Row over 'gay conversion' conference held at church
A Belfast church has defended a decision to permit a conference taking place at one of its buildings which promotes a therapy claiming to help people "convert" from homosexuality.
Gay Rights groups outraged by the event are set to picket the one-day conference today organised by the Core Issues Trust and held in Belvoir Church of Ireland.
Core Issues claims people are not born gay and that they can change.
A number of speakers attending the conference, entitled 'Interrogating the Pejoratives: Considering Therapeutic Approaches and Contexts for those Conflicted in Sexual Identity', will focus on reparative therapy which seeks to change sexual orientation.
The controversial therapy intends to help gay people "get rid of unwanted same-sex longings".
Core Issues, 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".
But the conference has sparked anger among gay rights groups and unions who warn such therapy is "dangerous".
Among the topics on the agenda are 'How parents can help their children avoid homosexuality' and 'A Christian and psychological perspective on overcoming obstacles to freedom from homosexuality'.
Homosexual groups have criticised the Church of Ireland for allowing the conference to go ahead.
But in a statement the Church said that neither Belvoir rector, Canon Tom Keightley, nor Belvoir Parish is involved with or running the event.
Canon Keightley said: "The church premises are used by a range of groups, not all linked to the parish itself and, from time to time, for one-off events.
"In agreeing to the request by this organisation for its event on Tuesday I did so on the understanding that the organisation seeks only to work with those who want its help, and that it is acceptable to allow the opportunity for open debate in this area of life in all its complexity. The Church itself is not involved with the running of the event or with the organisation, nor with the event's promotion."
Harry McAnulty, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGB&T) representative for the union Unite, said: "This so-called conversion therapy is harmful to many LGB people.
"It has been proven that this type of practice has failed in the past. Many therapists provide 'false and prejudicial' information disguised as science to prospective clients in order to convince them they need treatment."
But Mike Davidson, co-director of Core Issues, defended the conference.
"We really need to have this debate and have it clearly out there without this continual point-scoring and this business of polarisation," he said.
"It seems we have just got to accept this assumption that homosexuality is genetic and therefore innate and inborn, and if you deviate from that view you become a problem."