Agree or disagree, it's nobody else's business if some try to pray away same-sex attraction, says Fionola Meredith
A tolerant and open society should have room for people who believe they're ex-gay
I'll say this about the Core Issues Trust - they don't give up easily. The Northern Ireland-based Christian charity offers "therapeutic support" to people with unwanted same-sex attraction. This seems to have made it one of the most reviled and controversial groups in the country right now.
You can see why Core gets such a drubbing. The idea of being 'ex-gay' is a profoundly offensive one to many, especially to gay people themselves. That's because being homosexual isn't an illness, or an affliction, or a sign of spiritual damage or brokenness. It doesn't need a cure. It's just the way you happen to be and nobody knows exactly why that is.
Mike Davidson, the director of Core, is a married man who has described himself as "in conflict with unwanted homosexuality… before finally seeing the light". Far from operating discreetly, Davidson and Core appear to have gone out of their way to make a huge public splash over the last few years.
First they brought a series of high-profile ex-gay speakers from the US to Ireland, including Alan Chambers, former president of Exodus, previously the world's biggest ex-gay organisation.
Then Core tried to place adverts on London buses, proclaiming: "Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!" This was intended as a riposte to a previous London bus advert by Stonewall, the gay rights organisation, which read: "Some people are gay. Get over it!"
Now Core is in trouble again because of its new film, Voices of the Silenced, a documentary which tells the stories of 15 people "emerging out of homosexual lifestyles" and aims to "preserve and promote teachings on sexual ethics".
One London cinema, Vue Piccadilly, had taken Core's booking before deciding to cancel the private screening at the last moment on the grounds that the film and its associated campaign were "in direct contradiction with Vue's values".
According to Christian Concern, Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast has also rejected Core's request to show Voices of the Silenced as part of a private event.
By way of response, the QFT reportedly told Core that the cinema's mission "is to widen access to film through the delivery of a varied programme that actively encourages appreciation, enjoyment, debate and understanding. In addition, the QFT is committed, through its approved programme, to continue to promote and respect equality, diversity and inclusion".
As far as I know, no cinema, whether here in Belfast or elsewhere, is obligated to accept private bookings, regardless of origin or content.
And it's true that QFT is not preventing people from watching the film. Voices of the Silenced can be seen by anybody who feels like taking a trip to Ballynahinch Baptist Church next Tuesday evening, when it will be shown in full technicolour. No voices are actually being silenced in this case. There is no need for assumed martyrdom.
But if, as a society, we really believe in the values of equality, diversity and inclusion, can't we make a place for people who see themselves as ex-gay?
If only certain views are considered 'approved', then perhaps we're not quite so tolerant and open-minded as we'd like to think.
And here's a still more fundamental question. Shouldn't people be able to define themselves in any way they choose, even if their chosen identity, as a person who has renounced their own homosexuality, is inexplicable or offensive to others? The answer, if you believe in personal freedom at all, has to be yes.
My own view is that attempting to thwart your sexual orientation is a fruitless, potentially dangerous enterprise, which is almost certainly doomed to failure.
Alan Chambers, who Core brought to Northern Ireland, later admitted to "the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn't change", and apologised for the harm that Exodus had caused to people it attempted to heal. Exodus is now defunct.
The experience of Chambers, along with many other people, has demonstrated that trying to curb or suppress such a deep-rooted part of your personality can lead to a life half-lived, policed by grim notions of sin and shame.
Why not just be gay and proud? An easy question, not so easily answered by those who are gay but don't want to be.
And anyway, my opinion is irrelevant here. So is yours, whatever it may be.
Nobody has the right to tell others how they must act or think when it comes to such an individual matter.
If somebody wants to try to pray away the gay, that's their own private choice, whether the rest of us approve of it or not.