Protest planned at Northern Ireland church 'gay cure' film
An LGBT equality group has accused the Presbyterian Church of "bias" ahead of a protest outside a Belfast place of worship which is due to screen a film about a "former homosexual".
The film, Once Gay: Matthew And Friends, will be screened in Townsend Street Presbyterian Church on Valentine's Day. It has been produced by the Ballynahinch-based Christian group, Core Issues Trust, which last year saw protesters attend its screening of so-called "gay cure" film Voices Of The Silenced at Ballynahinch Baptist Church.
The new film features X Factor Malta contestant Matthew Grech, who Core Issues Trust leader Mike Davidson claims "left homosexuality as part of his Christian testimony".
However, LGBT equality group The Rainbow Project, and L&B women's support group Here NI, are organising a protest outside the church on the night of the premiere to "send a clear message to all + people that they are loved as they are".
A spokesperson for The Rainbow Project told the Belfast Telegraph that the group was "disappointed" by Townsend Street Presbyterian Church's decision to screen the film.
"The fact that this film will be shown in isolation from any evidence or information beyond those espoused in the film unfortunately shows the bias of the Church," he stated.
"This is particularly difficult following the comments by recently-appointed moderator William Henry stating that the church abhors homophobia.
"This movie is about sharing a singular message, that it is wrong to be gay and in a same-sex relationship. This message is fundamentally homophobic."
The spokesperson said The Rainbow Project "will never allow conversion therapy to go unchallenged" here.
"We seek to send a message to all people, but particularly those who are struggling with their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. You are loved and you are enough," he continued.
"The clearest message to those promoting conversion therapy comes from those who have themselves survived it. It doesn't work and it causes irreparable harm to members of our community."
A spokesperson for Here NI, which is co-organising the protest, said it hoped to "send a message to LGBT+ people of faith, and the community more broadly, that they are loved and welcomed in our society, and that sexual orientation is not something that one can be 'trained' out of".
She stated: "So-called gay conversion therapy is damaging to LGBT+ people as it suggests that sexual orientation is something that is a choice, or something to be 'cured'.
"This is not therapy or counselling, far from it; 'conversion therapy' is actually harmful to LGBT+ people's mental health.
"It is disappointing that Townsend Street Presbyterian Church has decided to screen this film which promotes conversion therapy, particularly in light of the recently appointed Presbyterian Moderator William Henry saying that the church 'abhors' homophobia and is 'open and welcome to anyone'.
"The screening of a film endorsing conversion therapy is not conducive to a welcoming environment for LGBT+ parishioners."
However, a spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said that it continues to "reject homophobia".
He stated: "From the outset, as a Church we again affirm that all people are loved, valued and cherished by God and we continue to reject homophobia in all its forms.
"The Church recognises that 'conversion therapy' is both an emotive term and is defined differently by different people.
"However, two things are very clear. Firstly, no 'therapy' of any kind should be undertaken against a person's will. Secondly, where a person chooses to seek help from a counsellor, then it is legitimate for such help to be provided.
"As a Church we believe that God is sovereign and acknowledge that He can change an individual's life and personal circumstances with regards to any situation, as many Christians will readily testify."
He said it was essential that anyone who sought pastoral support "can do so in a safe, loving and caring environment".
The spokesperson said the use of church property was a matter for local congregations and not a matter for the Church centrally.
"In this instance, local permission has been given for a particular film to be screened and a protest has been organised against the screening," he added.
"Both, while remaining within the law, are legitimate actions in a free society."