesbian, gay and bi-sexual (LGB) community, claims the conference, entitled The Lepers Among Us, is offensive and has vowed to stage a picket outside the church.
"We are very upset that these types of conferences are continuing," said John Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project.
"We will be protesting between 9.30am and 11am next Friday and Saturday to run alongside the opening of the conference.
"We have a number of issues with the event. Firstly, the name which refers to lepers. Regardless of the organisers' intention, we consider it to be homophobic to the LGB community. And, secondly, we consider the practice of reparative therapy to use methods that are possibly dangerous."
Participants will hear Pastor Jim Reynolds encourage gay people to practise hetrosexuality.
The protesters object to his message and claim the therapy can be harmful.
Last year around 60 people protested outside Belvoir Church of Ireland when a similar event was staged.
Alliance councillor Andrew Muir said: "I believe that everyone is entitled to the same human rights, including people from all faiths and none, and I am very disappointed that these events will again take place.
"I find it extremely disturbing that some feel it necessary to hold such events where gay people are disgracefully described and stigmatised as lepers.
"Being gay is good, and not something people should seek to change or be ashamed of."
Core Issues is a Northern Ireland-based group which was set up around 10 years ago to support men and women wanting to "change" their sexual orientation.
In a statement, the group said next week's event was aimed at exploring the role of evangelical and orthodox churches in supporting men and women with "unwanted same sex attractions".
"Core Issues does not offer so-called reparative or conversion therapy but does offer support to individuals conflicted in religious and sexual identity, within a specific ethical framework," it added.
"It reserves the right to offer alternative orthodox views to those who choose to prioritise a religious identity over their sexual identity."
Core Issues Trust is a Northern Ireland-based group which, according to its website, is a non-profit Christian initiative "seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression".
It was set up around 10 years ago by Mike Davidson and has held reparative events every year.
In an online statement, the group says it "respects the rights of individuals who identify as gay who do not seek change".